This is a blog I published years ago here and in other places on the net. Lately, I have had a number of spiritual disappointments in my life: a soul-felt love that turned sour, a godchild who grew to be an atheist, and a godchild who let the drama unfolding around him daily push him away from his ocha just 7 days before the river ceremony. It’s left me feeling empty; and I’m like a zombie reading through old blogs and journals, looking for pieces I’ve written that reaffirm my own faith and love for the orishas. I’ve been through a lot in my life with Obatalá, Oyá, and Elegguá; and although I doubted neither their existence nor their ashé, there were times that my burdens were too great to bear, and I wondered if I truly belonged in this faith.
I found this blog, and it reminded me how, even in my worst hour before leaving to do santo in New York, I didn’t doubt that Obatalá had a plan for me. For you see . . . I flew to New York a dying man. I was in Congestive Heart Failure, and my specialist wanted me in the hospital. He called the house the morning I was leaving to go to the airport, demanding I make myself a direct admission to the nearest hospital. I was weak. I couldn’t breathe. My feet and legs were the size of footballs and turning blue. Without medical intervention, I would be dead in a few days, if not sooner, but, I had faith. And I took that leap of faith. And here I sit, writing this to you.
My heart is just fine.
This is the story of my ultimate leap of faith, and how it changed my life from one of disability to one of health, and one of chaos to one of order. I hope those who need to hear this read it . . . before it’s too late. We’re only offered a miracle once; and if we turn it away, it might never be offered again.
All of us who come to the religion have a story to share, a reason that we sought out the healing powers of the orishas, and ocha. I’ve never told mine to anyone; today, I thought I’d share it.
For Yemayá saved my life. Obatalá saved my life. And every day that I live, I live on borrowed time. I have to acknowledge this every day that I wake up, and hope that the orishas give me yet another full day to live.
Rewind in time to 9/11. It was a scary time for everyone, even those not directly involved in the World Trade Center tragedy. Everything changed. And everyone was worried about biological attack – specifically, smallpox. Hospitals were given in-services and training on how to handle an outbreak of specific biological agents, and smallpox was at the top of the list. We were told that should there be a biological attack using this agent, many of us would get sick, and most of us would probably die in the line of duty. It was crazy.
Yes, of all diseases, we had to be most worried about smallpox. A disease we thought had been wiped out in the modern world was still in storage in the vaults of radical Muslim terrorists, we were told, and at any moment, it could be used to wipe out a huge chunk of the world’s population. There was no longer an effective vaccine for this virus anywhere. And the rush was on to create a new one.
By December 17, 2002 (anyone recognize that as Babaluaiye’s feast day?), a smallpox vaccine was made available that the government said was 100% safe for those who had the original smallpox vaccine as children. The risk of adverse side effects was negligible, the health departments told us, and they asked for medical personnel to volunteer for this vaccine. Specifically, it was made from a weakened strain of the vaccinia virus, but if the body could fight that off, it could fight off any virus in the family, including smallpox.
The government, the health department, and the hospital begged for volunteers to create and staff an emergency preparedness plan for our region, and the state of Florida. It involved being vaccinated with smallpox and other agents, and being the first line of defense should a biological attack begin. Almost everyone refused to volunteer, except for a small handful of RNs and Techs at our hospital, Central Florida Regional Hospital.
Not a single doctor volunteered. They were afraid. Yet anyone who knows someone dedicated to nursing knows that, for the most part, we’re always concerned about the greater good, and being of service to others. Often more so than the doctors themselves. There’s a selfless altruism ingrained in the psyche of a nurse: RN, LPN, or CNA. We’re the ones who care for those who can’t care for themselves, and that, in essence, is who we are – caregivers.
I was one of the dozen employees at a hospital with more than 200 RNs and Techs who volunteered to be a part of this project. Everyone was afraid in spite of their sense of duty.
I was in-serviced and vaccinated with the weakened vaccinia virus in February of 2003. Within four weeks, I was incredibly ill. I was one of the handfuls who suffered the adverse cardiac effects: a swelling of the sac enclosing the heart. The virus also took up residence around my aorta, and caused swelling of tissues there. It was a slow process as the virus took up residence in places it wasn’t meant to go – by the end of March, beginning of April, I was very sick.
I wasn’t the only one who suffered. At our sister hospital in Tampa, five people who were vaccinated died from the side-effects. The virus caused cardiac arrest and heart attacks as tissues swelled and blood flow was quelled.
There was no treatment for this. VAG was in short supply, and as long as symptoms were “manageable” they advised rest. I was in pain for weeks; my chest would feel tight, as if something were rubbing, and the angina caused by the swollen tissue cutting off blood supply to my heart was agonizing. The hospital did not want to treat us; they said it wasn’t their fault. The health department backed out, and tried to deny any involvement in the project. My private insurance wouldn’t pay for testing or treatment, because they insisted this was a workman’s comp issue. And because this was new territory, both ID physicians and cardiologists weren’t sure how to treat us. To cover their own licenses, they told us the pain and symptoms “were all in our heads” and farmed our treatment out to other doctors, who in turn sent us to others.
This is how it was, until people started dying.
My ocha was already scheduled for May 10, 2003. The derecho was paid, people were lifted, and animals were ordered when, finally, after fighting for a CT scan of my chest it was discovered that my aorta was affected by the virus. It was swollen into something that looked weak and ready to burst. The CT scan was done one day before my flight to New York. By this time, I was in congestive heart failure. My extremities, specifically my feet, were swelling and turning bluish. My lungs felt congested.
But I had faith in Obatalá. I went to NY the next day for my ocha. My cardiologist tried to call me before I left. He had a direct admission for me to the hospital. I ignored the phone call. He was furious.
My godsister was at my ocha; she is, of course, a medical doctor. On the pilon, my feet swelled to the size of footballs and turned blue. She wanted to call 911, and send me to the hospital. My godfather said, “Have faith. Stuart does. Obatalá will take care of him.” Of course being a child of Shangó she had faith, but being a medical doctor, she was worried. Someone in CHF is delicate; someone in CHF could simply die at anytime without medical intervention.
Congestive Heart Failure doesn’t go away. It’s manageable, but it’s a chronic condition. When I returned to Florida more than a week later, I went to see a very angry cardiologist. He demanded another CT of the chest; I had it done that same day. The swelling around my aorta was gone. The swelling of the pericardial sack was gone. My blood work was normal. It was as if I’d never been in congestive heart failure, and suddenly, I had a perfectly healthy heart.
He was amazed.
There are times, now, when my feet swell, specifically the right one; but my doctor says its from long 12 hour shifts worked 4, 5, sometimes 6 days a week. I’ll always have that problem, but it’s not due to going back into CHF. It simply is what it is.
After doing my santo, it was as if . . . I’d never been sick!
So that’s my personal story of healing at the hands of the orishas. I should be dead, or disabled, but ocha gave me a second chance. Obatalá took away the sickness that was in my body, and I walk around today with nothing more than the normal aches and pains of a 46 year old man.
And this is why I say, “Maferefún Obatalá!” every day of my life. She gave me back my life, and it belongs to her.
I give it to her gladly. I’d hate to see what my life would be like now . . . if I’d listened to my doctor and sat in a hospital bed while I should have been on the pilon. The possibilities make me shudder.
Expect more faith-based blogs like this out of me over the next few months. Truly, as priests and priestesses, I think we need to spend more time speaking of the emotional, physical, psychological, and mental healing that the orishas and the rituals of ocha give us. There's not enough testaments of faith in our ranks, and we need to show our own congregations, out godchildren, the miracles the orishas have wrought in our lives.