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Friday, September 10, 2010

Classroom Emergency

Last night, in class, one of my students had a seizure.

It was the very beginning of class, like within the first minute. I was standing near the front, getting ready to distribute their quiz, when she began convulsing in her chair. She was in a desk in the front row, so I quickly threw the quizzes down on my desk at the front of the room and went to her side. Two other students quickly responded, and between the 3 of us, we were able to ensure that she didn't fall out of her chair or smack her head. One other student called 911, and another student called campus safety and security.

The seizure only lasted about a minute, maybe two, but it felt like forever. Then, after her convulsions subsided, she slipped into unconsciousness. She was breathing evenly then and she had a strong pulse, so I figured that all had to be good. She had a light sweater with her, so one student balled it up and put it under her head, and I remained next to her, along with another student, and we just held her gently so that she didn't slip out of her chair. I don't know much about how to treat someone who has experienced a seizure, but I figured it was best not to move her and to just wait for the paramedics to arrive.

A few minutes later, she woke up, but she was disoriented, confused, and seemed lack any verbal ability. I told her where she was, who I was, and told her that help was on the way, but I'm not sure if she comprehended anything I said. I remained next to her, gently patting her back, and telling her that everything was okay. Then, as she became more aware, she collapsed into me and wrapped her arms around me and leaned her entire weight against me and began sobbing. I held onto her and continue to rub her back and repeat soothing phrases, like "It's okay, you're okay. Everything's gonna be alright."

By this time, other students had returned to their seats and just sat quietly. Soon, the EMTs arrived. They asked me a few brief questions, and then carefully loaded her onto a stretcher and wheeled her out of the classroom. Security lingered behind and asked me a few additional questions, and then they too left. The whole thing probably lasted 20 minutes, yet it felt like it had taken hours.

After the paramedics and security left, I found myself facing 20-something expectant faces. What should we do now? I felt like the choice shouldn't entirely be mine, so I asked them to vote. There were less than a handful who voted to stay and carry on with our evening's work as planned; the rest -- a clear majority -- voted that the incident was too much of a distraction for them to continue on for the evening. So I thanked them for their help, as well as their patience, and then we all left.

Once I got back to my office, I sat down, called Jerry, and then cried. I don't know exactly why I cried, but in that moment, I felt overwhelmed by emotion. And still, this morning, typing this, my eyes fill with tears even recalling the event. I can't pinpoint exactly why it all felt so traumatic, but I suppose it's a combination of feeling surprised, terrified, and then finally, relieved.

Since then, this student has been on my mind. I sent her an email (her college account is the only contact information I have for her), but I don't know if she'll check it or respond. I spoke with my department dean this morning and he assured me I did everything I was supposed to do. And, thinking back on the incident, I know I reacted calmly and with my best intentions, but I can't help but wonder if there was, or is, something I could have done differently, or something I should be doing now in response. I don't know what hospital she was taken to, and I don't have contact info but her email address, so I'm not sure what options there would be for me to reach out to her, but I still feel as though there should be something within my means.

In the end, I suppose it's natural to second guess my reaction in a stressful situation, but I think I did the best I could. I also really appreciated the students' responses and reactions. A few of them, in particular, reacted with grace and speed, and made the situation much easier to handle. Additionally, all of them respectfully sat and waited patiently while we were all awaiting the arrival of the paramedics, and then after all the commotion was over, they silently waited for me to dictate how we should proceed. I'm not certain how they judged my reaction, but I'm thankful for theirs.

30 comments:

Lisa said...

I think helplessness would be the emotion that came over me in that situation and maybe that's what you felt afterwards (and even now).

It sounds like you reacted calmly. Which is great. I'm not so good in those situations.

Hope all is well with her.

Lindsey said...

You handled it wonderfully. I'm sure that student really appreciated you being there to hold her and comfort her. I had a seizure in a public place one time (while donating plasma) and there was a bunch of medical people around and they did pretty much what you did. Just let it pass. Afterwards it is really confusing as to where you are and I know my vision was gone for a few minutes afterwards so that's scary. Once I got a chance to call my mom I bawled my eyes out. It's scary because you are out of control of your body. You did just fine!

Charbelle said...

I teared up reading this, you did everything right. From staying calm to not moving her to sending her an email to check on her. I completely understand the wanting to do more but at this point it's just not a possiblity due to lack of information.
I just can't imagine, that had to be scary for all of you involved. I hope that she will be ok!! I would have left class and cried too!

James said...

It sounds like you did exactly as you should have. I would have been shaken up more than you. Situations like that naturally occupy your mind for awhile. Good luck contacting her and making sure she's alright, it'll put your mind at ease.

Hi! I'm Erin said...

When a young man in our running group had a seizure on a group run none of us really knew what to do, either. We ended up reacting pretty much exactly how you did, though, and later someone who has a seizure disorder told us we did the right thing. It's very scary, especially when you don't know much about the person.

bethy said...

I felt emotional reading this. I think you did everything very well! I'm sure the student (and the others in your class) saw a different side of you and have nothing but respect. I hope you hear from her soon to put your mind at ease.

Erin said...

Wowza! I was choked up reading this. I think you acted swiftly, calmly, and with grace. I would have broke down afterwards too.

From what I recall about seizures, you did the right thing. Safety is the number one concern. Extra credit for the students who jumped into action and extra credit for those that remained calm and waited.

Giving the remaining students a choice on how to proceed was a good choice too. I think if you would have tried to have held class, your lesson plan would have been off and their attention would not have been focused.

MCM Mama said...

It sounds like you handled the situation perfectly. I'd be like you, though, wanting to be in contact with her to make sure she's ok.

Glad you have such a great group of students in this class.

Nobel4Lit said...

I think the tears were likely the fear finally coming out. You seemed very calm and knowing during the incident, but that's the adrenaline... and when all was said and done, the fear finally came out in that form. Not to mention the feeling that life is precious, fleeting, and such incidents remind us of our mortality!

I had a friend in middle school who used to have seizures... she had one right in the middle of the basketball court in gym class. A bunch of us girls held her down while she convulsed and foamed at the mouth, and it was maybe about a minute or so. The school staff took care of her afterward. But those sorts of things you can't forget.

Good call on having the students decide how they should spend the rest of the night.

Whitney said...

I would never have reacted so calmly... but you did so great. I hope the girl is okay!

Wes said...

I, too, think you reacted perfectly. Well done. I'll never forget my chemistry teacher having a seizure my sophomore year in high school. We managed to guide her into a desk so she didn't fall down and hurt herself as well.

Michelle said...

I'm sorry you had to through that, but it sounds like you handled it perfectly. There's no way I would have been able to carry on with class after that, and I'm sure the students wouldn't have been able to either. I cried a little for you when I read this!

Jorden and Kristin said...

Sounds like you handled it wonderfully! The first seizure I saw was in 8th grade and after it was over I broke down too. It was one of my bff's and it was me and 1 other girl with her. SO scary! Hope she's okay!

Andrew Opala said...

Well, that was something that I could easily say "put's hair on your chest" but I don't think you deserve that.

In life we find things that shock us or make us look down the dark precipice and have no clue what to do. Sometimes nothing can be done.

Did the student have a bracelet or pendant explaining the condition?

Nikki @ Balance and Moderation said...

First of all - you did the right thing. I had a seizure when I was a child and my mom was there. I remember the waking up feeling disoriented - such a weird feeling. My mom always talks about it like she thought I was going to die. I can only imagine how wearing that kind of thing can be on the care taker. My thoughts and prayers are with you.

Katie A. said...

Wow, I got teary eyed reading this, too. I think you reacted just right - you stayed calm and that is all that anyone asks for when you're "the person in charge." I think your tears were probably from relieft - it could have gone in a bad direction.

Have a good Friday - hug your baby and your hubbs! Life is really freakin' short!

ajh said...

It sounds like you did great in a very tense situation. I would have broken down with emotion after the fact also. I hope you find out how she is doing.

Heather said...

You did absolutely everything right. My sister had a grand mal seizure when she was 18, while in the shower. As an observer it is terrifying. It's a situation where you're forced to act on instincts which you don't actually have! I completely understand your feelings. Watching a person in seizure niggles at a deep emotional reflex within us that says something is profoundly wrong. My encouragement to you is that epilepsy is more common then we realize and very controllable. Your student may be in for a long year (no driving) and a tiresome struggle as they sort out the correct levels of medication for her but she will be ok. As will you!!

Carla said...

You did all the right things.

It is a very scary experience to watch someone have a seizure. She is lucky that she was there with you and your students instead of driving in a car or in some other much more dangerous situation.

lee said...

I think you handled it perfectly.

Firefly's Running said...

You did a great job. I hope she's alright and replies to your e-mail.

Carly said...

You handled this situation like a pro. You stayed calm and kept your classroom calm. I can't imagine how scary that must have been. I hope your student is OK.

Nicole said...

You handled the situation beautifully. I hope you student is okay.

Amanda - RunToTheFinish said...

oh my that would be very scary, but you had an amazing reaction!!

kelsalynn said...

I'm so sorry this happened Jess. I think you handled it perfectly.

She's lucky you were there for her.

Amanda Hayes said...

It sounds like you did everything correctly. The only other thing I could think of (having had seizures in 3 different public places before) are to check to see if she has a medical bracelet or necklace on for her emergency/medicine information and check her cell phone bc emergency numbers maybe be listed at the top or mom or dad in contact list. I know once my mom has been able to talk to emergency personnel it helps get things going faster as she's been to almost all my doctors appointments and knows all of my medical history.

Please just know it maybe a little scary or awkward for her to come back to class and she may or may not have to ease into this situation depending on past with seizures. And, this is almost the worst thing, she can't drive for 6 months by law and her medicines will probably change. I just had this all in the last month and it's not fun, but it's something you just work with. I've been blessed with a great employer and family and friends to work with me.

N.D. said...

this happened to me when I was pregnant with Nick. It was very scary and I tried to catch the student who slid down her desk. The kids were taking a test at the time! so scary, i'm glad it ended up ok.

Agate Lake Girl said...

Oh my gosh! I'm glad she's okay and that you were able to be of some comfort and help to her. My eyes welled up too just thinking about it.

teacherwoman said...

To be honest, I think everything you did was perfect. You couldn't have done anything different, in my eyes. This situation brought tears to my eyes as it reminds me of the last two years of my teaching career... working with a student while she was in 1st and 2nd grade, who also had seizures. From the way you described the whole situation, it was identical to what we dealt with on a weekly basis, sometimes daily....everything down to the disorientated feeling and hugs and tears. I hope she is doing alright. I don't know if that was a freak accident or something she deals with on a regular basis... if so, I would hope she would contact all her professors so they are aware of it. Scary.

d.a.r. said...

Oh my gosh. It sounds like you reacted perfectly under stress. I just read your follow up post--glad she is doing okay.