When my son spiked a high fever, a friend texted me warning that he might have a seizure. The thought of that frightened me, but it didn’t seem very likely. A few hours later, he did have a seizure — and I wish I’d known more about how to respond.
It happened at 2:40 a.m. I know because I have the time stamp on my phone. As soon as I woke up to him grunting and thrashing beside me, I picked up the phone and dialed 911. The operator asked me to repeat myself as I sobbed out our address and said over and over, “I need help, please help me, my son is having a seizure.”
He’s only 8. As a mom, my instinct was to grab him and hold him. Thankfully I didn’t injure him, because holding on to him wasn’t the correct response. Thankfully the 911 operator calmly told me to let him go and make sure he wasn’t going to bump into anything sharp. He almost pitched off the side of the bed, and I carefully blocked him with my body to keep him from hitting the floor.
After a few minutes — which felt like an eternity — he stopped moving entirely. I panicked again. The operator talked me through pushing him onto his side, and together we counted his breathing. It was fast but regular.
“You’re doing exactly what he needs,” she told me gently as I cried into the phone and waited for the first responders to arrive at my door.
Despite the fact that my son’s father had febrile seizures as a child, I knew very little about seizure first aid. Now that my son has been diagnosed with generalized epilepsy, I’ve already learned a lot. I have to educate everyone who will be around my son on seizure first aid, and I strongly believe it’s something every single parent needs to know. You never know if your own child or another child will have a seizure while in your care.
Take a few moments to learn how to respond to a tonic-clonic seizure, formerly known as a grand mal seizure. This type of seizure involves the kind of convulsions you may have seen in a movie or medical television show. It can be very scary to watch, but the person having the seizure won’t have any awareness or memory.
If your child is having a seizure, you need to be calm and keep a clear head. It’s really upsetting and scary, but you can freak out later. I called 911 at the first sign of seizure. If your phone is within reach, having an emergency operator on the phone can be a huge comfort.
Time the seizure
Glance at your phone or a clock. Doctors will ask how long the seizure lasted, and seizures that last over five minutes are a medical emergency.
Make a safe space
Don’t restrain your child. Just get any sharp objects or other dangers out of the way. Your child may thrash and convulse. Never put anything into your child’s mouth during a seizure. This is the hard part, and time will seem to go by very slowly.
Assist with recovery
When the seizure stops, gently roll your child onto one side, and make sure the airway is clear. It can take several minutes for your child to regain consciousness. If your child isn’t breathing normally, call 911 if you haven’t already.
There are many types of seizures, but a tonic-clonic seizure can be one of the scariest and most dramatic. Hopefully you’ll never have to deal with one, but if you do, it helps to have a general idea of what to expect and how to react.