When You Suspect The Worst
I have a really complicated question, culminating in a “OMG what do I do?”
A friend of more than a decade has suffered from multiple health issues and allergies onset in her adulthood, most of them pretty rare, and took months and years to get diagnoses and treatment, and some she’s never received a diagnosis or treatment.
Recently, her tween daughter has been suffering from strange symptoms, including vomiting, rashes, nausea, and a number of things that appeared to be allergy-related, but maybe not because my friend tried eliminating the possible allergen but there’s still vomiting or bloating or headaches or whatever. This has been going on for months and months, with little relief, and a confusing array of symptoms and causes.
I am honestly very reluctant to even say this, because I don’t want to place doubt on anyone’s health issues, but I’m beginning to suspect Munchausen’s by Proxy Syndrome. I realize that as a complete medical outsider it’s a pretty serious claim, but everything just seems suspicious.
The symptoms came on suddenly, but are very sporadic, And according to my friend don’t seem to have any connection to one another, despite many, many months of sickness.
My friend has suffered from multiple, obscure allergies, and is now under treatment, so isn’t suffering herself as much as she was. When she was suffering, I (and other friends) heard about it regularly. Now, we hear about her daughter’s issues, and occasionally about her own.
They just moved to a new location, have few friends there, and the symptoms are most prevalent when the father is out of town, which is weekly.
My friend gets upset when doctors are “dismissive,” saying that it may be a virus and to ride it out, and tends to insist on more and more invasive tests and procedures, getting upset if the doctors can’t or won’t identify more tests.
I’m really torn. On the one hand, if it were my daughter and she were really suffering from something like this, I’d be beside myself trying to get appropriate treatment. On the other hand, it seems suspect to me that there are so many disparate, severe, untreatable symptoms that suddenly popped up when she started receiving treatment for her own symptoms.
So, should I feel responsible to talk to someone about this? Should I talk to my friend? Or a doctor? I’m so concerned about this, because I’m so afraid for the little girl’s health (omg, she was so tiny and shy and underweight to being with), but don’t want to overreact. They’re in a different state so I don’t know where I’d go.
Am I being a buttinsky?
Truly Concerned Friend
Reading this letter gave me actual, honest-to-God chills. CHILLS. I was thinking the same thing — the M by P thing — before you even typed it out. Something about this situation sounds…off. Not quite right. And since you’ve been friends with this woman for more than a decade, I’m guessing you’re not coming up with unfounded suspicious way out of left field.
Please please please call the National Child Abuse Helpline IMMEDIATELY and tell them about this little girl and your fears for her health and safety. The number is 1-800-4-A-CHILD. (1-800-422-4453). You can make the call anonymously. You can also call her state’s Child Protective Services directly — most states have toll-free numbers and allow you to remain anonymous as well. Here’s a list of websites and numbers for reporting your suspicions.
You’ve mentioned SO MANY classic red flags here — the symptoms appearing while her husband is away, the anger at medical professionals, the demands for invasive procedures, her fixation on the illnesses, etc. — that one would hope the doctors would be “onto” her already, but since she has years of “practice” with her own ongoing Mysterious Illnesses of Mystery, it’s entirely likely that she’s a skilled pro at faking/malingering and knows to doctor-hop before anyone gets too suspicious.
Yes, Muchausen By Proxy is a very serious claim and one that feels doubly cruel to make against someone who may actually be dealing with a genuinely sick kid. But given the facts as you have typed them, I’m very worried about this child too. (Anyone been around the mommyblogging world long enough to remember The McDonald Five nightmare from a few years ago? OMG.) It’s a difficult thing to “prove,” but the discovery of the (often life-threatening, sometimes fatal) abuse always starts with the same thing: Someone suspecting that something is not quite right, and acting on that small, nagging suspicion.
Someone needs to step in and at least raise the possibility that her mother is making her sick. And as upsetting as the situation is, SOMEONE NEEDS TO BE THAT SOMEONE. You can be that someone. 1-800-4-A-CHILD.
Photo source: iStockphoto/ThinkstockPublished April 9, 2012. Last updated April 9, 2012.