A Scary Day


Friday 9/4/15 was one of the scariest days of our lives.  Many of you prayed for us, encouraged us through it, and asked for the details of what happened…


In January, Eli’s orthodontist recommended that we schedule a consultation with an oral surgeon to get his wisdom teeth removed.  He suggested we get it done before the summer.  I put it off because we were dealing with other physical issues at the time, and it didn’t meet my priority criteria. And, the thought of getting wisdom teeth pulled is just “yuck”.

So, once summer was almost over, I finally made that consultation appointment.  While the physical issues are ongoing, I felt like we’ve at least got a handle on them and Eli is making progress.  The oral surgery consultation went well.  We felt good about the doctor, and after discussing it with the him, we felt good about getting it done.

Because Eli has a shunt, there are always other considerations when surgery is involved.  The shunt is a tube that was inserted after Eli’s fall in 2003.  It drains fluid off of his brain and is vital to control brain swelling.  An infection or malfunction of the shunt can be life-threatening.

As a precaution to avoid infection of the surgery area, we started giving Eli antibiotics two days prior to the wisdom teeth removal.

On Tuesday, September 1, we got going bright and early and headed to the surgeon’s office.  Eli was such a trooper.  Everything went well.  Eli was a bit groggy afterwards, but not feeling any pain.  He continued to do well for the next couple of days.  His face swelled up more and more as was to be expected.  He tried to eat applesauce, yogurt, and mashed potatoes.  It was obviously painful when he tried to eat, even soft foods.  But otherwise, he was feeling ok.

On Friday morning, day 4, the swelling was going down, as expected.  Eli said that his mouth didn’t hurt too much, except on the left side.  He had breakfast and took a bath in his new bath chair (a very cool post for another day).

Symptoms Begin

Around 10am on Friday, he began to act quieter than usual and he was just not himself.  He was sitting on the sofa doing artwork as was his usual routine for the last several days.  After just a few minutes, he said that he wanted to lie down.  He looked really tired which is very unusual for him.  He began to fall asleep almost right away.  I was talking to him and I noticed his eyes were twitching side-to-side in a strange way (I now know that it’s called nystagmus).

At this point, I’m thinking it must be related to the pain medication he had been taking, but had not had that day.  So, I let him lie there and continued to keep an eye on him.  But, a short while later, he looked very pale and his lips were white.  I asked him if he felt sick or dizzy. He wouldn’t talk to me, but he shook his head yes.  He could barely hold his eyes open.

When I told John what was going on, he quickly decided we should take Eli to the VCU Pediatric Emergency Room.  Something was very wrong.  Based on the symptoms, it seemed possible that there was a problem with his shunt.

We raced to get ready and were out the door within minutes.  Eli was more and more lethargic and it was scary how quickly this seemed to be coming on.  I sat in the back seat with Eli.  A short while into our drive, Eli got that look on his face.  I asked him if he felt sick.  He nodded yes.

I told John to pull over quick!  But it happened too fast.  It was violent and scary.   John pulled over and I pulled Eli out of the truck.  We decided to call the rescue squad and thankfully, they happened to be nearby, so they were there within a few minutes.

I rode in the back of the ambulance with Eli.  He never spoke and was in and out of sleep.  His vitals were good, though.  That helped to ease the panic trying to rise up in me.  I tried to keep all of the past memories out of my head.  I DO NOT like going to the hospital like this.

We drove to VCU Medical Center, with John driving behind us.  Eli’s condition stayed the same.  He was in and out of consciousness, but not speaking.

At the Hospital

Around Noon, we arrived at the hospital, we answered all kinds of questions from an array of doctors and nurses.  It was quickly determined that a shunt check was in order.

First thing would be a CT scan.  This allows them to look for swelling in the ventricles of the brain by comparing to previous scans.  We had to wait a while, but Eli was sleeping and ok.  During the CT, he seemed to be aware of what was going on, but did not speak or move.  We went back to his room and waited.

Then a shunt series was ordered.  This is where they take x-rays so that they can see the entire shunt tubing, from head to abdomen, to make sure that it is intact and not kinked.

The Miracle

Around 3:30pm, while getting the x-rays, it was like a switch flipped.  Eli suddenly began talking in his normal positive tone … He told the x-ray nurse, “Well, hopefully I’ll be getting out of here soon!”

It was like he just returned back to his old self.  It…was…weird.  But definitely a happy moment!  He was happy and talking and talking and talking, like Eli does!

The Neuro-surgeons determined that the shunt was working properly, so we still didn’t have any answers as to what had just happened.  The Neurologists were called in to give their assessment.  They determined it was not seizure activity.  His seizure medication levels were tested and found to be not at a toxic level.  They considered keeping him overnight for observation but agreed to let him go if we were comfortable with that.

Eli was literally watching the clock.  We decided to bring him home.

By 11:00pm, he was snuggled in his bed.  Safe and sound.  Breathing.  Peaceful.


This was the scariest day we’ve had since Eli’s accident in 2003.  It brought back many frightening thoughts of losing our son … again.

On the way to the hospital, John somehow managed to post the prayer request on Facebook.  Right away, there were comments and texts of prayers going up to the Great Physician.  I cannot tell you how comforting that is.  We thank God for answering those prayers and we thank God for each one of you who prayed!

What Was It?

In summary, we think that the symptoms were most likely caused by some interruption in the flow of his shunt or some delayed effect from the anesthesia.  We don’t know exactly what it was, so we have some fear that it could come back.  Please continue to join us in prayer that the symptoms won’t come back.

The Next Day

As I write this on Saturday, he’s not quite himself, but he’s doing alright.  He’s a little tired, his memory is a little worse than usual and he’s not as chipper.  However, he is happy and excited that tomorrow is church day.  Me, too!

Please note: We reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • smoothstones

    I’m so sorry that you had this scare. I love you guys and will keep praying for your family!

    • http://www.TillerFamily.org/ Tricia Tiller

      Thank you!