Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Kindness of Strangers

There are a lot of depressing things in this world.  War.  Poverty.  Bad TV.  But something happened to us over the weekend that has redeemed my faith in humanity.

Our trip to Cannon Beach was, for the most part, enjoyable.  Except for the fact that I caught the stomach flu and spent two of the days in bed.  All I hoped was that no one else in the house would catch it, but alas, that was not to be.  

On Friday night, as we were watching the opening ceremony of the Olympics, poor little K. started vomiting.  Our worst fears were confirmed; he was in for a rough night.  Fortunately, my husband's brother and his wife, both ER docs, gave us a drug called Zofran to help take away the nausea.  I took it while I was ill, early in the week, and we gave a baby-size dose to K. when he got sick too.  It seemed to help, although even so, I have never seen him so listless. Pretty unnerving.

But it got worse.  

On Sunday afternoon, we were scheduled to fly back to DC from Portland.  On the drive to the airport (about a 2 hour drive from the beach), we noticed K. was really, really lethargic.  I mean so lethargic that he sat in his car seat and and just STARED OUT THE WINDOW for most of the trip.  I had a generally uneasy feeling about hopping on the plane... it was not good.  We felt his head and, as I had feared, he was warm.  I'm not sure exactly how warm, but pretty warm. Before we got to the airport, I gave him some children's Motrin and hoped for the best.

The Motrin seemed to perk him up a bit, and we made our way through check in, security, etc. with all our gear in tow.  (A huge hassle, but that's another story...)  My mother in law andmy husband's sister and her family were all traveling with us.  We all set down our gear near the food court, a few gates down from where we were supposed to board.  We all grabbed a bite to eat at Wendy's and I gave K. some applesauce... the only solid food he had eaten all day.  (He had been drinking Pedialyte morning and night since the night he first got sick.)

My husband had a meeting he had to make in Seattle, so he left us to go board his plane... a few gates down the corridor. He would be coming back to DC the following day, so it wasn't a big deal.

About 30 minutes before we were supposed to board our plane, something strange happened.  

I was sitting with my mother in law, holding K. in my lap, and he was generally alert but a little cranky.  Not surprising.  He started to fidget and leaned his head back in my arms (like toddlers do when they're trying to look at the world upside down, if you can picture it...)  Then he accidentally bumped his head on the armrest of my chair, and that made him mad.  He sat bolt upright and started to let out a wail, except instead of wailing he held his breath - something he does frequently when he is upset.  (We never like it when he does this, not surprisingly, but usually he starts breathing on his own after what seems like several seconds.) Well, not this time.  

K.'s face froze in a strange sort of half-angry, half-scared look, mouth and eyes both wide open. What seemed like 10 seconds, 15 seconds passed.  I said, "Breathe!" as if that would help.  But he didn't.  

Then his lips started to turn blue.

By this time I was standing up, terrified, watching to see what he would do.  Again I told him to breathe and still his face remained frozen in that horrible expression.  His lips were turning purple.  I panicked.   The only thing I thought of to do was to run to my sister in law, who with her family was sitting about 20 feet away at a table in the food court.

I ran to her, screaming for help.  Out of nowhere a young guy, 20's-ish, comes up and tells me he is an EMT and he would try to help.  The thing I will always remember for the rest of my life is handing my baby -- his face still in this weird, stuck expression and his body frozen -- over to this perfect stranger, thinking, "My son is going to die."  And I will never forget how his body felt as I handed him over: like dead weight.  It was the most disgusting feeling.  I remember thinking, awestruck, "This is how he is going to die...?"  Nevertheless, I was convinced of it. And I couldn't watch.  

Someone said, "Call 911!" So that's what I made myself do, so I wouldn't have to look at what was happening.  I'm not proud of that, but I just couldn't bear it.  So while my SIL and BIL and this man crowded around my son, I called 911.  I can't tell you exactly what I said to them, but it seemed like I was on the phone with them for hours.  

Then, my SIL yelled, "We need a doctor!  Is anyone here a doctor?"  Still on the phone with 911, I started shouting for a doctor too.  (I'm sure the 911 operator really appreciated our choppy conversation!)  But again, another stranger - an older woman - appeared from what seemed like out of nowhere and said to me, "I'm not a doctor but I'm a nurse and I can help."  I directed her to the crowd now encircling K. who was on the floor.  I don't know what they were doing with him but I just waved her in that direction.  Meanwhile, I was talking to the 911 operator, and at the same time motioning for my niece to call my husband and stop him from boarding his plane.  Thankfully she got a hold of him and said he was on his way.  

I couldn't bear to know what was happening to K., but the nurse, and the EMT, and yet another man who said he had emergency management experience, were all working on him.  I'm sure only seconds had passed, but again, it seemed like hours.

Then they told me what was happening.  "B., he's having a seizure," my SIL shouted over to me. Not the best news, but at least it was a concept I was familiar with.  Oddly, it comforted me simply to know what was happening.  

Meanwhile, I remained on the phone with 911.  (I vaguely remember a back-and-forth with the operator, with me saying, "I need help, my son's stopped breathing, I'm at the Portland airport Wendy's."  The operator said, "What Wendy's?" I said, "Near the C gate." She said, "You're at C15?" And I was impressed with how fast she pinpointed my location... I had to have been making it hard for her, having a panic attack on the phone and all...)

Then, the best news of all.  Someone in the little circle around K. yelled over to me: "Honey, he's coming back.  He's breathing."  The best news I've ever heard in my life.  Thank God, thank God, thank God.  After hearing those words, I don't really remember the sequence of things, except that my husband arrived, the paramedics arrived, and the wonderful nurse who was assisting us took over on the phone with 911 for me when I sort of lost it.

I'll fast forward to the end of that awful day.  We were taken by ambulance to the ER, where a doctor checked K. out and determined - to the best of his ability, not having been there - that he had had a febrile seizure.  Horrifying for parents to witness, but fortunately benign and with no long-term damage.  

Afterward, I asked my SIL what she saw - what I couldn't stand to watch.  She said that once they had determined that K. was NOT choking (I was too freaked out to coherently explain to any of them what had happened), they laid him on the ground and tried to find his pulse.  Then she saw his eyes roll back into his head and his whole body start to shake.  Not huge shaky movements but tight little tremors.  Then after who knows how long, she said, it stopped and it looked like he just passed out.  That's how he was when they handed him back to me -- completely limp.  At least I could see that he was breathing.  Otherwise you might've wondered. She said that from her perspective it really looked like a seizure.

Anyway, the ER doctor said that 1 in 20 kids have febrile seizures, and you just can't be sure whether it will happen once in their lifetime, or multiple times.  Most kids outgrow them by 5 or 6 years of age.  The thing is, breath-holding spells, in rare instances, can also look like seizures.  In fact, from my interpretation of the literature that the Portland ER gave me, breath-holding spells can sometimes be confused with seizures because sometimes kids will actually stop breathing and shake.  So, who knows.  It might've just been a freakish breath-holding episode.  I don't know what answer I would be more comfortable with, personally.  All I know is I'm glad it's over.

We ended up being stranded in Portland until Tuesday, which was the first day we could get a rescheduled flight home.  It was probably just as well, because it gave all of us time to unwind - as best we could, with K. still not being 100% over his stomach bug - and let him rest up a bit.  I will say, though, that I've never been so happy to be at my home airport as I was on Tuesday night.

So, that was a pretty long story, but I think I needed to get it all down as a sort of catharsis.  I was pretty wrecked on Sunday night.  After we got back from the ER, I had a good cry and hugged my husband, and K., about 10 million times.

All I can really say is, thank God for the kindness of the strangers who came to our aid, particularly the EMT and the nurse.  I hope I thanked them enough at the time; I really can't remember.  Regardless, it still wasn't adequate to express my gratitude.  I hope that they realize how much they helped us that day.  They restored my faith in my fellow human beings. For all of the crummy things happening in this world, and for all of the cruel things that humans do to each other, our episode in Portland last Sunday shows me that they are capable of doing decent, kind and thoughtful things too.  And that is good to know.


P.L. Frederick said...

Terrifying experience to go through. It's amazing how helpful people are, how caring strangers can be, though. I learned much from your experience. Thank you for posting it.

Also, I found your blog because you added me to your blogroll (Small & Big). Thank you so much! I've added Songs in the Key of KiBi to mine, too. Here's to link love!

Steel Magnolia said...

Oh glad to hear he's OK and you too!

About Me

Arlington, VA, United States
Maestro and mom to a wee virtuoso

I'm #1804