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(Originally written Dec, 2016)

How could I have been a mom for 8 years now and not have known about Febrile Seizures?

Ava has been battling an oncoming cold with flu symptoms and fever of 101 starting on Friday, and then 103 for the past two days straight. Overnight I had been checking in on her every couple of hours. Her little body had been so hot for so long, I worried about her overheating under the covers. Her cheeks had been beet red for days, her skin a space heater to the touch.

I was trying not to give her too much Children’s Motrin, because I am aware that a fever is a positive sign that her body is busy fighting off an illness. They say “don’t chase a fever with medicine”. But at around 8:30 this morning, it was about 64-degrees in the house and she had the covers thrown off complaining of being so hot, but shivering. With her temperature still at 103, I decided to give her another dose of Motrin. I also decided to try to lower her fever with a few cold packs wrapped in kitchen towels placed around her body to see if that could help cool her off.

Two hours later, I went back into her room. She was lying on her bed awake. Her eyes were open, but a bit glazed over. I took her temperature again, 99-degrees.

“Oh good, babe. Your fever is lower,” I said as I pulled out the cold packs from under and around her. I noticed she wasn’t moving as I was maneuvering around her.

“Are you feeling any better,” I asked. No response. I thought she was just really tired as she looked in my eyes.

“Ava, are you ok,” I asked. No response.

I pushed her gently and said louder, “Ava,” waiting for a response as she just stared.

“Ava, you’re scaring me. Please use your words. Say something,” I said. David was in bed in the next room overhearing me and I could hear him get up and quickly make his way into Ava’s room.

David came in and sat her up. She was still staring, unresponsive.

“Ava, talk to me. Please say something,” I said again.

She began to speak, but it was completely unintelligible, jumbled up sounds not resembling words. I thought maybe I just didn’t hear her right.

“What?” I asked urgently.

She spoke again, all jibber jabber except one word I did understand, “…emergency…”

I think she said it, or maybe that’s just what I heard.

With an instant reaction beyond my perception, I jumped up and began reaching for her clothes exclaiming we were going to the emergency room.

At the same time, David immediately picked her up. Her body was limp. We ran around the house trying to put clothes on her, clothes on ourselves, shoes. She still wasn’t talking. Somehow in the rush, I ended up with her in my arms moving quickly down the hallway. Her legs were completely limp. I sat her down on the couch and ran to get my cell phone.

I wasn’t sure what kind of situation this was. Do we have time to take her to the ER 30-minutes away? Should I call an ambulance? I’ve never experienced these symptoms. The only thing I know about jibber jabber speech and non-responsiveness is from friends and family I’ve known who have had a stroke.

I decided to call 911. She was still in a daze, not moving, not talking.

A calm warm female voice answered. I started to say that I was worried about my daughter, that I thought she might need immediate medical attention. As I said it, I started to cry.

We went down the standard list of questions. Name, address, age of child, symptoms, is she breathing. Then I told her I might be overreacting, but I just needed to know if I had time to take her to the ER. She got the local medical authorities on the line to help me assess.

Just as they came on the line, Ava started talking.

David interrupts me on my call, “Shannon, she’s ok. She talking.”

Moving the phone slightly away from my mouth, I bend over to speak at Ava’s level, “Ava, are you ok? Can you talk right now?”

“Yes, mom. I can talk. I’m ok.”

In retrospect, I think seeing me in calm pushed-back tears on the phone with 911 pushed her to respond.

I divert back to the call and say I think she’s ok enough for us to take her to the ER.

“Are you sure,” asks the medical person on the line. “We can send an ambulance over there right now.”

“No, I think we can take her in. Thank you so much.”

I don’t know if that was the right decision, but it felt right. That’s about all us parents have to go off of most of the time.

“OK, well call us back if you need to,” says the medical person and we hang up.

We get on the road and decide to go to Urgent Care instead. It’s closer, only 15-minutes away, and will probably be less crowded, and Ava is now talking and alert. Maybe I was overreacting, I think to myself, still unclear about what that was and if she is really ok.

It turns out what she experienced is called a Febrile Seizure, which is apparently common in children in association with fevers above 101-degrees, but completely terrifying to a parent who has never heard of one before. This kind of seizure can appear as convulsions or loss of consciousness without noticeable shaking or movement, and usually happens to kids between 6-months old and 5 years old.

The Urgent Care doctor explained that forced changes in body temperature with a fever, changes like reduced fever from Motrin and/or attempts to cool off the body (cold packs, in this case), can cause these seizures because the body is still fighting and will still go back to it’s natural high temperature, despite efforts to reduce it. He said it’s better to let the fever break on its own and try to keep the child as comfortable as possible until it does.

Commence the guilt that my lack of knowledge about this caused my baby girl to have a febrile seizure, and I have no idea how long she was in that state before I walked in her room to find her like that. My heart will forever ache at that thought.

Luckily, she recovered quickly and is doing fine now. She was officially diagnosed with the flu and her fever seems to have actually gone down a couple hours later on its own.

I write this because if my fellow parents out there haven’t heard of this, like I hadn’t, then you can consider this experience if you are ever in a similar situation.

Below describes what should be done if you think your child is having a febrile seizure, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

It is important that parents and caretakers remain calm, take first aid measures, and carefully observe the child.  If a child is having a febrile seizure, parents and caregivers should do the following:

  • Note the start time of the seizure.  If the seizure lasts longer than 5 minutes, call an ambulance.  The child should be taken immediately to the nearest medical facility for diagnosis and treatment.
  • Call an ambulance if the seizure is less than 5 minutes but the child does not seem to be recovering quickly.
  • Gradually place the child on a protected surface such as the floor or ground to prevent accidental injury.  Do not restrain or hold a child during a convulsion.
  • Position the child on his or her side or stomach to prevent choking.  When possible, gently remove any objects from the child’s mouth. Nothing should ever be placed in the child’s mouth during a convulsion.  These objects can obstruct the child’s airway and make breathing difficult.
  • Seek immediate medical attention if this is the child’s first febrile seizure and take the child to the doctor once the seizure has ended to check for the cause of the fever.  This is especially urgent if the child shows symptoms of stiff neck, extreme lethargy, or abundant vomiting, which may be signs of meningitis, an infection over the brain surface.

I’m so grateful my girl was able to recover quickly and that I can share this with you all so you can help prevent it from happening, and aren’t blindsided if it does happen. We are all in this together, moms and dads out there. Love is what binds us. Be well.