Munchhausen Mothers like Virginia; sick women who make their children sick

"Did your mother like being the mother of a sick child?" asked the new psychiatrist as he ended our first 90 minute session.

My sleep deprived brain tried to remember the name of the book I'd read 20 years earlier about a mother poisoning her child to get attention as the mother of a chronically sick child. He didn't mean that Munchhausen by Proxy. That couldn't be me. No one poisoned me, or did they?

There was the paregoric, an opium tincture that my mother gave me for a variety of complaints including my chronic tummy aches. I remembered the paregoric. Mom would put some in a small glass, add a bit of water and tell me to gulp it all down at once since it tasted vile. I remember taking it as my mother told me into my 20s.

There were the "dozen trips to the hospital" that my mother repeatedly recounted to me. I didn't remember any of them, which was odd given my memory of other times in the hospital. I was told I'd had seizures from high fevers, once hitting 105.8 F. Since my father was often away on business sales trips Monday to Friday, my 10-year-older brother had to carry me to the car and into the hospital. But even though he was 10-15 years old during these incidents, he doesn't remember these incidents either. And what kid spikes a fever only when Father isn't home?

There were the doctors. Oh, the doctors. I never ever saw a doctor without my mother in the room until I went to college.

There was the GP who made home visits, she didn't appreciate parents bringing sick children into her office to expose healthy children to illness. But again, this was but one of many stories my mother had about her life and the sick child in it.

At about 5 1/2 years old I had an eye muscle operation for a lazy eye. I remember that.

At about 7 years old I had my tonsils out. I remember that.

At about 13 years old I had an eye muscle operation for the other lazy eye. I remember that.

My tummy aches led to an appendectomy and exploratory surgery at the age of 14 1/2 years. The surgeon declared it the "most beautiful appendix I've ever been so sorry to remove". I remember that, but I still had chronic stomach aches. I definitely remember that.

There were hospital visits for my wisdom teeth removal and one for removal of a chip of glass tubing in my hand chemistry lab accident. I remember those.

At 17 1/2 years old, I missed Senior Week at my large Houston high school after being admitted to the local hospital for seven days of tests in search of the reason for the continued stomach pains that still led to me doubled over in pain. Three enemas in one day for one test, I definitely remember that. And the radiology, the tests. Nothing showed. Poor Virginia, with the sick daughter.

I learned that previous to the tests, the GP believed I had cancer, an ulcer or some other issue. At the follow-up visit with the doctor, my mother was in the exam room with me. The doctor told my mother I needed to talk back to her. My mother's face turned beet red as she spat out the words, "You can tell her to go kick a tree!" They'd forgotten I was in the room. My invisibility cloak always worked when I was at the doctors. I left with a prescription.

My stomach aches disappeared when I went to college, that was until my parents showed up or I went home for a visit. I went to the college infirmary, without my mother. It was the first time that I'd ever seen any doctor, including eye doctors, without my mother to speak for me. I was afraid. It might be bad news. My mother had reinforced how sick I was.

At 22 years old, I went to my last visit to the GP in Houston. The doctor had a 3 inch deep file from the 7 years she had seen me. Called out of the examination room , I jumped off the examination table to quickly read at my file. Repeatedly the doctor's notes spoke of a hovering mother, who always stayed in the room for exams and answered questions for me. I knew I'd been smothered, but not that I'd been mute too.

After finishing college I left the USA to follow my boyfriend to Lima, Peru where his family lived. When my parents came for the wedding, my mother my boyfriend/husband that "Candy, likes to go to the doctor." It was odd enough a comment that he remembered a couple of decades later when he was pushing me to see a doctor and I was resisting. "When we got married your mother said you like to go to the doctor. I never understood why she thought that." I didn't either. She was the one who decided when I'd go to the doctor.

After my mother was in ICU, had a cancerous kidney removed and almost died, she came out of the hospital with a pain in her side that never went away. She'd grimace and show distress around the family, especially my father, and we'd all try to help. Eventually an RN in the family tried to help, at which point my mother looked about to see there was no one else about and said, "It's really not that bad." I didn't learn that till after my mother died.

Then there were the accidents that happened around family life cycle events. Was a wedding planned, my mother's car would slip out of gear and roll down the drive with the door hitting her. At another event she came down with a mysterious rash on her hands, no one could figure out. She would repeat the story saying it had affected her thermostat and was why she was always hot ever after. There was always some drama around medical thing.

Years after her death my husband noted my mother never spoke about her children, only about her childhood growing up in south Georgia. Was this shrink sitting before me sipping a Coca-Cola out of a can right? His question hung in the air between us. "Did your mother like being the mother of a sick child?" Given sympathy from various psychiatrists and therapists it is speculation that she had Munchhausen by Proxy, but it's a speculation I'm more than willing to stand by it.

(And despite all the abuse encountered, I still have many moments of feeling sorry for my mother.)

 

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    Candace Drimmer

    I was an accidental expatriate; love and marriage led me to it. One day I was a bandy-legged kid sitting atop my dogwood tree looking out of my small backyard world in 1950s New Jersey, wanting to move somewhere--anywhere, different. Next thing I knew my father had accepted a job in Houston TX. I was ecstatic, it was a foreign land in 1961 America. After high school graduation, my parents’ gave me a matched set of fawn-colored hardsided American Tourister luggage. Taking the hint, I went to college; well four colleges in five years--it was the 60s after all. Meeting a young hirsute anti-war, soon-to-be-Peace Corps volunteer, I fell in love. After finishing up college coursework for my degree, but before I even walking a graduation stage, I grabbed the paper airline ticket my boyfriend had sent me, my brand-new passport, and was off to the airport and Lima, Peru.

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