Worship is the apex of all the many things we do at Special Gathering.  Therefore, it is vitally important to us that things go smoothly but there are weeks that are beyond interesting and border on bazaar.

A couple of years ago, there was a Sunday at our Melbourne program that was “beyond interesting.”  We were celebrating a birthday.  Then some of our members with autism began to exhibit behaviors.  As I was closing the devotions for the day, Criss began to yell, “Don’t do that!  Stop it!”  Criss and her twin always sit in the back of the room.  They have a friend/volunteer who sits with them because even though Criss is high functioning she is blind and in a wheel chair.  She needs physical assistance.  Her twin is much lower functioning but with no physical disabilities.

When I looked over her way, Criss was frailing and trying to hit her friend.  Because this is totally out of character for Criss, I knew that she must be seizuring.  Without changing the tone of my voice, I said, “God wants to honor each of us.  Time it,”  However, everyone seemed to be confused about what was happening and no one began timing the seizure.

I knew I needed to get the attention of our most experienced volunteer.  David is a professional who owns and operates three group homes.  He has been on staff with Special Gathering.  “David,”  I said, “please begin to time this.”  He immediately started to time the seizure and walk toward Criss’ small group.

I closed in prayer and dismissed everyone.  The other volunteers snapped to attention and put their best plans into action.  “We have birthday cake,” Priscilla said loudly.  “Let’s go celebrate.”  After worship we normally go to the social hall for refreshments with the church body.  The other volunteers began ushering all the members out of the gym into the social hall.  David was still timing the seizure, by now it had been 1 minute and 45 seconds.  I called the girls’ caretaker.  After explaining the situation to her, I said, “We normally call 911 after three minutes.  It’s been 3 minutes and 10 seconds now.  I believe that most of the seizing has stopped but we can’t get her to respond.”

“Call 911,” the caregiver said.   “I’ll meet the ambulance at the hospital.”

After my phone call to the caregiver and while I was dialing 911, I asked David to go to the hospital with Criss.  I gave the 911 rescue personnel the exact address of the church, the details of the situation and my phone number.  The ambulance factility was close by the church.  They assured me that they would be less than two or three minutes for them to get to the church.

By now children’s church had invaded the gym with basketballs and other ball games.  They were not able to move out of the gym because there were too many of them and there was only one person to supervise them during this play time.  Therefore, I thought it would be better to move Criss out to the large hallway that is also used as a lounge.  Normally, you would never attempt to move a person in her condition.  However, she was in her chair and this would be an easy and safer situation for her.  By the time we had moved her chair the few feet into the lounge, the fire department had arrived.

Before they would take her, they wanted to see her ID and her Social Security card.  This was a new requirement from emergency personnel and Cris didn’t have any ID with her.  We again called the caregiver.  She had the needed information.  Once the ambulance arrived, she wanted to have the caregiver give her the same information.  The ambulance attendant was insistent that information regarding her medication could not be taken from our database that we carry with us accessed from the Internet but must be in writing.  I believe that this was HERrequirement, only.  We have never had anyone ask for this.

I can’t explain how extremely proud I was regarding the performance of our volunteers during this emergency situation.  To review quickly, these were the things that went smoothly and wer done right in the face of a seizure emergency.

  1. Our volunteers had been trained to know what should and should not be done in the case of an emergency.
  2. Timing of the seizure began immediately.
  3. Our staff and most experienced volunteers took control of the members and relieved me of the concern for their safety.
  4. Our senior volunteer knew that it would be expected of him/her to go to the hospital.  Before I asked, he had made plans to be at the hospital until I could arrive, after the program.
  5. Unlike the shepherd who left the 99 to seek after the one sheep, a program director doesn’t have the luxury to leave the members and rush to the hospital.  However, I can assure that my most experienced volunteer goes.  Then after I have insured that all our members have gotten on the bus and they are on their way home, I can go to the hospital.
  6. After 3 minutes of seizuring, call 911.
  7. Have medical information ready for the EMT or fire department.
  8. According to a group of experienced nurses who have worked with us, you need to have a list of medications, information regarding if there are allergies or seizures for the EMT.
  9. Be sure that you have current phone numbers, emergency numbers and cell phone numbers for the people in your program.
  10. Members should be moved from the area as quickly as possible.
  11. Do not move the person seizuring, unless they are in danger of being hurt where they are.
  12. Do not attempt to stop the fall.  However, you might cushion his/her head as s/he hits the floor.
  13. Do not attempt to pull the tongue out.
  14. Try to get the person to respond to you by asking questions.  Don’t hit or slap the person but try to get a verbal answer from him/her.
  15. When you call 911, they will need the exact address of the place where you are at.  Be sure that you have this physical address memorized to the point that it will roll off your tongue.  If the address contains an East or West, this is essential for the ambulance to know.
  16. Remain calm.  Speak in a measured and calm, quiet voice.  In this way, your members will pick up from your cue and they will remain calm.

What are some other things you have learned in dealing with emergencies and seizures?

The danger of writing a daily entry or column is that you begin to repeat yourself.  You understand, of course, because that’s what your wife does.  She tells the same story about your infamous missed touchdown or the prom or her mother-in-law again and again because it always gets a laugh.  Or she can depend on her audience to shed a tear at the appropriate places. 

This was my great fear in starting the Special Gathering Weblog.  That after two weeks, I would be telling the same things again and again.  Special Gathering is a ministry within the mentally challenged community.  We don’t do social work but classic ministry–evangelism and discipleship.  Over the past months, I’ve realized that I’m learning new things daily about our members and their disabilities and myself.  As an example, there was another emergency in our Melbourne program on Sunday. 

Steve, who doesn’t seizure, had two seizures just after ascending the stairs onto the second story of the educational building.  I wrote extensively about the episode that occurred several weeks ago regarding a seizure.  However, this time was different because the circumstances were altered.  When I called his mother, she told me to NOT call the ambulance.  His seizures had lasted 45 seconds and then 90 seconds.  Because he had never had a seizure, I think she believed that we were mistaken.  We didn’t call 911, as she instructed. 

Yet, once he had come out of the second seizure, two of us were inquiring about his condition.  As we were sitting on the floor with him, it became evident that he was sweating and his skin became extremely clammy.  He complained that his left arm was hurting him.  Of course, these are the classic symptoms of a heart attack.   Immediately, without consulting his mother again, I called 911 and explained the situation to them.  With heart attack or stroke symptoms, delay can be life threatening.  911 should always be called under these circumstances.   

Before his mother could arrive, the fire department was on the scene and the EMT’s were ready to transport him to the hospital.  His mother came within minutes of their arrival and she was more than willing to have the emergency medical team take him. 

As it turned out, he had not had a heart attack but he continued to have multiple seizures all during the day.  Though his mother is a retired nurse, it was a good thing that she allowed him to be transported because his next seizure was life threatening and she would have lost him had he not been under medical supervision. 

Later that day, I relayed the incident to our Executive Director Richard Stimson.  “You must call 911 if there are symptoms of a heart attack,” he reassured me.  “You couldn’t wait for his mother.” 

Perhaps the greatest lesson I learned from this incident was how grateful I am for the continuing education I receive working with Special Gathering.  Each year, we repeat the First Aid Course.  We have annual teacher training that amplifies the importance of team work or emphasizes something regarding disabilities.  Having training from The Special Gathering manual has saved more than one life. 

Because we’ve had four unusual incidents in the past three weeks, I was curious and looked back in my files.  The last unusual incident form for our program was filed about three years ago.  Yet, in that time, I’ve had at least three health and safety training sessions.  I thank God for the provision made years ago to keep our staff and volunteers up to date regarding first aid issues. 

On second thought, perhaps repeating ourselves isn’t such a bad idea.  In fact, it can save lives.

When was the last emergency that you’ve had to handle?  When was your last emergency training event?