Oliver had just woken up from his afternoon nap. We cuddled on the sofa for a while then I offered him scrambled eggs, his favourite meal. Helium balloons from his 2nd birthday were still floating beneath the ceiling. I put Paddington on to keep him company while I was in the kitchen, preparing the eggs when I heard him.
It sounded like hick ups, only different, consistent. I leaned out of the kitchen to check on him. He was laying on his side. He does that sometimes, I thought. I walked over to tell him to move away from the screen. What happened next is a blur yet the feelings that overwhelmed me still very intense.
Scrapped of expression and emotion, his face looked lifeless. Sparkless eyes stared into nothingness. Pool of saliva had dripped out of his mouth and collected on the sofa around his cheek. Bubbles gathered in the corner of his lips. His body twitched silently in the rhythm of the sound he’d just made. Desperate, I picked him up and saw his lips had turned purple. His distant eyes looked right through me. Face wiped of all colour. His body limp in my hands. His arms hanging softly by his sides.
‘Oli!’, I cried to the heavens begging to not take my baby away. Paralysed by grief, I feared I was holding him for the last time.
I was shaking. My heart was racing. Guilt, fear, and sudden awareness of the injustice and cruelty of this cold universe rushed through my mind. I need to snap out of it, I thought, and save my boy.
I thought he was choking, so I bent him over my forearm, felt his belly sink against it, and I started slapping his upper back. His arms stretched towards the floor. I was scared that I wasn’t doing it right. Scared of stopping and losing him forever, but I needed to call the ambulance.
I could barely dial the number. As I heard the voice on the other side, Oliver’s eyes closed. Maybe if I’d put his hearing aids on when he woke up, he would’ve heard my calls. I couldn’t stand the thought he was in there somewhere, scared and alone in silent darkness without his daddy’s voice to guide him.
‘My son is choking!’, I yelled with agony to the calm, almost cold and uncaring voice in the speaker. Her lack of urgency and empathy shocked and offended me. She told me to stop slapping his back, put him on his side and try to remove saliva from his mouth, but his teeth were clamped with impossible force.
I screamed and cried down the phone. I felt I wasn’t making much sense. She asked me for the address, and this is when I realised I had to calm down and give it to her as clear as possible. Oliver wasn’t responding, his shallow breath reminded me we were running out of time. Help was on its way, she said as I looked at his face wondering if it’d ever light up again.
‘Please hurry!’, I begged as I kneeled next to my boy feeling powerless and exposed. Eggs were burning in the kitchen.
The sound of the ambulance in the distance was getting closer until the blue flashing lights penetrated that black winter afternoon outside the window. He was still unconscious, but still with me. You’re gonna be alright, I said, you’re gonna be alright.
* * *
The A&E was extremely busy. Oliver arrived there in the ambulance with my wife, who I called when the paramedics were examining him. One doctor kept shouting into the waiting area that only one parent per child was allowed, but I didn’t care. Half an hour ago, I thought I was fighting for his life. I wasn’t going anywhere. Oliver would also need his mum because she breastfeeds him and he would find comfort in that surrounded by doctors and nurses wearing masks, gloves and shooting Calpol down his throat. I was also the one who found him and could describe what happened. That’s not the point, however. I was ready to take on anyone who would try to separate us. We needed each other.
It was the shouting doctor who called out our son’s name. Finally, we thought after four hours of waiting, passing Oliver to each other so we could each get some rest. She was short, slightly overweight and with blonde hair. We followed her into the room where she turned out to be quite pleasant and didn’t mention the “one parent” policy.
She listened to my description of Oliver’s symptoms and took notes. She said that it all sounded like he had had a seizure. She said it was very common in kids and that it happens when body temperature rises suddenly as opposed to gradually. When she said that, I went back to the moment I found him laying on the sofa, in the pool of his own saliva, and I remembered thinking it looked like seizure, but the only seizure I had ever seen was in movies. ‘Why would Oliver even have seizure?’, I asked myself. I dismissed this possibility and assumed he put something in his mouth and choked on it.
Minutes after we sat down in the waiting area, he had another seizure. He shook violently and his eyes rolled and rested in the corner of his eyelids, looking nowhere again. Terrified mothers moved their kids out of the way as we were rushed into a separate room where Oliver was taken care of immediately. Less than a minute later, Oliver was in the same state as when I found him on the sofa, just a few hours before.
Over the next three days, doctors were trying to find out what had caused the seizure. They took swab tests, urine test and the worst of them all, the blood test. They all came back with nothing. We were sent home with some antibiotics, but nobody really knows what happened.
There are parents out there who have lost their children. I know that. My son wasn’t dying, but when I saw him, I thought he was. Even when I thought he was choking and I knew what to do, I knew that there was a chance I would fail. I believe that the pain I felt, is the same pain experienced by anyone who has ever held their dying child in their arms. Nobody who hasn’t been through it will ever know what it feels like, they can only imagine. And I can only imagine what it feels like to go through it and actually lose a child. What I felt cannot be replicated. The same pain cannot be felt when your dog dies or when your team loses the world cup final. It cannot be felt by anybody but the parent who holds their child for the last time or believes it is the last time. Perhaps this post will be found by other parents out there who can relate to these strong emotions or maybe some of them will find comfort in knowing that if a baby has a seizure, it normally goes away within minutes and they don’t even remember it happened. Thank you for reading.