In Which One Panic Attack Leads To Another

This day started out peacefully enough. It was the first day all week that I didn’t have to go somewhere (other than bus stops) or make the house ready for someone to come here. I passed the morning quietly, and in the hour before I had to go get Drew I mixed up a batch of pumpkin chocolate chip muffins. The smell of them baking warmed the house.

And then the phone rang.

The first time I didn’t answer because caller ID said “Private Number” and I don’t answer calls from people I don’t know – especially this close to an election. But the same number called back a minute later, and figuring I could just tell them “take me off your list”, I answered.

It was Leah’s school. More specifically, the health office. I swear. In the past few years it got so I tensed up every time I saw the school district on my caller ID because I just knew it meant one of my kids was sick or hurt. It happened way more than I liked. So as the woman started in with identifying herself I’m sitting there thinking, “Weird, Leah didn’t seem sick at all this morning.” That’s because she wasn’t.

Leah had a panic attack. Or at least, that’s what the school nurse was guessing. In brief, she said Leah had gotten rebuked for something in class and started getting upset and then couldn’t breathe. Nothing like that has ever happened before, and I will be the first to admit, I tend to assume things are being blown out of proportion, either by my kids or the school. (At the last school, Leah got sent home for a 99 degree fever, multiple times, despite me telling them that her normal temp is above 98.6 .) So the woman on the phone said Leah had a panic attack, and they still couldn’t get her to calm down and could I come get her? They weren’t comfortable putting her on the bus.

Well at this point I was like 10-15 minutes from having to go get Drew, who you may recall takes a shuttle to our local high school which is like 15-20 minutes away, and not in the same direction as Leah’s school. Fan-tastic.

“I have to get my son off the shuttle” I said. I almost added, “and I have muffins in the oven” but I thought better of it. (One of very few times that my mind got ahead of my mouth).

“Come as soon as you can” she answered, sounding worried.

And then I thought of something.

“She has a DS in her backpack.”

“A what?”

“A DS, you know, the handheld game. Give that to her. It will calm her down.”

I’m pretty sure the lady thought I was crazy, and/or a very bad mother for sending her daughter to school with a handheld electronic game. I didn’t care.

As soon as I hung up I was plagued with guilt at the thought of my baby sitting in a health room unable to catch her breath and crying uncontrollably. I texted Drew that I was going to be late. I had to get Leah first.

I drove to her school as quickly as I could. I may have exceeded the speed limit a time or two. Thankfully there wasn’t a huge line of cars outside even though it was just minutes before dismissal. I dashed inside, asked for my daughter in the office and waited while they went to confirm that the one and only child in the health room was indeed Leah. They waved me in and there was my girl, not crying, breathing just fine, snacking on a cookie and playing her DS. Really, they couldn’t put this child on her school bus? Seriously? (I know the world is plagued by lawsuits and most parents would flip if their delicate child was stuck on a bus while she was still crying, but I’m old school and Leah was fine.) Anyway. I sat down and the counselor came in and told me the longer version. Basically she said Leah got reprimanded for reading in class and it wasn’t a big deal but Leah felt bad and got upset and then had trouble breathing. Somewhere in here the counselor got involved and took her outside in the hopes that would help her catch her breath. Apparently she didn’t really calm down until they gave her the DS. (I may have looked a little smug at that point.) Then the counselor said she wasn’t sure it was a panic attack. Maybe it was asthma? Apparently Leah told her that from time to time in PE she has trouble catching her breath. There actually was a few times over the summer where she complained a little about catching her breath but she never really had to stop and like breathe deep or anything so I kind of dismissed it. (Husband had asthma as a kid and sometimes will have an episode, especially if the air quality is really bad, so I kind of know what it looks/sounds like.) We talked about it for a minute more and then I said I really had to go get my son and we left.

And then I had to fight afternoon traffic with road work thrown in for fun and got to Drew a full twenty minutes late. He’s fifteen. It didn’t kill him. But I was still really stressed out.

So we got home, and a little bit later I got an email from her teacher that explained things a little more clearly.

“During 6th period students were supposed to be transitioning to take a test. During this time Leah was reading a book about cats instead of preparing for the test, which was also distracting her neighbor. This is why she received a processing sheet, as it was the second time today that the book was a distraction and causing her and her neighbor to be off task. This is Leah’s first sheet and she seemed to take it pretty hard. Ultimately the first sheet is only a warning to identify that there has been a problem. Please convey to her that she is not in trouble, but that the form only represents a preventative measure. I will make sure she receives that message from me tomorrow as well. Leah works hard in class and always has a good attitude, and I do not want her to get discouraged over a single event that does not define her as a student.”

(Husband, upon reading this email, says to me, “‘Processing sheet’ sounds very Orwellian. Like assignment to a re-education camp.” LOL. )

First, I want to say that her teacher is being very kind and I appreciate that he took pains to say nice things about her and make it clear he isn’t holding anything against her. But here’s the thing: Leah has ADHD. And she has a 504 plan in place that specifically says that she struggles with being distracted and that when it happens she should be very discreetly reminded to focus on the task at hand. (It’s upsetting for an ADHD kid to be singled out for off task behaviors when they really truly can’t help how their brain distracts them at times.) The special ed person at the beginning of the year assured me that all of her teachers were given a copy of the plan. But obviously it wasn’t followed, because she shouldn’t have been given a “processing sheet” for something like that. But whatever. I replied and told him about her ADHD and the 504 plan and how to discreetly handle that kind of behavior in the future; I also said I’d talk with her about the right time and place for looking at books. So that’s settled.

But I’m still worried.

We’ve managed Leah’s ADHD with fish oil and a healthy diet, organization and study habits. It’s worked pretty well, except for the times it hasn’t. Last year her three teachers were absolutely horrid at doing the things specified in her 504 and I could see her falling through the cracks. The upcoming move to a new state with a completely different curriculum made it easy to justify pulling her out and homeschooling her for the second half of the year. But even in homeschooling, I could see how she struggled with her ADHD. I’m wondering if it might be time for medication. We’ve avoided it up till now in part because I am not comfortable with giving my child those kinds of drugs, and partly because I know one of the common side effects is loss of appetite and that would be really bad for Leah right when she most needs to be packing on the calories and growing as much as she can.

But since we need to go to the doctor anyway to figure out what is going on with panic attacks that look like asthma, I’m going to bite the bullet and ask about ADHD meds too. (I gave the pediatrician’s receptionist a summary of why we needed an appointment and she read back, “Asthma and issues with behavior.” That bugged me. A lot. I’m hoping the same attitude will not be evident in the doctor.)

Crisis handled. Peace restored. If one doesn’t count the worries now rattling around my brain. And once again I am reminded that there is no such thing as a quiet day at my house.

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2 thoughts on “In Which One Panic Attack Leads To Another

  1. Colin is only four, and our doctor has been talking to us about meds for two years. Granted, his problems are more complex than just ADHD. Anyway, we decided to give it a shot a few months ago, and it was GREAT, EXCEPT for the side effects. We were using a patch that was fine for about a month, but suddenly started to irritate his skin. Then he lost two pounds, which is kind of a big deal since he only weighed 36 pounds to begin with. We’ve stopped for now, but I know he will probably need it again once he’s in grade school. It’s such a hard decision!

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