extracted from Dr. Lance Fogan’s novel, DINGS
Conner’s temperature was one-hundred-three-point-six degrees. I was sitting on the side of our bed and had begun to dial the pediatrician when I heard it. The hairs on the back of my neck bristled. What was that? It was some loud, strange animal sound.
“Arrrgghhrrr!” There it was again!
Sam’s head shot off the pillow, his face cast with a bleary-eyed, quizzical expression.
I dropped the phone. “Conner’s room!” We bolted down the hall. The dim moon through his bedroom window showed our little boy jerking and thrashing on his bed. I pushed past my husband. “What’s he doing? Conner, what are you doing?”
Conner growled. It was a drawn-out, high-pitched cry that sounded like something out of a horror movie.
“Turn on the light, Sam! Conner, what’s wrong?”
Our eight-year-old was on his back, his body twisted in the covers. His head, arms and legs trembled and thrashed; he moaned a long, drawn-out groan between clenched teeth. “Conner, honey. What are you doing? Wake up, Conner!”
“Oh, God! He’s having an epileptic convulsion. I’ve seen ’em before, in Iraq. My brother had one as a kid, too.” Sam bent over and grabbed at Conner’s flailing arms.
“What do we do? What should we do?” Red stains were on the pillow and red-tinged froth bubbled out of my son’s mouth.
“His lips are blue! He’s bleeding! He’s dying! Call Dr. Jackson. No! Call nine-one-one! Sam! Call nine-one-one! It’s an emergency. Hurry! Hurry! We have to get him to the hospital!”
“Stay with him!” Sam turned and ran to the telephone in our room. A few seconds later he was back. “Let’s get Conner in the car. We’ll take him ourselves. It’ll be faster. Let’s go!”
“Yes! Okay! Come on!” Conner had stopped thrashing. He unclenched his jaws and released a long, hissing sigh through foamy pink bubbles on his lips. I detected a faint odor—like urine.
“Conner? Conner, we’re taking you to the hospital, honey.” I stroked his damp forehead and pushed strands of light-brown hair away from his closed eyes. The only sound now was the rattle of his deep, noisy breathing and the roar of my throbbing pulse in my ears. I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the bubbles—pink soap-like bubbles frothing between my son’s lips.
“Ohhhh...” I knelt beside the bed and kissed his sweaty forehead over and over. His tiny hand felt cold and clammy in mine, yet only a few minutes ago he had been burning up with fever, coughing and sneezing.
Sam leaned over Conner. I had never seen my husband look so scared. “I’ll change and get some pants and a shirt on. You’d better get dressed, too, Sandra. We might be at the hospital for hours or...” Our eyes locked on each other.
“Yeah, as soon as you get back.” I pressed my lips. “I’m not leaving him alone.” I saw Grandma Audra’s face—my closest relative that I could recall ever dying. I sat down and cradled Connor’s head in my lap. My body rocked back and forth. Thank God he was breathing. I heard Sam’s dresser drawer squeak and the closet door slam.
When he came back, I left Conner to get dressed but I can’t remember doing it—only my shaking hands.
Sam lifted Conner into his arms. “He’s so light, Sandra.” Sam’s eyes glistened. And this was a man who had returned after a year of combat in Iraq less than two months ago. “Bring another blanket—a dry one. We’ve got to wrap him. It’s cold out.” Sam hefted Conner in his arms a couple of times and headed out of the bedroom. Conner’s bloody, red-lipped face flopped and hung down. I reached to steady his head.
“It’ll be okay. Go get Madison, Sandra. I’ll meet you in the car.” His voice choked, “Hurry!”
I ran to my daughter’s bedroom and lifted the three-year-old out of bed. She opened her eyes wide. She was too surprised to cry, but as I rushed around the room, grabbing clothes and blankets and her stuffed giraffe, her initial surprise erupted into wails of protest. Her mouth was an open cavern; I could see pinkness in the back of her throat.
“Shh, Maddie! Conner’s very sick. We have to take him to the hospital. Be a good girl. We have to go.” She was dry. I took her into the kids’ bathroom and put her on the toilet. Then I put her in some Pull-Ups just in case. The house was quiet. I hurried down the stairs with her and a blanket in my arms.
“No! I don’t want to go! Thtop, Mommy!” the toddler screamed.
“Shush. It’s all right.”
Sam was sitting behind the wheel. Our SUV purred in the garage; its heater was already blowing warm air. Conner, very still now, lay stretched out across the back seat. Madison stopped crying. I strapped her into her car seat and covered Conner. The little girl whimpered again, looked down at her motionless brother and sucked on her Binky pacifier I stuck between her lips. I squeezed into the rear seat and held Conner’s head on my lap.
My tight chest heaved with quick, shallow breaths. Then, I was back in the night that Conner was born. Over eight years ago, just after midnight, like now, Sam drove me to the hospital. Except that night, we were going there so I could deliver Conner. I bent over his face and tasted salt. I rubbed tears from my cheeks. “Oh, Conner. My baby!”
“How’s he doing?” Sam looked back and then forward again. His head turned to the right and to the left as we rolled through a stop sign.
“He’s asleep. Drive faster, Sam! Faster!”
This Southern California March night was chilly. Puffed clouds opened and then closed as they drifted over an almost-full moon that washed light onto the dark, purple distant mountains surrounding our valley.
A few minutes later, we pulled up to the emergency room entrance of the Valley View Medical Center. Madison looked over at me and blinked at the bright hospital lights and the red glowing signs.
Sam put the car in ‘Park’ and pressed on the emergency brake. “Honey, I’ll carry him in. He’s heavy, Sandra.”
“No! I’ll meet you inside. You park and bring Madison!” I gathered Conner into my arms. “I can’t pick him up! Sam! I can’t pick him up!”
“There’s a wheelchair—inside those doors. I’ll carry him to it. You get him in there while I park.” He got out, picked Conner up and carried him through the automatic doors. Sam sat Conner down in the chair and I fixed the blanket over him. Conner’s lips and chin were caked with dried, creased, red smears. He had slumped over an armrest. I propped him back into a sitting position.
“Okay. I’ve got him.”
The doors opened and I heard Madison’s muffled scream from behind her fogged-over window, “Mommy! Mommy!”
White clouds from the tailpipe puffed and floated and then melted into darkness as Sam ran back to the SUV and yelled, “We’ll be with Mommy and Conner in a minute, sweetheart.”
Lance Fogan, M.D. is Clinical Professor of Neurology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. “DINGS” is his first novel. It is a mother’s dramatic story that teaches epilepsy, now available in eBook, audiobook and soft cover editions.