My son had a febrile seizure 5 days ago.  It was the scariest experience of my life – because I didn’t know what was happening, my actions actually complicated and worsened my son’s condition and put his life at serious risk.

First and foremost, I am clearly not a medical professional.  Please seek the guidance of your doctor and take everything I say here with a big ol’ grain of kosher salt.  This is just my personal experience in my own words (along with a lot of googling.)

You can click here for a full account of my son’s febrile seizure.   

Five days later, and AJ is great – he’s perfect.  I notice no difference in his abilities and personality.   We visited our pediatrician on Monday, and he concluded that there did not appear to be any lasting effects.

My Dad took AJ to Target and bought him this set of Fire & Rescue vehicles.  He LOVES them.  He insists on sleeping with them.  He especially loves the sirens on the ambulance, which I've had to get used to...  (iphone, unedited)

My Dad took AJ to Target and bought him this set of Fire & Rescue vehicles. He LOVES them. He insists on sleeping with them. He especially loves the sirens on the ambulance, which I’ve had to get used to…
(iphone, unedited)

But I’m writing this because I have so many friends in my season of life, who have little kids, and may, God forbid, experience this with their own child.  If reading this helps anyone in some small way – then, I’m grateful for that.

Bottom line:  Febrile seizures are NOT life-threatening.  They shouldn’t be…unless, like me, you make a few grave errors in judgment and cause yourself and your child a whole lot more trauma than what is necessary.

I believed my son had hit his head when he fell down.  I didn’t see him fall, but he was laying flat on his back when I found him.  I’ve heard it repeated many times over my life, that if you believe someone has a head or spinal injury you should not move them – you could cause more damage.  That was the assumption I was working with.

Because I refused to move him, leaving him laying on his back for 10-15 minutes (using phone records to determine the timing of things) his airway was blocked and he was not able to breathe.  By the time the 911 dispatcher insisted I turn him on his side, it was nearly too late.  He had started losing color from his face and lips and stopped moving entirely.

By the grace of God, that was the exact moment that firefighters and paramedics stormed through the front door, to find me hysterical, holding my lifeless baby boy.   Their quick action saved his life.

Head injury vs. Seizure – What to look for

Before you commit these to memory – trust your instincts.  Yeah, mine were wrong.  But my very first instinct, to call 911, was 100% the right thing to do.  If you don’t know, call 911.  Since I believed AJ suffered a head injury, I followed what I thought I should do, but there were definitely signs that it was a seizure, and I could have done things much differently.

With a head injury to a toddler, you may encounter the following:

– Loss of consciousness (AJ was conscious until the end, when he couldn’t breathe.)

– Bleeding/Sign of injury (I never saw any sign that he did hit his head – I assumed it.)

– Inconsolable crying (AJ never cried, he barely made a sound actually.)  This is also a sign of severe pain.  I believed AJ to be in pain, but really had no basis for thinking that.

-Vomiting is common here, but can also occur with seizures, so don’t rely on this symptom.   (AJ was not vomiting, but had saliva coming out of his mouth, for at least several minutes.)

With a febrile seizure, you may see these symptoms:

– Contraction of muscles/ Rhythmic jerking of limbs  (I don’t think AJ had tight muscles at all.  In fact, he only wiggled his arms from side to side for a bit.)

– No response to parent’s voice (Yup.)

–  Vomiting (Didn’t experience this.  Only saliva.)

– Biting tongue (This is the thing!  I knew he had clenched his teeth, because I tried three times to clear his mouth.  The first two times I could not get a finger in – his teeth were shut so tightly. This should have been a huge red flag to me that this was a seizure.)

What to do if you believe your child is having a seizure

– Keep your child safe!  Put your child on the floor if carpeted, and protect his head.  Put a blanket under his head if on a hard surface.  Clear the area.

– Do not try to restrain the movements.

– Only move your child IF they’re in an unsafe place.

– Loosen or remove clothing, especially around the neck area, if possible.

TURN YOUR CHILD ON HIS SIDE or stomach to prevent the tongue from blocking the airway, or from vomit or saliva from choking him.   Here’s where I went wrong!  

– Do NOT put anything in your child’s mouth to try to prevent him from biting his tongue.  You’ll cause more harm this way.  If your child was eating at the start of the seizure, try to remove anything from his mouth, if possible.

– Time it!  Watch a clock – you must know how long this has been going on for.  Most febrile seizures last less than 15 minutes.  I believe AJ’s was about 10 minutes long, from phone records – when I called and hung up on 911.

– Apply cool washcloths to the forehead or neck to bring down the fever.  (AJ did not have a fever to my knowledge – it was a very sudden onset, which is common for febrile seizures.  This means you may not have any warning.  Great, thanks.)

About Febrile Seizures

– They run in families.  I had one at age 3, and was told my oldest sister also had one.  If you, your spouse, or a close family member had one, just be on higher alert – that’s all.

– Most commonly occurring in children between 9 months and 5 years old.  2-4% of children will experience one, most often between 12-18 months.  AJ is 18 months old.

– Most febrile seizures occur within the first 24 hours of an illness, and ear infections, colds, etc are common causes of a fever.   With AJ, he had NO symptoms.  Aside from a very high fever the next 24 hours, I had no warning beforehand.  And he exhibited no other symptoms at all- no runny nose, cough, etc.   I was told at the ER that he had redness in his ear, most likely an ear infection.  The pediatrician saw no sign of it two days later.

-Recurrence is common.  (Awesome.  You mean I could get to do this again?)  Up to 50% of children will have another IF the first febrile seizure occurred under 12 months of age.  Up to 75% of recurring seizures happen within a year of the first one.

Final Thoughts

Febrile seizures, as horrifying as they are, are benign.  There’s usually no major or long-term risks to your child.   But I did make one massive mistake, not discussed above.  If you’ve read my story, you’ve probably already concluded that I lost my mind.  I was hysterical and was no good for anyone.  The 911 dispatcher could not understand me.  She got my address wrong initially.  The firemen determined I was a lunatic and wouldn’t allow me to be with my baby in the back.  If possible, stay calm.  I don’t know if I can follow that advice.  But I have to give it, from the experience of getting it wrong.  I hope and pray hard that I don’t ever have to experience this again.  But if I do, I truly want to believe that I can keep my $*&t together and be the mother that my children need me to be.  My older daughters spoke afterwards about how scared mommy was.  They were more freaked out because of ME than AJ.  That’s not cool.  I regret that.

I hope you never have this experience.  God bless you and protect your children.  I hope this has helped a little and that you feel a bit more prepared if you ever encounter your child unresponsive and don’t know what to do.