03 May 2010

Tips from a Toddler #47: How to Scare Your Parents

Hey, would you like to see if I can eat this acorn without getting it stuck in my airway? Would that be something exciting to do?

Every now and then, Eamon likes to give us a good scare. It started when he was still just a wee fetus, with the placenta previa, which can be a difficult condition leading to months of bedrest, early labor, and difficulties during delivery. So we worried and we fretted, and a month or two later the placenta moved into the right place and everything was fine, crisis avoided.

Then suddenly, there was the question of gestational diabetes. Eamon was a huge fetus, and I was having trouble with sugar. I failed my first glucose test, so then I had to sit through the three hour version, which I almost failed, too, except at the last minute my body decided to metabolize the sugar after all. More ultrasounds also revealed that Eamon wasn't growing quite as fast, so the doctors just told me to watch my sugar intake and godspeed.

Fast forward to Eamon’s birth. During the contractions, the heartbeat always slows, but Eamon’s kept taking forever to get back up to speed. We didn’t quite end up in emergency c-section territory, but it was close. The neonatologist was called in, and everyone was once again worried, but Eamon pulled through just fine, had healthy Apgars, and was great.

Until the jaundice set in, of course. The hematomas on his head (from being vacuumed out at birth) combined with the circumcision, made him so sleepy that he wouldn’t eat, and because he wouldn’t eat, he couldn’t get rid of the billyrubin in his system, so he turned all yellow. The pediatrician told us to watch him, but the day after we were released (which was of course New Years Day, so nothing was open but the ER), he was even yellower so we took him to get his blood drawn. His levels were high, they said, but not quite ER levels, so we gave him some formula to get him awake enough to eat, and then my milk came in, and then we were fine again…

And then last summer, Eamon got a terrible virus that just sort of laid him out for days. We took him to the doctor and he just acted so listless that even the doctor was worried, and we ran all these tests, but he was fine after a few days (and the antibiotics only made him sicker).

So, really, Eamon just likes to scare us. I’m glad, of course, that nothing serious has even happened, but even so, the kid likes to get our blood pressure up some. But I don’t think anything prepared us for the latest round of Freak-the-Folks.
Mmm. Fake mustard.

A couple of weeks ago, we put Eamon to sleep around 6:30 PM. He had been teething and therefore napped only fitfully during the day. He had skipped his afternoon nap altogether, and was exhausted, so he went to bed a half hour earlier than normal. Eamon went down without a fight, happy to finally be able to get some rest.

I also went to bed early at about 8:00. At 8:25, I heard Aaron rushing upstairs, and then I heard what had brought him up: the shrieking. The blood-curdling shrieking from our baby.

I have never heard that scream before. I’ve heard angry, I’ve heard sad, I’ve heard annoyed, but never that scream. It sounded like he was being tortured. Aaron picked him up, and Eamon didn’t even seem to know his father. He just kept shrieking and shrieking.

Was he hot? He was certainly sweating enough. We unzipped his sleeper. It made no difference.

We searched him for hairs that might have been caught around his toes or other, ah, delicate areas. There was nothing. We took his temperature: 97.2. Perfectly fine, but his heart was beating like the wings of a hummingbird. He was still screaming.

Worse, his eyes wouldn’t focus. We tried to put his pacifier in his mouth, and he just screamed more and just let it fall from his lips. Our baby NEVER willingly gives up his pacifier. He held himself rigid and kept having spasms. Nothing would comfort him, and he just kept shrieking.

I finally broke down and called my mother. She used to be a pediatric nurse practitioner, and I knew she would tell me if we needed to go to the ER. My dad answered the phone and said she was sleeping. I told him to wake her up. I tried to explain what was happening, but I couldn’t explain it very well over the phone. I told her that he was breathing fine, but he wouldn’t stop screaming. She said she would come over (they live about 10 minutes away).

Meanwhile, we took Eamon downstairs. His screams were starting, finally, to mellow to just pathetic mews. His eyes still wouldn’t focus, but he would take the pacifier. We turned on Sesame Street and I held him on my lap as he whimpered. At one point, he tried to get off my lap and walk, and promptly fell over. He had no sense of balance and was running into things. The pacifier kept falling from his mouth. He seemed to be over his screaming but would still screw up his face occasionally and start to cry for a couple of seconds. We tried to keep him on our laps so that he wouldn’t fall and hurt himself.

I admit: I was starting to lose it. He must have done something, hit his head, or maybe something just snapped in his brain. I was starting to panic, that this was it—the smart, funny, wonderful Eamon that I knew was gone, because of course it was all too good to be true, to have such a fantastic baby who hardly ever gets sick, but of course we would still love him no matter what, and…

My mom and dad finally showed up (I know they rushed, but 15 minutes can seem like forever when you’re scared that your child has had some sort of weird brain injury in his sleep). It’s possible that I might have panicked enough to call our health insurance and see if we could take him to the ER, and by the time I got off the phone with them and went back into the den, Eamon was giggling and smiling at my parents. He was still a bit wobbly, but had somehow managed to turn on a sign language video and was happily sitting on my father’s lap to watch it. He wanted to play with his toys, and he wanted his pacifier, and well, he was fine.

Outside! Dog! I love life!

“Night terrors,” my mom said after she checked in his ears to make sure they weren’t the culprits behind the strange balance. “You used to get them sometimes. He’s fine. The reason he didn’t recognize you or Aaron when you first picked him up was because he was still asleep. That’s why he wouldn’t take his pacifier. And that’s why he had no balance. It’s kind of like sleepwalking. His eyes were open, but no one was home. He’s fine now, and there’s no lasting effect.”

Okay, so it took awhile to convince me that he was fine. But he was. Taking him to the ER would have been silly because they just would have kept him up later and run tests that probably would have revealed nothing…and then the doctors would have told us that he just had night terrors.

I sit in this chair because I am a big boy. So there.

Sure enough, I looked up night terrors later. They’re different than nightmares, which occur during REM sleep, and which the child remembers and can wake up from. They usually happen 90-120 minutes after the child goes to sleep, when the brain is moving from deep non-REM sleep to REM sleep. Something sort of goes wrong in the transition, and the child has intense “terrors” that often involve screaming, confusion, sweating, rapid heart rate, and inability to fully awake. The eyes often open, but the kid is still sound-asleep. You actually shouldn’t try to comfort or awaken the child, because it can frighten them more. You’re just supposed to watch them and make sure they don’t hurt themselves in their terror.

The terror usually goes away after 20-30 minutes, and if left in the bed or crib, the child never fully awakens and just passes into REM sleep. The child never remembers the incident in the morning, because he was never fully awake. Most kids outgrow them between the ages of between the ages of 5 and 7. Night terrors usually happen when a child is overtired or normal sleep patterns have been disrupted. Even so, only a few kids get them (boys more frequently), and usually not until about 18 months of age (Hooray! He’s unique! And advanced! Sigh.)

A cart! I can push it! And put things in it! And take things out of it! Could there BE a more perfect toy?

So yeah, that’s what happened. It was almost textbook. Unfortunately, once a child has one episode of night terrors, they’re likely to get them more frequently. Therefore, it’s important that we try to keep Eamon on his schedule to the very best of our abilities. Our sleep schedule was always pretty strict, but now it has to be almost sacred.

Because even though a couple of weeks later, Eamon is absolutely fine, hasn’t had any more incidents, and has no memory of the event (other than that he got to get up and watch Elmo), those night terrors—they’re pretty terrifying for the parents.
What will I think of next? Hee hee...

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