Munchhausen Syndrome and Munchhausen Syndrome by Proxy
Such a Sweet, Unlucky Girl
(The names of the people in the following accounts have been changed, not to protect the innocent, but to prevent lawsuits.)
It was three o'clock in the morning on a sweltering July morning in Washington D.C. back in the early 1980s when my pager went off. The room was hotter than hell and I was already awake, so when I got the call from the emergency room at Washington Hospital Center , I wasn't all that put out.
"Yeah, what have you got?" I asked the dispatcher. At the time, I was a medical sign language interpreter for the deaf. I provided services to a number of area hospitals, facilitating communications between patients and the medical staff. I spent a good portion of my time in the emergency rooms as Gallaudet University , the only university for the deaf in the world, which is located in Washington DC . Therefore, the nation's capitol has more deaf living there than any other location in the world.
"We have a sexual-assault victim who just came in by an ambulance."
"On my way."
I was out of the house within five minutes. It was my policy to be at the hospital in emergency situations as quickly as humanly possible. Even in the wee hours of the morning with no red lights, the minimum time needed for the drive was twenty-two minutes. My estimated time of arrival was approximately thirty minutes from the time I was notified to the time I hit the front door of the hospital. I still had to sign in at security, show my ID, sign in again with the dispatch office on the interpreter's log, then get over to the emergency room. By that time, forty minutes or more would pass, leaving the patient without any suitable method of communication with the doctors and nurses. My heart went out to the poor woman who had suffered a traumatic event and now was struggling to relate what happened.
The nurse told me the patient was in Room Ten, which really meant Cubicle Ten. A police investigator greeted me and said he had been awaiting my arrival to get the details.
I slipped in through the curtain. A large piece of paper was spread out on the floor and a naked woman was standing there with a pile of clothes at her feet. For the victim of a rape, standing unclothed and vulnerable in such a public location must be a humiliating experience. Unfortunately, it was also necessary as this is the only way to be sure no evidence gets lost when clothing is removed.
The young woman had her back to me and the nurse was helping her into a hospital gown. I felt tears well up in my eyes and I immediately forced myself to regain my composure. I was a professional and couldn't allow my emotions to interfere with my job.
The young woman turned around.
"Hi, Pat!" she signed to me. It was Angela.
"Angela!" I signed back. Suddenly, my sympathy turned to something more akin to curiosity.
"Angela, what happened?"
Angela's eyes got big. "I got raped! Can you believe it?"
I almost said no. "Really? Wow! How did this happen?"
Angela smiled cheerfully at me, which seemed an odd expression considering the circumstances. "I got off the bus and this man who was on the bus in the seat behind me started following me, and when I headed toward my apartment, he pulled me into the alley and raped me."
"Wow!" I said again, fanning my right hand up and down in a sign language gesture of amazement. "That's awful!"
Angela nodded in agreement. "Yeah!" She looked at me with those big beautiful brown eyes that reminded me of an innocent little doe. She was a beautiful girl, small and delicate, and she could be so very sweet.
"So, how are your kids?" she asked. "Did your sons win their baseball game the other day?" She pulled the covers on the stretcher up over her legs.
"Yeah, they both got home runs."
"Cool. They must have been happy." Angela pointed through the curtain towards the nurses' station desk. "Can you ask them if I can get one of those sandwiches?" Sandwiches were available for emergency-room patients who were there throughout the night and needed some sustenance.
Before I could respond, the nurse came in to do the rest of the rape kit. The kit involves performing a vaginal exam, taking swabs to test for semen, and looking for signs of injury. Angela had no bruises on her, and she stated that she was forced into vaginal sex and not anal or oral sex. There were no tears or abrasions to her vagina, although a lack of abrasions is not always proof that one wasn't sexually assaulted.
The police investigator then entered the room and asked her to describe what happened. Angela looked very sad and rubbed the corners of her eyes with the back of her hand. The nurse handed her a tissue. She told the investigator pretty much the same story she told me and I dutifully translated. When she was asked to describe her assailant, she said it was dark and she couldn't tell much more than race and maybe height and weight. The detective made his notes and then gave her a phone number to call. He told her he was sorry, and Angela sniffled. The nurse patted her on the shoulder and told her she would let Angela know when her friend arrived with fresh clothes. The nurse turned to leave the room.
Angela waved at me to get my attention.
"Ask her about the sandwich."