I’ve been back and forth in my mind about whether to share this or not, but I’m going to for two reasons. First, writing is therapeutic for me. Second, I feel called to help people and my hope is that someone will read this and gain strength, the way I did.
Let me start off by saying everyone is okay. Healthy, safe and happy and I cannot ask for anything more. I’m so grateful for that. We went to the beach Sunday morning. I was so excited that we packed up and got out of the house before 10 am — a real feat for us on a weekend.
When Sterling first spoke to me that morning, his voice was a little crackly and I said “Are you getting sick?” and of course he said, “No, I’m fine!” And he was, indeed fine. He ate his breakfast, had water and snacks in the car. You get used to kids having little coughs and raspy voices sometimes, especially when they’re little and especially when you have three.
We got to the beach and the kids ran around, built sandcastles, ran with the waves. It was a beautiful morning, and we decided to go grab lunch at the cafe that’s part of the beach we were at.
Sterling started to say he felt tired so I had him lay his head down on my lap. Still, he seemed fine and I knew they’d been up late the last few weeks with summer vacation and I didn’t think much of it. As I was rubbing his back, I realized he felt a little warm. By little, I mean a little. I can tell a fever to the round number by a kiss on the forehead, and I told my husband it couldn’t have been higher than 100. No big deal. So he texted our cousin to pick up some children’s Advil on his way to meet us, and we finished up our lunch.
At some point, Sterling sat up and looked bewildered at the curtains swaying in the wind next to us. My husband, who was with Sterling two-and-a-half-years ago when he had his first febrile seizure, said “He’s going to have a seizure” so I picked him up and put his head over my shoulder. I told the waiter “Sir, I need a doctor. And the check. We need our check”. I felt clear headed. Dr. Nancy Zimble, our pediatrician, had walked me through what a seizure is and that it’s not dangerous every time I brought him into her office with a fever. Kids grow out of it between five and five-and-a-half, and he hadn’t had one since he was two. I thought we were in the clear.
Dr. Nancy was in my head that moment: “It seems like it lasts forever but it doesn’t. It’s not harmful. You stay calm. You wait. You count”.
I felt him mildly shaking. He involuntarily threw up down my back, with his head still over my shoulder. I walked up to another waiter “I need a doctor”. A woman behind me yelled something. Sterling had had a few sips of cherry coke before he laid his head down on me. I’m sure it looked scary to her. I reminded myself it didn’t matter. Stay calm. Sterling was going to be okay. I still wanted help.
I heard my husband telling me to go to our beach bed that we had rented. I headed that way, walking down a makeshift boardwalk, holding my child, calmly asking for a doctor, “I need a doctor. Is there a doctor”. I was grateful to not be able to see Sterling’s face. I had never seen a seizure and honestly, I still haven’t. I held him the whole time.
Matt called me back to the lifeguards.
I calmly told them my son was five, he was having a febrile seizure, he’d had one once before when he was two. They checked his pulse and weren’t sure they felt it. I stood there holding him, felt him urinate. I was so scared. His body on my body felt so heavy. Still, calm. In my head, I asked GD, The Universe, whoever was listening: “Keep him safe. Keep him safe”.
I don’t know if you know this song, but Dispatch is my healing music. I run to it, I cook to it, I live by it. “I will carry you” started being the background in my mind. I felt like it was GD to me, me to Sterling. “I will carry you”.
I don’t know how many minutes went by. There was a very calm lifeguard in front of me, asking me if I wanted to put Sterling down. “No,” I said. I felt Matt behind me. He was holding the baby and I later found out another lifeguard was comforting Scarlet. They were deciding whether to call the paramedic. Did we want one? “Yes,” I remember saying.
Febrile seizures aren’t life-threatening. They aren’t harmful. They are scary as all hell. Two to six percent of children will experience one, and it becomes more likely to have a second after you’ve had a first.
The seizure seemed to be ending. He was still in my arms as I followed the lifeguards down the makeshift boardwalk to the parking lot and stepped into the ambulance with him. He curled up on his side with his eyes closed as they hooked him up to machines to monitor his pulse, his heart rate. There was no thermometer, but I could feel he wasn’t getting hotter. I could see Shepherd outside of the ambulance in our little blue beach wagon, surrounded by the staff of the restaurant.
Humanity had shown up and it humbled me to see, as I trusted my oldest son to the paramedics and my youngest to the strangers who were comforting him.
Sterling was stable. He wasn’t awake, but he was stable. We drove out of the windy back roads away from Paradise Cove Beach and made the 20-minute drive to a little emergency room, that turns out to not get many pediatric patients.
I hesitate to write about this part, too, but it’s also something parents should know, GD forbid they ever experience a febrile seizure. The first time Sterling had a seizure, he turned blue. His fever went from 99 to 104 in a matter of minutes. He was jerky in his seizure and Matt was home alone with him. He was rushed by ambulance to Tarzana Medical Hospital, which has a big pediatric unit. They knew what it was, monitored him, reassured us, comforted us, sent us home knowing he was okay.
I felt I couldn’t suggest which hospital we went to while clutching Sterling’s now five-year-old head in my hands in the back of the ambulance, but we have enough children to know that you go to the major hospitals for pediatrics. The nice paramedics decided on Los Robles due to distance, and I wasn’t about to tell them where to go. So we went. The nurse was kind and helped me clean Sterling up. She didn’t know how to put in his IV so another nurse came in “Wait, IV?,” I asked? “He didn’t have an IV last time”, I told them. They felt he needed it, so I allowed it.
His temperature was 100.6. Just as I’d guessed. The doctor that shift wanted to run every test under the sun. Chest x-rays, swabs for viruses in the nose, and then for strep. I let them do the swab up the nose and when he cried and objected, I really started questioning. “I’m going to call our pediatrician”. It was a Sunday, so it took a good hour to hear back. The pediatrician listened to me, a mother of three, a mother for almost eight years, tell him what happened. He said Sterling didn’t need a chest x-ray or antibiotics. We were there for the seizure and monitoring in case he had another, which can sometimes happen but did not. We were not there for whatever mild childhood virus that was going on behind the scenes.
Febrile seizures happen at the onset of a fever, or when a fever goes from low to high very quickly. They had already given him intravenous antibiotics, which our pediatrician had told them was unnecessary, and with his consent, I canceled the chest x-ray. Sterling was awake and talking, his heart rate was a little high, higher when he cried, but in general, he was upset. The pediatrician said it was fine. When I told the doctor our pediatrician said it was okay for us to leave, three hours after arriving, she lost her cool. She made me sign two really scary documents, saying that we were leaving against medical advice, and even after speaking with our pediatrician, she had the front desk call me when the swab results came in and said “Sterling has tested positive for para-influenza” and that we should come back to the emergency room immediately. Now, Para-influenza is a virus that is not regularly tested for in pediatrician’s offices because it’s simply put as “the virus that causes the croup, or in adults, laryngitis”. Both things, as parents of three children who have all had the croup and every other preschool virus under the sun, we know, and our pediatrician confirmed, are not things you go to the emergency room for, unless you are a new parent whose child has the croup for the first time and you are scared.
Not to mention, this was the very start of Sterling being sick. In my experience, croup is at its worst a few days in, and its a virus, so there is no antibiotic for it.
Anyway, Sterling was alert, and under the advice of his pediatrician, we took him home. He ate dinner, was happy to see our cousin, who brought him candy. He slept in our bed, we gave him Advil regularly, and his resting heart rate was back to 84, totally normal.
I look back on yesterday and I see strength. In my little boy, who woke from his sleep after having a seizure to ask me why we weren’t at the beach. Strength. The lifeguards who calmly cared for and comforted Sterling and our whole family. The paramedics, who patiently explained everything to me and let me use their cell phone and who allowed me to shake their hand as that was the only thing I had to give them in gratitude. My mother-in-law, who always shows up for us. I didn’t cry until I saw her. Our pediatrician, who got on the phone for countless conversations with me on his Sunday, reassuring me all the way.
I woke up today to a new strength. I’m so proud of my family. My husband. To see my him, the father of my children, have the utmost calm and care for his baby. To see Sterling, wake up from a seizure and tell me he didn’t know why the heck I would’ve brought him to the hospital.
Sterling is back to his normal self, with just a little cough and a low-grade fever. Had it not been for having the seizure, we never would have gone to the doctor for this little virus.
It seems the only residual effects are the play-by-play(s) running through Matt and my heads, and the soreness that runs down from the top of my shoulder to the end of my wrist, from holding his fifty-pound little self, because I made the decision when my arms were about to give that I would not let him down. I will never let him down.
Humanity. We have a strength, and a goodness, and a spark inside us. It’s our job to keep tapping into it.
Here’s our guy today, back to normal, just a little kid virus. Hopefully, that’s the last of the febrile seizures. <3 Thank you, Paradise Cove Lifeguards, to the paramedics whose names I didn’t get, to our beloved pediatricians, and to the staff at Los Robles Emergency Room.