first time

I remember clearly the first time Calvin had a seizure. He was eighteen months old. Still a tiny thing, he had just begun learning how to crawl and had just said Mama for the first time; little did I know, it would be the last. He’d woken up from a nap listless and feverish, so I’d given him some acetaminophen. It was a Sunday and while Michael laid on the futon with our boy I called the hospital and spoke to the pediatrician on duty.
“My one-year-old has a temp of 102.6, is there something I should do or be concerned about?” I asked.

The doctor told me, no, that children can endure much higher temps than adults, as high as 106 degrees without other complications.

“Even though my son is developmentally delayed and has a brain malformation?” I asked.

He reassured me that there was nothing to worry about, and though his answer didn’t sit well with me, there was nothing more I could do but hope that Calvin’s fever would subside. Seconds after hanging up, just when Calvin gave us a smile making me think he might be feeling better, he suddenly stiffened and choked, his eyes bulging then receding in their sockets, then his body began to convulse. Though I’d never seen one, I knew it was a seizure. Frantically, I dialed 911 and spoke to the operator as Michael instinctively swung Calvin back and forth in his arms, a human timepiece ticking off the warped seconds, our child his swaying pendulum. Almost immediately, Calvin’s lips began fading to blue, his skin growing ghostly yet blooming feverish patches on his cheeks. We were terrified, and for four minutes our little boy twitched like a bug in Michael’s arms. From the upstairs room I heard the ambulance approach, saw it pull up and watched the medics bail out with their boxes of lifesaving equipment. Minutes later, we were riding in the back of the ambulance headed to the emergency room, parting traffic and sailing through lighted beacons. A sick, uneasy feeling rose in my gut remembering the time, just eighteen months prior, when I’d taken the same route with Michael after my water had broken and before our lives were turned upside down.

We learned that Calvin’s seizure was febrile, that he had had a urinary tract infection causing the fever which had triggered the seizure. Six weeks later it happened again. Same reason. Same trigger. Same panic and fear. So, on Halloween, when Calvin was twenty-months old, we had him circumcised to prevent further infections. Seeing him struggle under the anesthetist’s mask gave me chills and I remember being thankful that I’d never seen him intubated in the hours after his birth. Days after the circumcision, Calvin cried in a tub shallowly filled with warm water while I peeled bloody gauze from his penis. I wasn’t sure which was worse, seeing my baby hurt or seeing him seize. Either way, I felt helpless.

Calvin at eighteen months with a younger friend, August 2005

1 comment:

  1. There's no end to the broken heart, is there? That photo of Calvin is so precious. I think what irritates me most about the current raging vaccination debate is when seizures -- any seizures, whether febrile or worse -- are dismissed as being benign or as "going to happen anyway." There's not much more horrifying than a seizure, and when you've experienced as many as we have -- well -- your heart breaks.