We spent the weekend on vacation in upstate New York visiting friends, eating pizza and sleeping in a musty hotel room. On the flight home, Frankie was quiet and lethargic — an unusual temperament for her. We wrote it off as travel side effects.
When I got home from work the next day I nursed her and she swiftly fell asleep. She was warm so I stripped her down to her diaper and put her in her crib. About an hour later I began to get nervous and told my husband we should go wake her up and take her temperature.
Mom instinct is a thing you can feel.
Frankie was groggy when I pulled her out of the crib and lay her down on our bed. We took her temperature and saw that it was 103.3°. As we huddled around her deciding what to do, she twitched.
And then she didn’t stop.
I held my 10-month-old in my arms as her little body shook, her head turned to the side and eyes looking away from me. I didn’t know what was happening. I thought she was dying. I prayed out loud — something I’ve never done before.
My husband calmly told me she was having a seizure, and I yelled to him to call 911. As I suspect is common in emergencies, it took him no fewer than three hours to figure out how to unlock my phone and place a call to the easiest phone number anybody has ever learned.
While he was on the phone with the paramedics, I held Frankie and told her that I was there. Her little body thrashed in my arms — a feeling I hope I will soon forget.
About a minute after it began, the seizure subsided and something I later learned is called postictal kicked in. It’s the state of consciousness that occurs after a seizure, and it is terrifying.
I could hear the sirens already.
Frankie lay limp on the bed and took hurried shallow breaths. Her eyelids fluttered. The paramedics ran up the stairs to the bedroom as I told her over and over to stay with me, like you see in the movies.
In the ambulance ride to Children’s Hospital, I learned that Frankie had what is called a febrile seizure, a convulsion caused by a dramatic spike in body temperature.
By the end of our three-hour stint at the ER, which included a dose of ibuprofen, a catheter to pull a sample for a urinalysis and an IV to retrieve a blood sample, Frankie’s temperature normalized. They told us her fever was caused by a virus and that we just need to ride it out.
When we got home, she was crawling around, laughing, and pulling the cat’s tail.
Here’s what I wish I would have known prior to Frankie’s seizure:
- Febrile seizures happen. I did not know these were a thing, and the reason I’m writing is to inform others so that they won’t be blindsided by this traumatic event if it ever does happen to them (also to process, because writing = therapy).
- People commonly snap out of seizures. You probably know this. I did not, and so I panicked.
- Doctors and the internet suggest calling 911 or rushing your child to the ER if the seizure is accompanied by a fever and lasts more than five minutes (ARE YOU KIDDING ME?). If you are more chill than I am, you can apparently ride out the seizure and then bring your child in to be evaluated. Though violent, a febrile seizure isn’t always an emergency.
- Febrile seizures alone are not damaging to children. The doctors even used the word “harmless.” If complications arise, according to the doctors, they are typically from the cause of the seizure, not the seizure itself.
- If a baby is going to have a febrile seizure, a baby is going to have a febrile seizure. Ibuprofen, Tylenol and keeping the baby cool won’t necessarily prevent it (this is only one school of thought on this debated topic, but hearing it from two doctors helped temper my mom guilt).
- Fevers dramatic enough to trigger a seizure can be caused by viral infections or the common cough and cold. Days after the episode, we found out Frankie’s fever was caused by an infection called roseola.
- A child’s tendency for fevers accompanied by seizures can be inherited. My brother-in-law, uncle-in-law and first cousin all experienced febrile seizures as babies. Ask your families if anybody had one when they were young.
- Paramedics carry with them a medicine which can stop a seizure in its tracks.
I am no doctor— just a mom who helplessly watched her baby seize and is now afraid of PTSD. I wish someone had told me about febrile seizures so that I wouldn’t have thought Frankie was dying as a seizure gripped her. I write this in the hopes that other parents can be aware, as I desperately wish I had been.