As a parent, the very worst thing you can imagine is something terrible happening to your child. Something terrible did happen to my child 3 years ago which I’d like to share with you. It may happen to you (or someone you know). Statistics tell us it will and this may help remove some of the blind panic and terror I experienced and leave you better equipped to deal with it.
3 years ago, when Finn was 10 months old, I spent approximately 2 minutes thinking I was going to lose him. These were the longest 2 minutes of my life, the feelings during which I can never explain but just remembering that moment still brings me to tears, 3 years on.
10pm and Finn is sleeping soundly. I, at 3 months pregnant am doing the same in the room next door. Andy is at the Studio, putting up signs on our new building. I am woken by a part cry, part moan coming from Finley’s room. If you’re a parent you’ll now that any unusual noise coming from your baby is an immediate cause for alarm and I jumped up, instantly awake (no mean feat for a 3-month-pregnant lady) and ran to his aid.
He was bright red and stiff as a board, almost like he was paralysed with his little arms fixed to his sides and feet pointed like a mini ballerina. As I lifted him to me I felt him red hot and his head lolled like a newborn’s. I ran downstairs, grabbed the phone and dialled 999 then Andy.
The operator was calm and assured me help was on it’s way. He kept me talking and tried to calm me down. I was, as you can imagine, beside myself, sobbing for someone to help my baby. He ran though some vital questions (is he breathing etc.) and told me to call straight back if I was worried before the ambulance arrived.
Minutes later, Finn stopped breathing. That was the moment. The moment I never want to experience for as long as I live, when I thought my baby was dead. I frantically called the emergency services again and with that, saw the blue lights outside my door.
4 paramedics ran into the living room. 3 to his aid and 1 to me. They were incredibly calm, I was in awe of this serenity in such a situation. At this point, Finn was breathing, though still unconscious and rigid. The paramedics took his temperature, confirming what I already knew, that he was running a very high fever and swiftly administered Calpol and ibuprofen.
We stripped off his clothes and I held him tightly to me as they explained their suspicions, that some babies have immature immune systems and are unable to regulate their temperature. When a fever ‘spikes’ i.e. raises rapidly, it causes the brain to go into overdrive and triggers a convulsion.
When we think of a convulsion, fever or fit, we think of someone lying in the ground, limbs shaking and twitching. The paramedics explained that Finn was also likely experiencing a kind of convulsion, one which causes the muscles to tighten and limbs stiffen.
I was asked to get dressed and pack a bag for myself and Finn as we were to be taken to the Children’s hospital for tests. Andy, now home after a frenzied drive back, followed on the car.
Once at the hospital, Finn had cooled down and was in more of a normal, albeit very sleepy state. More tests were done, urine taken (not easy to do with a 10-month-old) and we were taken up to the ward for an overnight stay so they could observe him closer and determine exactly what had happened.
He was wired up to a machine to monitor his blood pressure, heart rate and oxygen saturation and placed in a cot in just his nappy, which to me seemed unbelievably cruel in the middle of January but I was assured he was to be kept cool.
Andy returned home (there is only one adult bed next to the cot and we figured we’d function better if at least one of us got some sleep, though I doubt he did) and I sat watching my now sleeping baby. Every fibre in my body was telling me to crawl into the crib with him, pick him up and hold him to me but the wires and devices attached to his little body prevented me from doing so. I felt like my heart at been ripped out, trampled and put back in my chest.
Needless to say, sleep didn’t come easy that night. The nurses had to come and do hourly checks, each time waking him as they probed his ear with the thermometer and each time weakening me a little further, the longing to hold him close getting stronger with each visit.
When morning came, I was straight up and succumbing to my primal instincts, reached into the cot and pulled my baby to me, careful not to displace any vital equipment attached to him. I let him sleep on me, reassured by the gentle rise and fall of his body until the consultant paid us a visit.
They were worried about his chest and wanted to x-ray him. Andy hadn’t yet arrived and, being pregnant I was unable to go down with him. He had to be torn from me, both of us in tears as he was taken down with a nurse to have the x-ray.
At some point during the day, he was to be given IV antibiotics as a precaution. It took 2 nurses and me to hold him down to get the needle in his chubby little hand. Because he was so fleshy they couldn’t locate the vein. Here we were, him writhing in pain, me holding him down when all I wanted to do was push them away, get the needles away from my baby and gather him into me. A lasting memory is the look he gave me as they’re trying to get the vein, blood everywhere, his eyes twisted in pain looking directly at me as if to say ‘help me, Mummy. You’re supposed to be protecting me’, yet there I was, on their side fighting against him.
The results came back and they confirmed he had pneumonia and the fever had indeed induced a convulsion. He was kept in another night for observation and when they were happy all was well, we were sent home, tired and emotionally drained with a bottle of antibiotics and ibuprofen.
Since then he’s had at least 10 more convulsions. Each time accompanied by a fever and each time putting the fear of God into me. As he’s gotten older, they have become more like ‘fits’, eyes rolling, mouth foaming, body shaking and a few times he’s stopped breathing. It is, frankly, terrifying.
During the 4 months following this first episode, we had 3 more hospital stays. He had to endure a lumbar puncture and spent 3 days in an intensive care unit in New York (not a holiday I’d ever like to repeat).
So, why am I telling you all this? Before this happened to us, I had no idea this could happen. I’ve since discovered that they affect 1 in 20 children between the ages of one and four. In most cases, they are harmless and merely a complication of the rapid rise in temperature. It’s extremely rare for them to cause long-term damage and most children will grow out of them by the age of six.
Melissa has a child who suffers from them and recently tweeted that a lady who’d read her blog was with her niece when she had her fist seizure and, as such, knew how to deal with it. I hope it doesn’t happen to any of you but if you’ve read this, and it does, I hope you’ll at least be a bit less scared.
It often happens without warning but is sometimes preceded by a viral infection or illness. If your child does start to convulse, put them in the recovery position, make sure their airways are clear and dial 999. Whilst you’re waiting for help, strip them done to their nappy and administer Calpol (infant paracetamol) once they’ve stopped shaking.