Surviving Childhood Diseases as a Jehovah’s Scientist

Many have asked how my mom is faring since my January post. I’m thrilled to report that she has her speech back which is remarkable.  However, since then I have almost killed her twice but it is mostly her fault.

We were raised Jehovah’s Witness by my mom (and agnostic dad). The JWs are the “no blood” group. Often confused with the Christian Scientists who are the “no medicine” group.

My mom was the MacGyver of home medicine. Anything that ailed us was healed with home remedies and naturopathic approaches. White iodine, merthiolate and garlic were our medicine cabinet staples. Ignoring the warnings and precautions on the bottle, a sore throat was swabbed with ginsian violet (and glycerin). I don’t know if it’s related or not but Dorothy and I have no tonsils even though no doctor ever removed them.

Trish got whooping cough right after an immunization and that was the end of that. The three kids that followed Trish never got vaccinated. When the school pressed her to have us immunized, my Mom threw down the religious belief card even though the JWs don’t oppose vaccinations. There really is no such thing as a Jehovah’s Scientist.

In our house there was also the Red Book. A phenomenal medical book with photographs and drawings that made all of the most abhorrent diseases come to life like a Disney pop-up book.IMG_5003

When I was 7, a sore tummy turned into an unbearable pain that the Red Book Ouija said was appendicitis. The Phone-a-Doc condescendingly told my mom to stop reading into my symptoms and to put a heating pad on my belly, subsequently leading to a ruptured appendix. The take away story is that I nearly died. But the undercurrent was that mom’s diagnosis had been correct. She was the master.

Besides being the preeminent Pierman diagnostic tool, the Red Book offered us hours of entertainment. We often used the book as a game, staring in disgusted amazement at the photos and drawings of diseases we couldn’t pronounce, we would tease each other, “The next page is going to be your disease”. Please, do NOT let me get syphilis again, I would say to my 6-year old self.

Eleven of us survived childhood with little more medical care than the sage offerings from the Red Book which my mom still keeps in her formidable library. Its pages fall open automatically to the heinously fascinating drawing of a man with shingles.IMG_5002

As a responsible and educated adult I naturally approach my own health in a much more sophisticated way:

I have Google.

Of course I didn’t have a flu shot this year (Haven’t you been listening?) so naturally I became ill and diagnosed myself with the flu in January. A month later Dr. Google helped me diagnose myself with salmonella and WebMD laid out my treatment plan. Both my diagnoses were confirmed accurate when my mom, not coincidentally, came down with the same diseases.IMG_5006

My mom’s flu put her in the hospital and her salmonella put her on high dose antibiotics. So she was at death’s door, sure. But how proud must she have been of me for self-diagnosing and medicating? The student had become the master!

When she called to tell me about her salmonella we talked about what an indomitable disease it is and she said, “You should’ve gone to the doctor about that.” Her incongruent words suspended between our telephone line for the briefest of seconds. And then we both laughed.

Don’t judge me for almost killing my mom. She started it.


  1. I confess I am surprised that you, too, were raised JW. My best friend, “Lyart” (who is also in blogworld , you might have read her) was too. She has written great stuff about it. My mom, on the other hand, was a nurse – and yet that book and the medicines you show raise vague recollections in me.

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      1. I was technically Presbyterian. But by the time I, the fifth kid came along, my parents felt more religiously about sleeping in on Sundays than being humiliated in church by their unruly hoard. Religion was fairly non-existent in my upbringing. That is why I identify as a heathen.

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  2. Well said sister We have a red medicine book and Leon goes to it when he has something and diagnoses his self before going to the doctor and his doctor said well Leon you have already done my job that will be a $20 co pay and insurance will pick up the rest LOL

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  3. Hysterical! I too was raised Jehovah’s Witness, but was expelled because my ex husband had written a book about them and I didn’t warn them he was doing so. Actually at the time he hadn’t yet written it but was researching discrepancies in their literature, more to do with subliminal imagery. That’s a whole other story.

    However on the medical note… When my son was newly born, I took him to a pediatrician. The one I had designated for my son was on vacation and I thought my son looked a bit jaundiced. What a mess. The substitute doctor had said I needed to take him to the hospital. I asked why and what would they do? He said, give him blood. At the time we were very strong adherents to the No Blood ruling. Our regular doctor was Jewish and he agreed with us, so we were disappointed he wasn’t in. (There are all kinds of reasons for why it’s a safeguard and now days many JW’s are allowed to have their own blood stored for anticipated surgeries should it be needed. At least I’ve heard that’s the case.) Well, instead of going to the hospital, we went home and got on the “Witness Medical Line”, (which btw is strictly word of mouth and shared information not authorized by the organization) and one of the sisters, told us how to take care of jaundice without a blood transfusion. ( In the meantime, I learned that my son’s doctor would return the next day and we set an appointment for first thing in the morning.)

    Her remedy was to get a sunlight stick (I don’t know if they still make them, the medical profession has probably banned them from us do it yourselfers) from Lowe’s, charcoal and distilled water. I was to line the bassinet with foil and place the sunstick on the roof of the cover. Note: a sunstick is NOT a sunlamp! A sunstick is used for plants. It is Low dose sunlight. Anyway, we would then undress our son except for his diaper and place cotton pads over his eyes to protect them, then rotate him every 15 minutes while giving him 2-3 ounces of distilled water with a crushed charcoal tablet in it with each rotation. He often didn’t want the all liquid but we did our best. We did this all afternoon and night long. We were exhausted. In the evening the doctor called upset that we hadn’t taken the baby to the hospital and I explained why. He didn’t like it but also didn’t sound angry with us and hung up. I might mention too that he had discovered that my son had a broken clavicle which we were not aware of.

    The next day, we took him to his regular doctor. My mom in the meantime came over and cleaned the house and straightened things up because we had been so busy, plus she was caring for our other two children.
    When we got to our regular doctor, he checked our son and said he was perfectly fine. He said, “if he was jaundiced yesterday there was no evidence of it today”. He also learned from my delivery doc that because he had to turn the baby for delivery as he was facing wrong way, it was not uncommon for a broken clavicle to result but that it automatically heals itself. So it was all good. What a relief! He was also very impressed with our home remedy that he made note of it for other possible JW patients.

    Moments after we arrived home, a swarm of police cars and social services was at our door. The other doctor had called them. I gave them my doctors number and told them all we had done. At first they were hostile but afterward they were very kind and respectful, not to mention impressed at the great lengths we had taken to safeguard our son. I was so glad mother had cleaned the place up! I got to keep my son and everyone left happy although I was ticked off at the doctor. My mother in law later realized who this doctor was. He had been the one who had delivered my husband while intoxicated and had injected her saddle block incorrectly which resulted in her having horrible headaches her whole life. Apparently the alcohol episode was not singular. He had lost his license and was now working under a different name. I guess he was taking no chances, hence the call to the authorities.

    Wow! I didn’t mean to take up so much of your space, but I thought you’d appreciate the story. That was 37 years ago. And that was just one of the remedies that came down the pipeline and to this day I too generally opt for the home remedies, but it has resulted in me having better health than most and looking much younger than many.

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    1. I’m so glad you took the time to tell your story. I, too, was born face breach! I guess my mom is old school when it comes to taking blood. She doesn’t believe she can use her own blood. She won’t have several surgeries that have been recommended to her because the concern for blood loss is too great. I’m glad your son pulled out of his jaundice and sickness! Thanks for the comment!

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  4. hm, hm – much of our childhood remedies were also based on mother nature’s medicine. Whereas noone had such a great book. But there also was no phone and to go to the doctor meant a loooong walk. Or for dad to be home to take one. So one had to be very seriously ill. Everything else was cured with herbs and teas and Pasta Plumbi from Dr. Reimer, an unguent that was supposed to heal pretty much everything from a nail puncturing a foot and other injuries to pustules and what not. I and my younger siblings are all still alive, so it wasn’t all that bad.
    The JW past is another story, I don’t think those injuries were as easily overcome in my case. Took me well into my thierties until I was ok with that side of my past. Seems, it wasn’t that much bother for you?

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    1. My mom and I have long conversations about her being JW. She is 89. Been knocking on doors for more than half her life. I was not happy as a kid growing up that way but now I’m really kind of grateful. I don’t get hung up on the holidays and no one ever disappoints me on my birthday. I guess I like the aspect of the religion that gets people away from focusing on themselves and on to more esoteric things. I did almost die as a kid though and my dad told my mom only within the last five or ten years that he had signed a consent form for me to receive a blood transfusion. She would not sign it. That part is hard to wrap my head around. Good to hear from you!

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      1. Both my parents were JW and my dad was the top kiddy in the entire area. So we were like on a plate all the time, having to be a good example to everybody else. Plus I grew up believing strongly. Until my own brain kicked in when I was a teenager. The ensuing battle, first with my dad, later with myself, took a while.

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      2. The aspect of the religion that bothers me
        Most is when they ex-communicate people for faltering. What happened to “let he without sin…?”Thank you for taking the time to comment. Ours was an interesting childhood, yes?


  5. I was raised a JW too. Controversial topic. Funny how you can always become a JW but you can never really leave! It’s like the mafia. Started following your page because you were. It’s interesting to find people who have not rebelled completely but have found solace in their knowledge and comfort between both worlds.

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    1. Well, they are happy to excommunicate you if you foul up. Happily my mom never resented any of her kids for not following her path and we were never isolated as adults because we didn’t stick with the church. Good to have you tagging along. I will look forward to seeing your pop up in my reader from time to time!

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      1. I never got baptized. My father was raised as a witness in California back when assemblies were 5 days long without a building in the hot sun outside. My grandmother was hardcore. My dad stopped attending at 14. When my mom married my dad she had always been interested in religion and she studies with her Mather in law. Raised us as witnesses. It was never jammed down my throat. In fact when I asked my mom of I could get baptized at 16. My dad said no. He knew better. Tho I have often wondered if I’d gotten baptized if that would have held me in that world. Would it had weighed heavier on my decision making? I have a cousin who was DFed 4 times. He’s now an elder. I also have cousins that are minsionaries. Sometimes it fits and sometimes it doesn’t.

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      2. I was never baptized either. My mom raised us all as witnesses starting in the 1959s in California. Boy do I remember those long assemblies. Awful for a kid!

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      3. That is so wild you grew up there esspeiclaly since my family was there for a short time like 5 years then moved home to Canada. They were then 19 60’s I’m dad wS in school in California when Kennedy was shot.

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  6. Very glad to hear that your mother is doing well ☺☺ Infact I too always refer to google before completely believing what the doc says….. Coz in my experience, sometimes the docs too have no clue.
    As for the medicines, you just have to refer to google before starting on the dose.

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