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Christmas Eve Tragedy

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I was ten at the time. It was December 24th, 2000. I went outside to take care of the rabbits, Shadow and Cookie. It was my job to fill their water and make sure they had food. They lived in a large cage in our backyard inside the dog kennel. When I finished I made my way inside and shut the sliding glass door behind me as I stepped into the family room. Then I heard her screaming. It was my mom, I had to think twice to make sure though. I had never heard her voice so scared and unsure. She was yelling, “Call 911! Call 911!” being as naive as I was, I ran back to the door afraid to see one of the dogs attacking the rabbits. But how could my mom know what was going on outside? I looked out, nothing was wrong. The cage was locked and the dogs were lying out in the sun. She kept yelling. I ran upstairs and saw her with the phone in her hand. She was now trying to calmly explain our address to the emergency operator. I looked across the room and saw my brother, Jack. He was lying in my parent’s bed. His face was purple, his eyes rolled back into his head. He was shaking uncontrollably. My mom tried to get his attention but it was no use, he had no idea what was going on. It sounded like he was choking but that was impossible, there was nothing he could have choked on. White foam began to seep out of the side of his mouth. I was terrified. I couldn’t watch, but at the same time I couldn’t look away. I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t wake him up out of this state, I couldn’t calm my mom. All I could do was watch.


A few minutes later the paramedics arrived. There were four maybe five of them. Some of them lifted Jack off the bed onto the floor. They had a large kit with them. The men were saying something but I didn’t understand anything. My mind was blank. I felt invisible and helpless. One of the men was talking to my mom, asking her what had happened. I watched he shake her head and lift her hands. It was so sudden, we weren’t ready for it. She was crying and she followed the men down the stairs with Jack and went with them inside the ambulance. The moments after was a blur. Somehow my dad was next to me and I wasn’t along anymore. I still had no idea what had happened.


They ran tests at the hospital. All were negative. The doctors hadn’t found a reason for why Jack had, what I had never heard of, a seizure. My parents tried to explain it to my sister and me but we just nodded. What else could we have done? Please explain it more Mom, I don’t understand what that is. I wasn’t going to ask. It wasn’t their highest priority to make sure we understood what a seizure was. We were young, too young to begin to know what was going on. We brought Jack home later that day. The doctors explained to my parents that there were no significant irregularities in Jack’s tests that would explain why this happened, or if it would happen again. They said it could be a one time thing. That was comforting. But they were wrong.


A few days after Christmas, my family was in our living room. We had a fire going and we were all watching a movie, I don’t remember which one. Jack was sting in a small plastic chair in front of the TV. The rest of us were on the couch. I moved my eyes from the screen to watch him. I though to myself how awful it was that he was only four. Innocent, he had done nothing wrong, nothing to deserve what had happened. His head jerked back and the chair fell over. He rolled onto the ground and began to shake again. Then came the yelling, just like the first time. My sister began to cry; she was eight and hadn’t seen his first seizure. But now she knew what we had been talking about this whole time. My mom called the paramedics, and told them our address again. But this time the second phone call was to my grandparents. They arrived shortly after the men did. Kaitlin and I stood on the front porch, my grandpa’s arm around my shoulder, and watched them drive away. I looked around the street. Our neighbors stood on their front lawns, hoping to talk to one of us so they could find out what happened. It wasn’t their brother. He was mine, and they weren’t going to know what happened. Not from me anyway.




More and more tests were run. EEGs, MRIs. Anything the doctors could think of. Negative. The only good news that came from this trip was that we didn’t have to call the paramedics anymore. We were instructed how to handle the situation whenever Jack had a seizure. “Move harmful objects out of the way. Make sure he doesn’t swallow his tongue. Turn him on his side in case he throws up. If it lasts longer than a minute, then you should call us.” Counting was horrible. Jack had no idea what was going on. After the worst part was over, he would fall asleep. My family would sit over him and wait for him to wake up.



The doctors at the first hospital suggested we send him to Stanford for more tests. He was there for two weeks in ICU (Intensive Care Unit) with my parents by his side. My sister and I stayed with my grandparents. One day we went down to see him. A nurse took Kaitlin and me along the hallways to where Jack was staying. I remember turning the corner and seeing him lying there asleep. Behind him were huge monitors. There must have been twenty different wires coming off of his head. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want to wake him up. My parents came over and hugged us. They looked tired. My mom tried to explain that the doctors did a spinal tap on Jack. They needed to test the fluid in his spine for something. She told me how much it hurt but how Jack was brave and didn’t hesitate to let the doctors do it. Well what else is he supposed to do; he wasn’t even old enough to now why he was there in the first place.


We went back home. The doctors began putting Jack on medications. They didn’t know which ones would work, but we were willing to try anything. At first it was a few pills, they made him angry and tired. So they added more. Usually children need to take medicine in a liquid form instead of taking pills, not Jack. We began to crush his medicine and add it into a small bowl of apple sauce every morning. The medication’s side affects seemed worse that the actual seizures they were treating. Although the medications helped control some of the seizures, Jack became zombie like. He didn’t talk as much as he used to and he was too weak to do almost everything. I remember one time when he had a cold, we were at the dinner table and he needed to cough. Usually this type of act seems involuntary, but when Jack tried, he couldn’t. He wasn’t strong enough to cough. My family spent the rest of dinner trying to teach him but it was no use. We knew from then on that Jack wasn’t going to be normal any time soon.



It was December 24, 2002, it was early in the morning and I was still asleep. I was awakened by a loud crash then the terrorizing screams of my brother. I got up as fast as I could and ran down to the kitchen where he was. Immediately I saw broken glass and coffee spilled on the ground. I looked at Jack and he was screaming. His face was helpless. I wanted to do something and I froze. My mom came running in from outside and saw what had happened. He was still screaming and she noticed the scalding coffee all over Jack’s stomach and legs. She lifted up his shirt and his skin had already blistered and was coming off. I went upstairs and grabbed a robe from my closet as my mom but cold wash cloths on him. When I came back down she wrapped him in it and put him in the car and took him to the hospital. My sister ran downstairs just as she was leaving and I explained what had happened, although I didn’t really know. I tried to call my dad on his cell phone because he was walking the dogs but he didn’t answer. My sister and I had to wait for him to get home so he could drive us to the hospital. When we got there we didn’t even have to ask one of the nurses at the front desk, all we needed to do was follow the screaming. Jack layer there on the bed, one of the doctors was wrapping him up in gauze. When he finally stopped crying, he was able to explain what happened. “I’m sorry Mom; I was just trying to pour you a cup of coffee.” He wasn’t strong enough to lift the coffee pot onto the counter, but when he tried it hit the ledge and poured all over him.




The doctors began to alter the medications again, this time in a good way. The combinations they tried seemed to put some life back in Jack. They eliminated the drugs that made him weak and tired and added some new ones. His strength came back and so did his personality. We knew that Jack wouldn’t be back to normal anytime soon but we were happy that we were getting things under control.
After about a year, the doctors finally found a good combination of medication and dosages to allow Jack to live as normally as possible. He still isn’t as fast or coordinated as the other kids. And he will always be a few years behind mentally, but this is the best he has been in eight years and my family is really grateful for that. Our lives are falling back into order.





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