Hindsight is 20/20

This is Part 2 of a multi-part story of one woman’s journey leaving Christian Science. For all posts see ‘Spice‘.


File:Refraction through glasses 090306.jpg From Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository

I have been unable to see properly for at least half of my life.

While a lot of modern day Christian Scientists don’t go to doctors, many of them do go to eye doctors, because Mary Baker Eddy herself went to eye doctors. Eye doctors and dentists are exceptions to the rule of not seeking medical care — but that’s a whole ‘nother article. For now we’ll just leave it with the concept that Christian Scientists are allowed, under religious doctrine, to go to eye doctors and get and wear glasses.

Even though both of my Christian Scientist parents wore glasses, they didn’t know how to help me navigate what I feel is the labyrinth of optometry.

I first found out that I needed glasses at the DMV, testing for my driver’s license at age 16. Having been raised by Christian Scientists, I was exempt from vision screening in school. I was also exempt from health class, scoliosis screening, hearing screenings, and vaccinations.

I was at the DMV after a rough driver’s ed experience in school. I didn’t pass the course and needed additional hours with the instructor which took additional time, cost additional money, and further inconvenienced my parents who had to transport me. Within my family, I got a reputation as being a bad driver.

After the DMV, my mother took me to Wal-Mart for an eye exam and to buy a pair of glasses. I remember being scared and frustrated and crying during the exam, because he was asking me which lens I “liked” better, and I didn’t know. I didn’t know by what criteria I should like one lens over another, and I was very scared at my first experience at a doctor’s office. I remember when I first put them on and looked across the big store, I could now read the signs across the ceiling. The first time I wore them outside I reveled in the ability to see each individual leaf on a tree. Being able to see was amazing, and driving became much easier.

I don’t think I got another pair of glasses until I was away at college, a couple of years later. Why would a good Christian Scientist get their eyes checked every year? That would be acknowledging the idea of mortal decay and giving it power. Well, I accidentally left my glasses on a desk in a classroom and never found them. In a panic, I had to figure out how to get — and pay for — another pair of glasses. And why would a good Christian Scientist have a backup pair of glasses? That would be acknowledging that things can be lost, which is error.

From Science and Health by Mary Baker Eddy, “Recapitulation,” p. 472:

 

Question. — What is error?
Answer. —

Error is a supposition that pleasure and pain, that intelligence,
substance, life, are existent in matter. Error is neither Mind nor one of Mind’s
faculties. Error is the contradiction of Truth. Error is a belief without
understanding. Error is unreal because untrue. It is that which seemeth to be and is not.If error were true, its truth would be error, and we should have a
self-evident absurdity — namely, erroneous truth.Thus we should continue to
lose the standard of Truth.

 

I found a coupon in the newspaper for a $25 exam, which sounded great to me, being on my own financially. I went to Wal-Mart to pick out a pair of frames and get an idea of the price. (After all, my mom had taken me to Wal-Mart for glasses. Isn’t that where everyone gets glasses?) Then I went to the optician designated on the coupon for my eye exam. Afterward they asked if I’d like to look at frames, and I said I could not afford the glasses that they sold there, and that I needed my prescription to take to Wal-Mart. They did not want to release my prescription, and I didn’t know how to advocate for myself or the law stating they were required to give it to me. So I bought from them glasses that were out of my budget even after discounting. (The coating wore off of those glasses before my year warranty was up, and those bastards charged me for “shipping” to replace/recoat the lenses.) I was at this shady place because I didn’t know about medical insurance, what I had access to via my parents or the university while in college, or that I could have had a proper exam from a non-swindling eye doctor. I didn’t know that non-swindling eye doctors existed until several years later, and I hated “the glasses racket” and treated it with proper disgust and distrust.

Later in college, I lost my glasses while out dancing. Of course I blamed myself horribly for losing them, because Christian Science teaches that “nothing is lost in God’s Kingdom.” This is probably based on the phrase, “thy kingdom come,” found in “The Daily Prayer” from The Manual of The Mother Church, Eddy:

Daily Prayer. Sect. 4. It shall be the duty
of every member of this Church to pray each
day: “Thy kingdom come;” let the reign of
divine Truth, Life, and Love be established in
me, and rule out of me all sin; and may Thy
Word enrich the affections of all mankind,
and govern them!

In reality, people lose or break glasses all the time. It’s so common that it is normal to have a “backup pair” of glasses so that this exact situation does not happen. My prescription was expired, so I had to do another “fire drill” to get replacement glasses in a hurry. You can bet I didn’t go back to those bastards for a $25 eye exam.

After graduating college, I had a reimbursable cash incentive from my employer for medical expenses. Because I was driving slowly when approaching signs, the coworkers I was on a business trip with suggested that it was time for new glasses, which was embarrassing. I found an independent eye doctor and got an exam. He suggested that I get my eyes checked every year. I didn’t even know that was a thing.

I got eye exams every year for the four years that I had that job because of this reimbursable cash account. The next time I went to this doctor for an eye exam, he said that my prescription had changed only slightly and started to write a new one. I begged him not to change my prescription if it was only slightly different, because new prescriptions gave me horrible headaches. I remember the look he gave me, like I had just asked him to commit a felony. I didn’t learn until 10 years later that headaches upon getting a new glasses prescription is not uncommon, but in the meantime this reinforced my disgust and distrust in what I perceived as being “the glasses racket”.

After that I went to graduate school, which is very reading-intensive. I knew the signs that my vision was going by now, so I went to an independent eye doctor for a prescription and went along just fine. After a couple of years the lenses became crazed, and I needed to replace these glasses. I was so frustrated and did not have the time, money, or patience to deal with it. Since I felt like I could see just fine and had a deep distrust in “the glasses racket”, I decided not to play their game this time. In the state where I lived then, a glasses prescription was good for 2 years, instead of 1 year, which had been the case where I lived previously. Well, if 2 was just as good as 1, then why not 3? I felt like it was all bullshit anyway, just designed to make eye doctors money. So I did a forensic copy job on my prescription and extended it for a year so that an unnamed optical provider would make me another pair of glasses. (Thankfully, the statute of limitations has expired on this. I did not know at the time that this is very, very illegal, but that is no excuse.)

After I graduated and started my next job, the first thing I did was to get Lasik. It had been about four years since I had had an eye exam and gotten new glasses, and the doctor thought that my prescription was stable. Lasik was a terrifying experience, but was well worth the emotional upheaval. I remember seeing every individual snowflake falling outside the window the next morning with my naked eyes. I proudly went to the DMV with my Lasik letter to get the corrective lens restriction removed from my license. I could see as soon as I woke up everyday! Life without glasses was SO FINE.

A little over a year later, I was in an accident that caused a vision problem called Purtcher’s Retinopathy. It took a while to diagnose and affects the retina — a different part of the eye than Lasik fixes and which glasses corrects (the cornea). While signing myself into the ER after the accident, I asked if the pen worked because I couldn’t see my signature on the admittance paperwork. The ceiling tiles were also fuzzy as I laid in the ER bed. But, we had much bigger fish to fry (injuries to treat), and the doctor said that the accident probably kicked up floaters, that my body was under stress, and that it would clear up.

Two days later I was following up with my primary care doctor, and they were asking me for all kinds of information for the insurance claim. I couldn’t read well enough to get insurance info from my email on my phone. I successfully advocated for myself at that appointment and begrudgingly got orders for a CT scan, which did not show any abnormalities. (By this point, I had been getting medical care for 10 years.) Purtcher’s Retinopathy takes two days to fully present. That night, I picked up a plate full of liquid that I couldn’t see, and splashed the liquid all over myself. After watching me do this, my husband took me to the ER at a hospital with a well-known eye center. My intake eye exam (which I cried through) revealed my vision was only 20/200. The ER resident was able to confirm that there was nothing wrong with my Lasik flap,and that my optic nerve looked fine, and agreed my problem must be caused by floaters. I pushed back and said that I felt like I was looking through snow on an analog TV and the interference stayed in the same place wherever I looked, which is not explained by floaters. I ended up seeing a total of six eye doctors over four months before getting definitive test results proving that I had a vision problem. Every time they gave me the same stupid exam, and every
time I bawled my eyes out because I couldn’t see.

Fun fact: there are no criteria for a doctor clearing you to drive after you have vision problems. I asked about the fact that it took me 10 seconds sometimes to make out a letter and the several times that, as a passenger, I did not see a scooter, small, neutral-colored car, or pedestrian. They said to just “use my judgement.” My husband drove me to all of my appointments and to work for six weeks. Then he needed to go on a business trip, so I started driving again. I got a new GPS and used voice prompts and drove slowly. By the 4-month point, I was testing at 20/35, which was close enough to 20/30, the legal requirement for driving. This should scare the hell out of you. It scared the hell out of me.

A year after the accident, I passed a DMV vision test and my retinologist said that my retinas looked just as good as any adult’s off the street.

Life went on for a couple more years. I started treatment for migraines that included medication. I didn’t feel like I could see very well and blamed it on the meds, like a good semi-pseudo-sorta-former Christian Scientist. In fact, after a few days on one medication, I almost missed a school crossing guard, and immediately quit taking that medication. It got so bad that I avoided driving at night as much as possible and drove very slowly on exits and when taking turns. I thought to myself: ”I am too young to be having these kinds of vision problems and limitations.” I read about blurred vision in my medication side effects. (Spoiler alert: they ALL say this.) I discussed this with my doctor, and we slowly reduced the medication until I no longer took it. My vision improved slightly, but was still so bad that I couldn’t read signs across the room. My husband told me to try on his glasses. Goddamnit, it was time for new glasses. AGAIN.

At this point, it had been 4 years since I got Lasik, and my eyes kept deteriorating. I’m sure that some of my Christian Science family members blame my having gotten Lasik for needing to wear glasses again. I didn’t solve my vision the “right” way, through prayer. Yeah, ok.

So it turns out that I will not achieve my goal of cutting the glasses industry out of my life. But now (I think) I know how to deal with it like a rational adult. I now have not only one pair of backup glasses, but also a fashion pair, plus prescription sunglasses. This feels like pure luxury.

Because I was raised as a Christian Scientist, I got the reputation for being a bad driver during my formative years and felt guilty for needing glasses and for not being “God’s perfect child.” I did not get eye exams every year or even every two years while in high school and college — the prime age range for getting into a car accident for non-vision-related reasons. My lack of knowledge about eye doctors and the glasses industry made correcting my eyesight a very painful and expensive process — not to mention incredibly dangerous, because without a backup pair of glasses, I was out on the open road unable to see properly. All of this stress occurred during the most important years of my education. As an adult, I unwittingly committed a felony by changing the date on my prescription, because I was sure I knew better than these swindling, glasses-hawking eye doctors. Finally I blamed my vision problems on meds and did
not have the self-awareness — or body-awareness — to recognize that I had needed new
glasses for over 8 months.

“​My lack of knowledge about eye doctors and the glasses industry made correcting my eyesight a very painful and expensive process — not to mention incredibly dangerous…”

I have major emotional baggage when it comes to glasses and vision. What I went through was completely unnecessary thanks to 14th century technology (glasses) and middle-class means (the ability buy a backup pair) during modern times when vision screening is mandatory during elementary school (unless you have a religious exemption). I have been terrified of driving, made to feel like it was my own fault that I couldn’t see, felt swindled, despaired that I would never be able to see again, and I committed a felony. My troubles didn’t occur in 1900 — this was Anno Domini 2000+. Except that for Christian Scientists, it may as well have been 1900s — medically speaking.


image via https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Refraction_through_glasses_090306.jpg

The Spice of Life –  Part 1: Before leaving Christian Science

This is Part 1 of a multi-part story of one woman’s journey leaving Christian Science. For all posts seeSpice‘.


I was raised in a Radically Reliant Christian Science Household. I would like to tell you what that was like now that I have completely left the religion, and how easy it would have been for me to have had both a better childhood and adulthood.

I got what I now know is bronchitis almost every year in my memory. Once, I was out of school for a week because of it. I thought it was normal to get sick for two months every spring. I thought it was normal to have snot running down your face and sneeze constantly while talking to a professor. I thought it was just a belief in allergies that caused me to cough so hard and for so long that my back was sore for weeks. Every year. Again and again.

At age seven I got measles at CedarS Camps during the 1989 outbreak. When I started using modern healthcare as an adult, I was shocked and dismayed to learn how much danger I was in as a child over diseases that were completely preventable. Furthermore, rejecting these modern, scientifically derived and proven solutions takes a lot of work on the part of the Radically Reliant anymore, what with religious exemption forms that must be notarized and filed with different schools. When Christian Scientists including me successfully avoid measles vaccinations through these legal means–thinking smugly that it is our First Amendment right to do so–it in fact allows us to become carriers for the disease and transmit it to others, including vulnerable populations who may not be vaccinated. I was horrified to learn that I was at the forefront of the biggest measles outbreak in modern America

When I was 15, four teenagers including myself, were in a car accident. After the accident, I was in and out of consciousness and no one could contact my family. A kind friend’s mother finally got a hold of my mother to let her know I had been in a car accident. When my mom arrived at the Emergency Room, I remember being on the x-ray table and they stopped diagnostic tests because my mom was signing me out of the ER. I realize of course, that was just how she was raised–to Radically Rely on Christian Science. I had badly chipped teeth and probably a pretty bad concussion based the fact that I was fading in and out of consciousness. I don’t remember much, but I definitely remember feeling confused and hurt on behalf of the friend’s mother who was brusquely told “no thanks” when she offered to add me to her church’s prayer list. I remember thinking that it couldn’t hurt, and that this person was so kind to have helped track down my mother.

While I’m very grateful for a roof over my head, a full stomach, and intelligent and loving parents, I moved out of a Radically Reliant Christian Science household feeling very confused about a lot of things. This impacted my jobs, school, friendships, and romantic relationships in ways I am only starting to realize and move past fifteen years later. I will expand upon this in Part 2.

CDC Studies & The Principia Schools/College

CDC logo via wikipediaCompiled by the Ex-Christian Scientist editors.

The Christian Science church often uses the fact that it has obtained religious exemption laws as evidence that Christian Science can heal all diseases as effectively as medical care. However, studies and statistics from the Surveillance and Epidemiology, Epidemiology Program Office, CDC tell a different story.

Many of these studies and statistics center around the Principia Schools and College, as that is where there is a large enough cluster of Christian Scientists to enable the effective study of the impact of their decisions.


Christian Scientists’ high mortality rate

Principia College / Loma Linda University Case Study

A long-term study (1945 – 1983) between the population of graduates of Principia College (PC), a college for Christian Scientists, and Loma Linda University (LLU), a Seventh-day Adventist-affiliated university showed:

“Overall mortality was higher for PC graduates than for LLU graduates (for men, 40 per 1000 and 22 per 1000, respectively… and for women, 27 per 1000 and 12 per 1000, respectively (p=0.001)). Total mortality was higher among PC graduates in 22 (85%) of the 26 cohorts.”

“The doctrines of both religious groups require abstinence from alcohol consumption and smoking. …. The groups also differ in that Christian Scientists reject medical healing in favor of spiritual healing alone, whereas Seventh-day Adventists accept both spiritual and medical healing.”

Reported by: WF Simpson, PhD, Emporia State Univ, Emporia, Kansas. Div of Surveillance and Epidemiology, Epidemiology Program Office, CDC.1

Footnote:

1Comparative Mortality of Two College Groups, 1945 – 1983.MMWR. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 23 Aug. 1991. Web. 03 Feb. 2016.

Further Reading:


Christian Science & Religious Exemptions

Measles outbreaks at Principia College

  • In 1985, three Christian Scientists affiliated with Principia College in Elsah, Illinois died; and 712 students were quarantined on campus, when an outbreak of measles sickened more than 100 people.
  • In 1989, another measles outbreak at Principia sickened nearly 100 people, including some off campus, not affiliated with the school.
  • In 1994, another outbreak spread to the Principia, which serves students pre-K through senior high in St. Louis County, Missouri; nearly 200 people contracted measles.1

The [1985 outbreak’s] high attack rate (15.9%) at Principia College is undoubtedly due to these students’ very low immunization levels. The outbreak illustrates the potential severity of measles and the rapidity of spread in an unvaccinated population. The very high apparent death-to-case ratio (2.3%) is unusual in the United States, which usually has a reported death-to-case ratio of 0.1% or lower.2

Footnotes:

1 Townsend, Tim. “Prayer or inoculation? H1N1 is newest dilemma Members of religious groups who forgo vaccines may put neighbors at risk, threaten common good.stltoday.com. St. Louis Post-Dispatch. 06 Dec. 2009. Web. 03 Feb. 2016.

2Epidemiologic Notes and Reports Multiple Measles Outbreaks on College Campuses–Ohio, Massachusetts, Illinois.MMWR. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 15 Mar. 1985. Web. 03 Feb. 2016.

You were *supposed* to stay out for two weeks

By Marie. ‘Marie’ is a pseudonym. This was originally published on Emerging Gently, and it is shared here with permission.


My mom sent me back to school too soon after having chicken pox. I had come down with it during a Girl Scouts camping weekend in fourth grade. It was right after my parents separated and she was working days for the first time, so the first week of school that I was sick I had been home alone. This was highly atypical for my upbringing and in hindsight I believe she had kept this a secret from my father’s side of the family, who knew I had chicken pox but whom she did not want to ask for help from, and this created her internal stress to get me back to school.

The following Monday morning, I still had open sores all over me, but my cold symptoms had lessened and my mother had been making noise all Sunday, in Christian Science platitudes, that I was ready to go back to school the next day–I had made my demonstration and that sort of thing. I kept pleading with her that NO ONE came back in one week, you were *supposed* to stay out for two weeks when you had the chicken pox; it was not a race, there was a rule. But I was sent on my way, to walk to school alone.

I was filled with dread. I was a pariah at school because of Christian Science. I was not a cool kid to begin with; too fat, too bookish, too sincere. I did not wear my ‘cult status’ (heh, heh) well. The arrangement in the mornings was that the entire student body waited in a crowd outside the doors until the arranged time and then the doors were unlocked and we proceeded into our classrooms. It was a small school district where we all walked to and from school, even at our lunch break.

As I approached the already large crowd of students, the first few took notice of me and a murmur, then a larger thrill of reaction sped through the student body. There were no adults present. They simultaneously turned to face me as a group and backed away from me as a group, into the brick corner of the building behind them, protectively. Dozens of voices cried out, “You’re not supposed to be here! You’re sick; what are you, stupid? She’s a Christian Scientist, she doesn’t know she’s not supposed to come here with chicken pox, she’s gonna get us all sick! Get away from us! Get away from here! Go home, Christian Scientist!”

I stopped, paces away from them, in the middle of the playground, hysterical with tears, pleading with them, “I know! I told my mom!” over and over again. They would not hear me. A teacher came to open the doors and saw the scene. She waved the children inside and hustled over to me to ask, “What on earth are you DOING here? It’s only been a week! You’re still sick!” I sobbed, “I KNOW! She told me to come back!” With veiled disgust and efficiency she whisked me into the nurse’s office who quickly confirmed with the first temperature check of my life that I was still contagious, gave me a note stating I was not to return until the following Monday, and sent me on the walk home.

I marched home filled with deep fury at my mother, hyperventilating with sobs over what I had been put through. She was surprised to see me stomp through the door and slam the note down in front of her. She asked some sort of question I can’t remember, but my answer was, “No! All the students were afraid of me and yelled at me to get away, and the teachers said I shouldn’t be there and the nurse said not to come back until next Monday. Just like I TOLD you.”

I crawled into my bed and fell into an exhausted sleep, which is where I should have been in the first place, hiccuping with tears as I slowly calmed down. As I drifted off, my last awareness was my mother’s presence at my bedside, stroking my hair. “I’m sorry, honey.”

I was the beneficiary of dumb luck.

By Jeremy, an Ex-Christian Scientist Group contributor.

None of us who grew up in loving homes with parents who cared deeply about us ever wants to admit that perhaps our parents didn’t do everything right, and perhaps, just perhaps, they neglected their duty to properly care for us in some very terrible ways, even if they had no malicious intent, and genuinely thought they were doing the best for us. Such is the case with me as I recall some of my early brushes with childhood illness.

I remember two instances when I was in first, and then second grades, where I suffered at length from a painful, hacking cough, and I was home sick from school for around a week or two each time. Since my parents were Christian Scientists, I was not taken to the doctor, so I was never diagnosed, although I now suspect it was either bronchitis, pneumonia, or most likely pertussis. No relief other than prayer, hot lemonade, and the singing of Christian Science hymns was offered. Fortunately, I recovered. In later years, my dad confided to me that he and Mom had been concerned enough about my condition to seriously consider taking me to a doctor. In retrospect, I wish they had. I may not have suffered as I did, as simple antibiotics may have cleared things up quickly.

I also recall several bouts with excruciatingly painful earaches between the ages of approximately six until around ten years of age. I was never taken to a doctor, where the pain could have been quickly abated and the infection properly treated with antibiotics. No, I was made to listen to a Christian Science practitioner, who tried to assure me that as ‘God’s perfect child’, the earache was an unreal ‘illusion’, or some such esoteric Christian Science crap.

I consider myself extremely fortunate to have survived my childhood with, as far as I can tell, few if any lasting physical effects directly attributable to lack of proper medical care. While the devout Christian Scientist would say I was ‘protected’, I think I was just the beneficiary of dumb luck.

About a year ago, I related these childhood experiences to a friend of mine who is a retired trauma counselor. She is a survivor of childhood abuse, and is also a cancer survivor. When I told her that I had never seen a doctor as a child, even for these conditions, she was shocked. She bluntly told me, “You were neglected.” I had to let that sink in for a while. While I realized my parents had no malicious intent, and my friend emphasized that, the glaring fact was that they neglected to give me the physical care I needed at the time. Most of us who grew up in Christian Science were neglected in exactly the same way. We’re all survivors, and in some cases, damn lucky to still be alive.