How to get Vaccinated

This post has been submitted by an ExCS group contributor. If you have questions about vaccinations, please ask your Doctor or other healthcare professional. For more posts about Healthcare see Healthcare Resources


As someone raised in Christian Science, you may not have received recommended vaccinations as a child. This can leave you vulnerable to preventable diseases, and can also make you a carrier who could transmit these diseases to people who are unable to get vaccinated. Many ex-Christian Scientists view getting vaccinated as an important step in their recovery.

In this blog, I use the terms immunization, vaccine, and shot interchangeably. I also provide resources for the United States because that’s what I’m familiar with, but similar resources for vaccinations standard in other countries are easily found online.

Immunizations are covered at 100% by health insurance because they are classified as preventative care. So, they will not cost you anything out of pocket if you have health insurance. There are several different types of vaccines that you will need to catch up on and get in the future. There is a standard set that all children in the US should receive, there are vaccinations that adults need, and there are also vaccinations that you should get every year, like the influenza (flu) vaccine. There are also specific vaccines either recommended or required if you are traveling to certain countries. When preparing to travel out of the country, you should check the CDC website to find out which vaccinations are recommended. In some cases such as for the yellow fever vaccine, you will not be able to re-enter the US without proof that you received a particular vaccine. Don’t worry, your doctor will tell you which ones you need.

I want to tell you about my experience with vaccinations to illustrate why it is important to get them now. I got the measles at CedarS Camps, a major summer camp for Christian Scientists, when I was a small child. There have been many measles outbreaks at Christian Science camps and Principia College. Every time, the CDC comes in and shuts it down, and the children’s parents make the choice of either having their child receive the measles vaccine or going home. Unfortunately, many faithful, well-meaning, but woefully and willfully ignorant Christian Science parents expose their children to complications including pneumonia, encephalitis of the brain, and death by skipping this one vaccination.

My family moved several times when I was growing up. Every time we moved and I had to enroll in a different school, my mother had to scramble to produce notarized documentation that exempted me from vaccinations for religious reasons, which was legal in the state I grew up in. Every time, either she had to find these documents after having just moved or get new ones notarized and this always caused a scramble and an awkward delay. This happened again when I was registering for college classes and the delay caused me to miss getting in to some of the classes I needed because of the time it took to get forms notarized and physically sent to the college. I also had to deal with this awkwardness when traveling internationally for a job. So, by getting vaccinated, you can avoid situations like these for times you need to produce an up-to-date shot record.

I got caught up on childhood vaccinations in my 20’s so that I could travel internationally, even though I was still sort of a Christian Scientist then. However, I stubbornly did not get the flu vaccine every year even after getting the recommended childhood vaccinations. One year, I traveled to my home state to visit extended family and got sick while visiting. It was miserable, and I remember being sick like that several times before. When I got home, I went to the doctor and they tested me and told me that I had the flu. During my trip, I had interacted with an infant and an elderly person while visiting my extended family, and felt horrible for exposing those vulnerable populations to an easily preventable, but potentially fatal, disease. I’d also exposed two planes full of people while traveling home. I felt incredibly stupid. Now, I am proud of myself every time I get my flu shot every year.

When you go to your primary care doctor, tell them that you were not immunized as a child and that you would like to get caught up on your shots. If you are comfortable doing so, you can let them know that your parents raised you without medical care. After some initial surprise, they are usually pretty understanding and relieved that you would like to get immunized now.

First, you need to find out which shots you need. You can choose to either go ahead and get all of them, or you can request an Immunity/Vaccine/Antibody Detection test. Because you were not immunized as a child, you may have gotten some diseases and already have immunity to them and therefore do not need a vaccination for those diseases. If so, you can avoid the soreness that occurs from getting an unneccesary shot and any potential side effects. You will also learn more about your childhood by finding out which diseases you had. For example, I got chicken pox and measles as an unvaccinated child raised in Christian Science. That meant that I did not need the chicken pox vaccine. I did still need the MMR (measles, mumps & rubella) vaccine in order to get immunity to mumps & rubella. I remember having the measles, but I don’t remember having the chicken pox. It’s also good to know for your health history, and having this data on record will contribute to statistics which inform public policy.

The doctor’s office will need to draw your blood for the Antibody Detection test or refer you to a lab for bloodwork. So, you will need to wait for the results before you can find out which vaccinations you need. At your follow up appointment, you will find this out and can now decide how to proceed. (You don’t have to get this test if the additional step will be inconvenient or if it’s not covered by your health insurance.)

Here is a common list of vaccinations:

Your doctor will tell you which ones you should get based on your age, health history, risk factors, etc. Some shots need to be gotten in a series of two or three within a certain period of time, like 30 days or < 6 months. If you need a series, it’s important that you come back to get the subsequent shots within the specified time period so that the immunization will be effective. There may be some vaccinations that came about more recently that your doctor might recommend for you, like the HPV vaccine, that may not be covered by your health insurance because they have not yet been added to the CDC’s list for your age group. So there is a chance that the cost for these additional vaccines might not be fully covered by your insurance, but you can call them to check beforehand. Even if there is an out-of-pocket cost, it is a good idea to get them if you can afford to do so.

Now that you know which shots you need, you can decide on the timeline for how to get your immunizations. You can get several at once or spread them out. I personally recommend that you plan to get one vaccination per month, but it may be more convenient for you to get most of them all at once and then only return for the series shots, or spread them out to get a few at a time with your series shots. For example, military members are often given 8+ vaccinations at once. Either way you choose, it should not make a difference on the cost (free).

The nurse administering the shot will ask you where you would like it. The most common place to get a shot is in the upper part of your non-dominant arm. They may also be able to give it to you on your hip. You might want to consider which side you sleep on and get the shot on the opposite side.

You may have a choice in vaccine delivery mechanisms. Anything that can be breathed in will be more pleasant than receiving it as a shot. There are also “live” vaccines, which may not be recommended if you have small children in your household, are pregnant, or live with someone who is pregnant. You might be advised to wear long sleeves to sleep in for some period of time while the vaccine is absorbed. Your doctor or nurse will go over all of this with you and send you home with a pamphlet containing all of the information you need.

The annual flu shot is available at pharmacies for convenience and you can use your health insurance and skip the doctor’s appointment if that works better for you. A nurse at the pharmacy will administer the shots.

Be aware that there are potential side effects from vaccinations. The FDA has concluded that the benefits outweigh the downsides. Read the information you receive thoroughly. I personally experienced a swollen lymph node from the MMR vaccine. This happens in 15% of children who receive it. If you are self-aware and informed about what could happen to you as a result of getting particular vaccines, you can recognize when you are experiencing a side effect and find ways to reduce the impact of these side effects. You can also call your doctor’s office for advice on how to handle side effects if you experience them. For my swollen lymph node, I read that it helps to sleep on the opposite side so that the lymph node gets less blood flow. After I did this, the swelling went down. Even though I had this unpleasant side effect for about two weeks, I am still glad that I got that shot. Most of the time, the area where you received the shot is simply sore for a few days to a week and there are no side effects. I’ve gotten probably fifteen shots total and only had this very minor side effect with one.

Now that you have been vaccinated, you can feel good about participating in a free public health benefit and display your new shot record proudly. You will get sick less often, and can no longer be a potential carrier endangering infants, elderly, or people otherwise unable to get vaccinated with easily preventable diseases. Now you can rest assured that you won’t get a debilitating disease that is easily preventable. You will also no longer need to feel awkward about a misinformed religious exemption imposed on you by well-meaning parents. Your shot record will come in handy when you apply to live in a college dorm or for certain jobs.

Freedom from Christian Science and a Path out of Anxiety

By Karen, submitted via email. Karen is a pseudonym. For more information about how to share your story, please visit https://exchristianscience.com/about-2/share-your-story/


In my decades as a Christian Scientist, I read Science and Health all the way through at least three times. I even tried to do what one of my mother’s friends did: read the entire book in one week (seven hundred pages in seven days). Yet in all my readings, my favorite chapter was always the one set apart from the rest of the book: the final chapter, “Fruitage.” I loved the personal narratives, which I could latch on to so much more easily than the formal prose. I loved the healings; one of my favorites was from the Civil War veteran who was healed of a broken jaw from taking a log in the face when sawing wood. Yet, as I grew into my thirties, I felt increasingly that I was at the same place many of the “Fruitage” writers were. I was ailing, hurting, discouraged, lost, and wondering what it was all about. I yearned for relief. I had been a student of Christian Science all my life, yet I was in the place of these people who discovered Christian Science. Darkly, I began to think of myself as a reverse Christian Scientist. What did that mean for me? Would I ever find healing?

After I left Christian Science and, awkwardly, entered medial care, I began to accumulate testimonies of my own kind. I found freedom, redemption, healing, comfort—concepts embraced by Christian Scientists—in the sphere of modern medicine.
Of all these, freedom is the one that means most to me. I spent fourteen years living in fear of heart disease. The symptoms began in 2001: My heart would race and beat fiercely. My chest would ache. My breathing would become shallow, my hands would tingle, and I would feel light-headed. I knew very little about my body, but I knew enough to be convinced I had a heart problem. (I want to note here that these symptoms can be serious, so definitely learn about them and get yourself checked out by a doctor if you experience them.)

Thus began over a decade of suffering. I experienced these symptoms with varying degrees of frequency and extremity. Thus began prayer, reading, and calls to four different practitioners over the years: calls in the early hours of the morning sometimes, sometimes calls when I was too afraid to even speak. The practitioners were patient and kind. One of them assured me, “Your heart is strong.” That helped me.
After the first two years, the spells lessened. But they never left. The fear never left. It often brought me to tears. I stopped driving on highways, and I approached bridges with trepidation. I was afraid of having an attack, losing control of my car, and harming myself or others. I dreaded being alone in my house (something I typically enjoyed) because I might have a fit and die with nobody to help me. I was even scared in long lines at the grocery store or at stoplights, lest I collapse and hold up people’s progress.

When I left Christian Science and started medical care, I anxiously awaited my first physical: What will they find? I did feel some reassurance that I would finally receive proper care, but I dreaded the inevitable looks of concern, the tests, the diagnosis.
My dread turned to relief. Since my start with medical care in 2015, I’ve had various tests, some as part of regular doctors’ visits and some stemming from two urgent care visits. Among those tests, I’ve had two EKGs, neither of which caused any concern.
My heart is fine. They say I have an occasional murmur, so I take the doctors’ advice to
avoid caffeine, to exercise and eat well, and to cope with stress. My heart really is strong, or at least it’s mostly normal. Now I know that with an assurance I never had before. (Even if I had a problem, I would now be in the care of professionals. And I wouldn’t be alone: Heart trouble is experienced by many people around the world; it’s part of the human condition, and we make the best of it that we can.)

What, then, were all these symptoms that I felt? I still had episodes of shallow breathing. I asked my primary care physician about it. Her first question was, “Do you feel a lot of stress in your life?” She asked about anxiety—a term I’d never heard spoken except in the context of nervousness, like I-am-so-anxious-about-my-math-test. This lovely, perceptive physician referred me to mental health services, where I found a therapist that illuminated my world. She explained anxiety to me. She recommended two books to me (see the resources below). The books introduced me to the nature of panic attacks. I remember sitting on a chair in my bedroom,
my mind blown wide open as I went down a checklist of panic attack symptoms. This changed my life.

Since autumn 2016, I have had four panic attacks. They are horrible, and at some point I always end up thinking I am going to die. (There’s still progress to be made!) But I hold on to the thought: This is probably a panic attack. I ride it out with the tools I have been given from therapy and books. I can enjoy being alone again. Waiting in lines or at stoplights is a normal experience again. And I’ve been driving on highways more. I’ve had many victories. I have freedom. The contributors to “Fruitage” in Science and Health sometimes remarked that they were grateful beyond words for Christian Science. I am grateful beyond words for leaving it.

Resources

And many more! Look around for what fits you best.

Old Habits Die Hard

The following is a collection of contributions from members of the Ex-Christian Science collective about experiences seeking medical care and interacting with medical professionals.


Back in 2000, I had this scaly patch on my neck. After watching it grow and covering it with makeup for two years a friend said, “that looks like skin cancer – you’d better get that looked at!” Sure enough, it was basal cell skin cancer. I had it cut out, and I have a huge scar now. If I’d taken care of it early I probably would have just had a little stitch.

– Hilary


I have been pestering my husband to help me get my basic vaccines (I have zero), and he doesn’t get it that I don’t know how to go to a doctor or what to DO there. A friend who knows the medical field inside and out has offered to set things up with me and come along to hold my hand.

– Heidi


My non-Christian-Scientist cousins were after me to get a colonoscopy (I’m fifty-seven) and it was way overdue. I did so, and wouldn’t you know, I had cancer. Luckily it was stage one, but the doctor said it was a slow grower and had been in me ten years. I had it removed with two operations last spring and summer. I am the fourth generation in my family to have this problem. My grandmother and father died grisly deaths under Christian Science ‘treatment’ of this very thing. The surgeon at Mayo Clinic that said if I had waited six more months it would have spread to other organs. They think they caught it all, but I am having follow-up tests this week and next.

– Anonymous


At the very end of my second pregnancy, I am starting to have serious health problems: blood pressure ticking up, signs of pre-eclampsia, etc. So apart from being scared and disappointed, every time I go to one of my appointments I also find myself extremely angry and defensive. My sister helped me figure out that this has to do with an entire childhood of being blamed for every sickness—every cold, upset stomach, or stubbed toe was entirely my fault and had to be fixed only by me (while simultaneously being unreal of course). So when my OB points out that my blood pressure is not in a good range, what I hear is, “what did you do wrong that made your blood pressure so high?” Ugh, old habits die hard, I guess!

– Hilary


Recently, an alarming rash erupted over large parts of my body. I went to the emergency room at the local hospital, and the doctor who treated me humourously diagnosed me as being a “very sensitive guy.” It was his way of informing me that I was having an overly severe allergic reaction to something. I was prescribed an immune system suppressant, and some Benadryl. The rash cleared within a day. I’m glad the old habits of waiting before I go to a doctor about something are beginning to fade finally.

– Jeremy

I was crying from relief, not fear.

By Susanna, an Ex-Christian Scientist Group contributor. Susanna is a pseudonym, to ensure anonymity.


I had my first panic attack at the age of 28. It came on out of the blue, in the middle of the afternoon on a Thursday at work. I drove myself to the hospital thinking I was having a heart attack. I had never been admitted to a hospital before. Once the intake nurse took my blood pressure and determined that I wasn’t dying, she hooked me up to IV and I laid there quietly for about an hour.

A doctor came in, and she was exactly my age. She told me that what had happened to me was not ‘nothing.’ It was a cardiac event, but it was brought on by anxiety, not heart disease. She guessed, correctly, that I was about 30, single, and working in a demanding job where it was hard to keep my work/life balance. She said she saw women in exactly the same condition at least once a week.

I began crying immediately, which didn’t surprise her, until I told her that I was crying from relief, not fear. It felt like after thirty years of striving to look and be perfect, I was convulsing under the pressure, and here was someone telling me that it was normal to feel that way, that it was okay, and that she would help. I could walk out of the hospital and things could never be the same again. I didn’t have to just say, “Hallelujah, I’ve been healed!” and move on. I could acknowledge the challenge as both physical and mental, and use all the resources available—therapy, medication, self-care—to manage and ultimately overcome this.

The doctor prescribed me some anti anxiety medication. I took it several times in the next year or so, maybe before a big meeting when I felt myself getting anxious.  At some point I threw the rest away and haven’t needed it since.

Ruth’s Story: Turn to Medical Hospice

By an anonymous Ex-Christian Scientist Group contributor.
hospice/end of life header

This is the story about my mother’s turn to medical hospice in the final weeks of her life. She is not alive to tell the story herself, but I believe she would approve my account of it here.

My mother (her name is Ruth) was a devoted, life-long Christian Scientist who practiced ‘radical reliance.’ She would tell you that she experienced many wonderful healings in Christian Science.

In her mid-80s, Mother began experiencing worrisome symptoms that did not yield to Christian Science treatment. She worked diligently to heal the problem, and she had the help of one, and then another, Christian Science practitioner. In time, her condition worsened to the point that she could not eat, and she decided to admit herself into a Christian Science nursing facility.

Her condition deteriorated, and she finally acknowledged that she was not going to ‘meet’ the problem and that she would ‘pass on’. Mother was not afraid of dying, but she was disappointed in herself. She had sometimes said that, “Christian Scientists should not get sick and die.” Rather, she believed that when the time came to die, they should demonstrate a quick and painless passing from a healthy human state to their next plane of existence. But that’s not how it worked out in her case.

The Christian Science nursing staff at the sanatorium made no adjustments to my mother’s care as her distress, exhaustion, and pain increased. They continued to place a full tray of food in front of her three times a day, even though she could not keep any food down. Neither could she sleep. My brother and I smuggled some sleeping pills to her, which she was grateful to have.

One morning she telephoned, begging me to transfer her to a medical hospice. Later that day, I and a social worker from the hospice accompanied an ambulance to the Christian Science nursing facility to accomplish her move. The director was at first reluctant to release her, but after a discussion she was allowed to leave.

Mother was admitted to the hospice and was made comfortable in a room by a medical nurse. The attending physician came by to interview her and explain what care they would provide to ease her through the death process. Mother asked a few questions and seemed satisfied. After the physician left, she turned to me and said, “these people are so much more professional.” Those are her exact words. Mother died peacefully under palliative medical care about two weeks later.

Mother remained committed to Christian Science to the end. In her view, her turn to palliative medical care in her final days was consistent with Mary Baker Eddy’s provision for relief from extreme pain as stated in Science and Health (p. 464). As I reflect on her experience, I am at a loss to understand how the Christian Science community can avert its eyes from the suffering of their faithful members as they go through the human death process.

Doctors Showed Me Compassion

The following is a collection of contributions from members of the Ex-Christian Science group about experiences seeking medical care and interacting with medical professionals.

I have health insurance now, but I still am hesitant to even get check-ups. I gave birth to my son a year ago and the whole medical aspect was really a nightmare for me. It’s still almost impossible to not think of health care professionals as the enemy. I also had a horrifying incident about a month ago where a ‘vascular mole’ on my baby’s face popped and wouldn’t stop bleeding. It was the middle of the night and I was there trying to staunch it with tissues and towels and sheets for hours until I finally shook myself, looked at the blood-soaked mess and said, “are you effing crazy? He’s going to bleed to death, call 911!” I’m sad to report, had that been me my mother probably would have let me bleed to death. The baby’s just fine after being stitched up in the ER, thankfully.

– Hilary


This might resonate with some of you…I developed a small lesion on my forehead a few weeks ago which didn’t heal up. I tried ignoring it for a while, and that didn’t work. Then I tried putting antiseptic on it, and that didn’t work. Then I took to the internet and by week 3 was completely convinced I had, probably inoperable, skin cancer. I made an appointment to see a dermatologist, basically expecting to find out how long I had left, and woke up on the morning of the appointment to find said lesion diminished in size.

“It’s a wart, nothing to worry about. You can make an appointment to have it frozen off,” she said. Following day, it had mostly disappeared. Imagine what this is doing to my post-Christian Science neuroses!

– Anonymous


I’ve learned my lesson about healthcare. When an exam by an optometrist revealed I had cataracts, I had double cataract surgery. I’d worn glasses since I was in my twenties, but I don’t need them now. I can even read small print on my iPhone! And, when the girl who cuts my hair noticed something funny on my ear, she recommended I have it looked at. Rather than saying it was ‘perfect’ I went to a dermatologist. She said it was skin cancer, and I had it removed surgically. It took me a while, but I finally caught on.

– Anonymous



I went to the doctor for the first time when I was 23 years old. I got an x-ray done of my tail bone, which was revealed to have been broken when I was ten. My folks didn’t take it seriously enough to have it treated, so it healed in an ‘L’ shape. I also asked for advice and a treatment plan to preserve my destroyed right knee, which I had injured seven years previously and which had never healed.

– Heidi


I went travelling for a year with my wife. A small lump developed on my back which I worried about endlessly. I tried to self diagnose on the net and came to the rational conclusion it was probably benign, but nonetheless my conviction that it was a tumour grew. I decided it would spoil our holiday if I had it looked at and rationalised that the best thing to do was completely ignore it. Eventually, I could contain my anxiety no longer and told her about it. A few hours later I was sitting in front of a Thai doctor in Bangkok, “Yeah. It’s a cyst,” he said. “We’ll just remove it under local anaesthetic, will take ten minutes.” Since then, I try to catch things earlier.

– Anonymous

 “I went to the doctor” Madeleine’s Story

By Madeleine, an Ex-Christian Scientist Group Contributor.

When I finally decided to leave Christian Science after thirty years, what I knew for sure was that if I no longer believed that it healed, then it was my responsibility to take care of my body and see a doctor; I couldn’t just sit on the fence and not believe anymore but also not take care of my body.

For many, many years I had been convinced that there was something wrong with my heart. I was very scared about my symptoms of shortness of breath, dizzy spells and what felt like heart palpitations. Of course I had prayed and gotten help from a practitioner, and I would feel better (which I thought was a healing) and then the symptoms would return. This had gone on for years.

Continue reading ” “I went to the doctor” Madeleine’s Story”

“The people here are so nice.”

By an anonymous Ex-Christian Scientist Group contributor.

When my mother went into what turned out to be a diabetic coma I called 911, even though she made me promise never to call a doctor or take her to a hospital. The nurse there said her blood sugar was 800, the highest that had ever registered on her meter, and I asked, “Is that good?” The nurse looked at me oddly, told me that my mother was a diabetic, and asked me what planet I had been living on—and I realized how lacking my education had been. I was fifty years old then, and have been catching up ever since.

The first thing my mother said when she woke up in intensive care was, “The people here are so nice.” Then I said, since she had always told me she would die of fright just going over the threshold of a hospital, “Mom, you’re okay with this, right? You were dying and I didn’t want to lose you.” And she said, “It’s okay. This is a ‘suffer it to be so now’ situation. I’m not going to beat myself up because I didn’t have enough understanding. I’ll continue to study.”

And so she did—while testing her blood sugar six times a day and taking insulin on a sliding scale three times a day. She regularly kept her host of doctors appointments and even had a cornea transplant and a cataract removed to improve her eyesight, which she had mostly lost due to diabetes. I think she was okay with the doctor because she didn’t make the decision herself. In her mind she could blame it on me, and because she loved me so, and I could never do wrong, and she trusted me, she was fine.

What I learned from it was, when your parents get old, sometimes you have to jump in and make the hard choices. My mother was eighty-three. She didn’t want to do the thinking anymore. So I did it. The folks in the emergency room told me she would have died within the hour, but my call to 911 extended her life six years. That experience was one of the keystones on my way out of Christian Science.

Christian Science Is Not Comfort

By Ashley, an Ex-Christian Scientist Group contributor.

I was a third generation Christian Scientist. I was all-believing and never could imagine not being a devout student. I served as Second Reader, substitute First Reader, was a Sunday School teacher, lecture committee Chair, secretary for the Board meetings, and more.

My profound challenge came at around the age of thirty. If it had been physical in nature, I have no doubt that I would have ridden it out with Christian Science treatment only, no matter what the consequences. But it wasn’t anything with physical symptoms. It was severe depression and anxiety to a level of anguish that I cannot describe. When the pain is physical, there’s only so far that can go, it has a lid on it at some point. When the anguish is mental there is no top-out level. There is no ‘thus far and no farther’ point. The suffering seemed to expand to wordless brand-new depths with each day. This mental anguish, on and on with no relief, I could not endure indefinitely. Thus began my halting and very gradual realization and wake-up call away from Christian Science.

Ten years later and after lots of help, intervention and treatments from medical psychiatry, I am able to live as a member of society again. My first big realization about Christian Science after entering the world of psychiatry and therapeutic care was how extremely cruel its basic tenets are, such as: no matter to what extent one may be suffering, one can only blame oneself. And, if you would just ‘get your thoughts right’ then you would stop suffering. Christian Science teaches that suffering is self-imposed and basically that ‘it’s your own fault,’ when you really take it down to the bottom line. The absolute opposite of ‘comfort’, though it calls itself ‘The Comforter’.

Christian Science is not comfort, it is something that is disturbingly austere, remote and unfeeling. It must be unfeeling in order to maintain the unreality of human suffering. Christian Science is among the coldest, most inhumane, compassionless, unhealthy approaches to life that has ever been foisted upon humanity. It took me much time and suffering to be able to distill that fact out and separate it from the teachings of my whole life. I hope I still have much progress to make, because I know Christian Science did damage that I will be working for the rest of my life to undo.

Reshaping My Distorted Image of Doctors

By an anonymous Ex-Christian Scientist Group Contributor.

 

I went to the doctor for the first time when I was fourteen years old. Months of caring for my mother as she succumbed to untreated breast cancer forged the courage my sister and I needed to break away from our parents’ radical reliance on Christian Science for healing and venture into the world of modern medicine. This was a huge step for us. We had never been to a doctor’s office for any childhood illness or injury.

My mother meticulously sheltered us from learning anything about medicine or even the basics of how our bodies functioned, in an attempt to protect us from sickness. This left a void of information that was replaced with fear of the unknown. I had no basis for evaluating whether a symptom I was experiencing was a life threatening problem or nothing to be concerned about.

The stories that had been told by my family and Sunday School teachers about Christian Scientists that had gone to the doctor were dismissive at best. Those Christian Scientists had been too fearful to address their problems with prayer. Going to the doctor was equitable to irrational behavior. There was always the old story that was paraded out about some family member who had gone to the doctor and taken medicine that had made them even more ill.

I imagine my sister and I looked out of place in the cheery, well lit waiting room of the doctor’s office on that first visit. Two wide-eyed, terrified children, sitting alone, clinging to our parental permission slips like we were headed to an execution. My mother had recently died and I was frightened that the doctor would find that I too had some terminal illness.

Beyond the fear, though, I felt profoundly determined. We had overcome so many barriers just for this wellness exam. The choice to go to a doctor was not only challenging due to the lack exposure to medicine, but also the generational lack of information on how to navigate health insurance and medical offices. We started from square one with learning the basics: that there are different types of doctors and only some doctors are in your insurance network. As children going to the doctor alone, we needed permission slips to receive any type of medical help. My sister and I drafted the permission slips the night before our appointment, and we felt fortunate that our father was willing to sign them.

The friendly receptionist gave us several long forms to fill out about our medical history. Most of it I had to leave blank. I had no medical history and neither did most of my family members. The doctor we saw was wonderful. She had a warm personality and seemed to recognize we were frightened. She did not make a fuss over the lack of medical history. Instead, she empathetically acknowledged that it must be very scary for us to visit the doctors for the first time. We received our vaccines and a clean bill of health.

This experience was the beginning of reshaping my distorted image of doctors. I found more guidance and comfort in that one visit than in every phone call I had ever made to a Christian Science practitioner. Over the years I have found, to my surprise, that the vast majority of my primary care doctors have not made me feel awkward about my non-traditional past. The biggest issue I still struggle with is remembering to reach out to my doctors for guidance on health problems. My childhood conditioned me to trivialize my injuries and illnesses and to cope without medical help. It’s hard to remember that I no longer need to suffer in silence.