My ds2.5 has been under the weather the last couple of days – a mild fever, very lethargic, wanting to be held all the time. Your typical cold.
Yesterday afternoon, ds12 was holding ds2 and reading to him, and then asked him if he wanted to lay down on my bed. Ds2 told him yes, so he put him down and continued reading to him. A minute later looked over and was horrified to see him shaking while staring straight ahead. He quickly called my dh, and they brought him out to me, telling me he wasn’t breathing and was choking.
His face was a pale gray and his lips were turning blue; I grabbed him and tried to the do the Heimlich manuever a couple of times. Nothing. I told dh to run to the retired nurse across the street for help, and told one of the kids to run to a neighbor to call an ambulance. Meanwhile, I tried to sweep my finger in his mouth to see what could be stuck there, but his teeth were clenched so tightly that I couldn’t pry them apart even a tiny bit.
His face was turning purple, and I grabbed him and ran out of our apartment building, planning to run to the emergency center with him that’s a few minutes away. Just then, I saw the nurse hurrying with dh out of her house to come to us. As long as I live I’ll never forget the desperate feeling of running with ds’s totally limp and unresponsive body in my arms, thinking he wasn’t going to make it.
I said urgently to her, “He’s not breathing!” and she took ds from me and did the Heimlich manuever. Nothing. While she told her husband to call emergency medical help, I took ds back on my lap and thought how terrifying this would be for him if he was aware of it at any level, so I repeatedly stroked his face and told him he’d be okay.
Slowly, he started to breathe with a heavy gurgle, like the air had to squeeze by a big obstruction in his throat. His teeth began to unclench, his face started fading to light blue, and gradually he was just very pale. I could see his eyes starting to refocus – he had been staring through us before without seeing anything.
I didn’t know what caused him to start breathing again – I thought maybe what was stuck in his throat passed down, somehow. The nurse told us to stay there until they found a doctor to send us to, but after waiting a little while, I told them my kids were probably terrified and I needed to let them know how ds2 was doing. (The emergency clinic was closed because it was Wednesday evening, the health clinics were closed between 6 – 8 pm, the neighbor ds12 went to for help in calling an ambulance wasn’t home, and we couldn’t get any doctors on the phone. An hour later I learned about an EMT who lives locally, but he was out of town until 1 am; he told us to call even in the early hours of the morning if we needed him and he’d be there within a couple of minutes. Fortunately, G-d is around all hours of the day!)
As I crossed the street with ds2 on the way back home, I won’t even try to describe the overwhelming sense of thankfulness and gratitude that filled me. When I walked inside, I found all of my kids gathered together saying tehillim (Psalms). I managed to say, “He’s okay” before totally breaking down into sobs. They all looked very sober when I walked in, and I don’t know how they responded afterwards – I saw dd11 crying later on, and because dd15 and ds12 knew how serious it was, they must have had a tremendous amount of fear about the entire scenario. They weren’t able to really talk about it when I brought it up a few hours later, other than to nod when I said it must have been very frightening for them.
I sat down with ds and a few minutes later, I gave him a drink of milk. He drank it slowly, then his first words were, “Thank you for buying milk, Mommy”, and everyone smiled kind of emotionally, and someone said, “That’s our Shimmy!” (He’s always spontaneously thanking us for things.)
He fell asleep on me, and I continued to hold him like that for two or three hours, while in my mind I tried to work backwards to figure out what had happened. He clearly wasn’t breathing, but I checked with ds12, and ds2 hadn’t put anything in his mouth, so he wasn’t choking on any foreign objects. I asked ds12 and dd15 to describe anything they had noticed during this incident (it was at this time that dd15 told me when I left the house with him that he looked like he was already gone). As I had been running with him for help, it had flashed through my mind that he might be having a seizure, but I had dismissed that since his fever hadn’t been high, and he hadn’t had any recent vaccinations.
At first my concern was meningitis, but the more I thought about it, the more I thought he might have had a febrile seizure. Later in the evening when I finally put him down, I did some research to see if this was possible.
Here’s a description from kidshealth.org (all of the sites I looked at had the same basic description):
“Febrile seizures are full-body convulsions that can happen during a fever (febrile means “feverish”). They affect kids 6 months to 5 years old, and are most common in toddlers 12 to 18 months old. The seizures usually last for a few minutes and are accompanied by a fever above 100.4° F (38° C).
While they can be frightening, febrile seizures usually end without treatment and don’t cause any other health problems. Having one doesn’t mean that a child will have epilepsy or brain damage.
<During a febrile seizure, a child’s whole body may convulse, shake, and twitch, and he or she may moan or become unconscious. This type of seizure is usually over in a few minutes, but in rare cases can last up to 15 minutes.>
Febrile seizures stop on their own, while the fever continues until it is treated. Some kids might feel sleepy afterwards; others feel no lingering effects.”
The critical information I learned about these seizures is that they are caused by a rapid rise or drop in body temperature. It’s not how high the temperature is that matters, but how quickly it changes. My initial belief that it couldn’t have been a seizure because he had a low-grade fever was incorrect; even a quick rise or drop from 99 degrees and 101 degrees could trigger a febrile seizure.
This experience was so intense that I wasn’t going to post about it here. But then I thought that parents need to be aware of this possibility, that it can happen even in a healthy child. This was the most terrifying situation of my life, but if you know what it is, it can be less frightening. I found the following clip on Youtube of a one year old having a febrile seizure, and though initially I didn’t think I’d be able to watch it, I did. The seizure was much shorter and less intense than ds2’s, but I was still able to see some similar features.
I haven’t yet found any suggestions about what to do in our situation, for a child who has stopped breathing, other than call 911. I don’t know if when ds2 lost consciousness it allowed him to start breathing again, if the change in air temperature when I ran outside affected something, or if he would have restarted breathing no matter what. Based on anecdotal comments I’ve seen by parents whose children experienced febrile seizures, it seems that CPR is the next step when the paramedics arrive.
Last night the following saying came to mind: “Having a child means your heart is walking around outside of your body.” So, so true.
I knew yesterday was going to be a good day, but I didn’t know how good! “Hodu l’Hashem ki tov, ki l’olam chasdo” – “Give thanks to the Lord for He is good, and His kindness endures forever.”