As an informed parent, I’ve read the all warnings – the need-to-knows and what-to-dos - should my child suddenly suffer a medical crisis. But always with an air of cool detachment; under the false belief that I would never need to actually reference one of them.
These were the types of medical scares that happened to other people. Not to me. Not to my child.
Until one of them did.
It began innocently enough with a low-grade fever. On a Saturday. Because Murphy’s Law dictates these types of things must always occur on the weekend. By evening, however, the number on the thermometer read 104.7 and my two-year-old’s entire body was a vibrant shade of pink.
But I didn’t panic. We’d been down this road before, after all. And thus began the alternating of ibuprofen and Tylenol every three hours – a formidable regimen that had previously been no match for even the highest of fevers.
This one, however, was tenacious. And when it continued to hover just over 104 degrees a little more than eight hours later, I began to feel truly frightened.
It was 2:30 a.m. and Lil’ Bit lay beside me in our bed, emitting sporadic moans of discomfort as Hubs prepared her next dose of Tylenol. After accepting it obligingly, she rolled onto her side. And began to convulse.
A quick, rhythmic shaking gripped her from head to toe, accompanied by an eerie vibrating noise – like manic laughter. And then it stopped. Lasting only a few seconds, it was over so quickly I wasn’t entirely sure that I hadn’t imagined it.
Horrified, I spun on my husband, standing over me. “Did you see that?” I demanded, though from the stunned look on his face it was clear that he had. “What WAS that?”
Turning back to Lil’ Bit, now lying limp against the pillows, I positioned myself directly in front of her. But she just stared through me with glassy eyes. Like I wasn’t there.
And so I asked the first question that came to mind: “Can you see me?”
“No,” came her dazed reply, and a knot of fear twisted in my stomach.
I took a deep breath, searched her face, and asked again, “Can you see me?”
This time, I saw something like recognition flicker behind the vacant eyes. “Yes,” she answered. And relief mingled with the fear.
From the outer reaches of my mind, a fever guide I’d once read pushed itself to the forefront, past a jumble of thoughts that included words like ‘meningitis’ and ‘neurological damage’. Babble’s Fever FAQ. And while I dimly recalled that seizures weren’t entirely uncommon in children with high fevers, I knew without a doubt that it was time to see a doctor.
Our pediatrician’s office – and the affiliated hospital where Lil’ Bit was born – is located 40 minutes from our house. Given the late hour and the nature of the crisis, we decided instead to head to the emergency room of our local county hospital. It never even occurred to me at the time to call our pediatrician.
Our experience in the ER was, in hindsight, nothing short of atrocious. Lil’ Bit was neither admitted for observation, nor ordered a CT scan. In fact, the seizure was barely addressed at all and, when pressed by Hubs and me, brusquely dismissed as a common symptom of fever in young children.
And the fever itself was attributed merely to what may or may not have been an ear infection, according to a doctor with zero bedside manner, who swiftly prescribed an antibiotic. Not so much as a treatment, he mumbled by way of explanation, than as a “preventative measure.”
Lil’ Bit was thoroughly traumatized – as was I. And yet we let it happen. All of it. Surrounded by medical professionals amid our own fear and uncertainty, we trusted them to do right by our child.
Nevertheless, after inexplicably being kept waiting for nearly three hours (despite all signs pointing to a slow night in the ER), we arrived home just as a new day was dawning, weary to the core, with no clear diagnosis, and still wracked with worry.
It wasn’t until later that morning when a friend responded to my anxious Facebook status about the incident with a link to an article on febrile seizures that we finally began to get some answers. And later, upon speaking to our pediatrician’s on-call nurse, some reassurances. She recommended we attend their Sunday night emergency clinic, where the on-call doctor spent a great deal of time kindly and patiently assuaging our fears surrounding the seizure.
What You Should Know About Febrile Seizures
Given the frightening nature of febrile seizures for any parent who may witness one, I’d like to pass along what we’ve since learned about them – information every parent needs to know should their child be afflicted with one.
Characteristics of a Febrile Seizure
- A febrile seizure is a convulsion in a child triggered by a fever. Most occur within 24 hours of an illness and may not necessarily take place when the fever is at its highest. In fact, according to our pediatrician, most febrile seizures are the body’s response to the rapid onset of fever – a child’s body temperature going from 0 to 60, so to speak – and may occur before a parent even realizes the child is ill. (This was the only abnormality in the seizure Lil’ Bit experienced, he noted, as she had already been running a high fever for several hours.)
- Most febrile seizures occur in otherwise healthy children between the ages of 9 months and 5 years.
- Febrile seizures typically last from a few seconds to 10 minutes and are characterized by a rhythmic jerking motion of the entire body. A child will not respond to a parent’s voice during this time.
- After the seizure passes, the child will briefly appear drowsy, disoriented, and/or confused.
- Seizures that last longer than 15 minutes, occur in just one part of the body, take place more than once during a 24-hour period, or afflict children who are older than 5 years or younger than 9 months are not typical febrile seizures and may require further testing.
What to Do if Your Child Has a Febrile Seizure
- First, don’t panic. This is a common reaction to the onset of fever in young children.
- If necessary, roll your child onto his or her side (should vomiting occur), remove any nearby objects that could cause injury, and loosen any tight clothing.
- Do NOT try to force anything into your child’s mouth to prevent tongue-biting, as this increases the risk of injury.
- Do NOT attempt to restrain your child or stop the seizure movements.
- If the seizure lasts for several minutes, call 911. If it ends quickly, drive your child to the emergency room when it’s over.
- Most importantly, contact your pediatrician immediately following the seizure. If it’s after-hours, call their emergency answering service to have the on-call doctor paged. Your pediatrician will be able to help you devise an emergency protocol, determine how and when to advocate for your child, and coordinate care with ER staff.
When all was said and done, we learned that had we contacted our pediatrician immediately, we would’ve been advised to make the 40-minute trek to their affiliated hospital, where Lil’ Bit would have been admitted overnight for observation, per hospital protocol for all seizure activity. A CT scan and labs would have also been run.
“Always call us right away, day or night,” the on-call doctor told us. “We’re here to help.”
The knowledge of what we didn’t do has left me wracked with guilt. It’s not only the responsibility of medical professionals to do right by my child; as her parents, it’s my husband’s and mine as well. But in our failure to place a simple phone call to our pediatrician, we were unsure of the protocol following a seizure and therefore unable to advocate for Lil’ Bit in the wake of sub-par medical service. As informed as I try to be as a mother, I felt I had nonetheless failed my daughter in a medical crisis.
We’re still not exactly sure what made Lil’ Bit so ill, although we do know for certain it was not an ear infection. Given that she’s since recovered in full, our pediatrician seems to think the likely culprit was simply a virus, albeit a nasty one. Leaving Hubs and me still shaken, yet extremely grateful for a caring pediatric team and, above all, a healthy child.
In the meantime, I feel fortunate to be armed with the necessary knowledge should Lil’ Bit ever again experience a febrile seizure, as I attempt to let go of my guilt and attribute the entire incident to yet another learning experience – one of many on this wild ride called Parenthood.
Has your child ever experienced a febrile seizure?
Editor’s Note: I’m generally not one to pimp my blog (too much), but I would so appreciate your tweets, Facebook shares, pins, and stumbles of this post, as I believe it contains information every parent should know. As Kristen of Two Connoli said below in the comments, “Knowledge is power.” And sharing is caring. Thanks so much.