Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy?

Why do some parents drag their kids to the doctor all the time?

While I am in pretty good health for my age, when I was a kid, visits to hospitals and doctors were quite frequent.  Apparently, even though I felt well enough, I was a sickly child.  And my Mother dragged me from Doctor to Doctor until one day, well, I wasn't sick anymore.  Did she have Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy?

It was quite an odd experience, and when I asked my parents about it, they would become evasive or claim not to remember what happened.  You would think the hospital bills would have been memorable.  I am not saying that all off these illnesses were imagined, only that, well, let me explain, and you can draw your own conclusions.

To start with, my birth was apparently quite a trial.  When I was growing up, my Mother, after a few martinis, would start getting maudlin and tell me and my brother, "Well you know, when one of you was born, the doctor thought we were going to lose the baby!  I was in labor for nearly 24 hours, and the doctor at one point told your Father that we were going to lose both me and the baby!  Well, fortunately, it worked out OK.  I won't say which one of you it was, of course!"

And of course, we always assumed it was my brother who was the problem child.   After all, he always had (and still has) this goofy expression on his face, like a kid with Down's syndrome.   And of course, he ain't exactly the brightest bulb in the universe.   And he always was getting into "trouble" in his life.  So, hell, he had to be the one with the umbilical cord wrapped around his neck - what other explanation was there?

After my Mother died, my Father gave me a box of books and papers which he didn't want.   One was my baby book, which was not filled out, but had some letters and cards in it.   Before throwing it all on the bonfire, I glanced at a couple of them.  One was a letter from a friend of Mothers, telling her to get well and giving her sympathy for the horrific childbirth experience.

Holy Shit!  I was the Malanga Baby!  And all this time I thought it was my retarded Brother.   Who knew?  In retrospect, of course, it makes sense - I have an enormous head and it must have just been like pulling a cork out of a wine bottle without a cork screw.

Well, anyway, they left the hospital, tossed me in the trunk of the car and drove home, no doubt smoking a cigarette and drinking a martini en route.   But my medical problems were just starting.

Mother always said I was a quiet, happy baby, and there is a good explanation of why.  She was concerned that I was "dangerously underweight" - apparently she forgot about my enormous head and what it had done to her.  So, anyway, back off the doctor we went, and he prescribed that she put a bottle of Guinness beer in a baby bottle and feed it to me.

Well, it must have worked, as I am no longer in any fear of being dangerously underweight.   And yes, if you Guinness people want to use that, be my guest.  Guinness - it does a baby good!

But it also explains why I was a placid, happy baby.   Must have been all those vitamins.

My Mother made one other weird comment about my early childhood.   She said that when I was an infant, they gave me phenobarbital, and it caused an allergic reaction in me.   Why you would give barbiturates to an infant is beyond me.  It is just another one of those bizarre, unexplained stories she told me.

Life was pretty good, I guess, for a couple of years - I don't remember much of that time period.  But at about age 4, I was hospitalized with a bizarre and undiagnosed high fever.  To this day, my parents say they never knew what caused it.   A doctor apparently thought it was meningitis.  I ran a high fever and they actually put me on a bed of ice, at the Pittsford hospital, near Rochester New York.  I do remember that time, particularly the ice part - and the bed pans.

Just as mysteriously as the fever came on, it went away.  And within a few days, I was sent home.  I am not sure what caused all that - was it meningitis?  Reaction to an immunization?  Household cleaning agents in the soup?  I will never know.

Shortly after that, we moved to Illinois, and the medical problems started up again.  I am not sure what the grounds for complaint were at the time - I don't remember feeling sick or ill.  But my Mother took me to one specialist after another.  I was getting shots and having blood drawn, and I remember giving urine sample after urine sample.  I became quite good at peeing in a cup.

During one test, they shoved a catheter up inside me, which was no Swiss Picnic for a six-year-old.  The injected some sort of chemical into me and then pulled the catheter out like they were pull-starting a chain saw.  "It hurts less this way," the Doctor told me.   The Doctor lied.  An intern noted that the procedure was not done properly, so this did it a second time - this time the memory of the searing pain was in my head the whole time, which made it worse.

I did get even with him - peeing on his X-Ray machine later on.  What they were testing for and why was beyond me - some sort of bladder infection?  I questioned my parents later on as an adult, and they feigned ignorance of the whole affair.

I had so much blood drawn and so many injections that I had needle marks on my arm.  As a teen, one doctor saw these and accused me of being a drug addict!  It was bizarre, to say the least and even more bizarre that my parents cannot remember the nature of the illness.  But it gets weirder.

About that time my Mother decided I needed to see a podiatrist - a foot doctor.  She was convinced I had flat feet (I did not) because I "ran funny" (due to other reasons).  So off to the foot doctor I went - many times.  He was a very nice, friendly man, and he would have me strip naked, alone in the examining room while he examined my feet, which seemed to take a long, long time.  He prescribed special foot exercises and ordered a set of prescription shoes, to correct my "fallen arch".  My memory is a bit hazy here, but I think he may have given me one of those injections as well.   Memory can be tricky, though.

I do remember one very odd thing - because it was very odd.  When we went to get the shoes, he had my Mother drop me off at his house, not his office, after hours.  I was led down to the basement where they had a family room and his children were there.  We ate cake, and I remember his kid saying I was one of his Father's boys.  I remember being led into another room to have the shoes fitted, but I don't remember much after that. 

Very odd.   Odder still, the prescription shoes were wingtips, and needless to say, I was the only kid in the neighborhood wearing wingtips all the time.  If I ran funny before, well, now, I couldn't run at all.

Shortly after the shoe-fitting incident, I remember being examined by a doctor in my bedroom.   They made housecalls back then, and he had his finger up my arse.  The doctor said he wanted me in the hospital.  So off I went.

All the other kids were in there for tonsillectomies, and they all said how great it was, because you got to eat all this ice cream.  But I was not in for a tonsillectomy.  The doctor explained they would operate, but not by cutting into me, but by going up my arse.  Sort of a tonsillectomy for the other end.  I remember being wheeled into the operating room and the sickly sweet smell of nitrous oxide.  And I remember waking up in the recovery room - and yes, they did give me ice cream.

Again, as an adult, I asked my parents what that was all about, and they got nervous and evasive.   I mean, what the fuck?  Doesn't a person have a right to their own medical history?   But they said they didn't remember what it was all about (seems to me the kind of thing you'd remember, again, getting the bills and all) so it remains a mystery.

At that point, my Father lost his job and we moved back to New York.   The mystery illnesses went away, and when I outgrew the wingtips, my feet were declared cured and no more was made of it.  I later met a friend who really had flat feet and realized that, while I have large feet, they have a perfectly acceptable arch.

My Mother moved onto other hobbies - alcoholism and a few other -isms.  And she seemed to latch onto my older Brother as the "troubled child" now (as well as herself) dragging the both of them to psychologists and psychiatrists in an effort to "get well".  And she found attention in this manner, and in her histrionics and of course, failed suicide attempts.  But, by and large, she pretty much left me alone, at least in the Doctor department.

My Grandfather, the only other Lawyer in the family, had diverticulitis, gout, and a profusion of nose hairs.   I remember sitting on his lap as a kid, looking up, and seeing that forest of camel hair in his large proboscis.  I remember at the time saying, "Gee, I hope I don't grow up with THAT!"

But apparently I inherited things other than his legal skills, including gout and diverticulitis.  And it was the latter than lead me to investigate the strange childhood operation that no one seems to be able to recall.   Was it juvenile polyps or something - or something else?  I may never know.

But I am fortunate to be in relatively good health, today.  A high-fiber diet, including supplements, keeps the diverticulitis in check, and a minor amount of alopurinal keeps the gout from flaring up.  Both can be very painful illnesses.  I have been fortunate (knock wood) not to have any problems for at least a year or so.  Both can be triggered by stress, and being debt-free has reduced my stress a lot.

But I  look back on my early childhood now and say "What the Fuck was that all about?"  Because at the time, as a kid, you don't think about things like that much.   And as an adult, I always thought of myself as fairly healthy and having a healthy childhood.   But then you connect the dots and these random incidents start to string together, and you wonder what it was all about.  And confounding the mystery of the whole thing is the absolute silence I got on the matter from my parents - I just got sick, no one knows why, no one remembers why, no one remembers what all the tests and operations were about, or why I needed special shoes or barbiturates or indeed Guinness.

Well, I still drink the Guinness - it does make me a happy baby.  And given the amount of gin my Mother drank, it does taste like Mother's milk to me.  And hey, it's loaded with Vitamins!

I suppose everyone has a weird childhood.  Various strange incidents and oddball things happen.  I just wanted to write it down, though, before I forget.