Remember the famous story about the mom in Florida who was all loving and caring to her poor dear sick child? While this child was in and out of hospitals and enduring exploratory surgery, the mom was always so saintly and comforting. “What a good parent,” the medical professionals all said. Until one day a nurse caught this perfect parent placing fecal matter in her child’s IV.
“Why did you do it?” she was asked.
“I wanted the attention.”
Recently, I think that I have had the unfortunate experience of running across another case of Munchausen Syndrome by proxy. A 15-year-old boy that we know has a father who is a psychologist. And this boy has been in and out of mental hospitals, desert boot camps and mental health facilities all his life. He has been kidnapped by so-called “transporters” in the middle of the night and dragged off to the Utah badlands to be starved and force-marched “for his own good.” He has been shipped off to half-way houses for juvenile delinquents and recovering drug addicts. And he has been going to shrinks since he was three.
This is a sweet child who doesn’t use drugs, isn’t sexually active, doesn’t drink, can play sonatas on the piano and has a great sense of humor. What gives?
Two years ago, this boy made friends with my daughter. Immediately the boy’s father started calling me and telling me how screwed up his child was. “You don’t know his history,” he’d say. “He spends too much time hiding in his room, is afraid to go to school and often runs away.” The actuality of the child belied everything the father told me. I just didn’t understand.
One day last week, young Jordan ran away — again. “My father called the police on me!” he said. Meanwhile, the police officer involved in the incident called my house and told me that the father had done this sort of thing before. Many times. “The kid seems normal to me,” said the officer.
I didn’t know what to do. I sent Jordan back home. That was the law. Then we planned to go on a vacation. We were going to New York City! But Jordan ran again. The father started calling me again. “Has Jordan showed up yet?” At 3 am, Jordan finally showed up. He begged us not to send him back. Then the father started calling me and calling me and calling me and telling me in his most professional voice that, “We need to sit down and talk.” At first I wanted to work with Jordan’s father. After all, he was a psychologist. And he had such good arguments too. “You just don’t know Jordan like I know him. He is a sick kid. He needs help!”
Then Jordan ran to another house but the father’s calls kept coming to us. After several days of almost hourly calls at all hours, I began to feel like the father was stalking us. Finally we left for our trip, but he kept calling me and my daughter, even in New York. Then Jordan called me at our hotel. “I am in your house. My father is outside and he has the house surrounded by police! I’m so scared! What should I do?” Finally Jordan voluntarily gave himself up to the police.
Although I was thinking that probably this wasn’t as severe a case as when the police in Milwaukee gave the Laotian boy back to Jeffery Dahmer because Dahmer was a smooth-talking man with a very good story, that’s the way I felt when the police gave Jordan back to the father.
We have not heard from Jordan since — except for one small phone call in the middle of the night when Jordan sadly told my daughter that he wanted to commit suicide. We talked him out of it but for how long?
It was then that I finally had the realization. This father had Munchausen Syndrome by proxy! And he was blossoming under all the excitement and attention that he was getting — from me, from child psychologists, but especially from the police. Sirens, uniforms, badges and everything! But perhaps the ultimate attention he craves will come only when, at Jordan’s funeral, he will be the ultimate center of attention — comforted by his friends as they as they say to him, “You poor man! What you went through! We realize what a wonderful father you were. We know that you did all that you could.”
Is there ANYTHING that anybody can do to help Jordan? I myself feel so helpless. I feel like I am in way over my head.
PS: My daughter just got an e-mail from Jordan. It said, “My father has done it again. A new set of transporters have just arrived. They are letting me send this to you before they take me off to another boot camp program. Goodbye.”
My daughter is in tears.
JANE STILLWATER can be reached through her website: http://jpstillwater.blogspot.com