Birthdays are not a big deal to me. Never have been, really. Yesterday was my 31st. I don’t have a lot of friends, family, or acquaintances living nearby, so I appreciate the calendrical mandate for social grooming more than ever, even if it mostly comes about because of Facebook’s insatiable hunger for our Content. But how can the discrete progression of whole numbers compare to the inner weight of lived experience?
Sometimes a moment of Real Aging coincides with an arbitrary one. Two nights ago, we were sitting down for dinner. Miles was feeling warm and looked sluggish, and on top of all that had bonked his head pretty good on the porch in the afternoon, so we had already planned a dose of liquid ibuprofen and a quick bedtime. I put him in his high chair, Ash presented his plate of food, and he started in on a slice of cucumber. I turned away to get a glass of water.
Ash sounded mildly but not urgently concerned. When you have a toddler you grow quite accustomed to the sound of your wife asking them if something is wrong. You don’t panic, but you do stop and check in. I never got my glass of water. I turned around to see Miles doubled over in his chair, beginning to shake. She, or I, or both of us tried to help him sit up straight, and it was instantly, unmistakably obvious that something was wrong. He was twitching, shuddering, his eyes unfocused. His mouth was moving rhythmically, almost idly, as if he wanted to speak — or breathe — but couldn’t.
Before I knew that I knew what was happening, I managed to say it out loud. “He’s having a seizure. We need to call 911.”
You know how sometimes TouchID doesn’t recognize your thumbprint, and since you’re just idly checking whether anyone Liked your stuff, it’s ok? You barely even register that there’s been an error. I’m sure at some point when this episode is less of a wild, helpless feeling in my gut and more of a digested set of memories, I’ll have some new thoughts about the role of technology in our lives, or whatever. But standing there with one finger in Miles’ mouth (this is not what one is supposed to do in this situation, as the EMS operator soon told me, but more on that later), the other hand fumbling with my damn precious phone, I’d never felt more frustrated with my manifest clumsiness or the shortcomings of human-computer interaction.
My mother-in-law is an operator for the California Highway Patrol, so I understand that the man on the other end of the phone call was following correct, professional procedure. I still almost lost my shit as he patiently and deliberately asked for our cross street. “Don’t you understand that I need to shout about the horrific emergency my sweet, beautiful son is having??? don’t you have maps? the fucking internet???” are a few things that I’m really glad I didn’t say out loud. Miles’s lips were turning purple and bubbling with a very viscous drool. I have no idea where Ash was. Probably right next to me. The only thing that existed for me in that moment was my dearest love and joy suffocating from a brain malfunction.
We’re fortunate to live a very short distance from: my parents, who were helpful even though I was too wound up to be reassured or to know how to ask for help; a small fire station, who sent the first responders to the scene (when I went outside to show them in, I saw a rabbit in the yard and, dumbly, pointed it out to them); and a hospital that I understand is well rated, and has treated us well in our few times of need. The children’s wing of the ER has a couple of staff dedicated solely to helping your kid stay calm and entertained while they’re confined to a strange harshly-lit curtain-room hours past bedtime with no supper and a thermometer in their ass, and bless them for it.
As I now understand, febrile seizures happen to between 2 and 5 percent of children, usually between the ages of 6 months and 5 years. The proper response is to lay them on their side if possible, and do what you can to keep their airway open (by keeping their head tilted up, not by putting your finger in their mouth, good god, I was part of the problem!), without restraining them. It seems that the cause of most of these seizures is a rapid change in body temperature, so a good preventative measure is liquid acetaminophen as soon as you suspect a fever is coming on. This is worth remembering after the first seizure (who could forget?), because about 2 in 5 kids who have one will have another at some point. Especially if the seizure doesn’t last long — Miles’s lasted 3 or 4 minutes, which in spite of how it felt to watch, qualifies as short — there appears to be very little risk of long-term damage. Again, we are very fortunate.
We got home around 11 and finally got some reheated dinner after putting an exhausted, medicated toddler in bed. Aside from the fever, he’s fine as far as we can tell. He popped bubble wrap for the first time yesterday afternoon, and giggled like there’s nothing to fear in the universe. I can admit to you that I spent 3 or 4 minutes staring in the mirror this morning, trying to see if I had any new gray hairs at my temples or in my beard. It’s got nothing to do with the number of years I’ve been lucky enough for my fool head to stay on my shoulders.