A little friend of ours watched her daddy have a seizure right in front of her tonight. It was one of the most frightening things I've ever been close to, and except for calling 911 and trying fecklessly to bring him out of it by talking to him (obviously, I'm medically clueless), I was scared and helpless.
Mr. Peevie and I had taken our kids plus a couple of extras to the park to play baseball. We were taking turns pitching and batting, and generally having a good time. Little Un-named Friend (LUF)'s mom dropped off LUF and her daddy to play with us, and they were sitting on the bench along the sidelines.
Suddenly LUF-daddy started yelling and convulsing, his arms straight out in front of him. For the first 10 seconds or so, Mr. Peevie and I thought he was kidding around, but then 9-year-old LUF started screaming, and we knew something was wrong. I ran over, to do what, I have no idea; and I called to Mr. Peevie to grab my phone from the backpack and call 911. I started talking to LUF-Daddy, but of course, he could not hear me; he stopped yelling, but his arms were still extended stiffly in front of him, his eyes were rolling back and showing red around the edges, and bits of foam whitened the corners of his mouth. LUF kept screaming, and I just kept watching him helplessly, knowing only to watch to make sure he wasn't choking on vomit.
Mr. Peevie couldn't figure out how to dial 911 on my phone, so he handed it to me and went to put his arms around poor, terrified, screaming LUF. It took me three tries before I could get my fingers to hit the right keys, but finally, I got through.
"A man is having a seizure," I yelled into the phone. "We're at Hitch school; we need help." They asked for the address, which I gave them with Mr. Peevie's level-headed help; I couldn't remember the names of the streets with LUF-Daddy foaming and seizing next to me on the bench and his horrified daughter screaming 10 feet away. Meanwhile, the other kids were watching from where they stood on the field; except M. Peevie had moved to a safer distance and stood with her fingers in her ears and a scared look on her face.
After about a minute, LUF-Daddy slumped back against the cast-iron bench and his head lolled to the side. His eyes were open, but not rolling back; he was only semi-conscious. I was still talking to the 911 operator, who was asking me for symptoms and telling me to lay him on his side.
"I can't really lay him on his side," I said nervously. "He's sitting up on a bench, kind of leaning over on his side already. He's a big guy." She asked me to try to make sure he didn't choke on anything, and to flag down the ambulance, which was on the way.
Mr. Peevie still held tight to LUF, who was crying and screaming, "Daddy! Daddy! He doesn't know me! Daddy!"
I got back on the phone and called LUF's mom to tell her what was going on. "I'll be right there," she said grimly, and she hung up quickly.
As LUF-Daddy started gradually regaining consciousness (if that's the right word for it), he started looking around with a dazed and confused expression on his face. I was sitting next to him on the bench with my hand on his arm. When his gaze focused on me, his eyes widened in fear and confusion, and he started backward, like he was afraid of me. He clearly had no idea who I was or what was going on. I got up and moved away from him, partly out of fear for my own safety, and partly to help him feel safer.
LUF was still crying and screaming, and LUF-Daddy looked over at her uncomprehendingly. Then he looked back at me, and startled again. I took another step away, but kept talking to him in what I hoped was a reassuring voice.
"You had a seizure, LUF-Daddy," I told him. "It's going to be OK. The ambulance is on the way." I kept repeating this mantra, because it was all I could do; but he was still clearly disoriented, and my words probably sounded like what a pet hears when its owner talks to it in human language.
It felt like a year passed, with the screaming and crying, the talking gently but warily watching, the waiting, the holding. Every time LUF-Daddy looked toward me, he jumped in his seat, like he was afraid I was going to hurt him; and every time, I moved further away because I felt it was entirely possible that he could lash out in fear. A man came from across the street, hearing the commotion. He wanted to be helpful, and tried to talk gently to LUF-Daddy, but with the same lack of success that I had had.
"I wouldn't go too near him," I warned him. "He's disoriented and scared. He's still coming out of it."
Finally we heard the sirens, and the fire truck and ambulance arrived (it was probably less than five minutes), and LUF-Mommy pulled up at the same time. She leapt out of her car and ran over to him, ignoring my warning that he was confused and maybe she should move slowly; but thankfully, he seemed to recognize her. She talked to him gently, but he still didn't talk or move from the bench.
The EMTs moved more slowly and carefully, assessing the situation like professionals before walking slowly over to LUF-Daddy. One paramedic asked me for the details of what had happened, and I told her while they helped him up and loaded him onto the stretcher. LUF was still sobbing loudly with Mr. Peevie's arms wrapped around her.
As they pushed him toward the ambulance, LUF-Mommy's face crumpled, and I put my arms around her. LUF came running over to us, and jumped up into her mom's arms, wrapping her legs around her waist and sobbing even louder. We huddled together, with LUF's mom saying reassuring things to comfort her.
"His arms stuck straight out!" she wailed, "And his eyes were red, and there were bubbles on his mouth! He didn't know who I was!"
"I know, baby, I know," her mom said, holding her tight and crying. "It's gonna be OK now. The doctors are going to help daddy."
Two or three times before they left, the paramedics asked about LUF, making sure that one of the adults was taking responsibility for her. Later, when I was processing the whole event, I thought to myself how alert that was, for them to not only take care of their patient, but also to be aware of the needs of a distraught little girl.
After LUF-Daddy had been taken to the ambulance, M. Peevie came over and put her arms around her little friend and held her tight. LUF-Mommy and I sat down on the bench to give her a chance to talk and cry a bit. C. Peevie helpfully grabbed A. Peevie and his little friend and walked them home, while M. Peevie sensitively suggested to LUF that they walk a little ways away from us so that they did not have to hear what we were saying. When she felt ready, LUF-Mommy drove her car home, and Mr. Peevie and I walked home with the two little girls.
All of us spent time tonight processing that scary event. M. Peevie's process included extra cuddling at bedtime, plus a reading of Psalm 23. The rest of us just talked through what we saw and how we felt; and one of us blogged about it.
I'm sure poor LUF will be processing this for years. How does a child recover from seeing such a frightening thing happen to her own daddy right in front of her eyes?
I did some research on grand mal seizures, which is my diagnosis of LUF-Daddy's situation, and I learned that we did a few things right by mainly leaving him alone. Don't hold him down, don't put anything in his mouth, turn him on his side (which we didn't have to do for him because he essentially did it for himself), and note the symptoms and length of the seizure.
I learned that it is technically not necessary to call 911 for a person having a seizure unless there is no medical ID indicating that the person has a seizure disorder. In this case, we called instinctively, and only learned later that he had never seized before, which is a positive indicator for medical attention.
Next time, I'll look for a medical ID bracelet--although how you do that when a big guy is flailing and foaming at the mouth, I really don't know.
Next time, maybe I'll just plan to be somewhere else.