Sunday, February 10, 2013

Something worth talking about (Guest blog by Keyt Harrington)

I've had something I have wanted to talk about for a while. I mulled it around in my soggy brain for a while wondering if it would be too controversial. Because it's something that affects my life and I know many others, I have decided to jump in and take the risk.

My mother died in 2000 after at least 10 years of various illnesses from Cancer to alcoholism. Now, by saying that some might say why am I talking about something my mom can't defend herself over because she's gone? Well, good question. But, it's something that bothered me while she was still alive yet didn't really hit me until I saw a program on tv about it and later discussing it in therapy; Munchausen by Proxy.

Granted, those who have long standing medical issues such as mine and Tim's might know what it is, but those that don't, the shorter term for it is medical abuse.

Someone who suffers from Munchausen By Proxy (MBPS) has a need to make someone close to them such as a child sicker so the abuser can get the attention. Munchausen was named after an 18th century dignitary named Baron von Munchausen. He was famous for lying about his travels in order to get attention. It's very rare that anyone is diagnosed with MBPS and even more rare that anyone is ever punished for it for the simple fact that those who are the victims of it either are afraid to say anything or they are too young or even too disabled to speak up.

In most cases, those who are the abusers are either in the medical field or well versed in medical knowledge. My mother was both because she was an RN who was also an avid reader. She was the smartest person I've ever known, but it was also her downfall. It wasn't until her death that I learned a lot of what she told me was a lie. For example, she told me she came here from Ireland when she was 2 and she would write stories about people who were supposedly relatives who were killed in war in Ireland. I found out a few years ago she was born in Colorado. This is the kind of person that is often afflicted with MBPS.

Growing up my earliest memories (ironic word since the name she went by was Memory) are of her doing most of my basic hospital procedures like IV's, catheterizations, stitch removals, etc. No matter what hospital I was in doctors would let her do these things because she was an RN. It was all I knew so I didn't complain. I was in the hospital often as a child, but having Hydrocephalus and a shunt, that was common.

It wasn't until 4 or 5 years after her death I was watching a tv program about medical abuse. They did a story on this lady whose daughter was always in the hospital with stomach issues. They ended up removing most of her stomach, her kidney and she was on a feeding tube. Some nurse had suspected something was wrong so they put a video camera in her room and the video showed this woman looking around, then putting stuff in the girl's feeding tube. The girl was later put in foster care where she miraculously got better and the lady was charged with abuse.

The story bothered me so much that I began talking about it with my therapist that I began seeing around the time of my mother's death. I told my therapist about all the things I suspected and she agreed that she might have suffered from MBPS. All I know is my mother had a deep seeded need for attention. 
I can remember being in the hospital and before my admission would be finished she would be on the phone calling everyone telling them I was in the hospital again! Even if my particular situation at the time wasn't that serious, she would put on the water works for anyone that would listen as if I were on my death bed! She also never, EVER left my hospital room. Some might consider that an attentive parent but at a young age I began thinking it was creepy. She would literally not take a shower, not even a "cat bath" for a week or more!!
At home I can also vividly remember her coming into my room with a brown bottle (like the hydrogen peroxide bottles) and a spoon and telling me she spoke with the doctor and he told her to give me what was in it. Because I would be so sick, and because she was my mother and an RN I always complied. 

Now, I can't sit here and say that I ended up in the hospital as soon as I took that "medicine", but it all adds up!

There were also other situations like if my IV had to be changed over, she would quickly tell the IV techs "Go on, I can handle this!" as if she was giving them a break. If the techs didn't want to leave she would scream at them, and a few times reported them to their bosses. My mom was very good at that, if she didn't get what she wanted she yelled and complained to someone! Also for at least 15 years I had to be cathed due to bad kidneys. Let's just say that often turned into something uncomfortable and almost always embarrassing! I guess I should mention here I no longer have a kidney...or gall bladder, appendix or reproductive parts!

There are many, MANY people who thrive on the attention of their sick relative, but very few who actually make their loved one's illness worse just for the attention. MBPS is extremely rare. I had a child who had open heart surgery at 6 months old and I cannot imagine doing anything to make her worse just for my own benefit. The thought makes me cringe! I do remember when my daughter was in the hospital wondering if my mom felt about me the way I felt about my daughter...devastated and frightened!

After discussing this for a year or so with my therapist she asked me one vital question; "If your mother was still alive what would you do with this suspicion?". I still can't answer that. All I know is I'm very lucky to be alive for many reasons, this being one. The point is, as long as you are able to say something, you have every right to say no to something you don't want to do. I can remember starting in middle school little things here or there that my mom did that made me uncomfortable. Maybe had I said something then I wouldn't have gone through as much as I to this date I've had 49 surgeries, over half of which were done from the ages of 5 to 12. I'll never know. However, now if I don't like what a doctor wants me to do I will say no or even ask for a different doctor. Fortunately I'm one of the lucky ones where my trauma has made me stronger!

I have always been open and honest about my experiences just in case there is one person out there who may have gone through the same. Yes, I have had the funny looks, even laughs when no one believes me. I just never know if there's someone listening to me somewhere who has wondered if they were crazy for questioning what they have been through. Trauma of any kind is easier to deal with if you have someone to share it with.

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