THE EDUCATION OF ELOISE
By E.C. McMullen Jr.
It was directly because of Eloise spider phobia that she threw herself into education and study of the brain.
Was it all psychological? A mere veneer of electrical static over the cerebral cortex? Eloise pursued the idea that phobias, like her arachnophobia, were physical in nature and a physical change to the brain could alleviate the suffering of people like her.
Even better, in late 19th century, the constantly scrubbed, sterile environment required of medical research assured virtually no spiders: Certainly not on the scale of the farm where she grew up.
It was easy for young women to enter college in 1894. Less easy for their studies to be any more serious than servile: legal secretary, nurse, housekeeper. Yet Eloise was determined and her dogged pursuit relentless. If Maria S. Sklodowska could graduate as Top Student at the great science university, Sorbonne in Paris, and Maria did do it, then Eloise could do it too.
This despite the sacrifices: Eloise was not accepted into anywhere near so prestigious a University as the Sorbonne. The lab equipment was bland even by Eloise’ inexperience (she was aware of better, as she read with a voluminous hunger). Of what there was, the men always got first crack at everything. Having access to only basic microscopes and other mundane lab equipment, Eloise was limited to doing brain lobe research. Ah, but such research!
With persistence and politics – for one gets nowhere without allegiances – Eloise achieved her research Ph.D with the highest honors in 1899.
There of course, had been stark episodes during that time. Her secret phobia nearly outed her fears on more than a few occasions. Fortunately her male peers merely considered her frights a “Woman’s Weakness” and not a deeper, nearly uncontrolled psychological disorder.
In 1900, the esteemed brain researcher, Santiago Ramón y Cajal,Santiago Ramón y Cajal, came to America and Eloise’ place of intern residency to lead a symposium. Years of meticulous use of the most powerful microscopes in the world, of which there were only three, allowed the famed Cajal to use one at his leisure, so that he might see and visually record, with his detailed drawings, the structure of a brain cell.
His presentation included acetate projections of his latest drawings. On the wall in the dark of the theater, they towered over the audience. Doctor Cajal compared the structure of brain cell dendrites to the branches and root systems of trees.
Only Eloise didn’t see trees.
There in the dark, lit only by the projection and its contents, screamed an uncontrolled Eloise embraced in an overwhelming horror that would never release her.
As the oppressively massive projection of giant dendrites loomed over her, Eloise saw the true physical nature of her arachnophobia.
Every single one of her billions of tormented brain cells were spiders.
Copyright 2016 by E.C. McMullen Jr.
Art: Arachnophobe’s Nightmare by Leo-Paul Robert
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