My Sweet Girl Stopped Breathing for a Minute
She’s okay. I’m not. What I wish I had known.
I don’t want to write these words on paper. Yet, I feel like a fraud for continuing to write about mental health and self-improvement when my world just fell apart. How can I talk about living a better life when I’m living my nightmare?
As a writer, the only way I know how to work through what I’m feeling is with the written word.
I’ll start from the beginning. My 9-year-old came into my bedroom around 5 am. She claimed she had a nightmare and crawled into bed. She does this often, and it’s a good thing she’s tiny for her age, or we would’ve ended the habit long ago.
My husband had fallen asleep in our basement. He does that every so often when he doesn’t have to get up early for work. So he (and our two dogs) were not in bed with us.
All of a sudden, I woke up to what sounded like choking. My daughter’s limbs shook, and foam escaped her mouth. She wears a retainer on her top teeth, and I thought she had swallowed it. I screamed her name. Sat her up. Shook her. I even reached my hand in her mouth (something you’re not supposed to do during a seizure) and felt nothing.
She wasn’t breathing. I kept my hand on her head, thinking, “she’s not cold; she’s not cold.” I leaned over and switched on the light, all while thinking she was dying. As I looked for my phone to call 911, she opened her eyes. They rolled back in her head, and she suddenly started breathing.
Just like that, it was over. She never woke up. My entire body shook. I fell to the floor and then ran to the bathroom to throw up. I couldn’t leave her. I sat with her, Googling WTF just happened.
And just as I realized she’d had a seizure, the choking noise began again. I rolled her on her side as drool fell from her mouth. Mercifully, it only lasted 10 or 15 seconds, and she woke up gasping for air. She looked at me, laid down, and fell asleep once again. I left her long enough to grab my phone and run to get my husband. He sat with her while I questioned what to do.
Why the hell hadn’t, I called 911 by now? I don’t know. I went back into our bedroom, and my husband said he heard the choking noise like I had but again only for a few seconds. She woke up at that point and walked downstairs on her own.
I waited for the doctor’s office to open. I waited. I don’t know why. In the 30 minutes before I could reach them, she vomited twice. The nurse called and told me to take her to the E.R. immediately.
I loaded her in the car while my husband remained with our son. I was so afraid she’d fall asleep and have another seizure that I talked loudly to her the entire trip. She started to close her eyes, and I screamed her name.
She looked at me and said, “What mom? I’m not going to die.”
The E.R. doctor sat calmly while I described exactly what happened. She confirmed my daughter had a cluster of seizures and would need a CT scan and MRI (later once she could see a pediatric neurologist). The CT scan came back clear — meaning no tumor, stroke, or brain bleed (three things I hadn’t come across in my Google search, thank God).
They sent us away with anti-seizure medication and an appointment with a pediatric neurologist (a week later).
What I Wish I Had Known
- She wasn’t choking. You can’t choke on your tongue (contrary to popular myth). Her retainer sat snugly on her teeth. It didn’t move. If it happens again, I hope I’ll find some relief in knowing there’s nothing lodged in her throat. Although, if someone’s having a seizure, it’s best to put them on their side so that saliva can flow out the mouth.
- I should have called 911. She stopped breathing. I didn’t know what was happening. The ambulance would have been a far better ride to the hospital than the one I provided.
- Paramedics have access to a nasal spray that stops seizures instantly. I now have this same prescription. Apparently, you’re not supposed to use it if the seizure lasts less than five minutes. Seriously? Who’s looking at a stopwatch? I can’t guarantee I won’t use it if she has another one.
- Speaking of five minutes, the doctor said patients will start breathing again, and it’s not harmful to them if it isn’t prolonged. Who the hell defines prolonged? Again, I’m not watching my baby not breathe for five minutes. However, I suppose it’s reassuring to know she wasn’t harmed from her minute-long seizure that morning.
- Don’t Google your child’s symptoms. I read everything from it’s completely benign to she could die in her sleep. Are both true? Yes, but I don’t need to know that until she sees a specialist.
- After, I would forget about every petty argument I’d had leading up to this moment with anyone I love. Nothing matters other than they continue to breathe in and out. Nothing.
I’m working with a counselor and will start ERMD (a therapy for PTSD soon), but to recover, I need to grieve the loss of innocence my daughter’s seizure brought. I will no longer say goodnight and not have a flash of panic.
We all know any of our loved ones could die at any moment, and we have no control over it. I’ve been smacked in the head with that reality. There was nothing I could do.
There is nothing I will ever be able to do to protect them fully. I will figure out how to live with that knowledge, but I can’t go back to when I was blissfully ignorant.
It’s like when someone breaks your heart for the first time. You’ll love again, but you’ll be slightly different the next time around. Maybe a little more hesitant. Maybe a little more self-protective.
I’m fighting the urge to not let her out of my sight. Thankfully she remembers none of it. She sees her mother hovering and already feels a bit suffocated. I’ll learn how to let go as part of my therapy.
She’s alive. That’s all that matters. We’re alive.
That’s the message in this time of COVID. This new world is stressful, chaotic, and completely out of our control. I can’t promise it will be okay. But we’re in this together.
Just keep breathing.