This portion of the story opens the day after we received Tarica’s epilepsy diagnosis. She is still seizing, but now we know why. Sort of.
* * *
Friday began with purpose: to get Tarica’s seizures under control and to discharge us as soon as possible, given our self-pay status. Tarica was restless and irritable, wired as she was to a machine. She was also actively seizing.
As she ate breakfast, her head kept dropping to the side, her breathing would grow heavy, and her arm would lock into what had become her normal seizure posture. One seizure came after the other, and I looked at Linford, frightened. “Are we supposed to take her home when she’s seizing like this? I don’t know if I can do this.”
“I want to get out of here,” he said. “We need to get home. She needs to get home.”
I straightened Tarica’s pillow as she came out of a seizure and moved her tray closer. Her hand shook as she shoveled eggs onto her spoon. I moved away and spoke quietly. “I want to leave, too, but I’m the one who will be giving the medication and providing her care. It scares me. So much to learn. And what if she has another tonic-clonic seizure?” I rubbed my forehead. “I don’t know if I could handle it.”
“We have the emergency drug if a seizure doesn’t stop.” He eyed me. “Do you want to stay here until the seizures are gone?”
I shook my head violently, impatiently. “No. No, I don’t. It’s just…too much.”
* * *
Dr. Rajan prescribed Tegretol in addition to the Keppra. She and Dr. Katie went over the dosing instructions with me several times. I learned how to use the emergency drug, a nasal inhalant that would snap Tarica out of seizure if she had one that would not quit. They gave me reams of information—on epilepsy, on seizures, on medication—which I stuffed into a blue folder for a time when my head was clearer. If all went well, Dr. Katie said, we would be discharged that evening.
Sure enough, the EEG wires were removed that afternoon. For the first time, Tarica was free to climb out of bed. Her first steps were like a baby’s, and as she teetered and careered all over the room, I remembered vaguely that one of the early side effects of Keppra was unsteadiness.
After watching her rocket around and bounce off the walls, I volunteered to take her to the playroom next door while Micah (and Linford) took a nap. The first toy she claimed was a little car, so I took her on a few jaunts around the unit. We passed by many doors, most of them closed; behind each one, children had wept and slept, cried and died. I wished I knew the stories that had begun and ended here on floor seven. Perhaps those stories would take my mind off the unknowns in the story we were living.
In the playroom, Tarica raced from one toy to the next, as if they would vanish at any moment. There was a madness in her movements and in her eyes. And she never said a word. She was a silent bird trapped in a room, crashing blindly inside unfamiliar walls.
Unsettled, I looked through the game cupboard for something to occupy both of us. I pulled out a box. “Look, Tarica. Want to play Memory with me?” It was a test. She loved Memory and was able to match more pairs than I in nearly every game we played. Her ability had always astounded and confounded me.
She staggered up to the table and plopped into a chair. We flipped the cards upside down and started playing. As she began amassing a stack of pairs, the knot in my stomach loosened. Despite my best efforts, her stack grew faster than mine, and when she ended the game triumphantly, I was grinning nearly as wide as she was. Underneath the drugs and the seizures, she was still our Tarica, and her memory had survived intact.
A nurse informed us that the discharge papers were nearly ready to go, and we could start packing up. Linford began hauling suitcases and bags out to the van stashed somewhere in the bowels of the parking garage. It took multiple trips; where had all this stuff come from? He stopped at the hospital pharmacy to pick up a collection of drugs, the first of many prescriptions filled. I got Tarica dressed, but her hair, after four days of glue and wires, was a tangled, greasy mess, impossible to tackle at the time.
While she teetered around the room, I gathered odds and ends together and overloaded the stroller. Before we left Room 721 for the final time, I picked up a dry erase marker and wrote “Thank you so much. The Leinbach family” on the whiteboard. It had been a grueling four days, but we had been treated well. Even more, we had been given the knowledge and assistance we needed to live with an epilepsy diagnosis.
We stepped from the hospital into the parking garage, and as the scent of exhaust and wet concrete hit me, I realized that Tarica and I had not been outside since Monday, unless you count the brief space between house and ambulance, ambulance and hospital, on Tuesday. For four days, our world had shrunk to fit inside the brick walls of Children’s Hospital, and while others came and went, including her caregivers, we stayed and waited for a verdict and a plan. And we were just one family out of so many. I thought of all the people I had encountered in my treks to and from the cafeteria. All those parents of children, all those children suffering.
I wanted suddenly to just be home.
We pulled out of the parking garage around 7:00. As we threaded through Pittsburgh’s streets, I looked back to see Tarica had climbed out of her seat belt to stand, half-crouching, on her car seat. I muttered to Linford, “She’s acting crazy.” Turning in my seat, I sat her down and strapped her in again.
Linford asked, “Tarica, do you want to call Gram and tell her you’re going home?”
That pleased her—and distracted her from another escape attempt. Linford dialed his mom and handed the cell phone back to Tarica.
She had barely begun to speak when she broke off mid-word. I looked back to see her seizing. I rescued the phone and finished the conversation.
Within the next fifteen minutes, Tarica had seven seizures. What if…what if…? Fear leaned in and nudged me, along with disbelief. It wasn’t over. We were going to have to live with epilepsy. It didn’t fit into our world, our plans, our dreams, but we didn’t get to
choose. We could choose only to face it with courage in spite of fear and faith instead of doubt.
We would face it with God.
There was no other way.