My Theme Park Nightmare & Why It Took Until Now to Talk
July 28, 2014. It’s a day that I will never forget. A day ingrained in my mind. A day that replays over and over in my head. A day has me bursting into tears in a moment’s notice. My Theme Park Nightmare. It’s amazing how one of the happiest places for families has now ironically become something else for me. Over 3 months later, I am now finally ready to talk about it.
The weekend was looking great. Yesterday, we had a family day at Clearwater Beach with pristine sand, happy smiling children and perfect weather. And today, we were headed as a family to Busch Gardens for the day to check out the new Summer Nights promotion. 2 kids, 2 adults, and a full day of memories were on the table. The day looked so promising.
We were taking our time, walking around and checking out animals. I noticed that my baby girl was acting quiet. Tired.
“Must be from the beach yesterday,” I thought.
I gave her extra fluids. Purple Gatorade, I remember. Snacks. We even kept her in the stroller to shield her from the hot summer sun. No problem. The hot day lingered on. It was after 12 pm before we decided to get in line for the train that goes around the park. I was tired and frustrated by that time. The train was about to leave. My husband said that we could get on if we emptied out the stroller and folded it up. Does he realize how much “stuff” we carry with us? If we missed it, we’d have to wait at the train station with 2 cranky kids for another 20 minutes.
Needless to say, we missed the train.
I didn’t realize how much of a blessing that was.
As we waited at the train station, my husband decided to take the hot and sweaty baby out of the stroller and hold her while we waited. In the shade, under a fan, Gatorade in hand, we were trying to cool off. My husband started to notice that our daughter was starting to act a little “goofy.”
“Come take a picture,” he said. I wince at the memory, my eyes misting as I type this.
Little did I realize, my daughter was in the aura stage of what was going to be the longest 3 minutes of my life. And it seemed like an eternity. In my husband’s arms, my daughter’s arms and legs started twitching. He must have just watched the odd movements for seconds before he notified me. Oh no.
A full blown seizure.
She’s never had one before. And things begin getting a little blurry in my memory at this point. I remember taking her in my arms, running around the train station, screaming at the top of my lungs for help.
I remember sitting down on a bench, screaming and crying, as I saw my daughter’s eyes rolled back in her head. She wouldn’t stop shaking. “Please stop,” I begged her. Those minutes, only about 2 to 3 minutes, I saw her whole life flash before me as I tried to choke down the possibility of brain damage if this continued. Someone, an angel of a lady, took off my baby’s shoes and put an ice cold water on her feet. Another torturous few seconds before she went limp. It was over.
By then, I’m not sure how long it took before the park medic arrived. He told me that we needed to go to the hospital right away, especially with this being her first seizure.
At this point, I don’t know what I was thinking.
“No, I think we will be ok.”
Perhaps one of the dumbest things I’ve ever said. What was wrong with me? My baby needed attention. Help. Answers. And I was too stubborn to get into the golf cart to get into an ambulance. It took some convincing, but we were taken to the nearest ER for evaluation, blood work, medical history. I cried when she got an IV and had barely moved when the needle stuck her. I cried even harder when she opened her eyes and focused on my face for the first time.
A nasty virus. Her fever shot up quickly while at the theme park, causing a full seizure. Within a few hours, we were released. Tylenol and Motrin our new best friends for the next 3 days, we went home, completely exhausted. Everything happened so quickly. Within half a day, our lives and memories changed forever.
Why So Long?
It’s taken me months to be able to write about it. I sat here with this blank page for weeks, trying to find the words.
Part of me was reliving the nightmare. I mean talk about it? I couldn’t even stop thinking about it for a month solid. One of the scariest situations I have ever dealt with in my life, I realize how quickly my daughter was almost taken from me. In an instant, her life could have been gone. I was afraid. I am afraid.
Part of me was embarrassed. 4 years of college to obtain a B.S.N. degree. 6 years of hands-on work on a pediatric nursing floor, having witnessed and treated kids with the exact situation. 5 years as a mom. I had all of the credentials of a well-prepared person for a situation like this. Instead, I was frozen. Unable to cope, hysterical at best. And I was ashamed.
Ashamed that I didn’t see the warning signs at the theme park. Tired, lethargic, not herself. I should have felt her forehead, given her a dose of Motrin (she was badly teething) anyway before we left the hotel. I should have had a thermometer on me. Maybe if I gave her more Gatorade or a better snack. Maybe if I was a more attentive mom…..I would have seen it.
What kind of nurse am I?
I had sunken into a deep sadness, probably depression. It’s taken over 3 months to forgive myself. Though I had plenty of training and experience as a nurse, I have had little to no training or experience with my own kids this close to death. It was hard to realize that in THIS situation, I was a mom first. Not a nurse. I had every right to not be prepared for this moment.
A long road to recovery, and not for her. But for me.
I still relive that day. I have nightmares about it. I cringe when I see pictures from that day. When she wears the outfit. I even recently found the picture I took of her, moments before her seizure. I immediately burst into tears. But slowly, ever so slowly, I’m learning to find the blessings in the darkest of times. Blessing that we never got on that train. What if she had a seizure while we were moving? Blessing that the staff were able to call an ambulance. The Angel that had the ice water. The doctors, the technology, our son for being so brave, our family for holding together.
It’s ironic that I am now opening up about this day here now in November. A month of thankfulness. And I certainly am so thankful, even for this experience.
It’s a day that I will never take for granted. My daughter almost died that day. But I have been given so many more days to be with her. Each day, a blessing. Now, I’ll never look at a theme park the same again.
Yes, you will find a thermometer in my diaper bag.