Sometime in the late 1980s, I became aware of peculiar memory problems, beyond just occasionally forgetting a name or mislaying something. In 1991 I sought help from a memory research group. They gave me the chilling diagnosis of early senile dementia, and entered me in a double-blind study to test the value of a Chinese herbal preparation.
My memory improved significantly, but over the next couple of years distressing physical problems developed. First came back pain and muscle spasms, then debilitating foot pain, frequent falls, and sciatica, all of which were eventually attributed to deteriorating spinal discs. Later on I also developed other illnesses including mitral valve prolapse, fibrocystic disease, a liver condition, arthritis, borderline diabetes, and hypothyroidism.
Plagued by pain and fatigue, I gradually withdrew from almost all outside activities. I still attended my local Episcopalian church, where I was a vestry member, but there were times when I had to leave in the middle of a service or meeting because of physical difficulties. My life turned into rounds of pill popping and visits to specialists.
As a medical treatment reduced the symptoms of one disease, others sprang up. Unwilling to continue this downward course, I investigated other forms of healing. In August 1993 I found a medical doctor who could treat me through homeopathy, ayurvedic medicine, nutrition, and yoga. During this period I was also Rolfed (a form of therapeutic muscle manipulation) and received physical therapy.
I stopped taking prescription medicine, changed my diet, and exercised. Instead of drugs, I took homeopathic remedies and vitamins. Soon I felt better and started to resume a normal life. But after a while, new problems surfaced, which required additional homeopathic remedies. Once again, I was a pill popper. In fact, when I went through customs at the beginning of a month-long trip to Mexico, I carried so many pills and pellets that I was detained while guards and drug-sniffing dogs investigated. I couldn't blame them. Every corner of my luggage was stuffed with pills.
Worst of all, the memory problems returned, now more severe than ever. This time the diagnosis was Alzheimer's disease. Tests turned up a blood factor associated with some cases of Alzheimer's. Also, my family history showed instances of memory loss and senility, and a cousin had succumbed to Alzheimer's, raising concerns of genetic transmission.
In July 1996, I was put on the strongest allowable dosage of Tacrin, which was then the drug of last resort. Tacrin was no cure-all. Studies had shown that its effectiveness was short-lived and that stopping the dosage resulted in precipitous, irretrievable decline into dementia.
The months following this new diagnosis were a time of sheer desperation. Still, I had blessings to count. My husband's caring presence was primary. Extremely important, too, were the coordinators and members of an Alzheimer's patient support group. The group leaders were so patient, concerned, and helpful. And it was a relief to be out of isolation and in the company of others who were also in the mid-stages of Alzheimer's. We understood each other's lapses—even if we couldn't remember each other's names. We talked about many things; we cried; but we also laughed and had wonderful times together. That was no longer happening very often anywhere else in my life.
One woman in our group seemed less distressed than the rest of us, although she was perhaps the eldest group member. She was certainly the most glamorous of us, always wearing gorgeous satins and crepes with shawls and dazzling jewelry. She once had owned a boutique in Miami Beach and had designed the bathing suit Betty Grable wore in her famous pin-up picture.
One day I asked her how she managed to remain so calm in the face of such a calamity. "When I was young," she replied, "my mother gave me a book by Mary Baker Eddy, and that book is my rock. It keeps me steady." I took this as a clue. I recognized the name Mary Baker Eddy. And I knew about Christian Science practitioners, that they were supposed to be able to heal through prayer. But I hesitated at the thought of talking to a practitioner. There were many fears involved.
Then I visited my uncle in St. Petersburg, Florida. One day, as I walked past a Christian Science Reading Room, I noticed in the window a booklet about suicide. On impulse, I went in and asked for a copy of the booklet—"to give to a friend." I didn't want to say I was suicidal, but just a few weeks earlier I had come perilously close to suicide. The pastor of my church had helped me through that crisis. I had promised myself I would never consider that option again. But because I was unwilling to let the disease take its predicted slow course, the thought of committing suicide lingered.
I mentioned to the Reading Room librarian that I was suffering from Alzheimer's. She suggested that I visit a Reading Room when I returned to New York. After returning I still hesitated. Along with fears about the disease, fears about Christian Science swirled in my mind: Maybe practitioners would reject me. If I tried Christian Science, would God not forgive me for going outside my church? Christian Science sounded OK from the outside—but what if inside it was evil, even witchcraft, or involved dependency upon a person? Or what if God really wanted me to die now, so I shouldn't resist His will any longer? Should I do as some people had suggested—rejoice in the illness and turn my suffering over to God as a sacrifice? Even if I went to a Reading Room, would I remember anything someone told me?
I prayed with all my heart, asking God to spare me and my family from the last stages of this disease.
Before long, side effects of the new medication became almost unendurable. I reduced the dosage, trying to keep some benefits while reducing side effects. I no longer believed there was any chance of surviving. I prayed with all my heart, asking God to spare me and my family from the last stages of this disease. I hoped that sudden illness or an accident would "take me away."
The next visit to my physician revealed a further complication, a blood infection. The physician was a compassionate man who knew how I felt; he had lost his own mother to Alzheimer's. His assistant, also a doctor, asked me if I wanted to be treated for the blood disease. I thought about it for a day or two, and concluded that this new diagnosis was a gift from God. I declined further treatment.
At last, I could make a plan. I would use up the medications I had, and then just hope that my combined maladies would rapidly put an end to my life. And I would stop by a Christian Science Reading Room in Manhattan and ask if they could help me. What could I lose? Well, maybe everlasting life, but I decided to risk it. Maybe God would understand.
The following day I asked my support group leaders what they thought about my plan. They recommended that I should not burn any bridges, that I should leave the doors open with my medical providers. But they saw no harm in visiting the Reading Room.
After the meeting, I went to the Reading Room on 63rd Street in Manhattan and described my problem to the attendant. Without hesitating she told me that Christian Science could help. She gave me a copy of The Christian Science Journal, and showed me the list of advertising practitioners. She would not recommend one, but mentioned several in our area. I took notes, because things had a way of entering and leaving my mind without a trace. She suggested that I pray to know the one to call.
The next day—January 26, 1998—I made an appointment with a practitioner in his office. He listened patiently, and assured me that God's will for me was not to die, but to live.
I continued to pray for guidance and felt led to call a different practitioner. She built on the foundation the first practitioner had provided. I felt very peaceful as we talked. I do not recall exactly what she said, but I knew I understood it. It was very simple, and I drank it in because my experiences had rendered me like a child—helpless and dependent on what was true, good, and nurturing.
"Lean on God," she told me, "He will support you." I left with some passages to look up in Science and Health. Happily, I had the book at home, a copy I had picked up at a secondhand bookstore decades earlier out of curiosity. I had read some of it then, but hadn't really understood it.
After a month, I had read the citations many times, and had prayed as trustingly as I could. I acted on my earlier plan to stop using medication altogether. I tried to understand and to believe what the practitioner had taught me about my spiritual nature and my indissoluble relationship to God. I leaned on God as well as I knew how.
I used the last of the medication some time around February 25, and without much delay I went back to the practitioner's office, a bit surprised to find myself still aware, knowing who I was, able to find my way around. The predicted sudden mental decline had not occurred when I stopped using the medication. We talked, and then she asked me if I wanted her to pray. I certainly did, and I eagerly awaited her words.
She closed her eyes, bowed her head—and said absolutely nothing. I wondered what was going on. Perhaps she was composing her prayer before speaking. It was a very long silence. Finally, I guessed that she was praying silently. That seemed very odd. What could she be saying in prayer? At last she opened her eyes and smiled.
Because God gives such pure love, and never sends evil but holds His creation forever safe, I was able to love God fully.
A few more words, and our meeting was over. That was all. It was as simple as that. No laying on of hands, no hocus-pocus, nothing more mysterious than peaceful conversation and silent prayer.
"Let me hear how you are doing," she said as I was leaving. "Results are guaranteed."
What extraordinary words. "Results are guaranteed." As I walked down the street, they were chiming through my mind. Could her words be true? Could it really be possible to recover?
I don't believe I slept a wink that night. I felt happier than I'd ever been. I don't think I cared whether I was cured or not because there was this bright, shining, pure light that told me God was good. I sensed that God is everything we could want Him to be, and much more, so much more. I saw that God truly is Love. I saw the stars and planets, the universe, in vast and peaceful order, moving in Love. I knew I was part of it. I knew that everyone who has ever lived is, and always will be, living in this Love. And because He gives such pure love, and never sends evil but holds His creation forever safe, I was able to love God fully, ardently, for the first time in my life.
Over the next weeks, life continued much as usual. I took no further medication. I did not drop off the precipice into dementia. I didn't think about the blood infection I was supposed to have, but I attended my weekly Alzheimer's support group. I noticed that I was aware of which members were missing; and I remembered things from the previous meetings. Once, when one of our group leaders was searching for the right word to make a point, I supplied the word. I noticed the two leaders glance at each other in surprise—and I was surprised myself.
The following week, the group leaders asked if I would mind being reevaluated. I agreed, and I felt I would do well. On March 30—two months after my visit with the first Christian Science practitioner—I met with a doctor at New York Presbyterian Hospital. He gave me a series of tests similar to ones I'd taken over the last few years, tests I'd sometimes found so frustrating that I cried over my inabilities. This time I breezed through them, enjoying the challenge.
The doctor was almost as happy as I was with the results. He said I had done very well, and that he had given me some tests that would not ordinarily be given to a person my age. On those tests, he said, I had scored better than the average twenty-seven-year-old. He said he had never before reversed a diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease.
The doctor and I told my husband the news that he had reversed the diagnosis. Only three times before in our 40 years of marriage had I seen tears in his eyes. This time they were tears of joy.
Since that day, I've gone to the Reading Room many times to read and to learn. I also began attending services at a Church of Christ, Scientist. I found the Wednesday night meetings especially helpful, as people told about their healings and spiritual journeys. All of this was tremendously supportive and encouraging as I gained a completely new and astonishing view of reality—in which spiritual being is real and tangible. I know now that the most important thing I can do is to learn more about healing through prayer, and to understand how to help other people emerge from suffering. I have experienced a healing power that is within reach of anyone who seeks it with an honest heart.
I have experienced a healing power that is within reach of anyone who seeks it with an honest heart.
In 2000, I joined the church that runs the Reading Room I first visited in New York City. This past year I took class instruction in Christian Science healing and became a member of The Mother Church in Boston. My only medicine now is truth that I've found in the Bible and Science and Health, and I am completely free of the many maladies that had tormented me. None of the fears I had about Christian Science materialized, while great blessings have been granted me.