It’s 24 minutes past 2 on a very hot day, and I am sitting in my garden reading some inane work-related text when my phone rings. It’s the school. I don’t really register surprise; I figure S has either fallen over or been sick. I’ll have to collect her early. Do I have cash for a taxi in my purse? I hope so… It’s the head teacher on the line… that’s a little unusual…
S has been found on the school field, unconscious and unresponsive. She is still breathing…
Until she said that, it hadn’t occurred to me that whether or not my child was breathing was in question. She tells me an ambulance has been called, and she will send someone to collect me.
I race around the house, trying to think of what I should bring with me. My handbag; a bottle of water; some water for S. She forgot her water bottle this morning so she’s probably just dehydrated. Oh, God; will all of the teachers think I’m awful because I’ve sent my child to school on such a hot day without a water bottle? Am I awful? Have I caused my child to faint on the school field? I go outside and wait to be collected, watching the top of the road and repeating under my breath, she’s fine; it’s probably nothing… oh please let it be nothing.
As we drive to school, the receptionist tells me she will drive me as close to the school building as she can get me, so long as the ambulance is not there. I am to go straight into the school; all of the doors are open and someone is waiting to take me to the field. I get out of the car, and I run.
On the field, there is a group of adults crowded around with several umbrellas. The head waves me over and I see my child, laid out on the floor. She is very pale. Her legs are splayed out. I put my hand over my mouth and the head says it’s ok, go and sit with her. The person who has been sitting at S’s head moves, and I sit down. I put my hand on her chest and talk to her, and she grabs my hand and rolls over. Has she been putting this on? She goes limp again, and is unresponsive when we all talk to her. Occasionally she smiles or seems to swallow. Her eyes are moving, as if she’s dreaming.
An FRU car arrives, and the paramedic sits down on the grass. He wastes no time in checking blood sugar and various other things, all of which seem to be normal. He puts sticky pads on her chest and legs and connects them to a monitor, then takes S’s personal details and my name, tapping them into a screen. A heart rate monitor goes onto her finger. All of it is normal. He talks on his radio to someone, telling them they need to send an ambulance. He keeps asking the same questions: is she fit and well; how old is she; did she eat her lunch? I tell him it’s a Monday, which is jacket potato day so without checking, I know she will have eaten everything and probably licked the plate clean. The ambulance takes what feels like four years to arrive but is probably only about five minutes. We can hear the sirens coming; I tell S she’s missing out on seeing an ambulance on the school field but still she doesn’t stir.
The ambulance has 3 people in it; they all get out and start doing things, asking questions. During the handover the original paramedic says he thinks she might be post ictal. I know what that means, and it’s not what I wanted to hear. The man who appears to be in charge picks S up to put her on a stretcher. She doesn’t flinch. Normally she would never allow a stranger, especially a man, to just pick her up. She is covered in grass.
I pick up our things and get into the ambulance. The head teacher puts a hand on my shoulder and smiles, asks me to keep her informed. I nod. All four ambulance staff are in there with us; they’re talking to S and to each other. One of them opens out a seat for me to sit on. I keep talking to S, saying it’s ok and that I am there. The man in charge keeps talking to her too, and he lifts her arms. One is more floppy than the other. He tells me he thinks she’s had a fit, and that her eyes are still moving around so something in her brain is still firing. He gives her diazepam to try and relax her muscles. They think it’s affecting one side of her body more than the other.
The ambulance begins to move across the school field; the paramedic is still standing up and tending to S; he won’t sit down the whole time we are moving. We come out of the gate to the field and I realise we must have crossed the playground of the neighbouring school. I can see parents queueing at the shop before collecting their children; they all turn to look at the ambulance. My sister in law is sitting on a bench waiting to collect her children. A friend tells me later that members of staff are dotted all the way along this path, keeping people out of the way. As we reach the main gate, I see one of the dads standing in the road, stopping the traffic – it’s school pick up time and this road is usually full of cars. As soon as we leave school premises, the siren goes on and I begin to cry. I am in the back of an ambulance, with a siren on, racing towards hospital. My child is unconscious. This has just become very real.
We arrive at hospital and go straight into resus where a crowd of people descends upon S. They remove her shoes and for some reason this pushes me over the edge. The paramedic repeats what has already been said several times between different people: six years old; found unconscious on field; usually fit and well; no known illnesses or allergies. I cannot hold the tears in. Someone asks if there’s someone I can call, but there’s nobody. My mum can’t drive; all my friends will be on the school run; my youngest sister is at work.
The doctor comes over and asks me a question, but I am crying. I go over and stand next to S, stroking her head while someone tries to get a cannula into her arm. They’re not doing very well at getting any blood out; a student nurse is leaning over her, squeezing her arm to help. One of the paramedics hands me a cup of water. The paramedics are still here. S is wearing an oxygen mask and the pain of the cannula and squeezing appears to wake her up slightly; she begins to stir and moan. I talk to her: it’s ok, mummy’s here, you’re doing really well, don’t worry. The doctor comes over and uses a torch to look into her eyes. As she does this, S seems to regain consciousness, having been out for over an hour. She looks at me but doesn’t smile. She’s just looking around. I keep talking. The doctor talks to her. They put plasters on the cannula to hold it in place and I tell her she now has eight plasters on her arm, and a bandage. Still no smile. I’m not panicking. I’m not panicking. I’m not panicking.
They sit her up a little, and she seems to be more aware of what’s going on. She begins to say a few words and I am flooded with relief. The doctor comes back and removes her oxygen mask. She asks her a few questions and performs some tests on her body, asking her to grab her fingers, pull her arm and so on. To me, she seems to do fine with these. She’s still not talking much, and when I give her a cuddle she doesn’t lift her arms. But the doctor seems satisfied. She tells me they will wait for the blood test results, but S will probably be admitted for observation. At some point more sticky pads are put on her and she is connected to a monitor, along with a heart rate monitor.
We stay in resus for over an hour. The staff are busy caring for the other patients, but do keep an eye on us. Mostly it’s just S and I, chatting among ourselves. She tells me that she felt the paramedic give her the medicine and she didn’t like it. She heard the siren too. I ask why she didn’t wake up if she could hear things, and she says she couldn’t. We talk about what she remembers doing; she says she was collecting rubbish on the school field and putting it in a pile before she laid down on the field. She doesn’t remember what happened, or anything after that. Later I hear from the school that the supervisor was chatting to her while she collected the rubbish throughout play time and she seemed fine. This means that she can’t have been unconscious for more than a couple of minutes before she was found.
Eventually we are taken up to the children’s ward day assessment unit. S is in a hospital gown; all of her clothes are in a carrier bag. The gown is an adult one though, and far too long. One of the nurses tells me she can put her dress back on if she likes. So we put the dress on, and she goes outside to play. There is an outdoor play area, even though we are on the fourth floor. And it is very exciting for a six year old. I sit on a bench, completely exhausted and feeling like I’ve been hit by a truck. S plays with every toy she can find, as if nothing ever happened.
We are taken into a room and a nurse checks S’s heart rate again. Then we go back outside to play, before being taken into another room to see the doctor. She asks a hundred questions, most of which I have already answered a hundred times today – but I know they do this for a reason, to make sure nothing is missed. The doctor does some more tests on S, including getting her to walk on her toes and on her heels. She seems a little wobbly walking on her heels. I can’t tell if that’s a cause for concern – if not being able to walk on her heels is the only effect of this, I can live with that.
The doctor talks to us; she tells us S will need to have an ECG, and the blood tests will need to be checked but if both of those are normal we can go home. I ask her if the heat could have caused this and she tells me it’s unlikely; usually when someone collapses through heat, their body might judder but it’s not actually a fit. She tells me that “many” children have a fit and nothing ever happens again. I cling to this. I am still clinging to this.
Two nurses come in to do the ECG; a third set of sticky pads goes on. One nurse makes this into a fun game with S, while the other goes off in search of a sandwich for her. She sits exceptionally still while the ECG machine gets its reading, and then eats her sandwich. All of the sticky pads are removed. While she eats her sandwich, I tell S that the cannula will be removed from her arm too, before we go. She says she wants to keep it and we settle for taking a photo of it instead. We go back outside to play some more while we wait for the doctor to look at the ECG and blood test results.
The nurse comes back to get us; she tells us she will remove the cannula and we are free to go; the blood tests and ECG were all normal. I can barely stand; I’ve had contact lenses in since 6am and now it is after 7pm. I didn’t eat lunch today. I want to lay down on the floor and cry. I sit on the bed with S as the nurse does her best to remove the bandage, plasters and cannula without causing too much pain. Out of everything, this is the most traumatic part for S; it hurts, and then her arm is bleeding. This nurse is an expert in these things though (I’ve never met one who wasn’t, to be fair) and pops a plaster onto her arm before whisking her away to look in her big bag of treats; she can choose one to take home with her.
With that, we are sent on our way. I am given two pieces of paper with details of today’s visit and what will happen next, and “open access” to the children’s ward for a week. The nurse tells me that I can call them at any time, with any questions or queries. We leave the ward, and we go outside to wait for a friend who is coming to collect us.
That night, I tell S she can sleep in my bed. She is pleased as this means when she wakes up in the morning she won’t have to get out of bed to come and give me a cuddle. She zonks out in a matter of minutes, right in the centre of my bed, cuddling my pillow. I go to bed, but I do not sleep.