Summary of the story so far: Tarica is in the ER at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh after having a grand mal seizure on Tuesday morning. We still don’t know why she is seizing repeatedly. It is now Tuesday afternoon.
* * *
The nightmare started as restlessness. What child wouldn’t be restless, stuck in a bed all day? Her brain was the problem, not her body. And she was hungry. She was thirsty. The IV—she picked at it, and I eased her hand away. I distracted her with a toy a nurse had brought in to entertain Micah, but it didn’t last long. She tried to climb off the bed, and when I pressed her back onto her pillow, she fought me.
“Can you grab her legs?” I said to Linford. “She’s trying to kick me.” I clasped Tarica’s free hand tightly so she wouldn’t yank out her IV line. With my other hand, I held her down on the bed while Linford cuffed her ankles in his hands.
A pair of neurologists came in. The CT scan looked clear. An MRI would provide a more detailed picture of her brain. I found it difficult to concentrate on their words; Tarica twisted and arched continuously under my hands.
The afternoon wore on. One of us—and sometimes two—sat beside Tarica, trying to keep her still and on the bed. She became disoriented. “Are we at Beth’s house? Are we at Sophia’s house?” she asked over and over again. “Who changed the room?” Her words became slurred, her thoughts murky.
When they wheeled her upstairs to the seventh floor, I sat on the stretcher, holding her, holding that determined free hand, one of my legs pinning hers down.
As we entered Unit 7A, she became even more agitated. I tried to distract her. “Look, there’s a frog on the nurse’s desk.”
The stretcher moved, and the frog disappeared behind a pillar. She nearly bucked off the stretcher. “I wanna thee frog. Where ith frog?”
I lashed her down with my arms. “Just wait. The bed will move again, and then we will see it.”
The bed moved; the frog appeared. “Look, there’s the frog.” She relaxed, but I couldn’t. What awfulness had invaded our sweet little girl’s brain?
In room 721, Tarica was transferred from the stretcher to a bed, more space to fight and thrash, enough room for one of us to lie beside her and hold her down. We learned the MRI wasn’t happening until tomorrow, so she could eat now. Now? When she was nearly insane and completely unreasonable? But starting at midnight, she could have no food or drink until after her MRI and spinal tap were done on the following day. She had to eat now.
Food arrived, and like the frog, it became a distraction of debatable value. She would cram a bite into her mouth with shaking hands, but then she would writhe and scream and try to climb off the bed.
The hallucinations began. Bugs crawled on the walls. She became hysterical—oh, her eyes, her eyes—screaming that a man was trying to get her. She reached out and tried to grasp hold of objects dancing in the air before her, or tried to bat them frantically away.
Sometime in those unholy hours, she cranked her head my way. “Who are you?” she asked.
My mouth went dry. “Don’t you know who I am?”
“No,” she said, studying my face in a detached manner.
“I am your mommy.” I tightened my hand around hers.
She stared at me blankly.
Our Tarica was gone. In her place was a savage child. I held her against me on the bed, my arms and legs restraining her flailing limbs, and prayed. “God, please let her fall asleep. Please, God, please, oh, please.”
* * *
The hours bled into each other. I looked at the clock, but the hands said nothing that mattered to me.
A nurse came in, masked and gowned. Tarica was under isolation, according to a red sign hanging outside the door of her room. Sometimes a brain infection can create seizures, and until we knew if she carried something contagious or not, every nurse and doctor donned pale yellow gowns and masks before entering.
“Can’t you,” I said to the nurse, “please sedate her? She’s been fighting for hours, and she’s exhausted. We’re all exhausted.”
No, sedation isn’t an option. Just keep her as calm as possible.
I wondered what the nurse would do if we would throw our hands into the air and collapse. What would they do if we allowed Tarica to yank out her IV line, climb off the bed, rip the wires off her head? Would they find someone else to hold her down? Would they sedate her then?
One of the nurses—I cannot remember which one; all distinctive features except for eyes were hidden behind masks—was surprised when Micah babbled from the floor by the sofa. “Oh, I didn’t know you had a baby.”
Another nurse with familiar eyes said, “He’s been such a good boy, you’d never know there was a baby in here.”
Thank You, God, for one small blessing.
The evening blurred into night. We hung on grimly to our daughter. Micah fell asleep in his Pack-n-Play, despite Tarica’s ruckus, waking only at midnight. A quick feeding settled him again.
The hospital settled into the quiet hum of the wee hours, and still she fought. Despair clawed at us. How long would this last?
Tarica laughed, surprising us. “I thee…I thee…baby Jesus,” she said, reaching out her hand, lost to a world only she could see.
Linford and I looked at each other. The hours hung haggard on his face. “I can’t take this any longer,” he said. “If this is what she has become, maybe it would be better—”
I pressed my face against the gauze cap that covered the bristling wires on Tarica’s head. I couldn’t stop the tears.
* * *
The story continues in part four.