Pray to the Moon when She is round,
Luck with you will then abound,
What you seek for shall be found
On the sea or solid ground.

Monday, February 18, 2013

PICU: What a Visit Taught Me About Polytheism, Prayer & Pragmatism

PICU: looks like a party, but it's not.

PICU: pediatric intensive care unit (also paediatric), usually abbreviated to PICU (pron.: /ˈpɪkjuː/), is an area within a hospital specializing in the care of critically ill infants, children, and teenagers. A PICU is typically directed by one or more pediatric intensivists or PICU consultants[1] and staffed by doctorsnurses, and respiratory therapists who are specially trained and experienced in pediatric intensive care. -- Wikipedia

Just over a week ago today we were unaware that we would be admitting the Changeling to the PICU for treatment of what would much later be diagnosed as "staphylococcal scalded skin syndrome" (SSSS). When you have SSSS, your skin splits open & sloughs off at the slightest graze of a fingernail or the tug of a band-aid. Rashes bloom, blacken & fall from your body. The entire surface of your being is red, enraged, blistering, on fire, like that of an overeager prom-goer who took too much time at the tanning salon. 

Staphylococcus aureus (in stain): looks pretty, but it's not.
Image courtesy Wikipedia.
All this thanks to a little critter called S. aureus who, if introduced deeply enough into the body, will release exotoxins which cause detachment within the epidermal layer. This skin-sloughing bacteria is a relatively rare breed in the staph family. But still, it is staph & staph is everywhere in this beautifully complex & dangerous world of ours. Once again, no one is special.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, we have already had a very lengthy round with the NICU environment, so we have acquired a solid battery of ICU coping skills. This was not new territory. In fact, the familiarity of it might have been the most immediately traumatizing aspect of our visit. Awash in fluorescent lighting, the smells & sounds of the PICU brought back that little bit of PTSD that I carefully packed away with the hopes of never revisiting. I had to grab my swooning, crumpling, tear-welling self by the horns & say: "Do or die. This is survival time, sister. You know this place. Make-it-work." Less than an ounce of grief, followed by days of make-it-work. 

Setting our Selves aside. Making it work. We do these things because we must. We do these things for Love.

What struck me very clearly the first night while gingerly curled around the Changeling in his bubble-bed was that my personal gods & collaborative spirits aren't so befitting to the crisis situation. I have actually run upon this before, but perhaps I was never lucid enough to see it for what it is. I also think this is where I have always had a wee bit of ambivalence with the whole "prayer" concept. (Yes, I am aware of the irony of this blog's title.) 

Unpopular as it is, I consider myself a polytheist of the more Parmesan variety (as opposed to say, Ricotta). In practice, there have been many times when I would have qualified as henotheistic or perhaps more accurately, kathenotheistic, except that I am never a complete purist or ever entirely exclusive & animism muddles things, so I suppose even in this, I qualify as an In-Between (once again). Lunar & Solar devotions are my most concrete, consistent & ritualized practice, but the Moon & Sun -- as I recognize Them -- are not "gods" per se, but venerable, life-weaving & live-giving beings with corporeal forms. That's animism, as I see it. The gods proper are (generally) incorporeal spiritual entities who carry with Them their own set of skills, interests, personality & agendas. That's polytheism, as I see it. Of course, it's complicated.

"Morpheus" by alexmartinez of deviantART

The pitfall of polytheism within my ICU-prone world is that the small handful of deities with whom I have a regular (or oftentimes irregular) relationship (but generally over many, many years) don't fall into the dulcet, pray-to, caretaker model. There are also no interventionists on my call list. Most of Them came to me in some strange, unexpected & abrupt fashion, while couple of Them I petitioned, stalked, flagged down or otherwise pursued myself. Regardless of how we came into relationship, none of Them are particularly apposite, at least in a conventional way, in an ICU. Oh, & I don't just go barking at gods I don't know when I suddenly need Them. So, how do we make-it-work?

Apparently I know by instinct. Once the situation settled, like an automaton I contacted the outside world asking for 'petitions, prayers, energy, good vibes, hoodoo, magick, whatever works...' I did this knowing that we would end up on my popular Christian-mystery author aunt's twitter prayer chain. I did this knowing that we would end up in multiple LDS prayer pools. I did this knowing that Wiccans would work us into their workings. I knew my mom would be exercising her Will (Thelemite? Must be something about psychiatrists). I knew that the Catholic, Druid, Jewish, Buddhist, Methodist, Atheist, Born-Again, Humanist folks & all those "Others" that comprise our friend & family network would be giving it their best go, in whatever fashion suits them. And really, if those people have a rapport with an interventionist sky-god like Adonai or JC or a mother-goddess like Toci or Brighid & they want to pray on our behalf, why should I object? Just make-it-work.

Even the 8:00 am prayer over the hospital PA system each morning was making-it-work. Never having stayed in a Catholic hospital before, the first day I awoke to the prayer, dazed & baffled. The priest's deep baritone & thick Spanish accent filtered through the isolation doors in a mostly unintelligible blur of voice, but I took it... & maybe even looked forward to it... a little bit. It came from Love. Make-it-work. 

/begin digression: This amuses me. When I was young & "fundamentalist" I would have balked at the idea -- I always found it offensive when someone else was praying or petitioning for my wellbeing because I interpreted their actions as a surreptitious attempt to impose their belief system upon me... somehow. I believe that inflexible, resistant, exclusive attitude stemmed from a defensive insecurity. Nowadays, I don't find discomfort in the well-intentioned spiritual efforts of others. As long as it comes from Love, I take it. I must be more secure, or getting older, or maybe I am just indiscriminate or something... /end digression

"Female Satyr with House, Child and a Putto" by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo.
My mind's eye vision of Fauna (& quite possibly my ideal body image too).
Image from the Norton Simon Museum.

But enough of other people's gods. After sending out the "Pragmatic Pagan's" smoke signals, I scrunched up, helpless & despondent in that tiny bed -- all the while remaining ever vigilant not to break any more skin on my little baby -- & I talked to my gods. Well, some of Them anyway.

I talked to Morpheus & I asked Him to use His pull with His Oneiroi brothers to give our tiny morphine-filled creature the peaceful, reparative sleep he needed in order to mend his devastated body. I talked to Fauna & Faunus & I said, something like, "I know You are not creatures of these hospital-places. You are creatures of the forests & wild places... We are too. My children are Your children & I want to make sure I can take them back into the bogs & the woodlands & the high deserts & teach them the secrets hidden there. Please, if You find any joy in the beauty of a babe reveling in Your sylvan secrets, if You have any strings to pull, please, please pull them. For him, for us." Then, maybe I asked Thoth (Tahuti, if you prefer) to give the still struggling-to-definitively-diagnose medical staff a leg up as I passed out from exhaustion, but honestly I cannot remember...

Oh, & I talked to the Moon of course. That Lady, our measured guide, the Gradual One. She Who Makes Change by Degrees. I thanked her. Because by then, Her work was already done.

Please do not mistake my words as dismissive of Those that I carry close to my heart, Those I whisper to in the greenwoods & in the Darkness. Theirs are among the greatest of gifts, but so much of that world is left unshared. Mostly, that world is about me. Absolutely none of this situation could be about me. It needed to be 100% about making-it-work.

Setting our Selves aside. Making it work. We do these things because we must. We do these things for Love.

Sometimes this means pragmatism over purism. The Who & the How is irrelevant. When it comes down to it, all that matters to me as a mother, lover, partner is that it works & that Love, something so Good & so big is allowed to triumph over the selfish smalls; like bacteria... & egos. 

Going home.
We made it work.
All of us, together.


Heather Awen said...

WOW. They say that in crisis you learn what you believe.

I am so sorry this happened!

Maybe, as I study eating for microbial balance for healthy gut flora and fauna, yeasts and bacterias, maybe they can help with bacteria caused illness? The East Coast has been hit with a Superbacteria flu now,I have had it 5 weeks. Also am having candida problems too and many food allergies.

Studying bacteria's role in life and death more and more. Flora and fauna on a very small scale, are They there?

I hope everyone is feeling better. Love Heather

Moma Fauna said...


I confess, I could not help but think of you quite often during this skirmish with the bacterial hoarde... I would think that there must be ways to get them to help in the battle, but it seems right now we just work with molecules that inhibit their lifestyle by inhibiting their protein synthesis or breaking down cellular structure. They are getting better at resistance, so you know we're going to have to stay ahead of them. Of course, those little friendly molecules... who are they?

I love this: "...on a very small scale, are They there?"
They must be, but Who?

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