March 2014

The Daddy Handbook: Seize the Day

Steven J. Moss

Sara had her first seizure when she was one. She was playing in “Dirty Park,” a Noe Valley playground given that nickname by our nanny, Gilda, because it featured a popular indoor area choked with large, well-loved, plastic toys that never seemed to be washed. As Sara convulsed, Gilda shouted to the other caretakers that something was wrong. A clutch of nannies — immigrants from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Mexico — gathered round to see how they could help. Someone called 911.

The paramedics arrived quickly, swept Sara up, and climbed into their ambulance. Gilda tried to follow.

“Are you related to this child?” asked the paramedic, as she blocked Gilda from getting into the vehicle.

“No, no, I’m her nanny,” Gilda responded, her Guatemalan accent thickened with stress. “I’m responsible for her.”

“Sorry ma’am, only relatives are allowed. You can follow her separately.”

“But I don’t have a car!” Gilda cried. But by that time the ambulance doors had shut, and the vehicle wheeled away.

I was working at home when my cell phone rang.

“Gilda just called me. Sara had a seizure. She’s in an ambulance to Kaiser hospital. I’m in the car now,” said Debbie.

“Which hospital?” I asked.

“The one on Geary Boulevard, where she was born. They’re taking her to the emergency room.”

I jumped into my car, and raced to Kaiser, arriving at the emergency entrance just as the ambulance pulled up. A paramedic stepped out clutching Sara. Her clothes had been stripped off. She was naked, wrapped in a blanket, screaming.

“Is this your daughter?” she asked. I nodded.

“She was running a high temperature so we took her clothes off to cool her down,” she said. Sara reached over and grabbed me, snuggling into my chest.

 “She’s seems to be okay now, though.”

I rushed her into the hospital. Her screams turned to sobs, and then she relaxed into sleep on my chest. Debbie arrived 10 minutes later, though was delayed getting in as security demanded to see her identification.

Sara had experienced a febrile seizure, a convulsion triggered by rapidly rising fever. By the time she got to the hospital her temperature had mostly subsided. She exhibited no other health problems. We were told to take her home, make sure she drank liquids, and monitor her temperature.

Debbie and I were with Sara when she had her second seizure. She’d had a mild fever all day, which started to rise significantly as the sun set. As Sara’s temperature swelled, Debbie called an advice-nurse, who told her to do what she could to get her fever down: take off her clothes, put her in tepid water. We tried everything, but Sara’s fever stayed high, zooming past 104 Fahrenheit. And then she started to shake.

I’ve never experienced anything more frightening then seeing my baby daughter in full convulsions. I scooped her up; she felt like a steaming hot potato. Debbie called 911. A few moments later Sara stopped seizing, and went limp. I raced around the apartment holding her, thinking she might be dead.

The paramedics arrived. Debbie and I ran out of our apartment, Sara in my arms. Our downstairs neighbors, Joe and Sam, rousted by the ambulance’s siren, were standing on the landing. Joe looked stricken. Sam, who was holding her new baby, Ella, in her arms, radiated maternal concern.

At the hospital the doctor told us that we needed to get fluids into Sara.

“We can put an IV in her,” he said.

“She won’t like that,” I protested.

“I understand. We can take her and strap her down to get the needle into her arm. You don’t even need to be in the room when we do the procedure.”

“That’s not going to happen,” I said. “We’re not leaving her alone, and we’re not going to stick a needle into her.”

“Well, you’re not leaving here until she gets hydrated,” replied the doctor. “You need to get enough liquid into her so that she pees.”

The emergency room was packed with patients waiting to be seen, suffering from deep wounds, broken limbs, and other ailments. Since there weren’t any treatment rooms available, we were directed to a couple of plastic chairs in the hallway. Over the next six hours — until 2 a.m. — we fed water to Sara from a needleless syringe. Each time she’d clamp her mouth shut. We’d beg and cajole her to take a few drops. We made a game out of it, flying the syringe like an airplane, or having it “walk” towards her month saying “water, water,” a thirsty girl lost in the desert.

New patients arrived; others were escorted into examination rooms. A man clutching his bloody stomach was wheeled in, and placed next to us, moaning. We continued to ply Sara with syringes of water. Periodically, Debbie or I would check her diaper, to see if she was wet.

“I felt something,” Debbie finally said. “I think she peed!” She took off Sara’s diaper; it was moist.

“I’ll tell the nurse,” I exclaimed, grabbing the soiled diaper and waving it in front of me like a trophy.

“It’s wet! It’s wet!” I said, as I hurried to the nurse who’d been monitoring us throughout the night.

She smiled. “I guess you can go home now.”

We could have gone home within an hour of having arrived at the hospital, avoided camping out in the hallway as the nightly array of medical emergencies paraded by, if we’d just let the doctor put an IV in Sara. But we were unaccountably stubborn, especially given how freaked out we’d been about Sara’s condition just moments before. I’m glad we were; sometimes how care is delivered, and by whom, is as important as who is providing it.    

Handbook Tips: Welcome to Disease Land!

• From the time they’re born to early adolescence — if not longer — your kid will be visited by what will seem to be every single illness in a pediatrician’s textbook: colds; flus; respiratory viruses; “slapped cheek;” hand, foot, and mouth disease; and a host of mysterious coughs, fevers, and rashes. If it’s your first child you’ll feel like you’re trapped on a ship heaving through rough waters, with a foul, disease-ridden pack of sailors who like to breathe, spit, and vomit on you. Don’t worry; this voyage will end. But, you may get many a bug along the way, including, in my case, walking pneumonia. Pull together a comprehensive medicine cabinet, including a few doses of Nyquil. You’ll be needing those yourself.

• Doctors, teachers, counselors, and other experts deserve great respect. But they only know so much, and nobody knows your child like you do. Sometimes being stubborn in the face of authority is exactly the right thing to do.

• You can eat right, and exercise, but there’s only one way to ward off communicable diseases: wash your hands! The filthiest place on earth isn’t a men’s room in Scotland; it’s your local playground.

This is an excerpt from The Daddy Handbook, a book by View editor Steven Moss, sections from which will appear in the paper throughout 2014. He’s looking for a publisher for this work. Fellow parents are encouraged to write in with their experiences:


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