Thursday, October 16, 2008

How I Got To Be A Neo-Pagan Witch--Part 4, Early On, An Accident & What Came After

[a revenant post with edits and additions]

When I was in 5th grade, I got hit by a car. As part of a school/community project, a bunch of my schoolmates and I were riding our bikes, visiting fire stations. On the way from one station to another, I ended up unconscious on the asphalt, the back of my skull cracked open.

In the short run, heroic surgery saved my life. In the long run, I learned a lot about life and death, getting better and getting worse, consciousness and coma, passing tests and failing them, and cruelty and kindness.

When I came back to myself, weak and shaky, two days or so after the accident, I found myself in a hospital room. Thick bandages covered the back of my head, and my face was stuck--nerve damage. I probably had some scrapes and bruises, but I didn't notice. After two days or so passed in coma, I was too weak and baffled.

I had almost died. But, so far, I had not.

To stave off any possible infections, my doctors administered a course of penicillin injections. Lots of penicillin, often. My backside turned into one big bruise. No infection developed, but my recovery slowed and my health slowly declined. I might, it appeared, have developed leukemia.

Certainly, the ratio of my red to white blood cells was skewed considerably beyond normal.

For a while, blood tests were a regular aspect of ordinary life. Needle in, blood out. Depending on who was taking my blood and how they did it, it could hurt not very much or hurt big time. Once or twice, the person taking my blood ripped the needle out of my vein, leaving my bleeding. I still have a couple little scars on the inside of my elbow.

And I learned to complain vigorously about getting treated like this.

And I have a life-long aversion to having blood taken from me. I cannot, for instance, participate in blood donation drives. I cannot watch the process of blood drawing, even by finger prick. I do not want needles in my veins. It creeps me out.

My doctors decided to send me to Stanford Hospital in San Francisco. I ended up in the critical kids ward. Other patients included kids with cancer and kids who had undergone one, or maybe several, open heart surgeries.

Most of them, as I recall, died, either in the hospital or not too long afterward, because they grew strong enough to go home for a while. Dying made me uneasy. I was saddened when one of these kids died. But I didn't really want to be around dying, be part of this group of kids who were dying.

I, body and mind, wanted to regain my health and rejoin the world of the living.

Meanwhile, my treatment regimen had changed. One of the doctors stopped the penicillin. It turned out that the antibiotic treatment that had staved off an immediate possible infection, continued over a longer period, began to kill me. To kill my red blood cells and prompt my body to grow white blood cells. When the penicillin stopped, I recovered from its effects fairly quickly. I also got to go home.

They told me that I had, quite likely, developed an allergy to penicillin because I had been dosed with such a large amount of the drug. But they were unwilling to risk testing for the allergy. Wisest to just assume that I was, and avoid penicillin altogether. I have.

In addition to the blood stuff, however, remember that my face was stuck.

I had some neurological injuries, and these had to be examined, tested, to find out whether my face would end up stuck, permanently. Fortunately, my face gradually came unstuck. Nerves recovered or found new pathways. Muscles relaxed from long time spasm, my face settled back into a normal look.

What I ended up with at an early age is a deep set of creases on my brow.

Still there.

But there were other neurological injuries not so apparent as a stuck face. During my stint at Stanford Hospital, I took lots and lots of reflex/response tests, when I was scratched, stuck, pinwheeled (a rotating ring of sharp points), stroked with soft things, tickled, and poked, asked questions and gave answers, given pages to read aloud, and watched while I interacted with other people--family, friends, patients, medical staff.

I learned things. When the bottom of your foot is stimulated, it's good if all your toes curl up in the same direction and not so good if your little toes curl one way and your big toe curls the other. Its generally good if your skin turns red when you get scratched. It's not so good if, getting scratched, your skin does not turn red at all. Some things taste sweet and other things taste bitter and doctors are not supposed to put their fingers in your mouth when testing your sense of taste. It's easier to talk when all of your tongue and lips move freely.

You often possess no memory of severely traumatic events. I only know that I was hit by a car at a certain place and time because other people tell me so.

For a time, I believed that lack of memory was itself a kind of memory, but then I accepted that it was just a lack of memory. You cannot grasp what you do not know, cannot recollect. You can, however, make up stories to fill in a lack in contiguous memory, so that traumatic events may be localized, put into life perspective.

For a while, I got EEGs. My doctors watched my brain functions. I did not enjoy having EEGs. I had to sit quietly for long stretches with wires attached to my head. I worried that my brain was not working right. And I wanted to do other things.

I did not suffer any long-term neuromuscular damage. I could move my arms and legs, walk, that sort of thing. My vision was relatively good. My thinking was clear. My memory, for the most part, operated in the short term and the long. I could, once my face came unstuck, speak clearly and understand what people said to me.

I wasn't aware at the time, but my family and the doctors had real concerns about neurological consequences of the head injury. I was a bright kid. I had, it seems, done quite well on those IQ tests that they gave us in school. They were worried that, recovering, I'd end up a lot less bright. But as I healed, I regained more or less all the brightness I'd enjoyed before.

What the car accident took from me permanently, I discovered years later, involved the tastes of some things and the smells of some things. I had a friend who was a perfumer. With her assistance, I smelled lots of different things. Or tried to. It turns out that there are certain strong scents that I cannot register. When I learned to cook more or less seriously, I discovered that there are certain taste notes that I also cannot register.

The body, living and growing, adapts and compensates. I don't sense gaps in my senses of taste and smell. My sensate world comes whole to me. I do not know what I'm missing.

Now my family was not religious, and neither was I. But my mother came from a family of Irish Catholics, and she had once been active in the Church. When the accident happened to me she, for good measure, called in a Catholic priest to say Last Rites over me. The priest did.

I wasn't a communicant of the Church in the first place, but I think that Last Rites ritually separates a person from the world, preparing him or her to cross over.

In any case, I never took any steps to rejoin any Church that I had not been a communicant of in the first place.

Once I returned home, I received a couple months of education at home. The school district sent a teacher to give me lessons. My strength and health and vigor gradually returned. Finally, I went back to fifth grade, but I had missed almost all of the school year.

Once I'd recuperated from my injuries, I could do what kids did. The most significant effect of my car accident involved restrictions on my physical and recreational activities. I was prohibited from a number of risky sports, in which there was a chance of re-injuring my head--football, baseball, soccer, swimming and diving, water skiing, rock climbing, and a few others.

I did, however, keep on riding my bike.

How did my accident and recovery help me become a Neo-Pagan Witch?

I think these days that the accident prepared the way for me to travel the Neo-Pagan Craft path later.

First, the process of recovery mobilized a variety of energies and inner energy flows.

Second, I had encountered both my own near-death, including a period of coma, and the death of others near to me in age. I came very near to the threshold, and I saw others who might have been me cross it.

Third, whatever vestigial ties I had with Christianity were formally, ritually, severed. Growing older, moving forward in a spiritual or metaphysical sense, I was utterly free, fully at liberty to choose a path for myself. And to follow it in my life.

Fourth, as I recuperated and rejoined the ordinary world, I was compelled to think as deeply as I could about health, illness, physical suffering, psycho-emotional distress, chance, and how I hoped to live in the world as an intelligent and capable person.

Fifth, I learned about honesty and communication and participation and what tends to make some sorts right and good and other sorts wrong and bad. Later, when I had to figure out communication with the Other Worlds and their denizens, I'd had some serious practice.

After going through this accident and what happened after, Witchcraft didn't strike me as so strange or uncanny. I could do it.

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