I lay in bed next to my son and held him tight as his entire body shook. He was having a seizure.
“DAVE!!! SEIZURE!!! CALL 911!!!!” I yelled to my husband. We were on a family beach getaway. My son Max and I had crashed in the king bed, and Dave had fallen asleep on the living room couch.
Max has been prone to seizures since he experienced trauma at birth. For seven years, medication had kept them at bay, until midnight that Saturday. “Max, Max, Max,” I whispered, my tears dripping onto his face. Only he couldn’t hear me.
Blessedly, the seizure passed within a couple of minutes, and by the time the paramedics arrived there was nothing they could do. They left and Max quickly drifted off to sleep.
By the next morning, Max was back to his usual self, if a little sleepy. He didn’t even remember having the seizure. As for me, for weeks afterward I remained traumatized by the memory of Max jerking violently. His seizure shook me to the core because I know that I couldn’t do anything to help my boy.
When a medical trauma strikes one of my kids, big or small, it’s when I feel most vulnerable as a mom. Logically, I know I can’t prevent the flu, a fractured wrist, a stomach bug, or a seizure, let alone a mosquito bite. But motherhood is far from a logical profession. In my heart I struggle mightily when I am powerless to alleviate my children’s suffering and the most I can provide are large doses of kisses and cuddles.
Some friends knew all too well how I felt. “Four years later, I’m still haunted by the sight of Sam hooked up to a respirator,” a woman in my book club told me, recalling when her five-year-old got pneumonia as a tot and ended up in the hospital for two weeks. “I wasn’t just out of my head with anxiety — I felt so useless. Anytime his breathing seems labored or he spikes a fever, I worry he will end up in the hospital.”
Last month, after one of my best friend’s kids got a nasty skin infection following a trek in the woods and had to go on antibiotics, she cried to me on the phone. Should she have not let her daughter go on the hike? Should she have made her wear thicker pants? What could she have done?
We mama bears will do anything to make sure our cubs are safe and healthy. It is a primal instinct, the kind that — legend has it — spurs parents to lift cars off their trapped children. The fierce, protective love I feel for my kids is unlike any other love I have known in my life. It kicks into high gear when I see another kid bugging one of them at the playground, if a teacher or coach has seemingly done my child wrong, or if a friend hurts their feelings. But most of all, this protective urge rises in me when one of my kids is sick or ailing, and leaves me despairing that there is little I can do, along with a guilt hangover.
“Oh, honey, I wish I were sick instead of you,” my mother would murmur to me when I spiked a fever as a child and she’d place cool washcloths on my head. And now, as a mother, I know exactly what she meant. If I could take away my children’s pain and make it mine, I would.
It’s been close to a month now since Max’s seizure. I’m flashing back to it a lot less, although the other night as I made my way home from work, a vision of Max’s body shaking uncontrollably popped into my head. As fellow commuters scurried by me in the train station, I slowed down for a minute, blinded by tears. And then I brushed them off and hurried to get home to my kids.More On