The Terror of Febrile Convulsions

When Amelia was 15 months old, we moved house. She was still getting used to the new house, so occasionally she would fall asleep on our bed if we were beyond tired of trying to get her to stay in bed. On one particular night, she had gone to sleep on our bed, and exhausted, we had fallen asleep next to her. She’s a deep sleeper, once she’s asleep it takes a bit to wake her (which I’m thankful for now that she is sharing a room with her sister!).

At just past midnight, we awoke to our wee girl rigid and shaking. Her face full of fear and I felt sick to my stomach. I was terrified.Foam was starting to seep from her mouth. Her eyes had rolled back, somewhere behind her eyelids. She lay stiff as a board, as her little body shook uncontrollably. It was the most terrifying moment of my parenting life thus far. We rolled her onto her side in the recovery position, and for what felt like an eternity we waited with bated breath for it to end. Counting the seconds. Taking note of as many details as possible, knowing we would pass the information on to a doctor as soon as she stopped.

Nearly three minutes it lasted. It felt like 20 minutes. Or more. For a parent, watching your child helplessly while the seconds tick past is excruciating. We knew it was over when we heard her cry. It was an agonizing cry of fear, sadness, pain, and overwhelm, all the emotions a 15 month old could possibly evict from her mouth in one go. The tears kept coming, there was vomiting, and there was exhaustion. The energy exerted when a person has a seizure is enormous, and for a little girl this young, it understandably rendered her exhausted.

We lived rural, and knew it would be faster if we drove to the hospital than wait for an ambulance, so we packed up the car and left. I rang my parents from the car, and they agreed to meet us at the hospital. She was still crying, but it was weak and weary. I was running on adrenaline, focused on getting to the hospital as fast as possible.

I held her in my arms as we rushed through the Emergency Department, where doctors and nurses took over. They attached monitors and began to analyse her status. She was hot. Really hot. They stripped her down, lay cool cloths on her, gave her an ice block to suck on. It was the middle of winter and she was hotter than an oven.

She was scared, so I held her. She whimpered, so I held her tighter. They took more observations, lay more cool cloths, gave her IV medication, and waited for the temperature to drop. It took all night, but eventually it slowly began to drop. By 8am in the morning, she was standing and playing in the cot.

Febrile Convulsions they called it. They said it was the result of a fast rising fever, usually caused by a viral infection in the body. At the time they weren’t able to find anything that looked unusual, apart from a slightly red ear, but she was also teething at the time which can cause fevers too. Astonishingly, the doctor explained to us that febrile convulsions are fairly common for children between 6 months and 5 years.

The cause of febrile convulsions isn’t the high temperature, it’s the speed at which the temperature rises. For more information you can read about them at Kids Health. She was able to head home within 24 hours of being admitted into hospital, with a video to watch and a brochure on what to do in the case of febrile convulsions.

Since that day we have always been extremely aware of her temperature. She has always been a hot child, she rarely needs blankets at night, and we are careful with how many layers she has on. You can’t prevent febrile convulsions, but you can manage a fever to try to stop it escalating.

The most important things to remember if your child does have a febrile convulsions is:

  • Keep calm. As terrifying as it is, your focus is to keep them safe until it is over;
  • Lie your child on their side, and make sure nothing is in their mouth;
  • Dial 111 in New Zealand (or your appropriate emergency number for other countries) and ask for urgent medical help if you have any concerns;
  • Get your child to a doctor as soon as possible after the convulsions to make sure everything is OK;
  • Attend a First Aid Course (now – don’t wait until you need it!).

Disclaimer: Please understand I am not a medical professional and this post is a record of my experiences only and not intended as recommendations or advice. If your child is sick please seek medical professional advice by visiting your GP or call Healthline on 0800 611 116, New Zealand’s 24-hour telephone health advice service. All calls are answered by registered nurses. In an emergency, please call 111. For more information on Febrile Convulsions please visit Kids Health.

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6 thoughts on “The Terror of Febrile Convulsions

  1. I cannot imagine how terrifying that would have been, not knowing or having experienced before. You did so well in handling the situation and important tips to remember. I am considering doing a first aid course just to feel like I have some information if certain things occurred.

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  2. Thanks Suzy. I always did a First Aid course as a volunteer for GirlGuiding, and also for work, but have always found something new I’ve learned that has benefited our personal life. Even if it’s just how to deal with a situation until emergency services arrive.

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  3. I know how you feel what I went through with my little angel boy. Helpless. When I was a beautician I had a client who had epilepsy which she didn’t mention. I placed the light over her head and she started having a seizure, it was terrifying. I rolled her on her side and she started foaming at the mouth and blood coming out of her mouth. Afterwards it took me about an hour to calm down from the adrenaline. It was absolutely horrible. My boy would have seizures every 4 minutes, it was too much for him, obviously. The most horrible experience ever!!!! Thanks for sharing and hope she recovers well xo

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    1. Oh love – thank you for sharing your experience, you’re a very special, strong mama! And yes the adrenaline is unnerving, there’s nothing quite like it. Lots of hugs to you hun x

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