Honest Terror


In the spirit of Halloween and all things spooky, I figured I’d tell the tale when I was absolutely terrified.  This is a true story.

I like to tell people that I am a quite courageous person, however, I have known true fear.

The brisk fall air felt invigorating as we exited our car and walked toward the cider mill.  Outside, children played an frolicked in the multitude of multicolored leaves gently cascading through the grass.  My daughter, as innocent and energetic as imaginable joined in the chaotic chase with several other children.  Not a care in the world.

I went inside to get cider an donuts while my wife watched the mass of several scores of kids running around aimlessly.

The line seemed impossibly long, but the smells of fresh pumpkin-spice donuts and cider pressed that same day provided me the patience of a saint.  I don’t know how I heard my cellphone ring in the cacophony that was the bustling cider mill, but I answered.  I heard my wife:

“Get out here now,” she said.

When you have been married for several years you learn to recognize the voice.  It was the voice of something very, very wrong.  Despite having made my way nearly to the front of the line, I instantly left the line and pushed my way outside.  When I walked through the doors the chilling site that greeted me squelched my breathing.

My daughter.  My perfect, happy, energetic, funny, quirky, bubbly little angel lay still, gray and lifeless draped in my wife’s arms.

She was completely unresponsive.  Complete and utter despair gripped me.  My wife quickly explained what had happened.  She saw her drop to the ground.  At first my wife thought she was playing a game, but something felt off and when she ran over she found our daughter on the ground, not moving.  I felt a sort of dichotomy, where half of me was dad and the other half was an ER doctor.

Assess the patient (said my brain).  Screw you! It’s my daughter (said the dad in me).

I scanned my daughter, part of me wondered in this surreal not-really-happening moment if I was about to start CPR on my own daughter.

I could feel her heartbeat racing rapidly and she still was breathing extremely slowly.  She felt warm to me and my brain clicked.  She likely had a febrile seizure.  I’d like to say I handled it well, but with my flaccid daughter in my arms, I was panicking.

My daughter had a seizure, but, for a split second, she was not breathing, she was not moving, she honestly terrified me.

If you’ve never actually seen a seizure in person, it’s very scary.

Two minutes before I came out, her entire body flexed for a short time and then she lost consciousness.  After this, her body spastically shook  for 40 seconds.  That may sounds like a short time, unless you are there watching it happen.  Then it lasts forever.  After this, her breathing became shallow and her skin turned ashen gray.  My wife called me over right away.  It’s hard to describe the feeling when you are holding your completely limp, ashen, and unconscious daughter.

Scared does not cover it.  I was beyond terror.

We traveled to the ER, by that time my daughter had regained a minimal level of consciousness and some color had returned. Her temp was 104.6.   After a slew of tests and some Tylenol and Motrin she was doing much better, eating/drinking and watching TV.   But…   Scary.   Nerve wracking.   Terrifying.

You want a scary story, well, that’s as scared as I have ever been.

I have long said that I can handle the 82 year-old that comes into the ER who is dead or receiving resuscitation.  When you work in an ER, whether you are a physician, a nurse, a tech, or anyone with a pulse, it is the sick little kids that will always scare the living crap out of you.  If you don’t get a little nervous intubating someone under the age of 5, I think something is wrong with you.

My daughter is fine, by the way.

Currently (now many months later), she is racing around the house smiling, giggling, and just got done riding the “daddy horse” over and over and over… so she’s back to baseline, much to our delight.

And though I have never been this frightened, I try to find a silver lining.

This experience has provided me some insight to my patients.  Any parent with a child who has a febrile seizure gets nothing but gushing empathy.

I suppose it could be worse, have you ever seen the goats that “faint” every time they are scared?  At least I didn’t lock up and tip over and flop when I became scared.

In other news, a friend showed me this video game (CLICK HERE (unless you’re scared (NSFW)), which I refuse to play since I don’t like peeing my pants.


Have you ever been truly terrified?

How so?

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