Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Clarity in the eye of a storm

Our day started our pretty conventionally, except that Emily had a fever.

Emily having a fever was nothing extraordinary. She gets them regularly. When Chloe just gets a cold, Emily often gets a fever to go with it, so we weren't too concerned. Chloe was getting over a cold that Emily seemed to have caught too. No big deal. Our biggest concern was with navigating our work needs for the day.

We quickly came up with a plan. Julie would work the morning while I took care of Emily and then we'd switch. But in order to avoid the extra driving in and out of town (we only have one car), we decided we'd go in together. I'd drop Julie off at work and Chloe at daycare, and then if Emily was asleep, I'd driver her around so she could have a good rest.

Everything worked out just as planned. Julie went to work, Emily slept while we went for a nice drive, and then we both ended up at the mall where we shared a muffin and a coffee (water for Em). Emily was sick alright, but on Advil she seemed to be feeling pretty good and she wolfed down her muffin.

After we were done our muffin, we still had plenty of time to kill, so we borrowed a stroller from the customer service desk and went for a walk around the mall. I looked at TVs and books, and Emily was content just to go along for the ride. And then everything changed.

While we were browsing a natural food store (like I said, time to kill), I noticed that Emily was leaning forward and looking at the floor. For a moment I thought this was amusing but then decided I'd better get her to lift her head up so she wouldn't bang it on something. As I leaned down I said, "Emily, lift your head up honey so you don't hit it on something."

I began to lift her head  but it was like lifting a bag of sand. She didn't help me at all. I also noticed that she'd had the bar of the stroller putting pressure on her neck and her windpipe. I frowned, thinking this couldn't have been comfortable. Once I got her head up, she just fell sideways. She was awake, looking straight ahead, but had no muscle control at all. I began to panic. I said, "Emily, what's wrong honey. What's going on?" She was completely non-responsive. I started to unbuckle her and tried to pick her up out of the stroller. A passerby asked if I needed help. I said, "yes, something's wrong. She's not moving and I'm having trouble pulling her out."

Between the two of us, we got Emily out of the stroller and I went directly to the Customer Service desk, which was close by. I left the stroller there, took another look at Emily, who was still non-responsive, and asked the woman behind the desk to call 911 immediately. As much as I wanted to get in the car and drive her myself, I remembered reading somewhere that you should never do this in a real emergency because the paramedics often can help on the way to the hospital. Valuable time is lost when you try to go it a lone. "Can you call 911 right away. My girl's not responding and she's not moving. Something's wrong."

Things continued to deteriorate. Emily seemed to be breathing quickly and shallowly, as if she was having trouble catching her breath. She was drooling all over my shoulder and every few seconds, her arms or legs would twitch. My world started to fall apart.

In the past I've felt guilty for not always feeling that tender fatherly affection one is supposed to feel at all times for one's children. Why don't I feel love when they whine and complain, or throw their food on the floor. I'm often moving between feelings of love and protectiveness to feelings of annoyance and frustration, and back again.

But at that moment, I felt love, protectiveness, fear, and loss. I was worried Emily had Meningitis or some other form of swelling of the brain, and that she could have been slipping away right there in my arms, in a shopping mall, with her Mom a few blocks away but unreachable, in a meeting - a rather normal activity on this anything but normal day.

I wondered what I would do if things really went wrong. What would we do with our walls of comfortable expectations crumbling around us, our hearts in tatters? What would we tell Chloe? How would we survive not being granted the privilege of getting to really know our little girl. After all, we'd just been introduced.

For a moment I felt what before I've only ever heard described. Noises around me quieted, people's actions seemed to be in slow motion, and my knees started trembling. I asked the lady behind the counter several times, "the ambulance was called too, right. Not just security?" Being a Civil Servant, I was panicked that the lady might have been following some bureaucratic process of waiting for Security to come on scene first before calling 911.

Then security arrived, and Emily started to come around a bit - just enough to make me think there was hope. Then, as the paramedics arrived, she started to cry a little bit. The first paramedic to arrive on scene said nonchalantly, irritated, "she looks like she's doing alright to me." If I hadn't had a baby in my arms, I might have socked him. But no, I was too tired for that. So tired, spent, shaken, we made our way to the hospital to get checked out.

Diagnosis: Febrile seizures. The doctor's words, "With Febrile Seizures the child's eyes are open, but she's actually unconscious. The seizures are generally harmless but they can sure seem frightening at the time."