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.

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.