Five Questions – Principia Edition – Kat’s Answers

This post is being done in collaboration with my fellow ex-Christian Scientist blogger at Emerging Gently. We have also posed these same questions to other ex-Christian Scientists. Their answers appear in a series of posts on The Ex-Christian Scientist*.

1) Why did you attend Principia?

I had to get away from the toxic culture perpetuated by my high school, there were over 4000 students, and I wanted/needed a change. I had been brutally bullied through middle, felt largely overlooked (but not in a good way) in high school, and wanted a fresh start. No one else from my high school had ever gone to Principia so it seemed unlikely there would be anyone I knew, no preconceived notions about who I was, etc.

Principia was the only college I applied to, and I was fortunate to get really good funding from a variety of sources (not just loans from the college), in exchange for maintaining a 2.5-3.0 (or higher) GPA, and a yearly thank-you note.

2) Did your experiences at Principia impact/influence your views of CS?

Yes! The spectrum of what qualifies as “practicing” “Christian Science” varies wildly. The way Christian Science is put to work at Principia makes me particularly uncomfortable (see my negative experience below).

3) If you had a do-over would you attend Principia again? Why/why not? 

This is a hard one, I met my future husband at Prin — I was not looking for one, in fact I was pretty convinced I was never going to marry a “good little CS boy.” I’m happily married, and I’m unlikely to have met him another way. Would I go advise my 18-year-old self not to apply? No. I like where my life ended up, even if the path to get here was a bit trying at times.

4) Would you recommend Principia to a young CS?

No. Why not? See “related reading” at the bottom

5) Please share one positive experience and one negative experience about your time at the school/college

Positive – I made some truly wonderful friends, I enjoyed the (false) sense of security knowing I was in (what I thought was) a like-minded community, I had travel experiences I would not have had otherwise, and I learned a lot about myself (both good and bad).

Negative – this has been shared as part of a longer post before, but I will excerpt the key portion here:

It was in my early twenties at Principia when I first truly encountered a “serious physical challenge” of the variety that should probably have required an urgent-care clinic. It was finals week and I bumped my chin on my bunk bed. I didn’t think much of it, until my jaw began to swell quite painfully.

I immediately contacted my RC, and a CS nurse came over to take me to Cox Cottage (the CS-nurse headquarters at Principia). She led me to one of the back rooms, told me I could get into bed and listen to the Bible Lesson or other authorized CS-material. I attempted to explain I had an abscessed tooth which needed to drain.* The CS nurse looked at me like I had two heads, she informed me they were “not equipped” to handle such situations, and I was then left alone.

I called my professors to let them know I was on the “in list” at Cox, it was during finals, and I’m pretty sure they didn’t really believe me. You can be “in” at Cox for a variety of reasons, it mostly just counts as an “excused” absence, and (in theory) you have to check in with your RC and be put on the “official” list.**

After about an hour I decided I could be just as miserable in my own bed. I got up to leave, but was convinced to stay by the CSN who made me lunch – grilled cheese and a milkshake. I managed to leave after that, reminding her that I had finals to take and had to finish packing and flying home shortly there after. I made it to most of my finals (although some had to be “made up” at a slightly later time than they’d been scheduled). I’m sure my professors and fellow students noticed my badly swollen jaw, but they said nothing.  I then spent the night in surreal hallucinations.

I was fortunate, at some point in the night the abscess began to drain, the pressure was relived and the swelling began to subside. I “borrowed” some antibacterial mouthwash from one of the women in my dorm, and had my mother schedule a dental appointment for the first day after I got home.

My dentist was HORRIFIED at what had happened. I was lectured that such infections could cause enough swelling to crush my windpipe or cause blood poisoning, either of which, could have killed me. They managed to “save” what was left of the tooth with a root canal.

At the time I was dating a guy who was not a Christian Scientist. He too was horrified at what had happened. Why had no one at Prin said anything or offered to help? Simple, my swollen jaw was a mortal illusion to be corrected through prayerThe CS Nurse, while very sweet, is trained by the church in strictly non-medical methods, forbidden to diagnose disease or dispense medicine, and was completely useless. I also didn’t quite realize how dangerous the situation was, I knew I was uncomfortable, I knew I should get to a dentist ASAP, but really, what’s another day or two?

In my case, while I felt prayer could help mitigate some of the fear, it was also a dental issue, I have struggled for years with dental issues and had never been able to pray about them with any level of success. I needed and expected medical treatment, but at Principia getting access to medical care is nearly impossible and anything other than radically relying on Christian Science is frowned upon from the highest levels.

I also wouldn’t have know where to start. I didn’t have a car, I didn’t trust my RC, my friends and I had finals, I didn’t have any sort of health insurance (much less dental coverage), and the idea of finding a dentist in rural Illinois, getting there, paying for it all, and making it home at the end of the term felt like insurmountable obstacles.

* I am a fairly competent person when it comes to dental issues, I’ve had more than my share of dental work done over the years as dental work is one of those areas that is a rather “grey zone” in CS. The tooth in question had given me problems on at least one other occasion, and had a deep filling which had been knocked free. 

** There are so many issues with this system, I don’t even know where to start.

Reading over this now, I am horrified by my RC and professors non-reaction to my condition, my face was obviously badly swollen on one side, and I was in a tremendous amount of pain. When I did show up to take my final my professor didn’t say anything, and seemed irritated that I’d missed the scheduled time.

The Cox Cottage nurses were useless. I asked for something to lance the abscess in my gums to relive the pressure, but they looked at me like I had two heads and I was informed “we don’t do that here.” I spent a night alone in my room hallucinating with a high fever and struggling to breathe  as the infection crept down the side of my jaw and into my neck. It could have been potentially fatal, crushing my windpipe, eventually the situation did resolve itself (the abscess ruptured) and the puss drained. I don’t think I have ever been so glad to get to a dentist’s office as I felt after that particular experience.

Related Reading 

In the interest of full disclosure, it should be noted that the author of this blog is also an editor/developer of The Ex-Christian Scientist website.

2 thoughts on “Five Questions – Principia Edition – Kat’s Answers

  1. Wendy Rigby says:

    Horrible, simply horribly horrifically horrible! I can relate. The issue that completely severed my ties to CS was a similar thing except it was ovarian and I spent 10 days in hospital after a near death experience! Wherever there is swelling and infection, there is danger. Principia was very irresponsible.

    • kat says:

      CS nurses are simply not trained for such situations, and while I may have legally been an adult (I was in my very early 20s), I still needed guidance (and medical care!) and they dropped the ball. I’m very fortunate that it was near a school break, and I was able to get home and get to a dentist ASAP, I’m not sure what I would have done mid-quarter!

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