I’ll never forget the moment I lived my worst nightmare.
I was doing laundry in the basement. I’d brought my three youngest children in the basement with me, and they were happily playing in the finished, carpeted area. I stepped into the laundry room, 10 feet away, to switch the laundry from the washer and dryer, and the laundry detergent fell to the ground, spilling open. I grabbed a towel and attempted to mop up the soapy mess, but heard my 2-year-old yell, “Mommy! Baby falled down!” I dried my hands, started the dryer, and walked back into the playroom to see my 13-month-old daughter lying face-down on the floor, motionless.
I called to her gently, not terribly concerned. I bent down and rubbed her back, but she didn’t move. Slightly alarmed, I flipped her to face up and noted her body was limp and her lips were blue, her face absent of its usual rosy hue.
She wasn’t breathing.
I tried to remain calm as my instincts kicked in. “She must be choking,” I reasoned, doing a quick finger swipe and smacking her on the back as I’d been taught in infant first aid, but neither made any change. I started to panic, and rubbing her back vigorously, I whispered a prayer. To my momentary relief, she took a deep breath and opened her eyes briefly, only to have them roll back in her head again and go limp once more.
I had no idea what was wrong, but I knew I needed help. Trying to remain calm for my other children in the room, I choked on a scream as I reached for my phone and dialed 911.
Thankfully, as the 911 operator answered the phone, my daughter began breathing and whining softly. She continued to come in and out of consciousness and was still limp, but she was breathing. As we waited for the ambulance to arrive, and my mind spun as I wracked my brain for what could have possibly gone wrong in the few minutes I had been out of the room. I couldn’t think of anything.
The paramedics arrived and took my daughter’s vitals – all were normal, but she continued to pass out in our arms, so they transported us to the closest hospital. In the back of the ambulance, I worked to keep her conscious. Looking into her eyes and singing to her, I watched as they fully dilated, rolled back in her head, and her entire body started convulsing. Suddenly, it all became clear.
She was having a seizure.
This seizure lasted about 4 minutes, and was what would be classified as tonic-clonic (otherwise known as grand mal). Soon after arriving at the hospital, she had yet another seizure, and I was able to witness the calm way the emergency room staff just stood back and let the seizure take its course. No one intervened, no one seemed panicked. They just timed it, had oxygen ready, and kept an eye on her vitals. My pediatrician would later explain to me that although seizures are undoubtedly among the most terrifying of medical incidents to witness, particularly in a small child, the seizure itself, as long as it is short in duration (less than 5 minutes) and does not cause injury, is usually harmless to the child.
The next several hours are somewhat of a blur to me. We were transferred from our local hospital to Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, where doctors ran some basic tests and blood work and determined that, on the whole, my daughter was okay. She had no fever, no signs of infectious illness, and had recovered beautifully from the total of three seizures she’d had in the previous four hours, so they sent us home. It was a bit disconcerting to go home uncertain of what had transpired and why, but the staff at Children’s was extremely reassuring that a follow up with neurology would be sufficient to try and determine if any additional testing needed to be done to determine the source of the seizures.
As a family, we’ve learned a LOT about seizures since that first, terrifying day. We’ve learned that seizures in young children are actually relatively common. Seizures can have varying causes – fevers, infection, dehydration, drops in blood sugar, epilepsy, tumors, and brain trauma are all possibilities. In fact, we’ve written about febrile seizures, a seizure associated with a fever, on this website before. Many times, especially with children, a child will have a single seizure and then never have another.
Unfortunately, our daughter’s first seizure was the first of several, and despite a thorough neurological evaluation, we still have no idea why these have happened. However, we’ve also learned that, when it comes to seizures, “no answers” is GOOD NEWS. We will likely never know exactly why our little darling has had these episodes, and that’s a good thing.
So. If your child has a seizure, what should you do?
This video, produced by Epilepsy Ottawa, is extremely helpful in understanding what a tonic-clonic seizure looks like, as well as what to do if you encounter an individual experiencing a tonic-clonic seizure.
And as always, PLEASE CALL 911 IMMEDIATELY if your child…
- has difficulty breathing
- turns bluish in color
- has had a head injury
- seems ill
- has a known heart condition
- has never had a seizure before