At 3:00 a.m. last night, I woke to horrible screaming coming from the kitchen.
I’m so conditioned to it now that I was out of bed and halfway to the kitchen before my conscious mind even articulated its first thought: “Here we go again. I knew it!”
Bumble sleeps in the kitchen because he needs a night light. As he has gotten older and the vision in his one good eye has diminished, he panics if he wakes up in total darkness. So at least I could see where I was going.
When I hit the kitchen, Bumble’s tiny twelve pound body was arched back in a full grand mal seizure. His head was pulled back hard against his shoulders, his mouth was open and screaming, and his eyes were open but staring blindly. His little feet and short legs were rigidly extended.
From three and a half years of experience, the first thing I did was grab an old towel. When Bumble had a serious grand mal, especially in the middle of the night, there are excellent odds that he will lose control of his bladder.
The screaming stopped after 15 to 30 seconds, when the initial spasm let go of his vocal cords. It took another 45 second or so for the rest of his body to stop jerking and twitching, during which time he did indeed soak that towel. But it’s much easier to throw a towel in the washer than to scrub the floor.
Once the screaming stops, his mouth tends to stay open. It may work as though he’s chewing, or it may just sort of hang there in a half open grimace. In last night’s episode, his little tongue was hanging slack and he was drooling. The good news was that his tongue and gums never turned blue or white, so he was never deprived of oxygen. A period of apnea (not breathing) is common in seizures, but that’s the part that always scares me.
Sometimes as the first rigid attack wears off, Bumble will flop like a landed trout, his head and hips flipping up and down against the ground. Because I have seen Bumble have many seizures, I know that it’s safe for me to steady his head and prevent him from hitting it against the tile floor. I also try to keep his head aligned in a way that keeps his airway open so that he’s less likely to go into apnea. Even more important, I hope that steadying his head will keep him from wrenching his spine. A couple of Decembers ago, he seized so violently that he seriously displaced three vertebra and temporarily crippled himself (thank God for the chiropractor).
Last night’s seizure lasted for maybe 75 seconds – but it seemed like an hour. I was grateful when he finally went limp and his open eyes closed. It meant the seizure was over and he was limp with exhaustion. But it also meant that he was inhabiting his body again, so to speak.
After about five minutes, my little boy sat up and looked around, calm but puzzled. My other dog, Lizzie, was draped over my arm, sniffing anxiously at her older brother. She gets very agitated when Bumble has an episode.
Since Lizzie and I were wide awake and feeling the effects of a world class adrenaline burst, we sat up for a while to make sure Bumble was okay. Bumble got up, arranged himself back into a comfortable position, curled up and went to sleep, like nothing had ever happened.
I had been expecting a seizure. For about 36 hours before the seizure, he had been fussy and uncomfortable. He paced around the house, laid down, got up, whined, and generally acted unhappy. And his appetite was a little off. After three and a half years, I know the signs. A sudden change in the barometric pressure can bring it on, and we were expecting a front to come in. In fact, he often has a seizure within 24 hours of my having a weather-induced headache.
And this morning, Bumble is just fine. A little tired, but relaxed and content. For the moment, all the excess electrical impulses have been discharged and his little brain is firing normally again. Until the next time.