* * *
Friday 3 PM until early Saturday morning
Someone entered our curtained alcove holding a syringe. They had decided to give her Versed, which is both an anticonvulsant and a sedation medication. Tarica was injected with the drug, and when she didn’t stop seizing, injected with more.
Finally the seizing stopped.
When everyone was reassured that Tarica had stabilized, the crowd drifted away while the doctors consulted among themselves. Finally, the original sedation doctor spoke to me.
This cluster of seizures had changed their plans. With sedation, patients breathe on their own. But during a seizure, Tarica could not protect her airways, and if she would seize while she was sedated, it could be dangerous. They believed the safest choice for Tarica was general anesthesia, which includes a breathing tube.
The doctor in scrubs who had been by the stretcher during the seizing explained what was involved with GA (general anesthesia) and produced papers for me to sign. Soon after, we were taken to Nuclear Med, where the SPECT scanner waited. Tarica was transferred from the stretcher to a narrow bed which fed into the machine’s mouth. She seemed disoriented, likely from the seizures and the medication, and did not protest too much.
At this point, I was led away. Although I could have stayed with her for sedation, I was not permitted in the scan room for GA. Perhaps it’s for the best. Do any parents want to see a breathing tube worked down their child’s throat?
Jaime, a radiology nurse wearing a pink shirt and a warm smile, had been the first to greet us when we arrived on floor two. She had been with us during the drama. Now she took me to a nearby waiting room. When I mentioned that I hadn’t eaten yet that day—and it was after three—she showed me how to get to the cafeteria and back.
In the cafeteria, I looked around blankly. Too many choices. If only someone would give me my food without my having to decide what to eat. Even choosing my drink required three minutes of concentrated effort.
I took my food to a table by the courtyard windows, just down from the table where I had sat with my parents and sister eleven months ago, waiting for Tarica to return from her MRI. Even though I could do nothing for her now, it felt wrong to be so far from her, eating and drinking, when she was hungry and helpless. And alone. What if something went wrong, and they couldn’t find me in the waiting room?
I ate quickly and returned to floor two.
In the waiting room, a woman asked me if I’m Amish, and I said no, I’m a Mennonite. She then wanted to know the difference between Amish and Mennonites, and before I knew it, Jaime came back.
“She just came out of the scan room,” Jaime said, “and she’s in recovery. I’m taking you to the recovery waiting room. They’ll come get you when she wakes up.”
She escorted me to the proper room, gave my name to a receptionist, and wished me the best.
I didn’t have to wait long. When I was taken to the recovery room, Tarica was awake and, thankfully, calm. The breathing tube had given her a barking cough and sore throat. I fed her red slushie and talked with the attending nurse while we waited for transport to escort us back to floor six.
“Where’s the doctor in the pink shirt?” Tarica croaked.
I spooned slushie into her mouth. “Her name is Jaime. She’s a nurse, and she had to get back to her work. She doesn’t work in this room.”
Back again in the safety of Room EP4, I presented Tarica with pancakes drenched in syrup. She barked a cough and asked for more slushie. Don’t want pancakes. She tried her grape juice. Hurts my throat. She pushed it away.
“Eat a bite of pancake.” I offered a loaded fork.
She turned away. “I want more slushie.”
Her slushie was nearly gone, and she needed to eat more than colored sugar water. But she turned up her nose at everything on her tray.
She and I were still debating over her food when Jayne came in. I said, “Tarica’s not interested in her food, even though she hasn’t eaten all day.”
Jayne nodded knowingly. “General anesthesia can do that, and her throat hurts from the breathing tube.” She turned to Tarica. “How about some ice cream?”
Tarica leaned back her pillow, a queen surveying her subjects—or was she just a mixed-up little girl? My mother-heart chose the latter. “Do you have banilla?” she asked.
“We sure do have banilla,” Jayne said.
Tarica had slushie, ice cream, and a few bites of pancake for supper. Nutritious.
The rest of the evening passed by pleasantly. No, beyond pleasant—it was an oasis of joy.
Tarica, with the seizures behind her for the moment and without medication in her veins, was the little girl I remembered from a year ago. Gone was the edge, the bite, the defiance, the glazed eyes. She was the most lovable creature on earth that night, and my heart ached because this sweetness was short-lived.
I have written of her fighting needles. I have written of her seizing. I did not cry with the writing. But now, remembering our Friday evening, I cannot hold back my tears. She was my Tarica again, so briefly, and it was bitter and sweet swirled together in the cup. I drank of it deeply.
I cannot remember what we did that evening, neither did I take any pictures, unfortunately. I can recall only the joy. And one conversation.
“Are we doing tests tomorrow?” Tarica asked me.
“Nope, no tests. Some visitors are coming to see you. And we can eat breakfast, lunch, and supper. Won’t that be fun to eat whenever we want to?”
“I want to eat tomorrow,” she said and grinned her impish Tari-grin. “All day.”
It was an evening I didn’t want to end.
My sweet Tarica must have felt the same way. She beamed her way past nine o’clock, bounced through ten o’clock, and kicked her blankets over eleven o’clock. It was nearly 11:30 when I stepped out of the room to find the nurse. (I hate using the call button, especially at night.)
Tarica’s night nurse, Kalani, looked up from her desk. “Do you need something?”
“Yes, I need something to calm this girl down. What is wrong with her? She won’t go to sleep.”
Kalani smiled. “That’s a common reaction to general anesthesia. And you’re never going to believe the cure.” She paused a beat. “Caffeine. Would she prefer Mountain Dew or Pepsi?” Seeing my raised eyebrows, she said, “We do it all the time, and it works.”
“I’ll take your word for it,” I said. “She likes Pepsi.”
For the record, Kalani was right. Tarica was sleeping in about forty minutes.
I climbed onto my hard sofa bed and tried to go to sleep. Just about the time I was wondering if the leftover Pepsi would cure my insomnia, Tarica seized. I leaped up and punched the event button. Kalani came in. Since Tarica slept through the seizure, there was nothing to do but go back to bed when it was over.
Ten or fifteen minutes later, she seized again. Again the button, again Kalani. She pulled the blanket off Tarica, whispering as she did, “So the camera can record her movements in a seizure.”
But two seizures this close together was too much. Kalani returned with a syringe. “I’m giving her a dose of Ativan. The doctor doesn’t want her seizing more than twice in one hour.”
Seizing in Phase One is a delicate process. The doctors want to see seizures, but not too many, lest they do damage. Medication is taken away and given accordingly. Every patient has a customized emergency plan with several drugs on hand to stop a seizure that goes longer than a few minutes, or to prevent too many seizures in a short time. When Tarica had her seizure cluster down on floor two, that plan and those drugs were not quickly available, which is why her seizures were not stopped sooner.
Quiet resumed. I finally fell asleep. I thought I could never sleep through a seizure, but I missed the two that happened around 2:30, waking only when Kalani came in with a second dose of Ativan.
That ended her seizures and our day.
But not the story. I’ll be back soon with more.