September 24, 2014 by Melanie L.
When I was a young child, somewhere near the age of six, I scared the crap out of my mom. I don’t mean that I ran into the street without looking. That type of fear is too pedestrian. No. I hitched-her-breath, stopped-her-heart, and shocked-her-conscious scared her with my response to her innocent question, “what are you doing, Honey?”
“I’m picking the maggots* off my arm,” I answered casually.
While maggots on a cherub’s arm would be pretty gross, to say the least, what frightened my mom was not the presence of maggots but rather the absence thereof. I was pinching the air just a centimeter above my left forearm, pivoting my elbow and releasing the pinched air to my right and repeating.
I’d like to tell you that I had an active imagination as well as a recent life-cycles science class, except, no. I was not imagining the maggots. I was hallucinating.
At age 6!
While there were no real maggots, I had indeed caught a bug. A day or two earlier, I had contracted something from a small pool.** While my body sent my temperature soaring to 105 degrees – yes, you read that correctly – it sent my mind tumbling down the rabbit hole of febrile delirium.
Luckily, I never had any seizures associated with my high fever but I had multiple hallucinations. In addition to the maggots, I remember I saw a muppet-like, blue-furred monster seated in what was really an empty chair at the dinner table. We locked eyes and it smiled at me the only way a puppet can – with a gaping mouth – and then quietly resumed eating.
As if imaginary maggots and a Muppet at the dinner table weren’t enough, I also hallucinated when my dad carried me down the stairs to get some children’s acetaminophen. I had to tell him to slow down: the stairway was blazing past like the Enterprise at warp speed though I hadn’t yet seen the show (still haven’t) or had any introduction to even basic physics.
Although my experience with febrile delirium gave my mom a fright early on, it may have saved her from some needless parental worry later on. I never succumbed to the lure of illicit hallucinogens as a late teen/early adult in large measure because I had already been there, done that. I did not need a refresher.
So three weeks ago, when my precious three-year-old daughter developed a very high fever very quickly, I didn’t flinch when she woke startled and cried at the sight of “bugs in my bed laughing at me.” I gave her some acetaminophen, called her pediatrician, and smiled at the thought that one day, when hallucinations are optional, she, too, will choose to steer clear.
*I remember them as maggots, however, my mom says I had told her they were spiders.
**I developed febrile delirium twice in my childhood, once in the summertime and again in a different season, but I can’t remember exactly which hallucination accompanied which instance of illness.