“9-1-1, what’s your emergency?” the dispatcher asked.
I composed myself enough to start the conversation, “my son is actively seizing.”
“Ok, ma’am, what’s your address?” you asked.
I calmly recited our address, then swallowed the lump in my throat.
“Ok. Help is on the way, so hang in there. I’m going to ask you a few questions and give you some instructions.” Your voice eased my anxiety as you took more information about my son.
“How old is he?” You asked each question with concern and empathy.
“He’s five,” I say as my heart aches for my little boy.
“Has your son ever had a seizure before?” you questioned after we covered the basics.
My voice cracked, “Yes. He has epilepsy. He’s a brain tumor and stroke survivor.” Usually, I would follow that statement with “but you would never know he’s been through anything.” I’m not sure why I feel the need to say that to people. Maybe it’s because the typical reaction is one of sympathy or pity. You had such a comforting and calming presence through the phone that I had easily let my guard down.
I wasn’t afraid to be vulnerable.
I was sitting in the middle of this challenging moment and embracing it for exactly what it was- freaking petrifying.
After some quick instructions on how to keep my child safe, you had me explain what was happening.
“He woke up out of a sound sleep and started smacking his lips. We tried to bring his focus to one of us, but he stared right through us. That’s when I knew this was a seizure. Then he started shaking. It wasn’t a full convulsive shaking, more like shivering. As my husband held him, he started to hold his breath,” my heart nearly pounded out of my chest as I described what we had just seen.
“Has he come out of this yet? Is he still seizing?” you asked with compassion.
“No. Well, he is breathing again. But he hasn’t come to, he’s still looking right through us. We have him on his side on the couch. We’re both sitting here.”
“When was the last time he’s had an episode like this, ma’am?”
The tears started flowing down my face. “It would have been a year this month.”
“I’m sorry,” you said. “That’s tough.” You paused for a minute.
I have always felt so awkward about crying. But at this moment, through a phone, you, Mr. Dispatcher, were giving me permission to be who I needed to be. You didn’t have to say anything, your demeanor, your understanding nature, your calming presence said it all.
This was probably the 10th time we’ve had to call 9-1-1 for similar experiences.
Let me tell you something…
It never gets easier.
I have NEVER gotten used to picking up the phone to make this type of call.
“Why does he need to go by ambulance every time he has a seizure?” someone asked me the other day.
I tried not to look annoyed or angry with the question because I knew they were just trying to understand. Until you’ve been through it, you don’t know what it’s like.
You don’t get it.
I certainly didn’t get it until I had to live it personally. “It’s part of his emergency plan. He stops breathing,” I said. “And no episode has been exactly like the last. We never know if it’s going to get worse, or if he’s going to have a cluster of seizures. If he’s going to start breathing again on his own or if he’s going to need intervention. Frankly, it’s a terrifying experience.”
In the grand scheme of things, we’ve been through so much worse. That doesn’t make watching our son have a seizure any easier.
In fact, I find these experiences much more difficult to handle than any others we’ve had. The uncertainty, the lack of control, the absence of knowledge, and education on the condition, are all factors that make epilepsy such a complicated disease to process.
Combine those with the fact that our child is lying there, spiraling out of control, disconnected from the world, staring right through us, and there’s not a damn thing we can do to help, and we’ve got ourselves a nightmare I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.
I didn’t have to tell you any of that, Mr. Dispatcher…you seemed to already know.
You continued by reassuring me that help was on the way and giving me step-by-step, detailed instructions on what to do with our son until help arrived.
People are quick to assume that just because we’ve been in this epilepsy war for almost four years, we’re champs at dealing with seizures. That could be, in part, because we’re great at pretending we’re all good.
The truth is, no matter how many times this happens, we don’t get better at handling it.
The sheer panic that overcomes my body when I realize my son is having another seizure is practically debilitating.
My maternal instincts kick in.
My mind starts racing.
It’s hard to quiet my thoughts, collect myself to make the next move, with the what-if’s, why’s, and how’s swirling around in my head.
Should I call 9-1-1, or will he come out of it quickly? Where’s the timer?
I need to walk away for a second to grab the emergency meds. If I walk away, will he get hurt? What’s worse…not having the emergency meds or leaving him to go get them?
Could I have prevented this?
What triggered this? Did I give him his meds earlier?
I know all the answers to these questions, but my mind starts to play tricks on me.
My heart pounds so hard I can barely hear the words coming out of my husband’s mouth. I see his lips moving, but I don’t hear a thing.
My body shakes so bad that I struggle to open the small, silver packet that holds my son’s emergency pill- the only tool I have to save his life if things take a drastic turn.
I kneel on the floor, eyes glued to his chest, making sure he continues to breathe, as I wonder why my sweet little boy and his tiny body has to go through all of this.
Why can’t it be me, instead?
Your voice brings me back to the scene.
You finish our conversation by giving me an update on the location of the firefighters, paramedics, and EMTs. You go over some final points that detail when to call you back for further instruction.
As I hear the blaring sirens in the distance, I find comfort in the fact that help is close.
“Are you ok to hang up, ma’am?” you ask.
Thanks to you, I’m doing ok.
“Good luck with everything. The first responders will be there any minute. They’ll take care of him.” I’m comfortable with this statement.
I know it’s true because I feel it in my gut.
As I hang up the phone, I shake my head. “It never gets easier. Making that call never gets easier for me,” I tell my husband.
Tears roll down my face as I brush away the hair from my son’s forehead.
“I wish you didn’t have to go through this, baby,” I say to my son, who is now sound asleep, recovering from the trauma his little body just experienced.
You pass the torch to the first responders who have arrived on the scene.
The time we spent on the phone was grueling, the longest seven minutes of my life. But, you carried us through.
Thank you, Mr. Dispatcher.
Help finally arrived. The firefighters, paramedics, and EMT’s let themselves in to take over.
Every time you guys walk through our front door, I feel at peace, knowing you will treat my family with the most qualified, compassionate care you can.
I never doubt that my son is in good hands.
When you file into our living room or race up the stairs to our bedroom, my heart stops pounding, my mind stops racing, my hands stop shaking. Because I know he is as safe and protected as he can possibly be.
I’m confident that you’ll bring your best skills to the table to bring my boy quickly and safely to the hospital.
How can we thank you for that?
I can’t tell you what a comfort it is to live in a country with access to quality medical care.
This isn’t the first time that you firefighters, paramedics, and EMTs have flooded our home to stabilize our son and transport him to the pediatric emergency room.
Unfortunately, I also don’t think it will be the last.
Time and time again, you have carried us through the worst moments of our lives. You’ve done so with grace and humility.
You walk in complete strangers, but your compassionate, empathetic faces feel so familiar.
You respect the in-depth and well-versed knowledge we have about our son’s condition.
But you recognize that we are human.
You look at us as we are, two parents who’ve just seen their child go through a traumatic event.
You seem to feel our pain.
Even if it’s just for a moment, you carry our baggage.
You dot our I’s and cross our T’s, making sure we don’t miss anything important, understanding that it’s easy to overlook even the most prominent information in these emergency situations.
You wholeheartedly support our family in ways we didn’t realize we needed support. From the paramedic who lovingly carries my son to the stretcher to the EMT who goes over allergies, medications, past history, you quickly become part of our team- a chain of people who pass my son from one play to the next, fighting for the win, to bring my boy home better than he left our house that night.
Your 9-1-1 dispatcher is our coach.
He calls the shots. He evaluates the competition, sends his best players to the field, talks us all through the plays.
Your firefighters are our defense.
They storm the field, fiercely protecting our Most Valuable Player. They secure the end zone and stand guard, ready to jump in whenever we need an assist.
Your Paramedics and EMTs are our offensive team.
Their skills and talents score the points. They bring home the win. Even if it takes a Hail Mary, they work together to get the touchdown when time is running out.
When you are called to duty, your job is so much more than treating the injured patient.
We see that.
In many cases, you come to a scene filled with high emotions and complete chaos and quickly break it down to give everyone what they need to survive. Other times, you need to read between the lines to determine what everyone needs, like is often the case with our family.
When you walk into our house for a call like this, it might not be evident that my husband and I need help too.
But, in many ways, we do.
From the paramedic who makes sure my husband is comfortable on the stretcher where he holds our son to the EMT who makes sure I have everything I need before I leave the house to chase the ambulance, your A-team really knows how to work together to treat our entire family, not just our son, the patient.
We might not remember your names, but we recognize your voices, and we have yet to forget your faces.
The compassionate young rookie who played games with our son in the ambulance, calming his fears and reassuring him that you weren’t there to hurt him.
The seasoned veteran who climbed through our tiny kitchen window into a sink full of dishes when I nervously locked myself out of the house, laughing with me without judgment as you assured me I was only winning you points because you were the only one skinny enough to fit through the window.
The calming voice on the other end of that 9-1-1 call, patiently going through the steps I needed to take to keep my son safe without assuming that our past experiences meant I remembered what to do amid trauma and urgency.
When we come home…
When we return to the scene…
We think of you.
The scattered debris of used medical equipment, the rearranged furniture, the empty living room floor where you kneeled down to treat our son, it all reminds us of the fantastic game you just played.
As we clean up the field, we replay the highlights of the game and marvel in the talents of your team.
Is thank you enough?
Certainly doesn’t seem to be.
But, in most cases, it’s all we have to give.
A sincere appreciation for you, the men and women who leave your families every day to protect and care for ours.
A deep understanding of the knowledge and skills you deploy every time you arrive on the scene.
An overwhelming sense of gratitude for your patience, support, and compassion with each and every member of our family.
A couple of devoted fans who sit relieved and indebted to each and every one of you as we hug our little boy at the end of a long and challenging day- a priceless gift for which we could never repay you.
Is a simple thank you an appropriate way to follow up with the men and women who have given us so much in our darkest moments?
No, it’s not.
But, we’re so incredibly thankful for you, the first responders of Milford, Connecticut.
Thankful that you are ours. Forever grateful that you’re always just a phone call away when we need you most.
With heartfelt love and the most profound sense of gratitude,
The parents of your young epilepsy patient