Yes. I said that it would take me an entire week of posts to explain this weekend.  Well, I meant it.  It may be beneficial for you to go back to Monday, July 28, 2008, to get a fuller picture of what was happening at The Special Gathering of Indian River during our worship times on Saturday and Sunday.  We are a ministry within the mentally challenged community whose mission is evangelism and discipleship.  Worship is the apex of all the many things we do.  Therefore, it is vitally important to us that things go smoothly but there are weeks that are beyond interesting and border on bazaar. 

Sunday at First United Methodist Church was a “beyond interesting” week.  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, Cris began to yell, “Don’t do that!  Stop it!”  Cris and her twin always sit in the back of the room.  They have a friend/volunteer who sits with them because even though Cris 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, Cris was frailing and trying to hit her friend.  Because this is totally out of character for Cris, I knew that she must be seizuring.  “God wants to honor each of us.  Time it,”  I said without changing the tone of my voice.  However, eveyone 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 Cris’ 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 if David to go to the hospital with Cris.  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 Cris 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 HER requirement, 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?

When we travel with The Special Gathering Choir which is composed of people who are mentally challenged, our custom is to bring someone to help in case there is a seizure.  While the primary diagnosis for most of our members is mental retardation, many of them also have seizures.  Our procedure is simple.  When a seizure begins,  we allow the person to fall and for the seizure to take its usual course.  If the seizure goes for more than three minutes, we call 911. 

It was in the middle of summer and, of course, the temperature was hot in sub-tropical Central Florida.  We had been invited to sing after a luncheon for a large group of “seasoned citizens.”  Just before his solo, Doug started to seizure.  Because he suffers from grand mall seizures, I always put him on the floor away from tables or furniture that could harm him in the event that he had a seizure.  My helper came up immediately to time the duration of the episode. 

The choir continued to sing.  

As soon as the seizure was over, Doug returned to his place in the choir.  None of the choir members diverted their gaze from me.  With great discipline, they kept the beat and didn’t lose the words.  If you knew them well, you could detect that their smiles turned to grins as Doug eased himself stage left into the front row.

Then Richard fainted.  He was in the back row on the stage, three steps up.  He went down as though he were moving in slow motion.  My vigilant helper saw him as he went down.  Quietly, he moved from his front row seat, to the back of the stage.  The choir kept their rhythm as they continued to sing.

The men who are standing beside Richard moved over slightly to give him room on the floor.

But they continued to sing, “Make me a servant, humble and meek…” 

Quietly, my helper lifted Richard up and escorted him to the end of the stage.  Because Richard doesn’t seizure but had all the classic symptoms of a heart attack, an ambulance was called. 

Finally, we finished our 45 minute concert.  By that time, the EMT’s had come and they were taking Richard to the hospital.  My helper was with the ambulance driver as they loaded Richard on to the back of the vehicle.  Doug had fully recovered.  We were moving off the stage when Joanne seizured.  Calmly, one choir member grabbed her arm.  Another choir member slipped a chair underneath her and they gently helped Joanne sit in a chair, as I closed in prayer.   Doug looked at his watch to time the seizure.  Within 30 to 45 seconds, she had recovered and we were able to leave the community center.

At times, we jokingly say, “We do seizures.”  But we all know that our members who are in the midst of a seizure are pivoting between life and death.  Even though we understand the deadly seriousness of the events, we can’t help but see the humor of the situation in those nervous, relief hours after the crisis has passed.  We do sit back and laugh at ourselves and the events.  The faces of the audience usually go from shock, to fear, and finally admiration for the discipline shown by the choir members. 

I’ve noticed that our members seem to understand life and death better than most “normal” people.  These are issue that we live with each day.  I had to announce during our chapel services today that John is critically ill and would probably die soon.  All of us have known for three years that John’s cancer is terminal.  Several of our members cried.  Many came forward to ask our deacons (who are their peers) to pray for John.   It was a quiet, holy time.  But when we spoke to John’s faith and our assurance that he would see Jesus soon,  the tears were mingled with smiles.  Chrissy giggled and there were more smiles.

In the cloistered, sub-culture where I live, seizures do complicate our lives but they also make us realize that life is a precious gift from God.  Perhaps it even lets us appreciate the gift of life more than “normal” folks. 

Have there be events in your ministry in which you have seen the Lord move through your members in a crisis time?  When have you reacted in inappropriate ways?