When your child stops breathing the world stands still

Editorial & Opinion, Wednesday, February 20, 2008

No one should ever have to witness their baby stop breathing and turn blue – ever. I think there should be a law against it, strictly enforced by God (regardless of which god or gods your may subscribe to). My world changed, and a small part of me died last week, when at roughly 4:15pm on February 12, I had joined the ranks of the parents whose children are the 1 in 25 that experience febrile seizures.

We were at the pharmacy picking up a prescription for my almost two-year old son’s ear infection when the convulsions started. One second he’s laughing, next second his arms and legs are jerking about, his eyes are rolling back into his head, and the colour started to drain from his face.

Andrew then stopped breathing, and went a horrific shade of blue. I felt my world shatter, like broken tempered glass reduced into a thousand pieces: I thought my son was dying or already dead. I felt horribly empty and useless. My mind wandered to walking into our house, seeing his little shoes by the door, without him in my arms. I heard myself saying, “No. No. No.” I knew it wasn’t time for that now, I had to do everything I could to keep him with us. Once the 911 call was placed, I kept kissing his head, saying, “you’re going to be OK, stay with mommy … mommy loves you.”

I had to then place another call I thought I’d never have to make, this time to my husband, “Andrew is having convulsions and has stopped breathing, please get here…” I tried desperately to make myself understood through hysterical tears.

Every second was like molasses in February. Crying and screaming didn’t help, nor did looking around frantically for the ambulance, so I focused on doing ‘something’. I tried scooping his airway, to make sure he wasn’t choking (not a good idea, because he unconsciously bit down on my finger harder than I care to remember). Then I tried talking to him soothingly, telling him that I loved him, kissing his forehead and pleading with him not to leave us.

A small stream of blood and saliva rolled out the side of his mouth and he pushed out a series of pitiful, agonizing moans. He was breathing again! In the ambulance I watched my son’s chest intently, worried that if I looked away, he would stop breathing again.

Thank goodness we had called the ambulance, because there was a van overturned en route to the hospital and we wouldn’t have gotten through. Thank goodness our ER was open – we as a community cannot let our ER close – it is simply not an option for an acceptable quality of life for any of us.

In the ER, Andrew was still not back with us. He was dazed. When his eyes were open he was looking off somewhere, but not focusing. He looked scared when we would talk to him. “I don’t think he can see,” I whispered to my husband. He was admitted to the pediatric unit for the night.

While I went home to pack up a blanket, stuffed toy, and pyjamas to make the hospital more like home for the night, my husband read up on febrile seizures.

According to emedicinehealth.com: “Febrile seizures, also known as convulsions, body spasms, or shaking, occur mainly in children and are caused by fever… the onset is dramatic, with little or no warning.”

Dramatic indeed, that may be the understatement of the year. Other highlights from the website included the following facts:

  • Roughly 2-5 per cent of children will experience a febrile seizure.
  • Most of these episodes last 1-5 minutes.
  • Of those who have one, 30-40 per cent will experience more seizures. Febrile seizures start as early as three months and children outgrow them by age six.
  • The seizure itself is almost always harmless.
  • About 25 per cent have a first-degree relative with a history of febrile seizure.

My son was released from hospital the next day. With him back in our care, I busied myself learning what to do if it happened again. I now diligently stock drugs for fever management, and will be quick to remove his clothing and apply cool cloths to his head and sponge down his body.

If a seizure starts, here’s what I’ll do. Put him on his side on a soft carpet, or on a bed where he can’t roll off. Call 911 if he has serious difficulty or stops breathing, starts turning blue (cyanosis), or if the seizure lasts more than five minutes. Remove food or pacifiers from the mouth. Don’t try to put anything in their mouths, or restrain their movements. Time the seizure (length of seizure is important). Watch to see if all four limbs are convulsing or whether it is ‘localized’ to the face or one side of the body. Watch their eyes (not sure why, but the doctor asked me if they fixed on one spot, went to the side or rolled back). After the seizure, take the child to see a medical professional.

Now, I am almost counting the days until Andrew’s sixth birthday, to close the painful chapter on my boy convulsing, not breathing, turning blue and becoming non-responsive in front of my eyes. I’m having a hard time getting past what I had to witness, and have even found myself avoiding being in the room with him, because I don’t want to see it happen again. Anytime I have a flashback, I try to remember that we are celebrating life, and his second birthday in less than two weeks.

I have nothing but thanks for everyone that helped us through the event, including everyone around me now allowing me to be human and a little more fragile than I care to admit. When Andrew blows out his candles on March second, you can probably guess what I’ll be wishing for.

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