firestorm forty-five

When Calvin was two he suffered a 45 minute convulsive seizure. Michael and I thought we would lose him.

We were at a summer cookout at our friends' house along the river. It was a pretty hot day. Calvin and I were relaxing in the window seat when he became pale and listless, as if he were in shock. His eyes deadened, his lips and fingers became tinged with blue and, with a sick grimace on his face, he started gnashing his teeth.

Our hosts were in tune with what we had been experiencing in the four months since Calvin had been diagnosed with epilepsy—and for that matter—of the hardship we had endured since just before his birth. Without pause they called 911.

We administered Diastat (rectal Valium) and after four minutes the seizure stopped. In the ambulance, however, Calvin started to seize again. The EMTs gave him a second drug which halted the seizure but he remained in a disorienting post ictal phase that often occurs in the wake of a seizure.

Once in the emergency room we stayed close by his side to monitor him. It was surprising and odd to me that the Diastat hadn’t knocked him out. Rather, he fell into a kind of catalepsy; he remained in a trance, unresponsive, and stared vacantly for almost an hour. I kept telling the ER staff that something was wrong, but their only response was to try to quell my concerns explaining that it was simply a post ictal state. My gut was telling me differently.

During this time two nurses had tried to insert an IV to replace fluids Calvin had lost from repeated vomiting. For what must have been half an hour they stuck needles into both arms, both hands and both feet, unsuccessfully. Then I noticed Calvin gnashing his teeth again and his body began to twitch. Just as the pediatrician arrived Calvin was going into another seizure; the medicines had failed to control the cluster. This meant Calvin needed a bolus, or large dose, of Phosfenytoin and to do it they had to get that IV in. The pediatrician attempted for twenty minutes as Calvin’s seizure raged on and became more violent. We felt utterly helpless and were losing hope that a vein could be found when at last the doctor met with success and the bolus of medicine entered his system.

Like a freight train speeding downhill without brakes, the longer a seizure continues the harder it is to stop. Brain damage is considered possible after five minutes of a seizure and at thirty minutes the vital organs—heart, lungs and brain—are at risk of failure. Over twenty minutes had passed since Calvin had gotten the bolus and still the seizure showed no signs of stopping. In my desperation I started smothering Calvin with kisses on his neck. I told him how much I loved him while Michael caressed his body and legs and at that moment Calvin’s seizure stopped. It had been a forty-five minute firestorm, and Calvin, our little trooper, had survived it.

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