207160 “Sickened: The True Story of a Lost Childhood” by Julie Gregory

*Warning – can be triggering: Child abuse, medical abuse

Publisher’s Synopsis: A young girl is perched on the cold chrome of yet another doctor’s examining table, missing yet another day of school. Just twelve, she’s tall, skinny, and weak. It’s four o’clock, and she hasn’t been allowed to eat anything all day. Her mother, on the other hand, seems curiously excited. She’s about to suggest open-heart surgery on her child to “get to the bottom of this.” She checks her teeth for lipstick and, as the doctor enters, shoots the girl a warning glance. This child will not ruin her plans.
From early childhood, Julie Gregory was continually X-rayed, medicated, and operated on–in the vain pursuit of an illness that was created in her mother’s mind. Munchausen by proxy (MBP) is the world’s most hidden and dangerous form of child abuse, in which the caretaker–almost always the mother–invents or induces symptoms in her child because she craves the attention of medical professionals. Many MBP children die, but Julie Gregory not only survived, she escaped the powerful orbit of her mother’s madness and rebuilt her identity as a vibrant, healthy young woman. Sickened is a remarkable memoir that speaks in an original and distinctive Midwestern voice, rising to indelible scenes in prose of scathing beauty and fierce humor. Punctuated with Julie’s actual medical records, it re-creates the bizarre cocoon of her family’s isolated double-wide trailer, their wild shopping sprees and gun-waving confrontations, the astonishing naivete of medical professionals and social workers. It also exposes the twisted bonds of terror and love that roped Julie’s family together–including the love that made a child willing to sacrifice herself to win her mother’s happiness. The realization that the sickness lay in her mother, not in herself, would not come to Julie until adulthood. But when it did, it would strike like lightning. Through her painful metamorphosis, she discovered the courage to save her own life–and, ultimately, the life of the girl her mother had found to replace her. Sickened takes us to new places in the human heart and spirit. It is an unforgettable story, unforgettably told.


3 out of 5 stars

Munchausen by Proxy was something I had never heard of until I watched a program about this particular form of abuse about 10 years ago. All child abuse is horrifying, but this particular form of abuse is so insidious as it takes the form of a parent caring for their child.

The title of this book, “Sickened” could not be more apt. I was sickened reading the book; sickened at the descriptions of the abuse and neglect, sickened by the failure of the doctors and medical teams to see what was plain in front of them.

As the book goes on, the medical abuse spreads into both physical and mental abuse at the hand of both her mother and father. MBP was not the worst abuse she suffered, not by a long shot. She describes her father as being schizophrenic and becoming more paranoid as Julie gets older, moving them far away from people and into the woods. Actual medical documents are scattered throughout the book, detailing the procedures and medications she was on and making me want to scream at the medical teams who allowed this.

A recurring subject throughout the book were the suckers that Julie’s mother gave to her as a special treat:                                                                                “You looking for the suckers, honey? Here, let me get ‘em for you.”
Mom pulls out a new book of matches and carefully bends back the cover to expose two fresh red rows of the minipops she’s been giving me for as long as I can remember. My mouth waters when I see their shimmery crimson tips. The first one is always the best, and I pluck it out and get it fast on my tongue, waiting for the metallic zolt to rush my taste buds. Once the hardest layer dissolves, I flop the match against the side of my teeth and crunch the softer bits off the stick, spitting the white flimsy paper to the floor, swallowing the rest.”

I think the book does a great job at portraying just how difficult it is to spot this type of abuse as the child is forced to be a compliant partner. It also does a great job of showing just how hard it is to break free from it.

I would have liked to have learned more about Julie’s recovery process; if she had any particular therapy work and her physical health now. That was touched on, but not as much as I would have liked. I also would have liked to know more about what causes MBP and how that abuse manifests itself.

Julie is a survivor, which I am glad to know. At times in the book I felt sure I would be seeing her obituary notice on the next page.


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