It’s a brisk late fall Saturday, and we are driving to the outlet mall. We don’t really need to buy anything; we just needed to get out of the house and do something. Having three little ones cooped up in a house all day is a recipe for stress.
My mind wanders during the drive. I’m not looking forward to another neighborhood work day: rough conversations in rural Japanese, which I mostly don’t understand, but have to nod along as if I do. It’s not compulsory, but I feel guilted into attending the after-hours drinking parties. I’ve never voiced any displeasure about these gatherings. I didn’t want to be ‘that guy.’ I wanted to fit in. Already the black sheep in an entirely homogenous society, I didn’t want to give them any reason to confirm any stereotypes they might have had.
The truth is, I didn’t entirely dislike it. It feels good to get my hands dirty after sitting at a computer all week. It’s nice to see so many familiar faces every day.
But I couldn’t help thinking it was some sort of Stockholm syndrome. I knew other foreigners avoided these homeowner association duties like the plague. I had browser all the Reddit threads, talked to all my friends. Was I just a sucker? Guilted into voluntary work while my friends spent quality time with their kids on the weekends?
"Park over there," my wife says, pointing to an open spot.
"We should probably grab a stroller for Tyler; he doesn’t seem to be feeling well."
Tyler, our middle son, is three years old and typically full of energy…
But today, he is unusually subdued. At least I won’t have to chase him around.
"Let’s keep it short today. I don’t think we should be out in this cold for too long if he isn’t feeling great."
We find a winter jacket for my oldest at the Gap, do a lap of window shopping, and then head back to the car.
It’s a peaceful ride back as all three boys are fast asleep. My mind drifts again to tomorrow’s neighborhood work. I can’t remember if we’re trimming the hedges around the shrine or shoveling mud out of the irrigation channels that feed the rice fields. I hope it’s the former. Last year, my lower back was sore for days after cleaning almost 500 meters of waterway.
We get home and head to the living room. I turn on a movie. Tyler has already found his way to the couch and is asleep. Koh sits next to me.
We’re watching a comedy, though I can’t recall which one. Koh loves physical comedy, and his infectious laugh makes me laugh too.
Suddenly, Tyler sits up straight, his arms extended forward. His eyes are open but unfocused. He’s muttering something.
I resist the urge to laugh, as it happens so abruptly it seems like an extension of a gag in the movie.
It must be a nightmare. Poor guy. Since birth, he’s always seemed to experience more stress than his brothers.
Five seconds pass. It’s getting worse. Now it’s clear to me this isn’t a nightmare.
I quickly grab him off the couch and start running toward the kitchen, yelling for my wife. She doesn’t hear me until I swing the kitchen door open.
"Help! He’s having a seizure, I think."
I feel so lucky my wife is a doctor. I would have been completely helpless otherwise.
She immediately recognizes what it is and says it in Japanese. I don’t know the term (but would later find out it was a febrile seizure - something I was also completely unaware of, even in English).
We lay him down on the kitchen floor. I’m close to panicking, but my wife’s composure and knowledge of the situation lower the tension.
About a minute has passed. His face is turning purple.
"I don’t think he’s breathing," I shout.
My wife’s calm demeanor takes a 180. She throws her phone on the floor and screams at me, "Dial 9-1-1…or 1-9…1-1-9!" She’s now lost it and can’t even remember the number for emergency services.
She starts giving Tyler mouth-to-mouth.
After about a minute of not breathing, color starts returning to his face.
She now has the emergency operator on the line. They’re sending an ambulance. But fear starts to sink in. Tyler is still stiff as a board. His eyes are open, but he’s not there. He can’t talk. He can’t move. I fear the worst. Is he alive? Will that minute-plus of no oxygen cause permanent brain damage?
Dark thoughts run through my head. Ten minutes and still no ambulance.
"Tyler, can you hear us?"
I’m holding his hand.
Five more minutes. It feels like forever. Still no ambulance.
He has peed himself. We change his pants. His eyes are still open, but he’s not there.
I start singing softly to him.
I hear something. He’s not looking at me, but I think he’s trying to sing along. He still can’t speak any words, but I can hear sounds as I sing.
The ambulance arrives. My wife will go with him. I’ll follow in the car with the other two boys. I hurry to get them in their seats. Aiden is only two and has no idea. Koh is six but doesn’t understand the gravity of the situation.
As I pull out of the driveway behind the ambulance, I see our neighbors from across the street. They heard the ambulance and came to help. They are so concerned. I quickly tell them what happened, and they wish me the best.
As I pull out further, I realize it’s not just our next-door neighbors. The entire street is lined. Every household for the next kilometer out of the neighborhood has come out to the road. Not to be nosy, not to rubberneck, but because they care. Because they want to see if there is even any small way they could help.
I had kept it together until this point, but this sends me over the edge. I’m so thankful to live in this community and I vow to never again dread a neighborhood work day.