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A medic’s haunted memory of a scared child

Ten-year-old girls shouldn't wear the same expression as their mothers on the way to the hospital

On one of the toughest streets in Providence, a little girl named “Shyla” begins to board a school bus when her face starts to twitch. Then her legs start shaking. She's afraid – petrified, really – and wants to cry out but finds she cannot. Her voice is gone.

It lasts long enough for the other kids to notice, and for the driver to stop the bus and call 911. We arrive and help her through the gauntlet of other students, and out the side door as they gawk.

The episode has passed, and we’re in the safety of the rescue now. She’s with her family who joined us when they saw the commotion at the bus stop, and Shyla appears normal again.

She tells me she likes math. She's in a charter school — one only the best students get into. She sits on the bench seat, next to her little sister and brother, with her mom in the Captain’s seat and the baby nestled in a car seat that I've secured to the stretcher. Her siblings are fascinated with the "amboolance."

Shyla had something similar happen a few weeks ago, at a birthday party. Her sister saw that episode and was afraid; she thought her big sister was dying. Their mom took her to the ER where they did a CT scan that was inconclusive, then follow-up testing, an EEG and some blood work, but no results yet. They’re waiting for their next doctor’s appointment to get some answers — hopefully.

So young to be so worried

Her mother holds up pretty well, but she works in the neurology department of a local hospital, and sees daily the effects of neurological disorders. Perhaps it's just a seizure, but why? There is no history of such, no fever, nothing to indicate that.

Shyla is lost in her thoughts, but the worry is evident on her pretty face that is the mirror image of her sisters, and a more youthful version of her mom’s. I keep an eye on her. The other kids enjoy the ride as we bounce toward the hospital. For them this is quite an adventure. But for mom and Shyla, there is no adventure; just the realization that something may be seriously wrong.

They're hopeful, and so am I, that this is nothing — just a weird thing that will go away. But I get a sense that isn't the case, and I think Shyla does, too. Her quiet, subdued demeanor stands out as her siblings carry on.

I thought of them all the way home, and into the night. Somebody else will take their place, probably by tomorrow. But for now, I'll close my eyes, and offer them the closest thing I know to a prayer.

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