Febrile Seizure

A Poem About The Scariest Night Of My Life

“Go get your father,” Alli must have said
Because my oldest, running, came to fetch
Me from the bedroom, “Daddy!” ere she led
Me to the nursing chair where limp and stretched
The baby lay across her mother’s lap.
Not crying, urgent though, “There’s something wrong;
She just was nursing, then she went all stiff.
Call 911.” I did, the moments long,
The color draining from the infant’s lips,
The seconds ticking left too long a gap.
As I described the baby, she turned blue.
Instructions I awaited, and control
And knowledge, tell me what all I can do,
Make me omniscient. Hurry. Make me whole.
Turn baby sideways, give her back a rap.
The merciful effusion of her tears,
Her gasps and plaintive whine were angels’ breath.
Send ambulances, doctors over here,
More hands mean more control, collective strength.
When all control is lost, you’ll beg for scraps.

All four of us all night through tests and beds
The hospital we occupied, alert;
The hours beat us, drained our rattled heads,
The hours between the checks, we sat inert.
I used to count myself among the brave; a lie.
With needle, catheter, with pills they shocked
The innocent among us, tiny babe:
The seizure from the fever had been wrought,
What wrought the fever? No one could have said.
A cautious man am I; a flincher, I.
Untold the reason, let us be dismissed,
Abandon us th’ infirmary, no advice
Except it must be viral, let’t persist
And vanish on its own, a couple nights.
And don’t let any fevers run too high.

My oldest, in the parking lot, was amazed
To see her first sunrise; awake for days,
“What happened to the night?” she asked the rays


Some little kids, babies, when they get too high a fever, the brain seizes up. Febrile seizure. They say it’s harmless. But our kid got milk stuck in her throat during hers and she couldn’t breathe, so that’s not harmless. And it scared the hell out of me and my wife and our other daughter so that’s not really harmless either. There were a bunch of cops in our house to help and one of them kept the older kid company and told her Cinderella was his favorite princess, too, so try telling that guy that febrile seizures are harmless. Dude was clearly a Belle stan.

This was all months ago. A nightmare receding into background radiation.

Parenthood is a slog a lot of the time, and then it’s really wonderful a lot of the time, but then every once in a while it’s really scary and fucked up. Everyone’s okay, but we weren’t okay that night. We became big believers in Tylenol for fever reduction that night. It made me braver in some ways, in that way that getting through heavy, scary shit makes you a little more okay with the day-to-day troubling things that are always simmering but never spike up like that. I’m not as scared of quarterly performance reviews at work, for instance, any more, because I was there when one of my babies turned blue.

Ok, anyway. Thanks for reading. Daddy needs a drink.

This is Phil.


Photo by Erkan Utu from Pexels