I’d never heard of a febrile seizure until my daughter experienced one when she was ten months old. It was, without a doubt, the scariest two minutes of my life: her tiny body convulsing, her eyes rolling in the back of her head, clear fluid flowing out of her mouth, and her head limp like a rag doll though her body was shaking violently. For a moment there—and I shudder to even type this—if felt like I was floating above myself, watching my baby’s life end. It was so frightening that even now, nearly six years later, I can’t get the imagery out of my head.
Early in the day, daycare had called to tell me Maya was not acting like herself, was clingy and whiny, and had a low-grade fever of 100.1. These symptoms typically meant she had another ear infection. Though that morning she’d been the happiest baby ever, something big was clearly brewing inside her body.
Since she was already on track for tubes, I knew I couldn’t wait until the next day to be seen by our pediatrician. I left work, brought her home, gave her some Tylenol and let her sleep all day until her doctor’s appointment. There, our pediatrician confirmed it was, indeed, another ear infection. He recommended a new antibiotic in addition to continuing to alternate giving her children’s Tylenol and Advil until the fever was gone.
I had planned to work from home the next day, so I felt relieved knowing I’d be with her. She went to bed two hours earlier than usual that night and woke two hours later than usual. She slept most of the day away, and in between her naps, I made sure she was taking her prescribed meds. I was shocked at how much she was sleeping, but also knew she wasn’t feeling well and figured the antibiotics just hadn’t kicked in yet.
That night, my husband and I had had plans to go out with friends, but since Maya still wasn’t feeling well, I opted to stay behind–which meant I was alone when it happened. At 5:32 p.m.—just two minutes after he left, I went to check on her because I heard some chatter coming from her crib. Nothing out of the ordinary. She was only half-looking up at me from the crib and didn’t seem like there was anything wrong, except for her being warmer than even before I’d given her the Tylenol.
But I didn’t have even a second to process that because as I scooped her up, her tiny Michelin-man arms began shaking like crazy. And then it was like a scene in a movie: her eyes rolling back in her head, her head limp like a rag doll, clear fluid came out of her mouth, and her limbs convulsing wildly. It seemed like a seizure of some kind, but I had no idea at the time it was related to her fever. Instinctively, I just held her steady and tried to calm her through my tears, completely unsure of what was unfolding before my eyes. I grabbed my phone out of my pocket and immediately called my husband in hysterics. “Something’s wrong with Maya. Seizure. Come home NOW!”
He came home immediately and we drove to the ER. At that point, she wasn’t convulsing anymore but was making these pitiful animal-like moaning sounds. I just held her closer, kissing the top of her head and breathing her in and grateful to feel her heart beating next to mine. I couldn’t shake the image of what had transpired moments before. Replaying it in my mind and aloud to my husband as we drove, all I could remember was squeezing her protectively in my arms and waiting for her to stop seizing. Those two minutes felt like a lifetime.
At the ER, we were seen immediately. We stripped her down to her diaper and pulled a tiny, canary yellow infant hospital gown over her head. A nurse slapped an ID bracelet around her ankle and took her temperature, which had climbed to 103. After I pieced together what had happened–the ear infection, the steady fever that wouldn’t ease up, the sudden seizure–the nurse said it sounded like a febrile seizure–which is apparently quite common. It’s caused when a baby’s fever suddenly spikes for some reason, usually infection-related.
She also told us that the younger a baby is when it has its first febrile seizure, the more prone it will be to future febrile seizures; these babies are 30 percent more likely to see a reoccurrence. But all we can do to mitigate future occurrences is to give her Tylenol or Advil at the onset of even a low fever, but there’s still no guarantee it won’t happen again. The tricky part, the nurse explained, is that the fever doesn’t have to even be high—it’s the rapid spike that actually causes febrile seizures. So we’d need to be especially cautious and on alert for sudden temperature changes.
We stayed in the ER most of the night, until her fever finally eased up. And though I was traumatized, my baby was (thankfully) herself again the next day. That afternoon, we went back to our pediatrician for a follow-up and she was declared in great spirits and health. We learned how common febrile seizures are, and what to do if she were to experience another one.
That newfound knowledge was power. Parents expect their kids to trip, fall, get bloody noses, skinned knees, and break bones. But Maya’s febrile seizure caught us off-guard. Having never heard of them, we had no idea what was happening, which only amplified our terror. And even now, six years later (with no recurrences!), I still can’t shake the image of my daughter, so small and frail, flailing around like that that day.
Looking back, I wish the Baby 101 courses we took when I was pregnant had included a segment on febrile seizures.
So to save another family from going through what we did, here’s a PSA: BabyCenter has some great info on what to do in the event your baby has a febrile seizure. Check it out because even if it never happens to your baby, it’s better to be prepared. No parent should have to experience the terror I felt in that moment, and a little knowledge could have saved me a ton of anxiety and tears.