Thursday night, I grabbed a stack of books that I keep trying to start all at the same time and sat down at my laptop with an idea about writing a silly slice about trying to settle on one thing to read. I started noodling with my blog while my son and husband watched the end of a car show they had been watching. A normal pandemic evening, with our boring, sometimes stressful, routine. Almost bedtime. And then.
My son got up and walked to his dad and said, “I have a question.” This, in itself, is not unusual. He prefaces every single one of his millions of questions with this statement. It was almost bath and bed time, so the question is usually, “I’m hungry. What can I have to eat?” He did not follow his statement up with a question or anything else. Also, not that unusual. The TV was on, after all, and my highly distractable boy is always easily sucked into moving pictures, no matter what he is in the middle of trying to say. I told him his two options for a snack. He mumbled “I need.” I told him he needed to make a decision quickly. He mumbled “I need” again, then looked like he was struggling for a word and counting something out on his fingers. I paused the TV and told him again that he needed to make a decision. More mumbling. He looked blank. He was not looking at us. The TV picture was frozen and he was not looking at us. I asked, “What’s the matter? Are you that sleepy?” as he swayed slightly and climbed onto his dad’s lap. Still not looking at us, he curled up in a ball, head tucked against his dad’s chest. Sharply, we alternated words in the well-honed parental sentence. “Okay, now, that’s it. If you’re that –”
“…tired than you need to get up and –”
“…go into the bathroom and get ready for –”
“…bed. Throw away that ice cream wrapper –”
“…and get your pajamas. Don’t forget to brush –”
Blank. My husband and I shot nervous glances at each other, and he lifted our son off his lap and stood him on the floor. No talking now. Just empty stare. A flash of wild confusion. A half step, and a collapse backward.
My baby. Crashing to the floor for no reason.
I grabbed his arms and kept him from hitting his head on the floor. Wondering if he were being goofy, and knowing he was not, I asked, “Do we need to go to the hospital?” Vacant look. Slow blink.
Everything sped up. My husband struggled to put a coat on our boneless, noodle-armed boy, scooped up our 70 pound ten year old in his arms, and ran for the door. I ran for shoes and my purse and grabbed a handful of random masks on my way out the door. My husband yelled, “I don’t have my keys or my wallet!”
I yelled, “Get in the car!”
I drove, ignoring the low tire that was to be fixed in the morning. Ignoring the speed limit. My husband sat in the back seat as we fired questions at our barely responsive child. Did he know his name? With some effort. Did he know what city we were in? With tremendous effort, he scavenged a portion of our street address from his memory. Did he know the city where he lived? Did he know the city where we were? Silence. My husband gently shook him, begging him not to fall asleep.
Did he know who we were? Did he know who was driving the car?
The drive to the ER of the big children’s hospital took fifteen minutes in real time, and years off of my life. I drove as fast as I dared, refusing to fall apart even though I could not touch my baby or see my baby and could hear, over and over, my husband say, “Stay with me, buddy, stay with me. Don’t go to sleep.” Listened to the faint and mumbled protestations that he did not feel well, he thought he would throw up, he was so tired. So tired. At the red light across from the hospital, I threw my insurance card at my husband, and then, no traffic in any direction, ran the light. I pulled right into the entryway in front of emergency, and my husband got out of the car. Our son struggled to undo his seatbelt and stand. He could do neither. They rushed inside while I parked. I got the car stopped, started to shake, and sprinted for the emergency room, holding my breath the entire way.
Inside, breathless and frantic, I endured the COVID screening before I was reunited with my family as they assessed a slightly more coherent child, but one who did not remember his grade or the name of his school.
Or the word for hospital.
My constantly moving, constantly talking, always asking questions since he was 15 months old, son had lost his words. He curled up on a bench with his head on his dad’s chest again. He did not move. He only said that he felt very bad.
We were ushered back and proceeded to be seen by nurses and doctors and technicians and more technicians. Our boy fought to stay awake and complained of the cold. They finally brought him a warm blanket, and he froze, now knowing that he was in the hospital and terrified that he would get COVID from a blanket. The blood pressure tests were conducted in all kinds of positions, so they could determine that he was not dehydrated. Not feverish. Eating normally. Good day at Zoom school. Had not been sick in the past few days. No COVID symptoms. His blood oxygen was fine. By the time they had pulled in the portable EKG machine to monitor his heart rate and beats, he was interested and asked a few questions. He helped the technician apply stickers all over his slim frame. He asked to see the EKG printout. By the time they did the neurological assessment, he was wide awake, bouncy, and asking tons of questions. Almost completely his normal self. A little off, but it was way past his bedtime. Eventually, the attending physician came in to tell us that they had eliminated many possible problems, but it did seem that he might have had a partial seizure. We were told it could be a one off, or it could be the first one. We were told that we did not have to keep him awake or check on him in the night, but he might have another “incident” during the night. We were told to contact his pediatrician for follow-up and to work out an appointment for an EEG. We were told that if he had another incident, we needed to come straight back to the ER. If it seemed like a worse incident, then we should call 911. The paramedics could give him medicine to stop the incident as they brought him in. We were told to prevent him from doing anything that could be harmful if he fell, and to monitor his bathing, so he did not silently slip under the water and drown.
Then we were sent out into the night.
He had a headache on the way home. I still drove too fast. We got him into pajamas and tucked into bed. I lay down with him as he listened to the purring cat sounds on his calming sounds app. I put my arms around him, and he fell immediately asleep, his normal sleep-fighting antics damped down at almost midnight. I held him tight and held my breath. It was a very long time before I could let him go.
This morning, my exhausted husband and I took turns telling each other not to check on him and let him sleep. We did not breathe deeply or unclench our hands or jaws until he did. He woke up bright and sunny, wandered into our room like it was any other day, and asked if we could watch YouTube, since he wasn’t going to school today.
He was fine. Totally fine. Absolutely 100% overly energetic, curious, talkative, ten year old boy. We see the pediatrician on Monday first thing in the morning.
Everything is fine.
Or everything is about to change.