The scariest thing I’ve ever experienced in my life

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 (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.


17 thoughts on “The scariest thing I’ve ever experienced in my life

  1. I am sorry you and your kids had to go through this horrifying event…My daughter had a similar seizure (actually, two, at an interval of one hour or so) when she was 3 and a half years old. Hers were caused by the Rotavirus.I still have nightmares about it.
    All my best!

  2. I’m bawling right now just thinking about how awful it must have been for you and your family. I am so glad it turned out ok. The worst thing I can imagine would be to lose a child. The feeling of helplessness must have been so overwhelming.

    A little sugar or juice probably wouldn’t have prevented this seizure, but a very high fever means a raging metabolism, which means glucose is being used quickly. A lack of glucose is thought to be the cause of some febrile seizures, so something sweet can help prevent them. I have no idea if this really works, and we’ve never experience a seizure, thank goodness, but it’s in the back of my mind for the next high fever.

  3. Sorry you had to go through this! I have once been a witness of a febrile seizure, and when the paramedics arrived, they confirmed that it was probably due to fever but also checked if it could be an allergic reaction.

  4. B”H B”H. How terrifying. I’m so thankful he’s ok. Reading this had me scared and thankful. Thank you for sharing…it is important to know. Only besuros tovos.

  5. B”H, he is o.k.!!!! That is so scary, that feeling of total helplessness and fear of losing your child is one you never forget……. Thankfully, for him, the incident is probably already forgotten. May this be a distant memory for all of you wishing you health and brachot.

  6. Aviva,

    I cried when I read this as I know the terror this must have caused you and your famiy. B”H, he is ok. May you all be spared anymore tsorres.

  7. oh my good ness!! Thank G-d he is okay! I was worried that you were not going to follow up with a dr. but I see in the comments you are .
    Hope all is well….

  8. Avivah I am crying! what a terrifying experience. Thank you Hashem! Continue to watch over us and our children. We should only hear good things!

  9. First of all, huge hugs for what you’ve gone through. Having experienced the same thing with my own child, I know exactly how you must have felt. I was going to suggest a seizure if you hadn’t, but I see that you came up with that on your own.

    Now, not to give you a lecture now, but I do have to say this. Anytime you find a child in respiratory distress, unconscious, etc., do NOT run to get your nurse neighbor or to anyone else. CALL AN AMBULANCE IMMEDIATELY!!! After you’ve done that, you can send your husband/kids to get anyone you want who you think can help while you’re waiting, but your first call must be to 101! What if the nurse wasn’t home? What if she wouldn’t know what to do? Meanwhile, precious time has been wasted which could c”v make all the difference for your child. Yes, he recovered on his own, and that is what usually happens with a febrile seizure, but just in case it is something else c”v and the child needs help, you want that help to get there as soon as possible so that there is no prolonged oxygen deprivation. 101 is the first one to call.

    Sorry–that did end up being a lecture. I just can’t bear the thought of what could c”v happen if help is needed and is not there on time.

    Refuah shelaima!

    1. Batsheva, welcome to my blog and thank you for your concern!

      You’re assuming that we had the possibility of quickly calling for medical help. Let me clarify what the situation was.

      We’ve only been in Israel for three months. I had no idea how to call an ambulance, which is why we immediately sent one of the older kids to a neighbor who could call an ambulance for us. Did you read that the emergency clinic was closed, the health clinics were closed, and we couldn’t get any doctor on a phone anywhere for any kind of help/advice and neither did the nurse’s husband, who was already calling for us before I got there with ds???

      The nurse came by today and she felt that we had done exactly the right thing under the circumstances. She saw what a desperate situation we in, and that it was a very serious seizure – she said today she didn’t think our son was going to make it. On the other hand, another neighbor’s husband, who heard later what happened from his wife, said it wasn’t an emergency situation and an ambulance wouldn’t have been necessary. Sometimes things look very different to those who aren’t there to see it all unfold firsthand.

      Is 101 the national number in Israel to call an ambulance? Do they have a quick response time? We’re putting together our emergency list to put on the fridge so in the future we’ll immediately have the necessary information on hand. Thanks!

  10. oh my goodness- i am so happy to hear that he is ok, and i hope the rest of the kids aren’t too traumatized. i know that one of my groovier doctors recommended butter to stop a seizure in its tracks. i don’t know if this would have helped at all with the kind of seizure your son had, but he recommends putting a stick of butter right into your mouth- but this of course assumes that you can swallow. i’m wondering, though, if you had smeared some on the inside of his cheeks if that would help? it’s too easy for all of us to be backyard quarterbacks on this, and i hope that this- or anything like this- never EVER happens again! i am only throwing it out there, because i was incredulous at first, but i have done it several times, and it actually does work… refuah shelaimah to ds and calm thoughts and prayers for you and the rest of the family. -j

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