Thursday, March 19, 2020

A Letter from Erynn: Brain Surgery & The Pandemic

This letter came today from my dear friend and one of the original Daughters of the Flame, Erynn. Erynn, who lives in Italy but is originally from the USA, has been waiting months for surgery on a benign tumour on her brain. She has just had it, in the midst of the pandemic Red Zone--an area of Italy hardest hit by the COVID-19 virus. She has written the Daughters to talk of her surgery but, still more, about the pandemic. Her words are loving and wise, and I am grateful for them.

greetings to all of my sisters in brigid and thank you so much for your prayers and support in this difficult time. 

my surgery was a huge success and i was released yesterday from the hospital here in padova, italy. i am staying with a friend here near the hospital until my followup on the 25th where i will have some evaluation exams and talk with the doc again, have some stitches removed, and then be allowed to go back to my apartment in trieste. i will need a little help there, but i have many local friends and help will be available.

i had a large acoustic neuroma removed from the left side of my brain, in the midst of a pandemic, at an overwhelmed hospital. people all over are dying by the hundreds (some are recovering but too many are not), and it has entirely consumed the national health system. the surgery had been cancelled the previous week because they did not have an icu unit for me. i didn’t know until about half an hour before the surgery happened that it would because they had to be certain that there would be a ventilator/icu unit for me. they had me arrive the night before, woke me up the next day and said “it’s happening” (in italian because it’s italy).

surgery happened about 8:30 am and ended about 10pm. i spent the night in icu, was evaluated in the morning where i was found aware and competent (i could speak fairly clearly in both english and italian despite partial facial paralysis) and released to the ward to free up the icu bed for the next patient.

i cannot say enough wonderful things about the doctors, nurses, and every single individual of the support staff, right down to the lady who sterilised the rooms. everyone was kind, courteous, and helpful to me while doing minimum 12-hour shifts (more often 16+). they were on the edge of exhaustion but they always had a kind word for me and i have literally never received better medical treatment in my life. because it’s italy and i’ve paid a percentage of my pensions into the national health system, every bit of this treatment was free. it cost me literally nothing. every one of you deserves the same security for your own health.

i have a post-apocalyptic hairdo and a few small scars around my left ear. i am deaf in my left ear because there is no acoustic nerve anymore. they took some fatty tissue from my abdomen, so i have a larger wound there with stitches as well. as a "nerves in recovery" thing, the tinnitus in my right ear is a bit reduced now, but i am hearing a repetitive loop of a snippet of Handel’s water music as background to everything. better than doomcore i suppose ;)

with this thankful and hopeful message, i want to speak to you about the pandemic, and i am literally begging you to read this because i love you. i am begging you to read it because so many people outside of the places with astronomical death tolls are not taking this seriously. it is frightening but it is necessary information. get a nice cup of calming herbal tea and read. do it for me because i love you.

i know the situation in the US in particular is so bad due to  a system that victimises people who cannot refuse to work because there is no way for them to avoid starving or being evicted if they don’t. there is no social support in the US for anyone but the most wealthy. it is a horrifying and unjust society and i honestly feel safer and happier here in italy even in the midst of this plague, where people have at least some hope of social care from the government.

that said, this:

you deserve to live through this. 

you MUST stay in if you can and avoid contact with others. things are about to get very very much worse. worse in ways you cannot yet begin to imagine. two to three weeks from now, it is going to be a very different world than last month or last year. our world is changing. it is changing in the blink of an eye.

herbal medicine is not going to fix this, it can only offer some limited support right now though research is happening. definitely do what you know for support, but it will neither prevent nor cure this from what anyone can tell at the moment. do not believe everything you read. 

prayers can calm us but will not fix this unless our prayers are as much action as word. 

in this instance, we must trust the medical specialists from all over the world who are working themselves to death to try to save the rest of us. when a vaccine becomes available, even if you are usually skeptical, please accept it as a healing gift from brigid to save your life and the lives of those you love. i know some of this won’t sit well with some of you and i’m sorry, but it is the truth and i tell you the truth because i love you and that is my nature.

we must act with solidarity, my sisters. we must become anchorites of a sort. we must fight the fear as best we can from our homes, only going out when absolutely necessary and avoiding all contact with others unless we work in necessary fields where human contact must be made - the doctors and so many other essential people who are too often invisible. the infection itself is invisible until it is much too late, and infection rates double every two days. by the time you know you have it, you may have spread it to hundreds of other people, depending on how much you’ve been outside and in contact with groups.

i tell you these things because i love you and i want to see you here with us next year. 

you will lose friends and loved ones. people you know will die, possibly many of them. you may die yourself, though i pray it is years from now from something entirely unrelated to this. these facts are inevitable. i already have a friend of a friend in the us who has died of this. i have a friend in seattle who is a nurse who was exposed and spent 14 days in quarantine but checked out uninfected. because i have a compromised immune system, if i get this virus i am more likely to die of it than someone else my age - i will be 59 next week - but it is also affecting young people, and otherwise healthy children can carry it invisibly without suffering from it themselves. just contracting the virus is not a death sentence, but it will greatly compromise your lung function if you survive. people are recovering here in italy though the death rate is still climbing. we hope to reach a peak soon and see a reduction in infection and death rates, which currently stand in thousands more infected and hundreds more dying every day.

we can survive this collectively if we do not dismiss it and do not panic. the newspapers here in italy are flooded with pages and pages of obituaries. i will not share the horror stories, they are not my point. i will tell you that we must have official travel documents for specific purposes that the police check to be outside of the house. if you are found outside without authorisation there is a large fine. if you have the virus and are out without authorisation, you may face murder charges. i am describing to you the everyday reality around me right now amidst the growing sun and beauty of a little italian suburb as spring beautifies everything and the equinox arrives. the sun still shines, the birds still sing. children still play in the traditional little closed yards of their italian homes.

2021 will be an entirely different society. we will live in an entirely different world. we must not allow the necessity for social separation to become human isolation, nor an argument for authoritarianism that leads to global fascism. do not allow fear and hatred to win. be love that spreads like the sun over the fields. be brigid’s mantle that covers the world with peace and healing.

please, sisters, i beg you to stay strong in each other. let us support each other from where we are and offer what skills we have to each other as we are able. we must find a way to create a more just society. witness this. sit with it. record these moments as a sacred text for times to come. know that we are living through a time that will be remembered in history in much the same way the black plague is. what you do now is critical, even if it’s hard. even if it’s scary. even if you have anxiety and feel weak and alone. 

you are not alone because we are here together, keeping brigid’s flame.

not going out is less an act of avoiding infection than avoiding spreading infection. stay away from others not with a spirit of fear but out of love for them and compassion for the suffering you may be able to save them. out of love for the strangers you do not know whose suffering you may ease by staying inside. i know it will be hard. the Italians are spending a little time most evenings singing and playing music from their windows and balconies together in many cities to express their solidarity and it is a glorious thing. we can maintain our humanity even under these circumstances. pray for each other, but act. do what must be done, even if “what must be done” in that moment is “stay home”.

this disease is already everywhere but, because it moves invisibly and so many places are unable or unwilling to test for it, we just don’t know it yet. i send you my love and my strength as you sent me yours in one of my darkest hours.

from the heart of the plague, i wish you love. i wish you hope. i wish you solidarity and connection.

thank you, my sisters, from my heart and under the mantle of brigid.


Image: "Italy in lockdown about virus as China vows to defeat epidemic" by Gautam Rangappa. March 10, 2020, MashViral.


Tiege McCian said...

Wow such a powerful statement, glad to hear that she is doing alright! Erynn is the woman whose translation of the Cauldron of Poesy is all over the internet, correct? Best wishes to her and to you as well, stay safe!

ps. speaking of people with such enduring legacies, have you noticed that has gone dark? Hope everything is ok there as well. They are both missed.

Mael Brigde said...

Hi, Tiege,

I'm so relieved Erynn made it through okay and that her symptoms are starting to retreat. There is much healing left to do, but she is on her way.

Mary Jones's page is here:

And she is still active on social media, so all is well, methinks.

Stay healthy!