Thursday, October 01, 2009

Unintended Consequences

I recently met Cal Samra, editor of the Joyful Noiseletter and, with his wife Rose, cofounder of the Fellowship of Merry Christians. That caused me to do some reading in two of the Samras’ several publications. They are truly ecumenical, featuring humor that applies to leaders and followers of all religious faiths.

In one comical yarn, various types of people pass a man who is trapped in the bottom of a pit until Jesus arrives to rescue him. A sampling: A mathematician calculates how the man fell into the pit. A reporter wants exclusive rights to the pit. A fire-and-brimstone preacher says, “You deserve your pit.” An IRS agent asks if the man was paying taxes on the pit. A Christian Scientist observes, “The pit is just in your mind.”

The last observation caused me to reflect on what I believe about Christian Science teachings. My mother served as first reader for our little congregation in Tomahawk, Wisconsin, for many years. I sat through hundreds of Sunday services and Wednesday evening testimonials by those who claimed to be healthy or even healed through prayer and a proper attitude toward illnesses (basically, sickness is not real if you don’t let it be).

My mother, who believed that help from “skilled hands” was acceptable for Christian Scientists, had her two children at home with Dr. William McCormick attending. She never saw a doctor again until she was about 85 years old.

Although I did not join the church as an adult, I believe the fundamental philosophy has a lot of merit. I was employed almost continuously for 48 years and took so few sick days in all that time that Sandy and I can remember each one. There were four and one-half. One was to recover from a minor operation; three were spent dealing with severe flu attacks. The half-day absence was to nurse a terrific hangover.

Throughout all those years of sickness-free work my health habits were less than exemplary. I smoked cigarettes—a pack a day or more—for 41 of the 48 years. I was overweight most of the time, and some of that was due to a love affair with such health foods as ice cream, french fries, and sweet rolls. I didn’t exercise whenever I didn’t have to. So I think my good luck with health matters mostly is because of my early training.

Whenever I feel less than tip top, I consider it just a temporary condition that will soon pass, not the start of an illness. Sickness is not in my plans. I just don’t think about it much, certainly not as much as many of my acquaintances do.

I am grateful for the general part of Christian Science philosophy that stuck with me, even though I do not believe at all in some practices by members. The consequences of choosing faith over science can be costly, as for those who refuse blood transfusions or vaccinations. Nothing extremely serious happened to me, but one practice had lasting bad effects.

I was not permitted to get any type of painkiller while in the dentist’s chair. That would have been introducing a foreign substance into my body, an action true Christian Scientists disdain. Gad, how I hated visits to Archie Houns, DDS. He didn’t like seeing me, either. When the drill hit home, I screeched and squirmed and loudly begged for mercy. In my pre-teen years, Mom helped by holding my hand.

Because of those horribly painful early experiences, I avoided visits to dentists whenever I could in later years. The result is a mouth full of a whole lot of vacant spaces bordered by expensive plastic teeth of various types.

My son seldom seeks my advice, perhaps because I usually offer much more of it than he wants or needs well before he has any opportunity to formulate questions. Once, however, he asked what single thing I would change if I could do it all over again. I surprised him by saying I would visit dentists regularly, requesting every painkiller available.


joared said...

You don't have to be a Christian Scientist to believe in mind over body. I strongly believe in the power of thought, the language we give ourselves as influencing our behaviors and, it follows, our health.

I, too, had dental work as a child with no pain killers, since my Jewish doctor thought they should be given only as a last resort to young children. All of this was explained to me by my Christian mother who embraced this idea, too, and I fully accepted it. I used to catch the city bus, when I was old enough (upper elementary school age) to down town, and went to my dentist, Dr. Meyers, alone.

The Doctor would examine my teeth, clean them, then if I needed fillings (and I often did though I drank lots of milk) he would phone my mother with his report. She would sanction the filling and he would consult with me as to whether or not I was willing to have him proceed. He carefully explained I could experience pain with some of the deep molar fillings, especially, but to let him know immediately and he would do his best to minimize it. I always agreed, and, of course, after the very first filling ever, I'm sure I knew what I might expect.

Those dental experiences have not adversely affected my attitude and I have had regular care when possible all my life. That's been good for me, because I have many fillings, and even had a few teeth removed -- one unnecessarily as a teenager by a new dentist who later was institutionalized for pulling many people's teeth similarly -- that day was like a scene out of a horror movie for me.

I also have a very high tolerance level for pain of all type. I've often wondered if my pain tolerance was genetic or a consequence of conditioning from my childhood -- possibly both.

Guess I've told you more than you want to know, but your story reminded me once again of my own.

Dick Klade said...

Thanks for your interesting story. "Mind over body" is a good way to put it. It does work, and many people would be happier if they took a positive, rather than negative, attitude toward their health.