Halloween is a holiday often associated with costumes, candy and celebration. And for some, that makes it a favorite holiday. It’s my favorite holiday, too, but for a very different reason.
In 1978, my son Devin was 22 months old. It was one week before Halloween, and Devin played all day, then spiked a 103⁰ fever during the night. This was no ordinary fever. I struggled to bring it down, finally calling his pediatrician sometime around 3 a.m. He gave me specific instructions to bring the fever down and warned me that Devin could have what’s known as a febrile seizure. And so he did. I was beyond scared. The fever came down slightly and Devin drifted off to sleep. I awoke early the next morning, October 25th, immediately went to check on him, and found him completely unresponsive.
Panic set in. My husband had already left for work. I was overwhelmed with emotion, screaming my toddler’s name. I cried, I screamed, and screamed some more. I called our beloved pediatrician, Dr. David Bloom, who instructed me to bring him in right away. The doctor laid him down on the exam table and lifted his head. Immediately Devin had a seizure. My heart raced as if it might explode out of my chest─meningitis. I knew nothing about the illness, but sensed it was meningitis, even before the doctor said a word.
No ambulance was called. There wasn’t time. Dr. Bloom summoned one of his nurses to drive us to the hospital ASAP, and we rushed out the back door of his office. Later, I would learn that when Dr. Bloom returned to his office, he closed the door and cried. Bawled his eyes out. You often don’t see the softer, emotional side of doctors, but I had a team of medical professionals who did everything and beyond that day to help my son.
We were ushered into the hospital emergency room where a team of doctors and nurses took control. They did a spinal tap to confirm the diagnosis. It was indeed meningitis. Haemophilus meningitis, a deadly form of meningitis that is now preventable through vaccination. I still remember watching through a window while they worked on my little boy. They sat him up in the bed and his eyes popped open with a completely blank stare as I looked on helplessly, my tears unrelenting. He was my firstborn. It had taken me three years to finally conceive this beautiful child, and here he was slipping away. If he did survive, there was the strong possibility of mild to severe brain damage from the traumatic brain swelling he endured. It became the longest 72 hours of my life.
He was placed in a drug-induced coma to avoid continuous seizures. This didn’t look like my baby boy with his irresistible big brown doe eyes, and curls that flopped up and down when he ran. His life and laughter silenced in an instant. I felt compelled to post a photo of the vibrant Devin I knew at the head of his bed, begging the doctors and nurses to please help him return to THAT child in THAT photo.
Devin remained in the Life Support Unit at Children’s Hospital Minneapolis for almost a week, and the world around me completely stopped. I didn’t leave the hospital─ever. I moved robotically through each day, and eventually found myself in the cafeteria where something caught my eye: several nurses were dressed in Halloween costumes. “Wow,” I thought, “it’s Halloween?” Devin loved Star Wars and Superman, and he looked forward to being a superhero. Until now. Now the superheroes surrounded him. They wore masks of a different kind, and they were REAL.
Thankfully, there is a very happy ending to this story. Devin emerged from the hospital 3 weeks later. The permanent damage he suffered included significant hearing loss, mostly in the high frequency range. But my baby was back and FULL of life! And I was eternally grateful.
The next Halloween and every Halloween since have become HUGE celebrations for my son and me. It’s the holiday where everything in my world changed. I emerged from that hospital a different person, living my life with gratitude for everything I have.
And though Devin didn’t get to be a Superhero that year, we have since made sure his daughter, Juliana, has had the opportunity to be a Superheroine!
In honor of children’s hospitals everywhere, my son Devin (now 38 and a strapping 6’4”) and I will visit our local children’s hospital to deliver a little Brownie Brittle Halloween fun to the patients and families there. We were once them, and this is our full-circle moment.