Phase One of Brain Surgery: Day 5

Nothing much happened on Sunday, which is probably why we enjoyed it, comparatively. You can read about it here.

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Monday, February 9

If I were to title this chapter something besides the boring one above, I would call it “All Because a Little Bug Went Ka-choo.” The Dr. Suess book with this title describes all the awful and improbable things that happened because a bug sneezed.

This chapter contains not a sneeze but a cough—and what happened because of it.

The nurse came in before six that morning to hook Tarica up to IV fluids. Because she would be fasting today, she needed to stay hydrated. Tarica slept through the process, but I did not.

That was the end of my night.

Around eight, it occurred to me that I could slip down to the cafeteria for a quick breakfast—if the nurse was willing to keep an eye on the still-sleeping Tarica. When I asked Erin, she shooed me down the hall. “Go, go, go. She’ll be fine.”

I went. Quickly. When I returned, coffee in hand, twenty minutes later, Erin gave me the OK sign. “Still sleeping.”

“Did you hear yet when the SPECT scan is going to happen?” I asked.

Erin made a face. “She’s scheduled for 3:30.”

“Oh, great. That’s a long time for a little girl to wait for her breakfast.”

When Tarica woke up, she had to take her morning dose of medication. We were back to using her normal sprinkle capsules. Since she had yet to learn to swallow pills, I had always opened them up and poured the sprinkles onto a spoonful of yogurt. But yogurt was forbidden this morning.

“Will she take them with Jello?” Erin asked.

“I think so,” I said. “Is Jello allowed?”

“Not red. Red food coloring is a no-no. What about lemon?”

We tried lemon.

It was just as awful as you might imagine lemon Jello covered with hard white spinkles might be. Tarica nearly rebelled and settled for gagging. Not even a drink of water was permitted to wash the residue from her mouth.

I missed the distraction of food. It’s quite delightful how many hours can be wasted in a hospital ordering food, waiting for food, and finally eating the food. It was a good thing we had visitors coming that day.

Sunny didn’t stay long, but she had time to sit down for a visit with Tarica.


Carmen and Karisa stayed longer.

The last time I remember seeing Carmen, I had been little more than a child. She had been employed by my father, and I admired her. Although she was all grown up back then, she treated an annoying six-year-old kindly.

The years had narrowed the gap between us, and we met with more in common than when we had parted.

While Carmen and I caught up on our lives, Tarica and Karisa broke the ice over books and games.


Tarica wanted to give Karisa a few jellybeans. When she asked for some for herself, I reminded her that she couldn’t eat or drink until after her test. I expected tears, but she swallowed them.


“Shall I put some jellybeans in my pocket, so you can eat them when the test is over?” I asked. I counted out six jellybeans. “Five jellybeans for every year, and one to grow on.”

Tarica grinned and didn’t protest when Karisa ate her seven jellybeans beside her.

I expected Karisa to ask questions about Tarica’s white-wrapped head and many wires, but once the initial awkwardness was over, the two girls were playing and talking as if they had known each other much longer. Perhaps Carmen heard the questions later, but I was grateful for how well Karisa handled unfamiliar circumstances and people.

After they were gone, we had over an hour to while away. Tarica asked me to help her back into bed. “Are you tired?” I asked as I transferred her and her wires.

She nodded and snuggled down with her blanket. Her eyes—it hurt to see the medicated weariness back in them. If we had had to wait much longer, she would have fallen asleep.


Transport arrived to take us down to floor two. I grabbed a small present and a book; one should always be prepared for a long wait in a hospital.

“Do you have the jellybeans?” Tarica asked as we rolled down the hall.

I rattled them in my pocket. “Sure do. You can eat them as soon as you wake up.”

Jaime met us in radiology, her smile warm. We were again deposited in a holding cell to wait. Tarica watched Jaime walk away. “I like her face, Mom,” she said. “And she had Hello Kitty on her shirt.”

“I like her, too.” I wondered what quality made Jaime stand out from the rest of the nurses. It had more to do with who she was than her skills or competency, although she was certainly both skilled and competent. She lacked the gloss and hardness of some nurses. On Friday, when she was taking me to the recovery waiting room, she had gotten mixed up and started off in the wrong direction. She had laughed at herself, not in a disgusted way, but in a genuine—that was it.

Jaime was genuine.

I wished I could sit with her over coffee and ask her about nursing and why she chose it and what it had taught her. (I get compulsions like this quite often, which lead to some dreadfully nosy questions at times.)

When Tarica grew restless, I pulled out the wrapped gift, which she opened with her usual care. It was a Spot It game. I read the instructions and we began playing.

There’s something wrong with me, I think. Despite being five, medicated, and mildly traumatized by recent events, my daughter could beat me in a visual matching game with little effort. I was almost relieved when Jaime returned to take us back to Nuclear Med.

In the scan room, Jaime asked Tarica who should transfer her from the stretcher to the machine. I wanted to congratulate Jaime. She had learned the importance of giving children the power of choice when they are trapped in a situation out of their control. Tarica, who might have pitched a fit about being moved, picked me, and the transfer happened with no fuss.

But she still had some fight in her. None of her IV experiences had convinced her that the nurses meant no harm. Jaime distracted her by asking if she wanted the heart monitor attached to her finger or her toe. Tarica chose her toe.

After some protests from the patient, the team got a syringe attached to the IV and the sedation medication was given. Tarica wept. Jaime mouthed to me over her head, “It burns.” But the pain was short-lived. Within seconds, Tarica was slumping against Jaime, but every time Jaime tried to lower her to the bed, Tarica fought and wailed.

“She’s a tough one, isn’t she?” a nurse said.

“Give her a little more,” Jaime said, her arms around my daughter. “It won’t take much.” (She was actually more specific than that, but I don’t remember what amount she said to give.)

Tarica was soon stretched out unknowing on the bed. They moved her up so that her head fit snugly between two padded supports. An oxygen mask was put over her mouth and nose, and towels tucked around her face ensured she wouldn’t move. The scan technician pulled a warmed blanket over her, followed by her precious Pooh blanket. Over this, he drew thick black straps to hold her down.

He punched buttons on a touch screen. The bed slid forward, and two large square plates moved into place on either side of Tarica’s head.

“Vitals look good,” Jaime said, and with another punch, the scan began. The machine hummed and purred, and every minute or two, the two plates moved a few inches farther in a methodical rotation around her head.

I should have been horrified at the sight, but I confess I was fascinated by this opportunity to observe an unfamiliar world. Besides, horror would have only gotten me ushered from the room. Perhaps the techs were accustomed to some kind of reaction. They had pulled a chair over for me beside the machine, and when I stood up, the scan tech eyed me.

“You okay?” he asked, in a manner that indicated he feared I wasn’t.

“I’m fine,” I said. “Just need to stand for a little. I’ve been doing a lot of sitting these days.”

“Can I get you anything? Something to eat or drink?”

“I’m fine,” I said.

“It isn’t any trouble,” he insisted.

I relented. “Water would be nice. I haven’t been eating or drinking much today because she couldn’t.”

He brought me water and pretzels and crackers. Since they were available, I ate the pretzels. But it felt wrong. My daughter strapped unconscious to a machine that looks like it’s about to consume her and I’m there eating. Sort of like the Romans feasting in the Colosseum while the Christians burned.

The scan took about thirty minutes. A few minutes before the end, the doctor overseeing the scan said, “The last two minutes are a modified CT scan. We need to move away during this part of it.”

Jaime, the doctor, the scan tech, and I moved behind the glass wall enclosing a corner of the room. We watched as the bed slid further into the machine, which whirred and clicked. The bed jerked as it moved again and then again.

“One minute to go,” the tech said, and then—

Tarica coughed. Her hand came up to her face. The tech froze.

The team spoke rapidly, quietly to each other. I caught the doctor’s words. “You mean we’ll have to do the whole scan again?”

The tech punched more buttons and the machine quieted. “She has to be in the same position for the SPECT and the CT. She moved when she coughed. We have to start over.”

The room became busy. More nurses came in and stood in consulting knots. Two doctors in navy jackets with “Sedation” embroidered on them appeared and started a deep discussion with the original team. From what I overheard, they were trying to figure out what and how much to give Tarica. Her original dose was no longer effective; she coughed again and moved during the hubbub, although she didn’t wake up.

The team talked in numbers and names I didn’t understand, even arguing a bit about what would work. Jaime worked out some math on a paper, and they discussed it some more. Finally, everyone was nodding. The medication was procured and given. Jaime adjusted the oxygen mask so it was no longer pinching Tarica’s face. The mask had left red marks on her cheeks. I wondered if that was why Tarica had stirred.

I thumbed out a few texts with a request for prayer. Not that I didn’t trust the medical doctors to handle the situation, but the Greatest Physician is our family doctor, and I prefer when He attends my daughter’s bedside. The more people petitioning Him on Tarica’s behalf, the better.

The scan began again. One of the sedation doctors, a crinkly-haired woman who reminded me of a lively, strong-minded terrier, which is meant as a sincere compliment, said to me, “How can you be so calm? If this were my daughter, I’d be flipping out.”

That wasn’t all she said. I heard her talking to the rest of the team about Tarica’s case. She said, “I’m going to see if we can do the MRI right after the PET tomorrow. No point in making her starve for two more days. The PET dyes won’t interfere with the MRI, so there’s no reason why not.”

I thought maybe I wasn’t hearing correctly above the noise of the machine.

And then I wanted to hug her, bless her, get down on my knees and beg her. Oh, to go home tomorrow. I almost forgot about the scan in my elation.

As the scan progressed, the tension built in the room. I caught the team exchanging glances, studying Tarica. When we moved behind the glass for the last two minutes, I could almost see the intensity pouring off them.

Jaime said, “If she moves, I’m going to cry.”

The sedation doctor said, “If she moves, I’m going to throw up.”

The scan tech, above the hysterics of women, stood rigid, his gaze jumping from the screen to Tarica and back.

I concentrated on praying while the bed jerked and moved in its final throes.

The bed retreated from the mouth of the machine, the machine throttled down, and the tech drew a deep breath.

“It’s done?” the doctor asked.

The tech nodded gently, but there was no mistaking the relief in his face.

The rest of us were not so inscrutable with our joy.

As we filed out of the corner, Tarica moved on the bed.

“That was too close,” someone said.

Tarica’s return to consciousness, once premature, was now slow. She was transferred back to a stretcher, and Jaime took us to a small recovery room. The sedation doctor stopped in briefly to check on us and again mentioned something about trying to schedule the PET and MRI for tomorrow.

As soon as Tarica was fully awake, she ate jellybeans and slushie, blue this time.

Back in Tarica’s room, we ordered supper. I ordered my hopes to calm down, but knowing we might go home tomorrow, I could think of nothing else.

Just think, I said to myself as we silently plowed through our food. If she hadn’t coughed, this possibility might never have come up.

But I said nothing of it to Tarica. I didn’t want to disappoint her if it didn’t work out.

4 thoughts on “Phase One of Brain Surgery: Day 5

  1. You have me hanging on to the keyboard while reading your story. When I finished I realized I was holding my breath.

    Looking forward to the next chapter.

  2. Pingback: Phase One of Brain Surgery: Day Six | Stephanie J. Leinbach

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