It was a typical Friday evening. However, my son had not been feeling well. He’d come down with a fever the day before and had been lethargic. Little did I know, my typical Friday was going to be the day I learned about febrile seizures.
It was dinner time, so I called down the stairs to the basement where my son was watching a show to tell him. He didn’t respond. I called again. No response. I looked down the stairs and could see him on the couch and realized he must have fallen asleep. Poor boy. I knew he wasn’t feeling good. It was 6 p.m. and I realized I couldn’t let him sleep or he’d never go to bed, so I went down the stairs to gently wake him.
As I sat down next to him something didn’t seem right. I gently shook him and called for him to wake up. That is when he had a febrile seizure.
My son’s body stiffened, and his eyes were open, but one of his eyes was looking directly at me, and the other eye was looking to the left. He was making a sound that came out as a half-cry/half-choke.
I began yelling his name repeatedly. I scooped him into my arms, and I could immediately feel how stiff his little body was. I continued yelling and ran up the stairs with him.
My hands were shaking as I tried to dial my husband’s number. His best friend from college was in town, and I knew they were hanging out somewhere downtown. It rang through to voicemail and I thought in my head, “Forget this. I need 9-1-1.”
I tried to dial and it took me three tries before I could put the numbers in correctly. It’s funny what panic and adrenaline will do to your motor skills.
At this point I moved to the living room floor and sat with my son next to the chair. My stupid cell phone was almost out of battery and here I was trying to talk to 9-1-1 while I held my sick child, and had my cell phone connected to the plug in the wall. This is when my daughter realized something was going on and came into the living room. She was terrified for her brother, and confused about what was going on.
Honestly, I was confused too. This had never happened before.
It only took 6 minutes for the ambulance and fire truck to arrive at our home. During that time my son became less stiff and much more responsive. He was alert enough to see the fire truck pull up and yell, “Fire truck! Fire truck!”
When the paramedics arrived they asked me a lot of questions about his fever, his alertness, appetite, and more. All of the first responders seemed low-stress and unconcerned about my son, which put me at ease, but also baffled me. They seemed confident he had just suffered a febrile seizure. A febrile seizure? I had never heard of such a thing and yet, it was comforting to me that they were not concerned. By why not?!
According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, febrile seizures occur in up to 5 percent of all children ages 6 months to 5-years-old, within 24-hours of the onset of a fever.
Of those children who experience a febrile seizure, 60 percent of them will not have a reoccurrence. Additionally, there are typically no lasting symptoms or effects from a febrile seizure. This type of seizure is triggered by a quick increase in body temperature, usually from a fever above 101 degrees. Our “After Visit Summary” from the doctor also stated that these types of seizures are most common in one to two-year olds. However, my son was four when it happened to him.
When a child has a febrile seizure, they will typically shake all over and lose consciousness.
Less commonly, they can become very stiff all over, or twitch in just one area of their body. The Mayo Clinic says that febrile seizures typically last anywhere from a few seconds to 15 minutes. This is called a “Simple Febrile Seizure.” Febrile seizures lasting longer than 15 minutes are called “Complex Febrile Seizures.”
For my son, his seizure lasted just a few minutes or less, he was unconscious, and his body stiffened. Even though he was alert again in just a few minutes, I was urged to take him to the Emergency Room (ER) to be checked out. This is suggested for all children after their first febrile seizure and I was happy to abide.
The paramedics wanted me to transport my son in the ambulance to the ER. I said I would just drive us myself. The paramedics urged me to ride in the ambulance again. I asked if there was any medical concern that would lead them to believe we should travel by ambulance to the ER. They said no. However, they said that if my son had a seizure on the way to the hospital, there would be no one there to assist.
I was home alone with my children, so I looked the EMT square in the eye and said, “Are ya taking ALL of us? Because I’m here by myself, and I’m not leaving my eight-year-old home alone.”
I think the firefighters could see the mama bear boiling up in me, and they gently encouraged me to drive myself and told me that if I had ANY problems on the way to the ER to pull over, and call 9-1-1 again and they would be there to help. I appreciated their advocacy and support in that moment when I didn’t feel like the EMT’s were listening to me (Thank you Iowa City Fire Department!).
I signed a bunch of papers and gathered some things to take to the hospital in a frenzy. I was able to get in touch with my husband who planned to meet us there.
At the ER everyone was pretty casual about my son’s seizure because it is so common — who knew?
They observed my son for a few hours, gave him some juice and crackers, and a dose of medication. They were not concerned and urged us to give him lots of fluids and alternate Tylenol and Ibuprofen as needed. They also said it would be important to schedule a follow-up visit with our pediatrician the next week. We did all of those things and my son recovered quickly from his illness.
It was one of the scariest things I have ever experienced with my children. I had no idea a febrile seizure was a possibility.
As I shared this story with many of my friends they had never heard of febrile seizures either. I hope your child never experiences one, but if they do, now you may be able to recognize what you’re seeing when it happens.
Febrile Seizures Resources
For more information about febrile seizures and for the resources used in this post, visit: