SINGAPORE - It had been a rough three days for the couple, with their two-year-old daughter down with severe food poisoning.
They were taking an afternoon nap last Wednesday when Madam Lynn Li woke up after feeling a movement beside her. She was shocked to see her daughter having a seizure.
The little girl's eyes had rolled back and only the whites could be seen. She was not breathing and her skin was turning purple.
Madam Li, 28, said in Mandarin: "As I held my daughter, her entire body was stiff and I thought this was it. My little girl was gone. "If she had died, I'd no longer have any will to continue living."
The online editor, who works from home, told The New Paper yesterday that the family's troubles began about a week ago on Oct 26, a Sunday.
After going out with friends, the couple felt it was too late to cook dinner and decided to buy takeaway food from a Chinese food stall in a Geylang coffee shop shortly after 7pm.
They bought three items - a cold dish, ma hua (twisted fried dough fritters) and braised pork knuckle. They are staples in northern Chinese cuisine.
Madam Li, who declined to name her daughter, said she and her husband were originally from northern China.
Reaching their home in a Hougang condominium at about 8pm, the couple ate some of everything but their daughter had only the braised pork and fritters. They also tossed a bone to their dog, a miniature schnauzer.
By midnight, Madam Li's husband was having the runs, followed by Madam Li and their daughter, who was also vomiting. Even the dog threw up, said Madam Li. The couple took their little girl to KK Women's and Children's Hospital (KKH) in the morning.
They were told she had food poisoning. She was given medication for diarrhoea and fever.
Back home, the girl started running a fever, which hovered at about 39 degrees C for the next two days. She could barely hold down food and water.
Her parents had the runs for about a day before getting better. But they were back in KKH in the wee hours of Oct 29 when their daughter's fever did not seem to subside.
Madam Li said they were told that it could be due to the virus from the food poisoning and they were sent home after the girl drank some glucose.
After lunch that day, the family took a nap, exhausted from their hospital trip the night before.
That was when Madam Li's daughter had her first seizure - her body seemed frozen in an odd angle and she was not breathing. Her body was cold.
"I screamed and asked my husband to call for an ambulance, but he said it would be faster if he drove. We only had time to wrap my daughter in a blanket and we rushed to hospital," she said.
After the girl was admitted, doctors asked for stool and urine samples so tests could be done.
Madam Li said: "I took her to the toilet and just placed her on the toilet bowl when she suddenly slid off and started thrashing. Her back was curved backwards, she was foaming in her mouth and her eyes were white."
Her daughter was having her second seizure in the span of just over an hour.
"I yelled for my husband and the nurses, who took over. There was no way I could look at my little girl like that, it killed me," she said.
Over the next two days, the girl continued to have mini seizure episodes, which doctors said were an after effect of the seizures. She was discharged on Oct 31.
Madam Li said: "The entire episode really affected her. My daughter is no longer as bubbly as before.
"Hopefully she'll get better in the days to come, but it's really shaken our confidence in food stalls."
She said that she reported the Geylang stall to the National Environment Agency (NEA) for suspected food poisoning.
When TNP visited the Geylang stall about 5pm on Monday, it was open and selling food. A man identifying himself as the owner declined to comment as the incident was still under investigation by the NEA.
He repeatedly emphasised that this was an isolated incident and that the truth would be revealed when the investigations were complete.
Food poisoning & seizures
Though it is rare, Dr Leong Choon Kit of Mission Medical Clinic said there are several reasons that could lead to seizures in patients with food poisoning.
Firstly, the virus could be a neurotoxin. This refers to a poison that affects the brain. An extreme example of this is the poison found in puffer fish, a popular Japanese delicacy.
"This is why when treating food poisoning, it's important to determine whether it was caused by a bacteria or a toxin," said Dr Leong, a general practitioner who is also trained in public health.
Another reason could be severe dehydration, which leads to an electrolyte imbalance. It is more common in small-sized patients like children.
He added that some patients also have "low seizure tolerance", which means that when they have a high fever, usually about 38 or 39 deg C, their bodies can go into shock and seize.
Dr Tan Kee Ling, a general practitioner at Choice Clinic, said food poisoning occurs when a person ingests the bacteria of viruses that is usually found in raw or mishandled food.
Past cases of food poisoning
Hygiene lapses caused the death of a boy, 4, after he ate food from a nasi padang stall in Northpoint Shopping Centre's Kopitiam foodcourt in January.
An investigation by the National Environment Agency found that one of the food handlers at the stall was unregistered, and that the stall's staff also failed to protect food in a covered receptacle.
The agency will take legal action against the stall.
A group of 18 officers from the Police Coast Guard Training School had food poisoning after eating catered food in July.
The officers were taken to the Singapore General Hospital after showing symptoms for food poisoning, and were given two days of medical leave.
Twenty-one members of the Youth Olympic Games organising committee workforce were hit by food poisoning after consuming catered food in August.
The incident did not affect the local athletes as they were not served the same food as the volunteers. The victims recovered fully.
More than 150 people fell ill from food poisoning after eating at an Indian rojak stall in April, causing Geylang Serai Market to be temporarily shut down.
Thirty-seven people were hospitalised and two died in what was the worst food poisoning incident here.
This article was first published on November 4, 2014.
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