A Rare but Frightening Disorder: Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome: What it means to you
It would appear that the wiring in the brain of someone who suffers from Munchausen by Proxy does not function as it should. The pieces do not all fit together like an impossible puzzle. Things just do not fall in place, as they do for the rest of us.
It seems the pieces do not fit together...
What is munchausen syndrome? Munchausen is a strange mental disorder in which a person is desperate to receive attention. They will go to great lengths to receive that attention. They will: make up symptoms of medical conditions, urge that unnecessary surgery be performed, and try to fake lab test results.
What is munchausen by proxy syndrome?
Munchausen by proxy is akin to Munchausen in that it again is a serious, strange, and rare mental disorder. In this syndrome the Mother, most often, of a child will cause illness in her child again in an extreme need for attention. She will: fake symtoms to illnesses by putting blood in the child's urine, giving false fever reports, giving drugs to the child to make it vomit or have diarrhea, and other tricks.
In this article the story of a how a family's life was turned upside down and inside out by false accusations of Munchausen by Proxy is being shared with you. Due to the sensitive nature of this recounting, the names that are used are fictitious. The content of this article is true.
The main reason I have been given permission to tell this story is that the family involved wants you to know about this disorder and what can happen to you.. The reason you need to know what it is may keep this same thing from happening to your family. We often believe that the bizarre happenings and stuff that we read about or hear about can not happen to us.
This can happen to you....
The family in this story had that same beliefBut it can happen and it does. The closest analogy to this experience would be of someone who is convicted of a crime they did not commit. They are arrested, tried, and convicted and sentenced to years, life, or even death. And, they know they are innocent. This is the way the facts in this case played out. The Mother was guilty until proven innocent which did not happen until about four years later.In order to avoid confusion: the Jennifer Bush story is true and was a very public story during the time it occurred in the late nineties. I am using the real names in this case as they are in public records.
Flowers helped to calm the weary souls
During this time of upheaval in their lives, Bev and her Mother would always find a way to have a small flower bed. They would plant seeds and small plants as they both found seeing them grow as a kind of therapy.
For this reason, since I was unable to use any photographs of the family, I used flowers. I tried to choose simple ones that I thought they might have sprinkled around the homes they lived in during those years.
As for me I find the connection to the soil and growing things therapeutic too. And, I thought adding them to this dark troublesome story might symbolize the hope that remains in times when we may feel are very low points in our lives. Their fragility and vibrant colors offer a distraction from the assault that comes with an unexpected event in our lives.
Background: Jennifer Bush
Jennifer was a victim of Munchausen by Proxy. The abuse occurred from about age 2 until she was about 8. What she had to endure was beyond belief:
She endured 40 operations and illnesses which included---
- removal of her gall bladder
- removal of her appendix
- removal of part of her intestines
- treatment for diarrhea, seizures, and vomiting among other illnesses
The pediatric nurse reported during the Mother's trial that Jennifer's condition(s) would become worse after Kathy, her Mother, visited.
Kathy and Jennifer had been in the public spotlight in 1994 when they lobbied Washington for better health care. Two years later, Jennifer was removed from her home and her Mother was charged with intentionally making her child sick.
She was found guilty at trial and served 3 years in prison. She has been in contact with her daughter through exchanges of letters and her daughter wished to be reunited with her Mother.
As you see, there are cases where the accusations are found to be true. The following story is a journey into a nightmare from which it would take years to awaken.
Infant baby sick
In July of 1995 the earth stood still to herald the arrival on the planet of James Andersen Carlton, Bev's Mother told me. The delivery had been arduous and as a result Jac, as he would come to be called, was transported to a prestigious that specialized primarily in pediatric case.
He was hooked up to all of the high tech equipment of the day in an effort to stabilize him. His Mother was unable to travel with him as she was in serious condition herself having suffered a heart attack the day before his birth.
There was never any question about who would visit the baby till his Mother was released from the hospital. Bev's Mother would drive back and forth between the two hospitals for as long as was necessary. Within a week they were both home. The baby came home on an apnea monitor which he was on until he was about 11 months of age.
He was often sick and would stop breathing inexplicably for longer periods of time each time it happened. . Neither Bev nor her Mother were able to revive him fully the ambulance would be dispatched to quickly get him to the same hospital from which he had received prenatal care. This became the way of their lives for many months.
On one particular occasion, again Jac stopped breathing. He could be jostled to breathe again but only to stop once again. Post haste the ambulance arrived and took Mother and Jac to the hospital. The Grandmother followed, speeding all the way.
Tension in the air
Ben and Jac were already in an examining room when the Grandmother arrived. She was ushered into the room with them quickly. And, then it began. Two doctors entered the room and stood like two executioners who had come to take away the condemned prisoner. Their arms crossed, faces unfriendly and challenging.
The Mother and the Grandmother did not consider that behavior as strange or threatening at the time. They just thought it was because they had uncovered something new and possibly life threatening about Jac and had to break the bad news.
That is not what happened. An unfriendly, finger-pointing inquisition ensued. Pointed questions about Jac's medical history were asked. And they had all of those answers already as his primary care physician was attached to the hospital and to the clinic which was next door was also staffed with doctors who were all from this hospital. But the questions continued. Bev told me as he struggled to maintain her composure all of these years later: "It was as if they were trying to get me to stumble and trip up as I told of illness after illness, episode after episdoe where Jac stopped breathing. They wanted me to make a mistake. But it did not happen because I was telling them what happened. And it was just what his medical records stated."
Bev finally became somewhat agitated as the questioning seemed to suggest that perhaps she had been doing something to cause al of these visits to the doctor and to the ER. They also questioned how and why she knew so many medical terms.
The reasons Bev, knew so many medical terms and could use them with ease was two fold. One, many members of her family were doctors or nurses so she had been around medical jargon all of her life.
The second reason was, as she explained to me, that she had always been a detail person. She wanted to know and understand things especially concerning health issues. And this was her son. Of course, she would quickly learn and know the terms that were hurled at her.
At the end of the interrogation, she was told that nothing was wrong with Jac and that she should go to the Primary Care Physician the next morning, no appointment needed. On the way home they were concerned and unnerved. They had heard of the Munchausen by Proxy cases and knew that they had been implying that was what was happening in Jac's case.
When they got home they called the primary care physician, Ms. Marcum, and informed her of what had happened. She reassured them and told them to go ahead and come on in the next morning that she would be there and they would decide how to proceed with Jac's care.
Like good little lemmings who went down to the sea, Bev, her Mother and Jac arrived at the clinic. Because Jac had been so ill they were usually ushered right back. And so it was that day. Within a few minutes, Dr. Marcum would appear and the an answer would unfold. However after fifteen minutes and no Dr Marcum, Bev and her Mother had an epiphany.
She was not coming. This was a trap. Social Services for the state was being dispatched and Jac was going to be taken. Because you see, they had called Social Services themselves that morning before they left home. Bev had asked: In cases of Munchausen by Proxy what happens.
The case worker on the other end of the line said: "Oh, that is easy. They take the baby and ask questions later."
The only reason they had still gone to see Dr. Marcum is that she had been with them every step of the way through Jac's illness and they felt she had become their friend. She would be there for them and help straighten out any confusion.
But, it did not turn out that way.
So there in the clinic in tandem they quickly gathered up Jac's things and their things and left muttering something about having to be somewhere and unable to wait.
Forced to move
They raced home and Bev and Jac were sent off to another state to live with a friend until Grandmother could pack the house and move with them to a new life.
Before they left though, they must have Jac's medical records. So, daring against all odds, Beth called and requested them and with luck on her side was told she could come get them that afternoon but there was a charge per page and his file was thick. This was not an obstacle. the records would be theirs.
The records were read and reread and any suggestion of Munchauesen was glaringly absent. But it did not matter. The records they had told the real story of Jac's life anyway. No other records would ever be sent for by them.
Bev and Jac left late that afternoon and her Mother remained behind to pack the UHaul and join them soon.
Another background story
During that day before Bev left she and her Mother discovered something. They were talking with another member of the family about what had happened and the mystery of why she would be accused appeared just as an oasis appears to a thirsty wanderer in the desert. These thirsty wanderers now knew.
If you recall, it was mentioned at the beginning of these writings that Bev had had a heart attack the day before the birth of Jac. That was reason enough to have a C Section to avoid further stress on her body. Her obstetrician was vehemently opposed to them unless the person was at death's door during a delivery . He had even chided Bev's Mother that she had not really given birth because she had a C section when Bev was born. (Her pelvic area was too small to accommodate a normal delivery but he only scoffed at that.)
So Jac was forced to come via a normal delivery. But there was nothing normal about it. He became stuck in the birth canal as his shoulders were too large to move through and was born in great distress. He was not breathing for several minutes after birth and all of his apgar scores were very low. And of course he was on life support for a number of days after his birth.
As a result, Bev was encouraged to seek a malpractice suit against Dr. Hughes, her ob/gyn doctor. Even though the family was not sue happy, no one had ever sued for any reason, the possible medical ramifications could be astronomical in terms of financial needs.
With that in mind, they were referred by a member of the medical community who was also a family member to a doctor who would handle the case on a contingency basis.
Gathering informaton for the lawyer
Paperwork was signed giving permission for release of all medical records. This lawyer assured them they had a reasonable, strong case and that a settlement should be forth coming.
They left that day feeling confident they had done the right thing. Before they ever got to meet with the lawyer again, the veiled accusation of Munchausen by Proxy was made and life was never the same.
As it happened the last day Bev's Mother checked the mail before leaving the town they had lived happily in until the nightmare began, a letter from the lawyer came. Bev's mom opened it and it said...."am dropping this case because you, Bev Marchand, have been accused of Munchausen by Proxy." There it was in black and white. Thank God, they had left.
The doctor who had made the claim against Bev was best friends with her ob/gyn doctor. I know it seems incredulous that this could happen. That either doctor could be a party to accusations that could result in a child being taken from its Mother with no just cause still sticks in Bev's craw.
Not too many years after this incident, the doctor who made the false charges was banned from this prestigious pediatric hospital for subsequent malpractice suits that were filed against him. The ob/gyn is still practicing today. God be with his patients.
Four years later
After spending many long nights over the next four years. those tortured souls took care of Jac at home afraid to take him to the doctor unless he became lethargic or had a fever they could not get under control
There were times that he was so sick he could not eat or drink for days. Bev and her Mother took turns holding him and feeding him with an eye dropper to get needed nutrition and fluid into his body. Beef and chicken broth and water were his main sources of nourishment.
A turning point came when Bev's Mother returned home one day to find Jac curled up in the fetal position, covered with blankets, barely able to move. The decision was made to take him to the doctor who was just down the road. Fearful but too afraid not to take him they went.
Bev explained that Jac had been sick most of his life and that since moving to the area that he had gotten worse. The doctor listened intently as Bev told of all of the symptoms Jac had. He then administered a number of blood tests. He sent the family home that day not knowing any more than when they went. But there was a difference. He told them that if he could not find out what was wrong with Jac that he would find someone who could.
A few days later he called Bev, Jac, and the Grandmother to his office. He informed Bev that he thought he knew what was wrong with Jac but that he knew someone who would know for sure. And he referred Jac to a doctor in another state. They had little money but they found a way and they moved again.
The doctor they would be seeing was at another prestigious hospital and by this time Bev and her Mother were rather unimpressed by prestigious hospitals and their legendary reputations. But trusting the doctor who sent them they felt compelled to follow up.
Sometimes a sweet butterfly is attracted to the lovelies...
Answers and Validation, at last
With both great angst and great optimism, the family set off to see this new doctor as soon as they found a place to live. The Grandmother had found a job quickly before they arrived in the new town so they were feeling hopeful.
This doctor, Dr. Skalf, listened intently as Bev tried to fill in as many details as she could offer to her about Jac's health over the last four years. She took notes and examined Jac. She then sent them to the oncology unit of the hospital. Numb now, they moved in an almost zomblie like way acorss many corridors, up and down many elevators, acorss walkways, till they at last arrived at oncology. There more tests and more blood drawn. The blood drawn here was being sent to a distant lab that specialized in rare diseases including the type of cancer it was believed he had.
Within a week the resuts were back and Jac did indeed have a rare aggressive cancer. Bev asked me not to reveal the name as she is fearful that someone may read and put the pieces together and somehow try to find her and Jac although it is so many years later. And i must respect that.
It is sad that he was diagnosed with a cancer they were told he would probably die from at some point. But, Bev said, tearful now, "We, my Mother who stood by me all of this time and I, were validated. We knew he was sick. We knew we were not having any part in what was wrong with him. So to hear a diagnosis after four years of living a waking nightmare was heart breaking and validating at the same time. And," she continued, " Dr. Skalf told us we had done an excellent job of taking care of him, that we had done the right things considering the circumstances."
Knowing is powerful
Having this knowledge should empower those who read it. Bev and her Mother knew very little about Munchausen by Proxy before this happened. They got an unwanted crash course.
Bev's hope is that no one else is wrongfully accused of this terrifying disorder. Even today it is described as rare. So that suggests to me that the likelihood of someone being wrongfully accused of it could still occur today.
There sadly is probably another Kathy Bush out there somewhere. And, I for one hope that perons is caught and punished before a child's death results from this twisted form of Russian roulette. But i hope and Bev and her Mother hope that no other family is forced to endure what they did.
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