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The Phone Call Every Parent Dreads

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STEVE BELANGER
Steve Belanger
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I don't want to bury the lede with this one, so I'll start off by saying my son is OK. He is 100% fine and shooting me with his Buzz Lightyear laser as I write this. He is a healthy and happy 3-1/2-year-old. That wasn't the case just a few days ago. I was sitting at home working when the dreaded phone call came. It was one of the women at my son's preschool, "Come quick, Brian's having a seizure!"

I dropped the phone, tossed my laptop on the table and frantically searched for my car keys. The preschool is a mile away, but the drive there only took about 40 rubber-burning seconds. As quick as I was driving, it still felt like it was taking forever. He's having a seizure? What causes seizures? Are they life-threatening? Oh God, this can't be happening! Not to my baby boy!

My head was spinning. Only two blocks to go. My thoughts quickly went down the darkest of paths. Tragedy has struck our family twice in the past few years. Young innocent lives ended by a simple phone call or a knock on the door. I didn't want to fear the worst, but as a parent, how could I not?

As I ran into the building, the looks on all the teachers' faces struck a deeper fear into me. They seemed shaken, which amplified my panic. My son was laying on his side in the middle of the room on a soft pad where they had laid him down. His eyes were still rolling back in his head and he barely acknowledged my arrival. As I cradled him, the teacher explained that he'd been fine all morning, until she looked over at him and saw he had an odd expression on his face. She thought he might have been fooling around, as kids do, until his eyes rolled back and he started to slump out of his chair. They caught him and laid him on the floor.

The next few minutes were a blur. They had called 911, so the first officer on the scene was asking basic info. Child's name, date of birth, stuff like that. I had trouble answering as all of my attention was focused on my little guy, so helpless in my arms and not knowing why. The ambulance showed up and the EMT's arrival gave me a sliver of comfort. Medical help was here. They can make this all better.

They walked me with my son in my arms to the ambulance and off we went. Within a span of 15 minutes, I went from sitting at home writing on my laptop to cradling my in-and-out of consciousness son in the back of an ambulance speeding toward the nearest hospital.

It was probably no more than a 15-minute drive, but it felt like forever. The EMT, a comforting soul named Dominick, did his best to put me at ease while taking vitals and examining Brian. The poor little guy was shivering even though I could feel that he was burning up. I hugged him tighter as I tried to make him better by sheer force of will.

We got to the hospital, and again time moved in a slow-motion, yet hyperkinetic, blur. I answered the same flurry of questions over and over again. We were brought into a triage room and as I laid him on the gurney, they quickly started hooking him up to electrodes and monitors and the usual hospital gadgetry. As they fussed about him, I expected my fear to skyrocket, but as I stood close, I saw something in his eyes that reassured me. His spark was coming back. I started to explain to him what was going on so he wouldn't be scared and he seemed to understand. He held my hand and reassured me as much as I was trying to reassure him. My panic was subsiding.

I called my wife to tell her what was going on. She said she was on her way, but shockingly, I couldn't tell her where to go. I had gotten into the ambulance and then rushed into this windowless room, I had no idea what hospital I was in. I remember Dominick saying where we were going and that they had a great pediatrics emergency room, but I couldn't for the life of me remember the name. I didn't want to leave Brian's side to ask someone in the hall. Thankfully, the nerd in me quickly figured out that my iPhone could tell me where I was so I was able to text my wife the address.

Soon enough, she was by my side and the doctor was explaining that they thought he had suffered a febrile seizure. These convulsions were the body's way of shutting down when it can no longer acclimate to a sudden temperature spike. Even though he seemed to have cooled off a bit by the time we'd gotten to the ER, his temperature was still 103. They gave him some meds and within a few hours, his temperature dropped to the high 90s. By then he was back to his normal self, happily chomping on graham crackers while watching cartoons on the hospital TV.

The doctor explained febrile seizures to my wife and I. He allayed many of our concerns, gave us instructions if it were to happen again and discharged us. Just like that, we were carrying him back to her car and taking him home. Based on the outcome, some of you may say I'm making a bigger deal of this than it really was. In hindsight, I probably agree with you. It was one of those scary, but survivable, experiences that just about every parent goes through. But for all of those unknowing moments at the outset, I was absolutely terrified. Luckily, the rush of adrenaline allowed me to get through the afternoon.

We got home, put the exhausted little fellow to bed and I headed off to the pharmacy to get his prescription filled. The place was packed, so they said it would probably take 20 minutes or so. I strolled around outside just to get some air. There was a small convenience store on the corner with a big Lotto sign. We'd had such great luck with what could have been a terrible afternoon that I thought I'd parlay some of that good fortune and pick up a few Powerball tickets.

It was during that walk across the street that the enormity of the day hit me. Yes, it turned out to be a minor issue that the doctors did not foresee being a problem for him in the future, but as I raced to him after that initial phone call, I didn't know that. I had feared the worst. The adrenaline finally exhausted itself at that point. By the time I got to the lotto store, the emotions had washed over me and I was crying like a baby. The small man behind the counter looked slightly terrified of this weeping, hulk of a man that had just burst into his store. I quickly got my tickets and disappeared. I was able to compose myself, pick up his meds and get home. While those lottery tickets didn't turn out to be winners, I'm happy to say that Brian has been absolutely healthy ever since.

The only real residual effect was a few days later when everything was back to normal and he returned to school. I was back in my usual work perch typing away when the phone rang. For just that split second, I panicked, reliving the experience all over again. Hopefully that fear will subside, but as a parent, I'm not sure it ever does.