Febrile Seizures Are Common, But Really F*cking Scary

by Wendy Wisner
Originally Published: 
febrile seizures
Tomsickova Tatyana / Shutterstock

At first, I didn’t think much of the fact that my son would sometimes shake a little when he spiked a fever. It usually happened just as his body was heating up, and as he falling was asleep, so I assumed it was one of those sleep jerks that happen as you enter dreamland, intensified because of the illness.

But then, one day when he was about 3 years old, sick with one of the many garden variety illnesses that were going around, he sat up in bed, eyes glazed over, his body jerking all over the place, his teeth chattering. I tried to talk to him, but he didn’t hear me or wasn’t listening.

I don’t know how long it lasted. It was probably not more than a few minutes. But it felt like a freaking eternity.

I called my husband over in the middle of it and asked him what the eff was going on. He could tell I was freaking out (I don’t hide these things well). “I’m sure it’s just because he’s sick. He’ll be fine,” he said.

And he was right. As quickly as it started, it was over, and then he just fell into a deep, feverish sleep.

We called the doctor right away and got a nurse on the line. I told her what had happened. She went through a checklist with me, asking me if he’d been ill, what his symptoms were, whether he’d had a fever yesterday, today, the day before, etc. I didn’t know how she could be so nonchalant and clinical about the whole thing when I needed to be reassured pronto that my baby wasn’t about to die.

“Sounds like he had a febrile seizure as a result of a virus,” she surmised. “Nothing to worry about. Bring him in when he wakes up.”

As nice as it was to know that the nurse didn’t think he was on the brink of death, I still wasn’t exactly reassured. I sat vigil with my son. He was snotty, hot as hell, and whimpering a little in his sleep, like sick, uncomfortable kids do. But thankfully, none of the seizure activity was happening now at all.

When we took him to the doctor, he was diagnosed with — wait for it — a virus. Some sort of bad cold, not even the flu. The doctor also reassured us that febrile seizures only happen when kids are sick, are nothing to worry about, are quite common, and have no lasting consequences.

Dr. Google said the same (because even after we parents get sound info from medical professionals, we still go and Google our faces off about it). Healthy Children, the information website of The Academy of American Pediatrics, explains that febrile seizures happen to 3 or 4 out of every 100 kids, tend to run in families, and strike kids most from the age of 6 months through 5 years old.

The website says in no uncertain terms that febrile seizures are not dangerous and don’t have lasting effects on your kid: “While febrile seizures may be very scary, they are harmless to the child,” the website states. “Febrile seizures do not cause brain damage, nervous system problems, paralysis, intellectual disability, or death.”

I definitely started to feel better about the whole thing after all the reassurances I got from medical professionals, including good old Dr. Google. But it took me a few days to get that panicky feeling out of my body — because it’s one thing to rationalize it when something scary happens to your kid, and it’s another to actually experience it.

So let me just say it: No matter how innocent and harmless these seizures are, they are absolutely fucking scary.

My son had a few more of them over the years, and even though I knew they were fine, I freaked the fuck out each fucking, goddamn time. I’m sorry, but seeing your child’s arms involuntarily jerk all over the place, drool coming out of his mouth, and his eyes rolling back into his head — that’s the stuff of horror movies, no two ways about it.

Thank the good lord he outgrew them, just like everyone reassured me he would. Of course, I went on to have another son, who also had a few febrile seizures. And yes, I freaked out each time it happened, even though I knew exactly what it was and that he would be just fine.

Basically, febrile seizures can go to hell. I know, in the grand scheme of things, all of us with otherwise healthy children should thank our lucky stars they are among the worst things we’ve had to experience. I get that. I really do.

But I still hate their guts, and if you’re a parent like me who has watched your baby have a febrile seizure, I am right there with you. You’re absolutely justified in feeling traumatized by the experience. No parent can sit back, relax, and take something like that in stride.

And to any parent or expectant parent who hasn’t heard of these: I hope you never have to experience one with your kid, but it’s probably a good thing that you’ve heard about them now.

Honestly, it would have been pretty helpful if I knew what the hell was happening the first time I witnessed one — though I’m still certain I would have freaked the fuck out anyway, because that’s just what we moms do sometimes, right?

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