Saturday, May 28, 2005

Book Review: Sickened by Julie Gregory

This candidly written novel is the memoir of a girl whose mom suffered with "Munchausen By Proxy" disease. Right from the first chapter I was hooked because I had never heard of such a disease and having recently developed an interest in mental diseases ( I volunteer in the ER and see a lot of patients with psychological disorders), I was very curious to read more. What I found out made me cringe, but let me first start with how psychological text books describe the affliction:

"Formally defined as an illness around 1950, MBP is a psychological disorder in which caretakers, usually female and themselves the victims of traumatic abuse, 'make an otherwise healthy child sick' as a way of gaining attention and approval for themselves. Named after an 18th-century aristocrat famous for his outrageous stories, Munchausen has been so difficult to comprehend because one simply has a hard time believing that a parent could violate and terrorize their child in such a bizarre manner."

So, the narrator's mom was obsessed with her (the narrator),having a cardiac defect from which she was going to die and her childhood was spent traipsing from one cardiologist to another, where a battery of unpleasant tests (including an invasive heart catheterization) were performed on her. When all the cardiac reports came back normal, her disappointed mom insisted that she undergo painful and embarassing tests at a urologist's clinic, a painful nose operation at an ENT clinic and also an intestinal exploration clinic for which she had to down a glass of thick barium flavored with orange so that they could take an x-ray of her intestine. When none of those tests came back positive her mom was terribly frustrated because she was convinced Julie was dying; I guess envisioning and thriving on the fact that your child could be so close to death can only be alluring to a severely mentally ill woman.

This book cannot be everyone's cup of tea because of the abuse described. It is however interesting and provides a glimpse into a life we will not often see (thankfully).

MBP is very hard for doctors to diagnose. Doctors generally look to the parent when a child is ill, and often the carer is an accomplished liar.Sandy (the mother), was someone who had her own "Encyclopedia of Disease, Internal Organs and their Functions" and armed with that material she was quite convincing when talking to the doctors.

A big thank you to kelleyanne for sharing this book with me. Thank goodness all ends well for Julie.

To find out more about her along with information on MBP:

Julie Gregory