It was a hot summer Arizona day. The smell of barbecued burgers was making everyone wish it was lunchtime already. The joyful screams of children filled the air as they played in the swimming pool. The adults lounged 20 feet away, enjoying some relaxation in the shade.
I was one of them. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw my daughter Cynthia jumping into the water. Her body went limp in mid-air as she started into an absence seizure. I threw my sandals aside, dashed to the pool and jumped in after her. I could see her still body floating face-down in the pool.
I grabbed her and pulled her to the surface as fast as I could. Even as we neared the edge of the pool, Cynthia remained in her seizure. I pulled her out of the pool with me and cradled her in my arms for about three minutes. She just stared into space.
As quickly as it started, the seizure was over. Cynthia looked up at me, completely confused. ‘Poor girl,’ I thought, knowing she had moved into her postictal state, ‘she’s probably done swimming today.’ Not exactly. Cynthia smiled and said, “Dad? Thanks for hugging me and I love you too, but… can I go back to swimming now?”
I let her go swim with her friends… but stayed at the pool side, silently weeping prayers of gratitude. What would have happened if I had turned my head to the left instead of the right? If I had missed seeing her jump…? What if nobody noticed at all and my daughter had slowly sunk to the bottom of the pool?
There is a possibility that my daughter may have died if things had been different that day. Even now, just thinking of that causes all the emotions to flood back into my mind. The panic. The fear. The relief. The gratitude. A tear is literally running down my cheek as I write this now.
It’s not very often that we have true life-or-death moments in parenting, but this was one of those rare ones. It was also one of those moments that changed the way we parent Cynthia. As you might imagine, she never swims alone anymore.
Really for the first time, we also came face to face with how dangerous this world can be for a young girl with epilepsy like my daughter. This shift has impacted our parenting in some really significant ways, some pretty frustrating for our daughter. Our tendency now is to hold our daughter close – maybe closer than we should and certainly closer than she wants.
Recently, Cynthia has been frustrated. She sees these safety concerns through a lens of mistrust – as if we won’t trust her to do these things alone. I realise that we will need to pull back. She needs some chances to experience life outside our watchful gaze. I want her to know that we love her and we trust her. It’s not really about her – it’s her epilepsy we don’t trust. The fear grounded in perhaps the most emotional moment of my life – that day two summers ago – won’t go away.