Munchhausen Syndrome and Munchhausen Syndrome by Proxy
Why Women Come Out the Winners
It was midnight again when my pager went off. I groaned and called in to Washington Hospital .
"Who's there?" I asked. I knew a good portion of the deaf community, and I was certainly familiar with the "regulars" who visited the emergency rooms routinely.
"We have Anton White here. He says he has been sexually assaulted."
Oh, good. Anton. He was always a handful. He usually showed up when he had severe pain from sickle cell anemia. Sickle cell could be an extraordinarily painful disease, and I spent many a night with another deaf patient, Leonard, as he cried and whimpered from the pain. Leonard came in quite often, and sometimes the doctors didn't want to give him medication. They thought he was using his disease to get a lot of medication so he could sell it on the street. Because Percocet is the medication of choice for sickle-cell patients (along with morphine), hospital personnel often believed some of these patients were trying to get more pills than necessary in order to make money off the tablets. Some think this is a racist viewpoint, because sickle-cell patients are African American and often from the inner city. They also have a sadly short lifespan, usually dying by their early thirties. It is a tough and painful disease, and I always felt Leonard was simply trying to survive it as best he could.
Anton didn't come in as often as Leonard. But he had an easier time getting the medication than Leonard because doctors didn't see him as regularly, so they didn't feel he was abusing the system. I had to laugh. Anton didn't even have sickle-cell disease. He just learned the symptoms from his friend, Leonard, and put them to good use. The scenario usually went like this:
I step into the room. Anton is lying on the stretcher moaning and writhing. The doctor is asking him about his symptoms, and I translate the proper symptoms of this sickle-cell crisis for Anton. As the doctor is finishing up his notes, Anton clutches my hand and pressing his face against my arm, clearly in terrible agony.
The doctor comes over, and I sign to Anton what the doctor is planning to do. "We'll get you a shot of morphine right now and a prescription of Percocet to take home." Anton nods his assent, still pitifully clinging to my hand, and the doctor exits the room.
Then Anton pops up to a sitting position, a grin on his face.
"Yo, Pat, what's up? Hey, can you sneak me in a soda? I'm thirsty. And, hey, a candy bar, too. Get me one of those Snickers from the machine." He hands me a couple of bills.
When the doctor comes back, Anton is moaning and groaning again. Poor Anton.
But now Anton is the victim of a sexual assault. As I pull into the parking garage at Washington Hospital Center , I think, maybe he really has been attacked. He certainly doesn't hang out in the best places, and deaf people are often victims of assault because the assailant figures the victim won't be able to rat them out (and they would be correct; our legal system does a very poor job supporting the deaf as victims of crime). I decided I would keep an open mind about Anton's assault.
Anton was lying on his side on a stretcher in the cubicle. He was in his hospital gown, and the doctor was already by his side. Anton had his legs drawn up and his hands, palms together, were pressed between his knees. He was rocking back and forth, but not making a sound. The doctor was pulling on latex gloves and I wondered then if Anton had suffered an anal assault.
The police detective stepped inside the room with his notepad and pencil in hand. He patted Anton on the shoulder. Anton opened his eyes halfway.
"Can you tell us what happened, Mr. White?" he asked.
Anton stifled a sob and rocked back and forth some more.
"Mr. White? Tell us exactly what happened."
Anton drew his hands out from between his knees, and with his eyes closed and head hung down, began gesturing, using large movements to describe what had happened to him. Anton signed with a black DC accent (yes, deaf people sign with accents!). He signed in a large, dramatic way which didn't mean he was angry or upset. He really was fairly composed.
"I got off the bus," he started off. I wondered whether travel by bus wasn't becoming an unwise mode of transportation. "This guy came up to me and asked me to buy some pills. I told him no. He told me if I didn't buy the pills, he would knock me out and stuff them up my butt." At this, both the police detective and I made strangled noises through our noses that made us rather thankful the patient was deaf. The fact that the corners of my mouth had turned up also made me glad Anton was conversing with his eyes shut.
"I told him I wasn't going to buy the pills and I started down the street toward my apartment. Next thing I know, I am knocked out on the ground, and when I wake up, my pants are around my ankles and I got these pills stuffed up my butt."
The police detective tapped Anton on the shoulder to make him open his eyes.
"What did this guy look like?"
Anton shrugged. "I don't know. He was black. Just a regular guy. Never seen him before. He was "Hearing." I could read his lips under the streetlight."
The doctor told Anton he would have to do an exam. Anton sank back on the stretcher with his eyes closed.
The police detective and I walked out and fell laughing against the nurses' station counter.
The investigator wiped his eyes. "That was a good one, wasn't it?"
I laughed. "Yeah, that was a new one on me. Hope you catch the guy!"
"Must be a new sales technique." The detective shook his head. See you next time! Have fun with the patient."
The doctor came out. I went back in.
Anton popped up to a sitting position. He smiled at me.
"Can you see if they have any of those sandwiches available?"
Ah, now I understand. Anton must have been short on cash and hungry. The city of Washington DC just bought Anton a $1000 sandwich. I hope they served him some juice with that, just to make it worth the price.
There was a unique difference between Angela's and Anton's treatment. When the hospital finally caught on to the fact Anton was lying about his sickle-cell condition (after a doctor finally figured out that something wasn't adding up), they tossed him out and treated him like the lying dog he was. Angela, on the other hand, never seemed to get anyone very upset, even when it was clear she wasn't telling the truth. Somehow being a woman softened their attitudes; she must have a mental illness, or perhaps this so-called Munchausen's Syndrome. But no one ever just saw her for what she truly was: a cold-blooded psychopath.