The following guest post is a first hand account of the 1985 measles outbreak at Principia College.
I look back at my days during the 1980’s at Principia college with a lot of mixed feelings. Though initially the place captivated me by the nature of the area and the intelligence of the teachers, the college and its religious principles quickly shaped a lot of my core beliefs on what NOT to do in life.
Nothing would help plant and then solidify a wide range of negative feelings about Principia and the CS religion then when the campus was overtaken by the measles back in 1985.
One thing I discovered when living at Principia College was that important facts and stories were often regulated to rumors – and the beginning spread of the measles epidemic on the campus in 1985 was a vague topic at best.
I heard a few inklings from various people – a mention here and there with lots of missing facts. First there was talk of one person who got a case of measles and disappeared from class…then I heard about a person who might have left to get treatment at a local hospital and died or did they? No one really knew for sure. And then I heard of another person who I knew by name only who mysteriously disappeared but was then rumored to be at the infamous Cox Cottage C.S. treatment area.
But how did this all happen? Just what was the measles anyway? At the time I couldn’t remember what vaccination shots I got for back in my early days. Was I vaccinated for measles? Maybe I got a shot for something – I remember getting some sort of needle prick when I was 4 or 5. But then, I was never told anything – ever. In my early years when the subject did come up with school administrators there was just a lot of hushed talk and paperwork. So was I protected? Or did the C.S. faith protect me? – Did I have anything to be concerned about? How should I deal with a possible outbreak that seemed to be occuring? – ignore it? Pray about it?
Then one Saturday, about a week after the mumblings around campus, I found myself busily working away on a project and suddenly loosing energy. Thinking I had just overworked myself I put it off and just got to bed a little earlier than usual – but come Sunday I definitely felt like things had really amped up. A heavy, foggy sensation seemed to grip me and I became deeply concerned. Then some friends convinced me it might be a good idea to check in at Cox Cottage the Christian Science hospital on campus to just get back on track. Reluctantly, I went off to the somewhat mysterious environment of Christian Science care.
Cox Cottage felt like a combination reading room and some sort inn your grandmother might stay at – didn’t really seem much like a health oriented place. I was put in a room and told to rest. The next day I woke up and much to my surprise there was a top college administrator looking down at me.
“Are you ok? How are you feeling? Have you looked in a mirror? Did you notice any sort of red marks on your face? We think it’s a good idea that you stay here for a couple days.” Sometime during the next day I was moved to another much larger room on a side wing…and then my situation started to become much worse. My body was reacting to something and huge waves of heat and discomfort would flood me for hours on end. Was it a day or two or three that went by?…I hadn’t left the room except to occasionally struggle to the toilet down the hall.
Horribly uncomfortable and fed up one night, I got up and walked into the small, dark lobby that was within a few feet from my room. It must have been 3 or 4 in the morning and I sat reading one of the magazines when one of the nurses came in and completely freaked out – frantically asking me to get back to my room immediately. It was then that I was informed that I was quarantined. I came to the conclusion that I must have gotten the measles. How did that happen? What should I do now? What’s the way to get better? No one would answer these questions or even talk with me about what was happening.
As I lay on a bed struggling with the disturbing sensations of an illness running its course my own ability to do much of anything was regulated to a sort of zombie, living dead like existence. I could barely move – just taking a shower was a harsh adventure in pain. After only a few days new patients were showing up in vast numbers – before I knew it there was another bed moved into my room, then another and another. At all hours of the day people were groaning in pain, throwing up – yelling out various bible versus or just quietly reading the lesson while suffering in pain. But still, no one in authority said anything about what was happening or how to best deal with it. I had no idea that getting measles in your adult years in particular was a really dangerous thing that ultimately could be life threatening.
After about a week I got my parents on the phone. I remember pleading with them to do something but was met with a quiet resignation to just do as I was told – informing me that the best they could do was get a practitioner on the case. At various points during the ordeal I had visitors who could only speak from outside through the window – they would tell me that the campus was under siege with sick people everywhere, students were not allowed to leave at all and one of the houses was going to be converted into a mass quarantine zone with CS nurses flying in from all over the US to deal with the huge numbers that were contracting the illness. The story of Principia’s ordeal was on the national news with an interview with the school’s president too.
Then one night a top school administrator/teacher came by the room to visit one of his students – I remember hearing their discussions about what was happening with a lot of bible chapters and Science and Health versus thrown in by the administrator. Then he said something I’ll never forget – directly blaming the entire outbreak of the disease on the student body themselves claiming we had, “not been praying hard enough.” According to him we had brought the disease on ourselves. Even in my disturbed state I remember feeling an intense anger to him…a complete disbelief that someone could say such a thing.
Finally, after many weeks of pain and redness the disease disappeared in its appearance from my body and I was let go from the care of Cox cottage. Apparently I was “well enough” to be let back in to the college….but “well enough” was a questionable term. I felt like I was still a zombie – barely able to navigate walking and missing a number of abilities like taste, smell, and any sort of long term or short term memory. And there was some issue with my hearing too. But at least I was out of that Cox Cottage prison of C.S. ramblings and hushed talk. The coming weeks I tried to function but it was clear I wasn’t up to it. I’d sit in classes and not be able to remember anything at all. My hair started falling out and later when it grew back in it had changed color and was curly – and remains so decades later.
It would end up taking several months before my senses completely returned. I was most concerned about my hearing, which due to that experience had changed in one of my ears. I went back to Cox cottage and they said not to worry about it, pray – and everything would be fine. It wasn’t. And a few weeks later I forced my parents to get me into an ear doctor who found the problem (which the measles had caused), fixed it, and claimed if I hadn’t dealt with it when I did I probably would have lost all my hearing.
Eventually it was revealed that some of the early “patients” were let out “a little too early.” The days after I struggled to come back – spending a lot of time just slowly moving from class to class and getting a lot of sleep. I remember returning briefly to Cox Cottage to try and cheer up a friend who also was swept up in the epidemic many weeks after I was – he looked terrible but felt like he was doing better. Several days later he died. For spring break many were given the option of either taking a vaccination shot or staying on the campus until the quarantine was over – many took the shot.
I can’t remember the tally of just how many people got the disease – two people died and it seemed from the inside that it had affected hundreds. I attended the wake of my friend that passed and I wondered what more could have been done to save him – to me nothing was done. The entire plan from the schools perspective seemed to be all about praying and praying – but in the end it was all about letting things run it’s course. The results speak for themselves.
As my years went on at the college I would meet this “you’re not praying hard enough” belief system over and over again. In time, like many others I knew who attended the college, the Principia experience served as the catalyst for a complete and total abandoning of the religion – in fact, all religions.
Now over 30 years later, I look back on the experience in a new light. As students caught up in this epidemic we were not given the information needed to make any sort of decisions on our own and we were left to play a sort of Russian roulette in a backwards faith game. The people in charge and their belief system caused students to be horribly tortured and a couple students left to die. And thus, at its most fundamental, basic level the college, staff and most important the religion completely FAILED revealing its arrogance, ignorance and utter stupidity. I cannot forgive or forget what they did – to do so would be to comply with the same criminal behavior they engaged in. No, I remember….
About Patient #5
Patient #5 spent over 20 years involved with the Christian Science faith out of default. From the first remembered experience at a local Sunday School at around the age of 4 Patient #5 had strong internal feelings of not being able to relate to the religion on any level but parental pressures forced a course of continued involvement. This path persisted throughout early life as experiences included forced weekly church attendance, Cedars Camp, and finally Principia College. After graduating from the college in the 1980’s Patient #5 had experienced enough and completely abandoned the religion and any of its affiliations. 30 years later, Patient #5 has come to the strong conclusion that Christian Science has many disturbing cult like tendencies that keep its members from having open minds or the logic to deal with important physical issues. Although Patient #5 ultimately chose a course of abandoning all organized religion, certain religious concepts have been retained – one in particular from the Buddhist faith is the law of Karma. Looking now at Christian Science’s countless empty, closed or closing churches and continued failed member replacement it appears quite clear to Patient #5 that the law of Karma is fully engaged.