THE DOCTOR HAS SOME GOOD THINGS TO SAY ABOUT CHRISTIAN SCIENCE
The outline for this column occurred to me while I was planning last month’s column about antibiotics because of the consequences of excessive faith in antibiotics.
One of my early patients in 1954 when I first hung out my shingle insisted on a penicillin shot for a cold. After hearing my best pitch about penicillin not helping virus infections and the greater severity of allergic reactions to shots (because you cannot stop giving medicine that is already in there), he still wanted the shot. Probably as a result of my psychological state as a tenderfoot M.D. I gave him the shot. He got quite a severe allergic reaction, but bless his heart he didn’t blame me. He spread the word that I was conscientious and really explained things.
Fresh from this experience, I had my first Christian Science patient, a lady with young children. She wanted to respect her new religious outlook but didn’t want to be caught dead with appenditis or some other curable scourge. So she was very happy to forego optional or futile treatment. After my earlier experience, seeing her was like a breath of fresh air. I was beginning to see the point of Christian Science. When she called me about her 2 year old swallowing a marble, I told her not to worry but if she insisted on worrying a little bit, she could watch for the marble’s appearance. In a few days she called to say she had found seven marbles and we had a good laugh.
So you can see I was learning some things about rolling with the punches. I am sure that these early positive experiences permitted me to come up with “the Christian Science Pledge” which our family took when we went on 2 week back packing vacations. The pledge went like this: “If I get some nickel or dime ache or pain that is not worthy of helicopter evacuation I will keep my mouth shut in order not to spoil the trip for everybody else.” Now when I get a new Christian Scientist patient who is embarrassed about feeling the need to see a doctor, I feel honest about reassuring him that I am the nearest thing to a Christian Scientist that ever graduated from medical school. I hasten to add that I have never attended their services.
Think of these thoughts when your doctor is trying to reassure you that you don’t need high powered treatment (antibiotics are the immediate context). These thoughts also illustrate that taking a Panglossian attitude is just fine if it happens to be at all realistic. Pangloss was the guy in Voltaire’s Candide who believed that everything happened for the best in this best of all possible worlds. A few days after I wrote this it came to me where Voltaire got the name, Pangloss: gloss all over the place as in pandemonium or panamerican.
John A. Frantz, M.D.
Chairman Monroe Board of Health
September 23, 2000
Modern religions are only a few thousand years old. It is hard to imagine that human psychology was radically different before religions arose. It’s not that religion and culture don’t have a role to play, but the building blocks of morality clearly predate humanity. We recognize them in our primate relatives, with empathy being most conspicuous in the bonobo and reciprocity in the chimpanzee. Moral rules tell us when and how to apply these tendencies, but the tendencies themselves have been in the works since time immemorial.
It is remarkable how much you can accomplish if you don’t care who gets the credit.
Harry S. Truman