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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:
Continue reading

Does Quantum Physics Validate Christian Science? 

The following post is by guest contributor realscience

This is the first of two posts critiquing a lecture at Principia College by Laurance Doyle, Ph.D., entitled, “The Metaphysics of Quantum Physics.” Doyle’s talk makes two basic claims: (1) quantum physics validates Christian Science; and (2) Mary Baker Eddy anticipated the findings of 20th century physics. This post tackles the first claim; I will address the second in a later post.


Fifteen years ago physicist and former Christian Scientist, Robert L. Miller, published an article in the journal Skeptic entitled, “Christian Science and the Perversion of Quantum Physics.” Laurance Doyle, an astrophysicist and Christian Scientist, had been proclaiming a metaphysical interpretation of quantum physics that was at odds with generally accepted interpretations and wrong on the physics to boot. Well, Doyle is still at it, perverting theory and experiment to evangelize lay Christian Scientists with the notion that quantum physics validates their religion and that Mary Baker Eddy had a prescient understanding of scientific reality.

Doyle gave a lecture last April at Principia College where he is director of the oxymoronic “Institute for the Metaphysics of Physics”) on “The Metaphysics of Quantum Physics.” I suppose a talk of that flavor to a community of believers is to be expected, but it is clear from the expressionless faces in the audience that the physics he presented was far over-the-heads of most. I don’t believe anyone in Cox Auditorium that day had sufficient knowledge to question anything Doyle said. Indeed, I suspect the Christian Science community as a whole reveres Dr. Doyle as an unassailable authority on quantum physics.

In fact, however, Doyle is far out of the mainstream of physics consensus. Anyone who has attended a scientific conference knows how participants will challenge others’ hypotheses and interpretations of experimental results, all for the advancement of understanding–but this won’t happen at Principia College. If Doyle were to give this same presentation to a group of his peers at a physics symposium (even stripped of its references to Mary Baker Eddy and Christian Science) he would be interrupted and challenged on nearly every slide.

1. The experimenter is not separable from his experiment.

Doyle repeatedly misstates the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics promulgated by Niels Bohr by declaring that “the experimenter is not separable from the experiment” (referring to the famous double-slit experiment). Doyle believes that the experimenter’s mind affects quantum behavior: “What you can know about the experiment turns out to be what’s important.” But Bohr was explicit that it is the measuring apparatus (rather than the mind of the experimenter) that is inseparable from the behavior of the particles: The experiment “implies the impossibility of any sharp separation between the behaviour of atomic objects and the interaction with the measuring instruments which serve to define the conditions under which the phenomena appear.”1

Doyle is incorrect when he declares, “Particles do not exist until they are observed” (i.e., by a human experimenter). Science writer Eliot Hawkins explains his error:

This is where people sometimes get confused and misinterpretations occur. . . . To us regular folks, “observation” means looking at something, seeing something happen. That’s not even close to what it means to quantum physicists. To them, it means measuring. . . . These vastly different definitions left us regular joe’s thinking that reality is unresolved until we look at it and that quantum states didn’t resolve until the information had managed to filter through our human minds.2

2. An underlying immediate connectedness exists between all elementary particles that make up all things.

Doyle bases this assertion on the phenomenon of quantum entanglement, in which particles of common origin and shared properties appear to be “aware” of each other’s states when separated (and theoretically the separation distance is unlimited). Although it defies our common sense, the phenomenon is reliably observable in experiments. Doyle believes that experiments to test Bell’s Theorem prove that entangled particles “communicate” their status via a mechanism that operates faster than the speed of light. But he faces a formidable hurdle with that inference because it conflicts with Einstein’s general theory of relativity, which has been exhaustively validated experimentally. Most physicists reject the notion that superluminal communication is what’s happening in the Bell’s Inequality experiments, and recent experiments continue to demonstrate that faster-than-light transmission is impossible.

Entanglement can be produced in the laboratory, but it is a fragile condition that is instantly destroyed when particles are disturbed by interactions from outside their closed system. Consequently, the random and chaotic nature of the universe ensures that any sort of underlying entanglement or awareness among all particles in the cosmos is impossible.

3. “History” can be changed.

As strange as it seems, experiments with individual particles have shown that at the quantum level time can run backwards. Doyle suggests that this phenomenon raises the interesting possibility of reversing time at macroscopic levels (“changing history”).

Time, like position and momentum, is a probabilistic phenomenon. At the level of individual particles the probability of time going either direction can be high. But at scales greater than small numbers of particles the probability of time reversal increasingly approaches zero. Consequently, at the macroscopic scale in which we live time is an irreversible forward arrow hurtling in the direction of greater entropy, as the second law of thermodynamics requires. Zoran Pazameta explains:

In Einstein’s physics causality holds in all domains of the natural world, but quantum theory allows for violation of microcausality at the (microscopic) quantum level. In our macroscopic world, however, causality holds absolutely. This is one important reason why time travel is impossible; to go backwards in time means reversing every cause-and-effect event in the entire universe between then and now.3

Dr. Doyle’s central argument that modern physics validates Christian Science is a willful misinterpretation of the science. If physics actually validated his three assertions then we could plausibly believe that human thought determines what is real; that every particle of the universe is united under one mind; and that mental force can change the history of human experience (including, I suppose, raising the dead). But Doyle’s assertions are not validated by physics: they are all incorrect. No, Dr. Doyle, quantum physics does not validate Christian Science.

It should be a matter of concern that Dr. Doyle misrepresents physical science to an audience of students in order to promote a metaphysical system. It is unfortunate that students at Principia College will not be exposed to other perspectives on the implications of modern physics, which are indeed fascinating. Principia College remains an intellectually closed community on matters that may challenge Christian Science theology. These students deserve better. Continue reading

PATIENT #5

The following guest post is a first hand account of the 1985 measles outbreak at Principia College


PROLOGUE

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.

THE BEGINNING

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.

THE END

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.

measles at Prin 1989 (follow-up)

From my e-mail, a follow-up corroboration of measles at Prin 1989:

That is about how I remember it, though I don’t remember a whole lot. This a really good account.
.
When I was first transferred to the middle school wing, I remember they tricked me and said I’d only be there for a night. Then they didn’t let me leave and shortly afterward they decided that no one was allowed to leave their rooms there – maybe because they were mixing people with colds with people with measles and were hoping to avoid cross-contamination? It didn’t last.
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I also remember that damn clapper on the TV and how every time someone coughed it would turn off.
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Also the milkshakes. They went through the trash to see who wasn’t drinking theirs. If you didn’t have the appetite for a milkshake you were getting sicker and went to campus house.
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I remember very little about campus house. Except I can corroborate the no baths thing. I must have worn the same underwear for days. Gross.
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Oh, and remember how kids could get vaccinated so they could leave campus? Except I swear they vaccinated kids who had been in the quarantine wing and had clearly been exposed. I want to say [students name redacted] got double measles from it.

And an additional note from the original guest poster:
I suspect I only had a cold and they put me in the the measles area. Because I was fine for a long time before I got really sick… Though I could also have been in denial.

Additional information about measles and the dangers of not vaccinating

Additional information about the Principia Measles outbreaks (both 1985 and 1989)

Additional information about Christian Science and measles

Debunking this article from the Christian Science Monitor

From Lucia Greenhouse, shared with permission.


Debunking this article from the Christian Science Monitor:
“Why do some parents choose not to vaccinate? (From the Christian Science Monitor (Feb 3, 2015) By Amanda Paulson, Staff writer FEBRUARY 3, 2015

It’s a question that’s being asked with increased intensity and often hostility in the wake of a measles outbreak at Disneyland. Parents who decide not to vaccinate their children are often well educated and cite complex reasons….”

http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Society/2015/0203/Measles-outbreak-Why-do-some-parents-choose-not-to-vaccinate

Full disclosure: I probably–no, definitely, fall into the “hostility” camp for reasons that I make plain in my memoir “fathermothergod.” (Crown Publishers, 2011.) In the days to come I will be delving more deeply into the Christian Science Church’s response to the measles outbreaks (or lack thereof) , and the Christian Science Monitor’s curious coverage of the recent and very newsworthy Measles/vaccine exemption debate–but my knee-jerk reaction to today’s piece in the Christian Science Monitor is this: in 1800 words , Christian Science gets a mere ten, buried almost half-way down the piece. This is it:
“(Many Christian Science families also seek religious exemptions from vaccines.)”

The Christian Science Church has been–until relatively recently, anyway– a strong advocate–and a powerful one too boot– for religious exemptions to states’ vaccination laws. Why? The Christian Science Church’s most devout members practice radical reliance on prayer over medicine. And they do this because for over a hundred and twenty-five years, radical reliance has been the linchpin of religious observance in the practice of Christian Science. But what is noticeably absent from the Monitor’s story today: Christian Science affiliated institutions have been ground zero for well-documented, vaccine-preventable outbreaks: in 1985 an outbreak of measles at The Principia College (for Christian Scientists), resulting in three deaths and over 120 confirmed or suspected cases. In 1985, and again in 1989, there were measles outbreaks at Christian Science summer camps (the first in Colorado, the second in Missouri) which subsequently spread to the campers’ home-states; In 1994, an outbreak, again at the Principia schools, that spread beyond the two campuses and led to a significant public health problem, infecting 241 people. (Keep in mind, too, that Christian Science doctrine refutes the “theory” of contagion.”)*

PS: the byline. Amanda Paulson. Ring a bell? Think: Christian Science, Politics, Finance, Clout.  Father is Hank Paulson, Christian Scientist, former CEO Goldman Sachs, former Treasury Secretary circa 2008. Amanda: where do you stand on vaccines and religious exemptions?

*http://childrenshealthcare.org

1989 Measles at Principia Upper School – a first hand account

The following guest post is a a first hand account of the 1989 measles outbreak at the Principia Upper School.


What were your experiences with CS nursing while at Prin during the measles outbreak? How did they diagnose it since they’re trained to see disease as unreal & contagion as just as unreal?


This measles epidemic hit at the beginning of my first year at Principia Upper School, in fall of 1989.  I was fifteen and it was the first time I had attended a boarding school or been away from my family. The student population was almost entirely unvaccinated due to Christian Science beliefs. The first quarter, I was paired with another sophomore named A___. She was a most unusual combination of kind, unconcerned with appearances, and popular. And she was totally into CS, or appeared to be on the outside. A tranquil understanding of the philosophy, is how I would describe it, although it sounds strange to say it that way now as ex-CS but that is how I remember perceiving her. A___ tells me “I’m not going to get sick, you’re not going to get sick”, and I was like huh? cause it really seems like we’re all getting sick but you seem so sure about it. So that kind of worked and I remember thinking, ok, of course we’re not going to get sick.

Then one Sunday after church A___ laid down and didn’t get back up, just laid there with her eyes closed, skin blotching up, listening to CS tapes. I was scared. Still nobody said anything, but frequently housemoms, the women employed by Principia to live in the dorms with us, one per wing, and act as our guardians, would walk by and look in the door at A___ without comment to either of us. Eventually a housemom came and took A___ away. The dorm got really quiet. Lots of kids came down with it the same weekend that A___ did. I’m happy to presume I felt this way for my own reasons, but I definitely felt that I was expected not to get it, in the same way I would be expected not to sneak off campus or expected not to skip my homework.

The housemoms never said “measles”, only the kids spoke of it– “some kids have measles”, “this one has it now”, “so and so’s roommate was gone when she came back from practice.” But no one in the administration talked about it. They would just tell you reassuringly that they were “taking good care of” your roommate (anyone who got spots disappeared shortly thereafter). The housemoms did not say anything about your symptoms, they would just appear at your bedside after you’d been down for the count for a few hours to a day, and they’d say ‘Come with me, honey. Is there anything you want to bring?’ There was no communication from administration otherwise.

As the epidemic started up, they put students who showed measles symptoms in Campus House, which was a separate residence on campus for students sick enough to need care from a CS nurse. That filled up quickly, with a combination of students who had measles symptoms as well as kids in there for other reasons. They were not segregated. Next, they started putting sick kids in the middle school quarters of each dorm. There were no middle school boarders at the time and those attached quarters had been locked and empty. Soon they were full.

At that point, they expanded the quarantined area to include, in each dorm, the entire wing leading to the middle school quarters. This is a couple dozen rooms per dorm we’re talking, on top of all the rest. They relocated the remaining non-afflicted students living in those wings to other, now empty, beds belonging to students who had been moved into quarantine. It was just like, ‘take your clothes and shoes and go live in this other kid’s room, we’re putting a measles-ridden student in your bed/room now.’ They had a big sheet NAILED OVER THE DOORWAY to the “quarantined” wing of the dorm. And in the girls dorm anyway, that was the wing straight in front of you when you entered– the view from the windowed housemom station, the communication hub of the dorm. It was very strange to see things in this state of affairs after growing up in a first-world country.

The campus was quarantined; no day students were allowed on campus and no boarders allowed off, but this was not enacted until the school was instructed to by authorities. There was a “quarantined” tape across the school’s front driveway/entrance and it was on the local news. We sat and watched the news until the housemoms caught us.

A day or two after A___ fell ill, they came for me. I really was shocked to have gotten sick. Nobody said anything or said I had measles, they just brought me to a room in the middle school quarters. It felt unreal. Everybody else there was sicker than me so I just made my deductions about what was coming by looking at them. Okay, looks like I’m gonna have a heavy cold, be covered in rough red bumps and lumps that itch, and have glassy eyes and stare at the wall and drink milkshakes.

God, how those women resented making us those milkshakes. You know who is the absolute Worst group of people in the entire world to have care for a bunch of sick children? Christian Scientists. They were feeding us milkshakes with raw eggs snuck into in them because they thought it was a good source of extra calories, I guess. But isn’t that a terrible idea? To feed uncooked, possibly salmonella-carrying eggs to children whose immune systems are fighting off the measles with no medical help? That seems like a terrible idea to me, I don’t know.

There was so much inexplicable conflict and tension over feeding us. For the most part, we couldn’t eat real food because the insides of our throats were coated with measles pustules and we couldn’t swallow. So like, aren’t you actually getting off the hook here because you don’t have to cook us anything? But I guess if we could’ve eaten real food they could’ve utilized the cafeteria menu and wouldn’t have had to do ANYTHING except sit around judging us for being sick. In any case, I don’t care WHAT you give me to suck on because I am half dead. If a milkshake is such a pain in the ass then just pour me a glass of milk or whatever, who cares. I don’t even want your milkshake that’s served with resentment. You’re the nut jobs who are panicking about getting enough calories into us while simultaneously pretending we’re not almost dying of measles.

It was like being cared for by twelve resentful stepparents or something. It was all local CS nurses and practitioners and local CS mothers/wives. They did almost nothing for us. We didn’t get bathed because we couldn’t stand and they never suggested that we do so with help. I think I went about eight days without bathing. They didn’t even wash our hair, mine was oily from the roots out about four inches.

There were no thermometers anywhere on campus although the sick all had raging fevers. There were no medications or medicated products of any kind offered. I would be staggering up and down the hall to the bathroom clearly in need of assistance, in full view of the kitchen where they all congregated, and they pretended not to see. The CS nurses and other helpers didn’t go down to the rooms much actually, where the sicker kids were. They hung out in the living room with the less sick and read CS literature out loud, etc. (We were not allowed to watch anything on television that was deemed a distraction from our healing process.) Observing this healthier crowd in the living room was what had given me my initial, and as it turned out, extremely optimistic perception of what having measles was going to be like. If someone started coughing uncontrollably in one of the rooms the women would look at each other knowingly and sort of roll their eyes and sigh like “what an incompetent, I guess one of has to go sit with them and read to them.” Teachers would come by and visit sometimes, which was a bright spot, and regularly I would notice a CS nurse or one of the other congregated CSers peeping in my door. But this didn’t offer much other than a sense that someone would probably notice within a few minutes if I got to where I couldn’t breathe at all or I fell or something.

The school administration “strongly encouraged” our families to use (and pay) local practitioners instead of our family practitioners, which even back then in my almost eternal naivete, I knew was a bad idea motivated by a desire to fund the local practitioners who were going to be asked to help out locally with the milkshakes and the ignoring and such. So I didn’t even have communication with my practitioner-since-birth. (Not that I really felt that attached to her, as you can imagine.) Instead I was assigned this cold local practitioner who tired of my through-the-night phone calls when I got a horrible ear infection near the end of my measles. She was like “isn’t there someone THERE who can help you?” and I was like (some shy fifteen year old’s version of) “NO of course there is no one here I can find to help me, why else do you think I would call you four times between 2 and 4 AM in panicked agony when you clearly don’t even LIKE me?”

I wish I had a photo of myself. Eyes hopelessly glued shut with pus at all times, red measles so dense and scaly they only died out around the eyes, where the skin turned deathly white. I remember thinking I looked like one of the performers in makeup for the Broadway show CATS, which was popular at the time. Like a leopard, and then the crazy-looking dirty hair sticking out in all directions around my face. But the fever-induced hallucinations were the worst. They came any time I had to do anything for myself or try to reason at all. The strongest impression I retained from the whole experience was once when I was trying to alternately walk and crawl down the hall to the bathroom and the hallway was growing in length like that scene from the end of the movie ‘Poltergeist’. I remember it as having taken about five minutes for me to progress down the hall to the bathroom. Several years later when we had middle school boarders at the school again (that started back up in fall 1991 when I was a senior) I walked down to the now-unlocked wing and was startled to realize that the room I had stayed in was only three doors down from the bathroom.

I also remember standing in the dark little dorm room and staring at myself in the mirror (though I had been instructed not to look at “the material picture”) seeing myself swaying slightly, and thinking, how can I be this sick, all of us this sick, and everyone is acting normal? They’re not even being NICE to us! And I was shocked that my parents didn’t fly out. Most other kids had at least one parent or another visit at some point. Or maybe not most, I don’t know. They did discourage parents from coming, no surprise there. My parents took the ‘out’.

So, I’ve been quarantined with the rest of the sickos for a while now, and my symptoms have greatly worsened. I haven’t breathed through my nose in days and it’s now gotten to where I can’t breathe through my mouth either because I’m literally drowning in mucus. It also happens that I have extremely chapped and cracked lips which are covered in dried blood, but I’m unaware of that because I’m delirious with fever and also because the state of my lips is very low on my priority list. To the appearance-obsessed CS crowd taking care of us, perhaps my bloody lips were the most offensive symptom I was presenting.

Anyway, in the absence of any sort of real caregiving, I determine that a great way to stay alive would be to CRAWL to the bathroom, wet a washcloth with hot water, and hold it to my mouth and breathe through it so that it would melt the mucus enough that I could cough some up and swallow some down and be able to breathe for maybe ten minutes. So I do this repeatedly, and no one seems to notice, until this one lady who I will refer to as megabitch to protect her identity and also because she was a megabitch, decides to “help”. She finds me laying under the sinks in the bathroom, takes my life-giving washcloth away, says, “honey that’s not going to help your lips” and guides me back to my room.

Well, I have no idea what has just happened. It makes no sense to me, but I am very sick and confused and I kind of realize that. There’s nothing else to do but crawl back to the bathroom again once the choking starts back up. I settle back in bed with my temporarily hot washcloth and she appears again, wordlessly snatches it away and leaves without a glance, or she would have seen me desperately trying to explain how much I needed the washcloth and what I had to go through to get it since no help was forthcoming. All this lady can see is chapped lips, she is actually pretending I am not dying of pneumonia in front of her.

The next time she flounces into my room to snatch away my washcloth (where did this vigilant oversight come from all of a sudden?) I gather my wits and make a desperate attempt to communicate with her to please not take away my washcloth and to explain to her why I need it, but the wrong words come out. My fever-addled brain is picking nonsense words. I hear them and I know they are not the words I meant to say but I can’t fix it. I start to cry. I’m so thirsty. I can’t get enough air, I haven’t for hours now. She leans down over me looking straight into my eyes with the sanctimonious perfume of CS-ery just wafting off of her, and says “You DON’T need to rely on material objects for comfort! How about some Vaseline?”

How does a reasoning person utter that sentence and not hear how completely insane it is?

When she went for my washcloth this time, I clung to it and kicked her right in the shins. That’s why you shouldn’t deny fever-reducing drugs to fifteen year olds (or anyone.) I was so delirious. I felt I was fighting for my life. In retrospect, I’m pretty sure I actually was fighting for my life. But I was an obedient and easily intimidated kid, and I had never behaved like that with an authority figure.

The absolute nadir of my measles adventure came a few days later. I had been staying in the same room in the middle school quarters from the time I was originally removed from my normal assigned dorm room. I got sick near the height of the epidemic; the last to get sick were in the makeshift dorm wings. As the first to get sick (mostly at Campus House and a few in the middle school quarter) began to recover, Prin was hot hot hot to get those makeshift sick wings returned to normal dormitory use (the ones with the sheets hanging in the archways) because there’s absolutely no way that was kosher in terms of meeting the conditions of the quarantine. With that in mind, they divided us up into either Very Sick or Almost Dying so that they could move the Almost Dying kids over to Campus House where they’d be in a separate building that was actually intended for caring for sick students, and they could then consolidate the Very Sick kids all back into the Middle School quarters of each dorm, where there was an actual door they could lock and put the quarantine sign on. So it’s not that this was a bad idea.

They tell me to get my stuff together and they are going to drive me over to Campus House. Folks, I do not know why this was my breaking point but it was. I mean this fever I had was FANTASTIC, unquestionably it was in the 103-106* range because I was hallucinating and convulsing, and it had gone on for days with no medication or hydration. Anyway, I lost my damn mind. I cried hysterically. I refused to go to Campus House. “I’m getting better! I’m fine! I feel great!” I had absolutely no voice, of course, okay? Not even a whisper. Nothing. Just the horrible, wet, racking cough punctuating everything.

I break away from my caregivers’ grasp, lock myself in the nurse’s station and begin desperately calling each of my parents in turn, collect, because I think that I can tell my parents to tell Prin not to move me to Campus House. Number one, the operator cannot hear me. It takes several attempts before I successfully communicate with one. But even when the operator puts a call goes through, my parents can’t hear me either and hang up. Start over. Try other parent. Same problem. Through all this there is a crowd of CS nurses & housemoms knocking on the door trying to reason with me. High drama. Finally I luck out with a compassionate (and especially acute-of-hearing) phone operator who attempts to slightly explain the phone call, and Mom figures it out. “Elizabeth?? Is that you??” and she lets me freak out for a while, and then convinces me to go to Campus House. So I did.

The first exchange I had upon arriving at Campus House was with a certain CS Teacher (CSB’s) wife who was helping out during the epidemic. She asked me if I “should really be eating that Popsicle, dear?” I was overweight, and so shocked at her remark that I did not have the presence of mind to point out that 1. none of you are tracking or communicating to each other what any of us are eating, so really? Really, lady? and 2. I have measles IN MY THROAT. That’s how much measles I have. ALL I’ve eaten for the last ten days is popsicles and milkshakes! And nothing. Mostly nothing. Also, surely you’re not suggesting that these material popsicles can influence my weight? Because if you ARE suggesting that, then this entire measles epidemic is a complete hypocrisy! I mean, you’d basically be torturing children under a bullsh*t premise! Hahahahah!!! Crazy!

In closing, and although it is also a compliment I actually say this to emphasize how horribly the measles thing was handled, I loved Prin. I had a great time, I have lots of fond memories, and other than this instance and a few other WTF conversational exchanges with administration, I have no complaints, so this is not a “Prin sucked” thing. This is someone who had a largely positive Prin experience saying that the measles epidemic was a fiasco, and that CSers actually have no business caring for the very ill (and particularly the underaged) unless they are there only for spiritual support and are working in conjunction with actual nurses who know what the hell they are doing and how to treat the sick with a modicum of compassion. Prin mismanaged it, and the CS nursing staff & local support team mistreated and neglected us. Really badly.

My roommate A___ made it through the measles epidemic but died shortly after graduation. She came down with a respiratory illness while she was studying in Europe, and she didn’t go to the doctor. Her flatmates found her unresponsive and brought her in, and she died in the hospital. I’ve pondered this over the years because many of us had lasting effects from the measles. I have somewhat chronic strep throat due to scarring in my throat from the measles. Several of my friends reported that they had chronic chest coughs well into their college years (4-6 years on).


Elizabeth was a 4th generation Christian Scientist and attended Principia Upper School for three years. She boarded on the Upper School campus during the 1989 outbreak.

To contact Elizabeth, please e-mail excsmemoir (at) gmail (dot) com, subject: “Elizabeth’s measles story”

Edited 2/3/2015 to protect privacy and fix a few typos.