I never planned to write a post on what to do when your child has a seizure…and then my 18-month-old had a seizure AND I HAD NO IDEA WHAT TO DO. I’m writing this post with much relief (Quin is fine!), but still feeling very shaken from the experience.
It would have been traumatic no matter what, but I cannot describe the feeling of powerlessness watching my child seize and yelling at the 911 operator “WHAT DO I DO?” and hearing her say, “Just wait for the ambulance.” When your child is having a five minute seizure, waiting for an ambulance seems like an eternity. I hope you never have to know this, but I’m writing the post that I wish I had read before we went through this experience.
Dislcaimer: I am NOT a doctor! I’m sharing things our doctor told us and what I learned in light of this. If your child is having a seizure, call 911. For more information about YOUR child’s heath, ask your doctor.
Our Seizure Story
It started out as a typical Sunday morning: the rush to church, dropping kids off in various classes, enjoying worship and trying to pay attention while helping my son draw in the bulletin. When I picked Quin (my 18-month-old) up from her class and she was asleep, I should have known something was wrong. But she normally naps around noon, so I thought maybe she played hard and didn’t quite make it to nap time.
She perked up in the car and I put her down for nap around 12:30 or 1pm. Around 4pm, I woke her up. My kids go to bed by 7pm, so getting up after 4pm is like a death toll for bedtime. I immediately could tell that she was feverish. I took her temperature under her armpit and it was 101.5. She seemed to feel fine, so I didn’t give her medicine. I have always been told that generally speaking, letting the fever run without bringing it down will help the body fight infection quicker.
She had a bath and played with her sister and ate food when my mom dropped by for dinner. (Rob was out with our two sons.) After dinner she crawled into my lap to snuggle, definitely the mark of a sick child. She didn’t feel any hotter than she had, but all of the sudden, her body stiffened and her eyes rolled back into her head.
My mom spoke out loud the words in my head, “I think she’s having a seizure!”
I go into what I call Task Mode when there is an emergency. Which is to say I don’t allow worry any place since it won’t do any good and simply do the tasks needed at the time. I think I picked this up while working in a veterinary hospital for a few years in high school and college. Staying calm is simply what you have to do. Even if you are freaking out inside. (My mom did a great job staying calm even though I knew she was desperately worried as well!)
Mom took Quin while I ran to the kitchen to get medicine to bring down the fever. I realized as Quin continued to seize, that I wouldn’t be able to get her to take medicine and instead I called 911.
Quin continued to jerk and shake, breathing in shallow gasps, arms clenched to her chest.
The operator seemed to take forever to get our name and address. She said an ambulance was on its way, but when I asked what to do with Quin, who was still seizing, she said, “The ambulance will be there shortly. Stay on the line.”
Quin sounded like she was beginning to choke on her own saliva and her breathing sounded wet. I knew from the timer counting the seconds of the phone call that Quin’s seizure was over five minutes now with no break. I kept asking the operator if we should sit her up or lay her down or what we could do to help her labored breathing.
Her only answer was: “Wait for the ambulance.”
That wait seemed like an eternity, though it was just under ten minutes. I prayed silently while whispering to Quin and rubbing her back. Just before EMS came into the house, Quin’s seizure stopped. She didn’t open her eyes, but her body stopped shaking and she began to moan.
I held her while they took her temperature and they said we “could” come to the hospital. In my mind, I was thinking Quin had brain damage or would suffer some kind of serious setback or permanent injury after having a seizure that was about seven minutes long. Of COURSE we would go to the hospital. I imagined they would do an MRI and some kind of scan to check her brain and functions.
In the ambulance she opened her eyes for the first time and fear really hit me. Her pupils were dilated and she could not see. I moved a hand in front of her eyes and she did not track or, even worse, blink. Her arms were curled tightly to her chest in an awkward way and her legs were limp.
I’m a worst-case-scenario kind of person, mostly because I don’t like being surprised, especially with bad things. I would rather have thought through it beforehand. I didn’t have a particular diagnosis in mind, but I did not think the outcome looked good. It seemed to me in that moment that Quin was gone.
At the hospital they checked her temperature again and it came in at 103. She really woke up then (a rectal temperature check has that effect) and I saw the light come on in her eyes. “Dada,” she cried, and a few minutes later, Rob came in the doors. She reached for him and he even got her to smile. She still wasn’t moving her legs and I was still worried about permanent damage from the length of the seizure.
What we learned from the doctor is that she most likely had a sudden spike in her temperature. The body can’t handle this and so a seizure is its response for protection. It is called a febrile seizure and is actually fairly common. Several of my nephews have had this and Rob had a severe reaction after vaccines and had to be resuscitated by EMS.
The only tests they ran were for strep, flu, and a bladder infection. They found nothing. “It must be a virus,” the doctor said. “Keep her fever down and follow up with your doctor.”
That’s IT? I was relieved, but if you’ve ever gone witnessed someone having a seizure, it does not seem like a small thing.
There was no concern about long-term effects or function. My fears of losing Quin were quite far from the mark. Essentially we will pay about 400% more than the normal doctor’s visit where you are told your child has a virus.
But we did the right thing by calling, they said, and if she had more seizures we should call again. I felt totally confused and emotionally exhausted after trying to stay calm and stuffing my worst-case-scenario fears down so I could manage to answer questions and fill out paperwork and take care of Quin for those four hours waiting for test results.
So what SHOULD you do if your child has a seizure? This is something I wish I had known beforehand. I wish I at least had some small understanding of how we should hold Quin and if we needed to keep her from choking or biting her tongue or something else. I wish I had known that it was common, even if it LOOKS horrifying.
I’m happy to say that Quin is back home and totally back to normal. I hope none of you have been through this or will, but I thought I would share my story and also tips for what to expect so that you can maybe panic internally a little bit less.
Sharing really helps people feel less alone, so if you have any experiences, please share them in the comments!!
What to Do When Your Child Has a Seizure
Stay Calm. This is easier said than done. Realize that MOST seizures are not serious and MOST children who have one do not have more. 10% of all children may have one seizure, but only 1-2% will have more. (WebMd)
Create a Safe Space. Remove any objects that may harm your child, such as hard toys in the area or your child’s glasses.
Lay Her on Gently on Her Side. This allows any fluids to drain out rather than cause a choking hazard.
Call 911. Especially if this is the first seizure or it lasts more than three minutes.
Stay Calm. Did I need to say it again? Yep. If you’ve been through one, you’ll know that you need the reminder.
Don’t worry about Him Swallowing His Tongue. I remember hearing this growing up and heard you should even put a ruler or something in your child’s mouth. You don’t need to put anything in your child’s mouth.
What to Expect When Your Child Has a Seizure
This is harder to nail down as it can depend on the type of seizure or the cause. Febrile seizures are caused by high fever and are fairly common between ages 6 months and 5 years.
Your child may twitch, jerk, stiffen, roll, breathe shallowly, vomit, drool, and her eyes may roll back in her head. Febrile seizures may last from 15 seconds to 15 minutes. Try to note the time for your doctor.
After a seizure, it may take some time for your child to recover. If it is a febrile seizure, remember you are already dealing with a feverish child, so he may be already lethargic. It may take some time for your child to “wake up” and seem like him or herself. (I really wish I had known THAT before this!)
I’m so thankful that Quin is back to normal: playing chase with her Daddy in the halls and fighting with her sister over everything. Her fever is down, but I have continued the fever-reducers as the doctor ordered and we plan to follow up with our pediatrician this week. Apparently, the tendency toward febrile seizures can be hereditary. So even though our other kids haven’t had one, we have had several occurrences in the family. They also might happen again with Quin, so you better bet I will be keeping a close eye on her temps.
This was by far the most out-of-control and scared I’ve felt as a parent. I’m sure we are in for many more bumps in the road and scares! You can’t always prepare for them, but I hope this helps you to prepare just in CASE it happens to your child. (But I really hope it doesn’t!)
We can’t prepare for everything and we can’t worry needlessly about all the things that MIGHT happen. But for me, expectations can go a looooooong way.
Have you had a similar experience? Let me know below in the comments.
Things I Never Knew about Febrile Seizures from Brave in Love <- GREAT post!