fathermothergod: doing your part for the Cause

This is another one of the books that has been sitting on my desk for longer than it should have. This post contains some affiliate links. Thank you for your support of kindism.org


I’ve put down Dennet’s Darwin’s Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life (see previous post) — an excellent read, but rather heavy — in favor of Lucia Greenhouse’s fathermothergod: My Journey Out of Christian Science — the blogger over at Emerging Gently assured me it was a “quick read” and I needed a break from deep philosophical musings.

fathermothergod is indeed a quick read, I finished it in a little over a day, and it hit all the emotional buttons. My husband found me in tears and told me I didn’t need to finish the book, I did anyway, I had to even though I knew how it was going to end. The story told in fathermothergod simultaneously validates my own experience, and gives me a preview of (and new perspective on) what I may face in the future with family members who remain steadfastly in Christian Science.

My father, much like Greenhouse’s, was a convert to Christian Science; my mother converted “out of convenience.” The father-know’s-best attitude that prevailed throughout echoed my childhood as well. Greenhouse’s father took a more extreme path with his practice of Christian Science than mine did, choosing to become a Christian Science Practitioner and then Teacher. Greenhouse’s father reminds his children on p. 59 that

you are in a sense doing your part for the Cause. There is a real need for Christian Science worldwide, and this is one way you can play a part. An important part.

The Cause of Christian Science can be quite compelling. For those who have the opportunity to participate it is seen as a “real gift” as Greenhouse’s father, my mother, and countless other Christian Scientists have said.

As a child, Christian Science was hard to explain as a religion in which I participated, but I can only being to imagine how hard it was to explain being a Christian Scientist Practitioner’s daughter. Greenhouse recounts her father’s reaction to her decision to get glasses, and how this is seen as a failing on her part, really, shouldn’t she give Christian Science a chance?

fathermothergod touches on some of the elephants in the Christian Scientists living room: secrecy surrounding illness, the idea that Christian Science must be protected (from what, I’m still not sure), the tremendously large abstract concepts that young children are expected to understand and demonstrate. Mortal mind, error, protective work. Having been raised in Christian Science, I found myself nodding knowingly when Greenhouse’s parents espouse these beliefs, I find this story quite relatable, and I feel the deepest sympathy for her non-Christian Science family members.

Reading about Greenhouse’s mother’s health challenges difficult, as was the family drama that played out around it. The line between respecting decisions — even when you disagree with them — and stepping in to intervene is a very fine. Regardless what you choose to do, you will be criticized by someone for your actions.

My parents sought medical care when my father’s health began to fail. It was selective and inconsistent, but I credit the medical intervention that was given with the extra ten years we had with Dad. As my mother put it once, she’d seen too many people “radically rely themselves into an early grave” and she wasn’t going to let that happen. It was difficult, his health problems started while I was still immersed in Christian Science (and attending Principia), and by the time he died, I was well on my way out.

I highly recommend fathermothergod, it demonstrates many of the concepts of Christian Science in their real-world application and not just abstract theories. fathermothergod also does an excellent example of portraying the emotional strain placed on children of Christian Scientists, as well as the relationship complexities when non-science family is involved.

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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.
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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

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.

the healing ministry of Christian Science nursing

This post is also up as a guest post at Emerging Gently


I was going to write a post comparing and contrasting Christian Science Nursing with modern medical nursing until I came to the Churches own page about the topic and read what Christian Science Nursing actually entails, and my desire to write a polite analysis went out the window and I had an overwhelming desire to smash my head repeatedly into a wall.

When people outside of Christian Science think of a nurse, they’re probably envisioning someone that fits the description from the American Nurses Association


– Registered Nurses –

  • Perform physical exams and health histories
  • Provide health promotion, counseling and education
  • Administer medications, wound care, and numerous other personalized interventions
  • Interpret patient information and make critical decisions about needed actions
  • Coordinate care, in collaboration with a wide array of healthcare professionals
  • Direct and supervise care delivered by other healthcare personnel like LPNs and nurse aides
  • Conduct research in support of improved practice and patient outcomes 

RNs practice in all healthcare settings: hospitals, nursing homes, medical offices, ambulatory care centers, community health centers, schools, and retail clinics. They also provide health care in more surprising locations such as camps, homeless shelters, prisons, sporting events and tourist destinations. (1)


To call what Christian Science Nurses do “Nursing” is incredibly misleading. The list of what Christian Science Nurses do not do looks startlingly similar to the list of what Registered nurses do. Christian Science nursing care does NOT include the following:

  • Making a medical diagnosis or prognosis;
  • Assuming responsibility for making health care decisions for the patient;
  • Administering medication, drugs or using medicated, herbal, or vitamin-based products and remedies;
  • Using and administering medically oriented techniques or technology;
  • Manipulation, massage, physical therapy;
  • Intravenous or force-feeding;
  • Intruding on the private relationship between the patient and the Christian Science practitioner, or between the patient and his or her family;
  • Giving personal advice and counsel. (2)

Several years ago, CBS TV show 60 MINUTES did a segment entitled By Faith Alone (3), discussing if Medicare should cover Christian Science nursing facilities. They interviewed a former Christian Science Nurse, Leslie Saunders (4) who shed a disturbing light on the practices taking place in the Christian Science nursing facilities: 

Leslie Saunders … stopped working at Medicare-funded Christian Science facilities, agrees [Medicare should not cover CS nursing]. “Medicare pays for medical treatment under given guidelines. For Medicare to involve itself in Christian Science nursing means Medicare is trying to pay for theology,” she tells Safer. She also says the only “treatment” allowed in such facilities is praying; the rules are so strict, she says, even patients short of breath are not given oxygen. (3)

Saunders’ interview stands in stark contrast to the recent “Interview with a CS Nurse” (5) but out by the Chestnut Hill Benevolent association (6) where “Jenny Ferch shares her journey to the BA’s Christian Science Nurses Training School. Her background at Principia Upper School, working as an intern at the Mother Church, and her innate love of caring for others — all pointed her in the direction of the healing ministry of Christian Science nursing.” 

I’m not sure how denying people oxygen and not administering medication or physical therapy is a “healing ministry.” Even the top Google hit for “healing ministry” —  Christian Healing Ministries acknowledges and affirms that there is

“… value of the medical and counseling fields, since they too are ways in which God’s healing power is manifested.” (7)

While Official Church Policy states that Christian Scientists are “free to go to doctors or seek medical care” (8) the idea is laughable. To qualify for participation in Christian Science Nursing Facilities, people must abide by standards requiring them to radically rely on prayer for healing (9).  All Christian Science Nursing Facilities have a policy that clearly states guests must rely on prayer alone.

From a Florida facilities statement about care:

“… non-medical nursing facility offering care to those who actively rely on prayer for metaphysical healing and are working with a Christian Science Journal-listed practitioner. Those who come — for help are the remnant of our Leader’s seed. They are not nominal worshippers. They have set out to preclude the Adam dream by refusing to take the medical route.” (emphasis mine, 10)

From the Chestnut Hill Benevolent Association:

2. What are the requirements for admission?
You must be having treatment from a Christian Science Journal-listed practitioner on a daily basis and relying solely on Christian Science for healing. Each call is considered on an individual basis, according to the request and need, as well as the availability for admission.
(11)

The idea Christian Science refuses to acknowledge any value in the medical field preferring to rely solely on prayer alone comes directly from Ms. Eddy. During the time she was working on her 300+ editions of Science and Health, it may have been safer to wait it out (12), but in 2015 the best course of action is to at least call your doctor’s office (13). Ms. Eddy’s writing on doctors, diagnosis of disease, and perspective on hygiene is not only wrong, it is deadly (14). As Ms. Eddy was the author of numerous volumes, I’ve selected a few passages from Science and Health:

On page 370 of Science and Health, Ms. Eddy writes: “A physical diagnosis of disease, since mortal mind must be the cause of all disease, tends to induce disease.

Whatever teaches man to have other laws and to acknowledge other powers than the divine Mind, is anti-Christian. The good that a poisonous drug seems to do is evil, for it robs man of reliance on God, omnipotent Mind and according to belief, poisons the human system.Science and Health, p. 169-70

It is plain that God does not employ drugs or hygiene, nor provide them for human use; else Jesus would’ve recommended and employed them in his healing… The Divine Mind never called matter medicine, and matter required a material and human belief before it could be considered as medicine.  Mind is the grand creator, and there can be no power except that which is derived from Mind… Inferior and unspiritual methods of healing may try to make Mind and drugs coalesce, but the two will not mingle scientifically.Science and Health, p. 143-4

Christian Science Nursing facilities deny people proper medical care. In September, I had a guest poster, Dr. Spock, describe the House of Horrors Christian Science Nursing Facility were his mother spent her last days (15). I highly recommend reading the entire piece, Spock describes inhumane conditions, unimaginable pain and suffering that would not be permitted in a medical facility or hospice care.

I remember a visit to the House Of Horrors early in childhood when my grandmother worked there as a Christian Science nurse. …. . The only comfort the “nurses” [were] able to offer [was] to shift pillows, offer water or juice, or read from the Bible and/or the writings of Mary Baker Eddy or other Christian Science literature. Not even an aspirin is permitted in these houses of horrors, and people often enter these facilities with advanced cancer or other serious diseases eating away at their bodies. Before Christian Scientists will acquiece even to care at a Christian Science nursing facility, they will often have suffered at home on their own with whatever ailment they’re dealing with for quite some time. Any admission of advancement of a disease is an admission of failure in your practice Christian Science, and many Christian Scientists are loathe to admit such. 

For Christian Science Nursing to use nursing is incredibly misleading. Christian Science Nursing facilities should not be subsidized by tax payer money, and they should be very clear about what care at Christian Science “nursing” actually entails — no relief. Another guest post, My Mothers Turn to Medical Hospice (16) is the story of a Christian Scientist who turned to medical hospice care after being in a Christian Science facility that failed to meet her needs.

Perpetuating the farce that Christian Science facilities provides any level of skilled nursing care is damaging to the patients and their families.  I am horrified that Medicare pays for Christian Science nursing. Medicare pays for medical treatment (17), the Church’s position on Christian Science nursing — and the position taken by Christian Science nursing facilities — make it clear that there are no medical treatments given, means Medicare is paying for religion. The guidelines set up by the Church as to what Christian Science Nurses can and can’t do speak volumes. There is more to nursing than shifting pillows, offering juice, arranging food in a pleasing manner and reading Science and Health.


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Empathy during Illness: Christian Science is Lacking

This popped up in my facebook feed the other day with the line “If physical illnesses were treated like mental illnesses.” It took me a few moments (longer than I care to admit) to realize they were serious, you shouldn’t treat people who aren’t feeling well like this. I showed it to my husband — also a former Christian Scientist — he had a similar reaction, clearly the comic didn’t take it far enough, this was all-too-relateable.

The comic resonated with me in ways it should not have: I’ve heard all of this “Helpful Advice” when I was ill. Not mentally ill, but hallucinating-high-fever ill, doubled over in bed with cramps that were so bad I could hardly move ill, unable-to-keep-food-down ill.

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I fucking love science If physical illnesses were treated like mental illnesses. AsapSCIENCE have a great video on the science of depression, check it out here: http://bit.ly/1uiI3wK Comic by http://www.robot-hugs.com/helpful-advice/

I got “you need to pray harder” or “maybe you should turn to the books.” I was accused of being a Tea Bag Christian Scientist — only turning to it when I was in “hot water,” aka “medicine cabinet” Christian Scientists — only turning to Christian Science when you’re sick. Even though I’ve left Christian Science, it worries me that some of the responses, most recently, “well, lying in bed obviously isn’t helping you” have come out of my mouth. Having been raised around this attitude, it feels like second nature to respond in this way. I don’t just apply it to others, I apply it to myself. I don’t give myself permission to have an off-day. I have to be 100% with-it all the time. I can’t let a headache, or stomach flu get me down! I’ve acknowledged this, and I’m working on changing my attitude — towards myself, and others who are not feeling well. Christian Science lacks empathy. Instead of helping, it encourages others to blame the person who is suffering for not correcting their thought. This culture of empathetic lack is most noticeable at Principia (see “Right Use of Temporary Means” ) and in other Christian Science clusters. Now, before you go, but not all Christian Scientists are like that, you’re right, not all of them are, but Ms. Eddy’s writings do provide plenty of material to support less empathetic views.

on wisdom and teeth

1013374_479246245492724_714511161_nSome time ago, when I finally picked a dental office to work with, they did a new patient exam which included a 360 x-ray (180? not sure it was most impressive) of my head to see all my teeth. The hygienist noticed I had two remaining wisdom teeth: one was horizontal and un-errupted, while the other sat around doing nothing. Over the course of our conversation she mentioned she’d recently taken her teenage son to have his wisdom teeth removed as she put it, they “knocked him out and pulled all four at once.”

At the time, I thought that course of action was barbaric. All four teeth at once? That’s cruel! Knock them out for a simple dental procedure? That’s crazy.

Then, not too long ago, I found myself reassuring my oral surgeon that don’t worry, “I haven’t gone without local anesthetic since the late 1980s/early 1990s” and that “it was only two, maybe three that were filled without it and they were baby teeth.” Then he mentioned how he would likely need to chisel the remaining wisdom tooth out — the roots ran very deep, and asked what sort of anesthetic I’d picked for the extraction.

My other wisdom teeth had been extracted with local, they’d needed to come out quickly — they were impacted, at least one was infected, and I remembered the experiences very vividly. In the past, had been an urgent phone call to the office, not a consultation to discuss the best course of action — and what would be most comfortable for me. In my mind, it was “a routine extraction” and I’d toughed out two before, why would this one be different?

When I scheduled the consultation and appointment, I’d initially picked local, but after hearing chisel I decided to deffer to his thirty-plus years of expertise and I decided to go with general instead.

I called a friend of mine who used to work as a dental surgical assistant, she talked me through the process and assured me that I would not remember anything. There would be no pain, and I would not remember anything. I could go home and sleep for a few hours, take my prescription pain medication and I would be okay.

It was liberating to know that I didn’t have to be awake for the procedure. It was comforting to know that the oral surgeon was compassionate — sure, he could’ve taken care of the tooth while I was awake, but I would probably still be curled up in bed in tears. In the past I would’ve said selfish, I’m sure it is easier for him to extract teeth from people who are out cold, but I have to agree, it is a win-win, he can work without fear of them freaking out, and the person who is out does not remember the procedure.

I admit, I did a fair bit of crying. Crying because I was terrified of a chisel being used on my tooth, terrified of being put under, terrified of being in pain. Talking to my friend helped with the terror, and the tears turned to tears of anger. If there really was a less painful, less traumatic way to take out wisdom teeth why hadn’t my dentists offered it before? Why hadn’t my parents offered it?

I think it may have been because we didn’t have dental insurance growing up (much less health insurance, pfft, that’s like asking God to cause problems for you), and I already had a well-established terror of dentists, and medical procedures. Dr. Do-it-all didn’t do oral surgery (at the time of my first extraction some were still below the gum line and un-errupted) and I would’ve had to be recommended to an oral surgeon.

I went to my oral surgery appointment with a mix combination of trill and terror. Thrill, that if the oral surgeon and my friend were right, I wouldn’t feel any pain during the procedure and I wouldn’t remember any of it. Terror, because it is dental work, and that’s what happens.

My husband drove, I filled out the paperwork, reassured them that I’d not eaten in “at least 8 hours.” I was taken to one of the rooms in the back, hooked to some monitoring equipment and fitted with an oxygen mask that just covered my nose. I cried a little, oxygen masks make me a little uneasy. My husband told me I looked like a 747. The oral surgeon came in and fitted me with an IV (full disclosure, that part did hurt a little – needles make me squeamish), told me to wiggle my right foot and “think happy thoughts.”

My husband remembers this a bit differently, apparently I was simply panicked: I lay in the chair, frozen in fear, my heart rate and blood pressure climbed — I’d like to blame the wrist-monitors, beeping monitoring machine, and freaky nose-mask. He talked to me, and the numbers went down a little, and as the anesthetic kicked in I slowly started to go limp and the numbers dropped to more acceptable levels.

That’s really about all I remember, except for some very vivid dreams about sand worms on Dune (it was like an odd surreal comic from the Oatmeal), and then waking up with everything surprisingly in focus — they’d put my glasses back on for me, and very tired. I came home, had some liquid yogurt, took some hydrocodon (to keep the pain at bay) and then crawled into bed and slept for two solid hours. Then I watched Nazi documentaries on Netflix, because losing Berlin to the Russian’s is far worse than having a nearly-pain-free wisdom tooth extraction and I wasn’t feeling up to indulging in the pint of comfort ice cream in the freezer just yet.

My husband commented that I looked a lot better than I did the last time, and I reminded him, the last time I was still a Christian Scientist, had been fully aware of what was going on, in pain because it was impacted (and infected), and then I’d gotten to take public transportation home because he couldn’t get off work (in his defense he also wasn’t aware of how deep my dental issues ran at that point, we’d only been married a few months). I also did not hallucinate, because this time the pain medication is worked and I did not have an unpleasant reaction. I also went to an experienced oral surgeon, not Dr. Do-it-all’s East Coast Twin.

The longer I am out of Christian Science, the more I realize that I’m not “giving up” by “giving in” to “materia medica.” I have had enough, I’ve had enough unnecessary and untreated pain, enough infections, enough dental terror. I don’t think dental work under general anesthetic is practical all the time (child care and a day of downtime are not always easily obtained), but for things like wisdom tooth extraction, it was definitely the right choice for me.