UPDATE: I have also written an article for The Guardian on this topic, which you can read here
Last week I took my four-year-old son Stanley (and by default my one-year-old daughter, Gertie) to see Fireman Sam: Live at the Hammersmith Apollo*. It was a birthday gift from Grandad and so we were our usual top-heavy arrangement of several thousand grown-ups to the one over-indulged grandchild (and Gertie of course, but no one’s interested in her yet).
But as entertaining as Sam and the gang were, this post is not about events in Pontypandy, but rather our own emergency on the journey home. Before I go any further I should make a loud announcement for any concerned friends/relatives that EVERYTHING TURNS OUT OK IN THE END. But it was pretty alarming along the way.
We were driving back through London (High Street Ken busy with Saturday shoppers, us merrily singing show tunes) when Gertie started to cry in an unusual way. I looked over and her face was screwed up in an expression I’d never seen before; it sent a bolt through me. I tried to comfort her: “Gertie. Gertie, what’s wrong? It’s ok lovey, mummy’s here.” But she didn’t even look at me. Then her little fists clenched together and she started shaking – she was having a fit. My dad was driving so he pulled over while my step-mum dialled 999 and I got Gerts out of the car seat and out of the car. The fitting stopped pretty quickly, and she lapsed into a gone-out state – like she was passed out, but with her eyes open and unfocused. She didn’t seem to be breathing and had lost all colour.
There was nothing I could do, or at least nothing I knew to do. It seemed I was watching my daughter die and I couldn’t think of a single thing to do to stop it. I had this awful sense that things could be made right, if I just knew how. That is complete powerlessness.
Then the paramedic arrived (so quick – we were still on the phone to 999) and without even taking her from my arms or examining her he told me with a surety I still find incredible that she was having a febrile convulsion (a fit caused by a fever) and that they are extremely common and absolutely harmless. I have heard about febrile convulsions before and I know they’re not unusual in young children, but I was not prepared for this experience. It was the most terrifying I’ve been through – worse than anything with Stan when he was premature or when they were diagnosing his condition.
Though I wasn’t initially convinced by the paramedic – he had barely even looked at Gertie – she soon gave me cause to take comfort from his calm words. I’d say she was back to normal within an hour and a half, but the first sign was in the ambulance when she tried to suck her thumb. I cried, simply relieved that she could do something, anything. When we were in A&E she gradually focussed more and I tried a little mini-peekaboo behind my hand (a game that normally has her laughing for hours). A barely perceptible lift of the corners of the mouth caused my heart to soar. My girl was still in there!
And so I went from perdition to salvation. I felt like I’d given birth to her all over again. Watching her play next to the hospital bed later, I was overflowing with wonder, aglow.
It’s been eleven days now, but the trauma of the day still lingers in my gut. Though I know she’s fine, the experience has scarred. Needless to say she’s had LOTS of kisses and cuddles from me over the past few days. And lots of Calpol too.
Of course, I was pretty quick to get click-happy and read all I could. I tend to approach internet searches on medical issues with trepidation as they usually serve only to fuel the flames of fear. But – as incredible as it seems for such an horrific event to witness – febrile convulsions are pretty much harmless. They occur in 1 in 20 children under five – and since Gertie’s episode I’ve heard stories galore from friends and family. It is not the height of the fever that causes them, but the speed at which the temperature rises, which means Calpol etc don’t have time to prevent fits (unless you administer the drug before the temperature begins to rise – a pretty tricky proposition). But I suppose keeping a known fever down must help avoid temperature spikes. Febrile convulsions are so harmless that much of the literature advises just nipping up to your GP after one, though personally I think I’d still need the comfort of 999 and an ambulance. And according to the NHS, there “is not a single reported case of a child dying as the result of a febrile seizure.” That’s the kind of news I like to hear.
And so just to prove that Gertie really is ok, here is a couple of pictures of her enjoying the snow at the weekend.
* I really wanted to be able to ref the last gig I saw at the Hammersmith Apollo as being something cool and young and representative of the days when I went out to see things for my own actual enjoyment, rather than just the proxy-pleasure of pleasing the kids. But believe it or not I think my last concert there was possibly more uncool than Fireman Sam – it was a Jason Donovan comeback post I’m A Celebrity. Heck, there’s no ‘possibly’ about it, is there?