Munchausen Mom

October 8, 2013
Tina says she suffers from Munchausen Syndrome, which causes her to purposefully create infected wounds on her body in order to receive attention from others. And, Samantha says she was so good at faking illnesses, she was put into a medically-induced coma. How can they recover from this mental illness? Dr. Phil is joined by The Doctors’ recurring co-host Dr. Ian Smith, infectious disease specialist Dr. Joseph Carlisle and psychiatrist Dr. Marc Feldman to discuss this mental illness and the chances of recovery. The following program contains graphic medical images. Viewer discretion is advised.







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TinaSam, Tina's husbandAmy, Tina and Sam's daughterShelby, Tina and Sam's daughterDr. Phil, with The Doctors' Dr. Ian SmithDr. Joseph Carlisle, infectious disease specialistDr. Frank Lawlis, chairman of the Dr. Phil Advisory BoardSamanthaDr. Marc Feldman, psychiatrist

“I Harm Myself on Purpose”

Tina, 52, says she has Munchausen Syndrome, a serious mental disorder in which someone with a deep need for attention pretends to be sick or gets injured on purpose. She says that for the past two decades, she’s been injecting herself with homegrown bacteria, including fecal matter, causing huge wounds that she keeps infected — some for up to a year — in order to receive attention from others. Despite countless hospitalizations and more than 40 surgeries, Tina says she can’t stop hurting herself and currently has a wound that landed her in the hospital for nine days.

“This is hard, the shame admitting that I’m a monster.”

Tina went to nursing school and says she found the best technique to make herself ill.

Tina and her husband, Sam, join Dr. Phil. Tina tells Dr. Phil, “I want to stop injecting myself. I want to live a normal, healthy life.”

“You looked at me, when we met, with a look of just sheer terror on your face. Why are you afraid of me?” Dr. Phil asks.

“I’ve seen your shows, and I’ve seen that you can be pretty rough on people, and I deserve to be punished for what I’ve done," she says. "I don’t deserve anybody’s pity. I’m not asking for anyone’s pity —”

“But that’s what motivates a lot of what you do, right?” Dr. Phil asks. “Do you get that that’s a big motivation for you, that you get attention and sympathy, and people are fawning over you?”

“Yes, I understand that,” Tina says.

Dr. Phil notes that the cost of Tina’s care has been estimated between $3 and $5 million, which they are unable to pay for.

Sam says they’ve filed for bankruptcy twice.

“So, that means we’re all paying for it,” Dr. Phil says, indicating his audience. “They’re paying for you making yourself sick. How do you feel about that?”

“I feel guilty,” she says tearfully.

Tina currently has a serious wound that landed her in the hospital for nine days. Sam helps change her bandages, which is a painful process.

“Do you enjoy the pain?” Dr. Phil asks.

“I hate pain,” she says.
 
“But yet you do that. You understand, with that kind of infection going into your body, this could go to your heart, it could go to your brain, and you could become septic, and this could kill you. Are you wanting to die?” he asks.

Tina says she’s not suicidal. “I want to stop. I want to stop so bad,” she says.

Dr. Ian Smith, from the Emmy-Award winning show, The Doctors, joins the discussion. He says sooner or later, Tina’s body can be overrun by bacteria and unable to fight it off, which can be deadly.

Tina’s infectious disease doctor, who has been treating her for over 12 years, Dr. Joseph Carlisle, joins the discussion via Polycom. He says what makes Tina’s case utterly unique is she’s not trying to fool the doctors, which is the payoff for a lot of Munchausen sufferers. She admits what she’s doing and doesn’t change hospitals or try to run when confronted.

Dr. Frank Lawlis, chairman of the Dr. Phil advisory board, says there are phases to Munchausen Syndrome. “The first phase is usually a need for attention, which relates to low self-esteem. However it usually goes into another state, one of anger, anger toward authority and especially toward the medical profession, so it almost becomes a game of ‘I can fool you,’” he says.

Dr. Phil tells Tina that anxiety builds up in her, and when she injects bacteria, she gets relief from anxiety — because she knows that she’s headed back to a hospital, where people are paid to care for her. That’s her payoff.

The Family Fallout

Tina’s daughters, Amy, 19, and Shelby, 18, say they’ve paid a high price for their mother’s illness.


“I am terrified to become a mother.”

Dr. Phil goes over the profile of a typical person with Munchausen Syndrome. How does Tina stack up? And, is there hope for her to manage her illness?

Fooling the Pros

Samantha says for more than 20 years, she got a rush from fooling doctors by faking strokes, seizures and schizophrenia, among other illnesses. She says she was so good at faking seizures, she was once placed in a medically-induced coma for a week. Samantha says she now considers herself to be in remission from Munchausen Syndrome — but has she replaced it with a different unhealthy behavior?


“I loved being in the hospital. I loved being taken care of. I was hooked.”

Samantha says she’s lost a good chunk of her life to her illness, and she’s embarrassed. She says she hasn’t faked any illness in a year and a half.

Psychiatrist Dr. Marc Feldman is the Adjunct Professor of Psychology at University of Alabama, and has been studying Munchausen Syndrome and related conditions for 25 years. He’s published three books on the subject. He joins the show via Polycom.

Dr. Feldman says Munchausen Syndrome is a very complex disorder, and it’s not unusual for doctors to shun the patients who have it, even though they’re technically sick. “There’s something embarrassing about dealing with these patients. The doctors think of themselves as the best and the brightest, and people come in who may not even have diplomas and outwit them medically,” he says.

He says when Samantha contacted him after reading one of his books, he studied her case. “She taught me as much about Munchausen Syndrome and how to recover from it as I learned from literature or other patients,” he says.

Dr. Ian Smith points out how Tina’s and Samantha’s cases differ. And, Samantha says she considers herself in remission from Munchausen Syndrome — but she replaced it with a risky addiction.

Samantha says she feels a lot of shame. How does she get past that?

“We know that some of the drivers that underlie this are depression and anxiety. Your number one priority at this point needs to be absolute transparency and a quest to forgive yourself for what you’ve done,” Dr. Phil tells her. “Give yourself permission to say, ‘The past is over. The future hasn’t happened yet. The only time is right now, and right now I’m not doing this.’ If you live your life looking over your shoulder, then your past becomes your future.”

Samantha says she wants to pay back society, and one of the things she’s doing is volunteering her time as a patient representative on committees to improve the medical system.

“And you’re here using your story today and raising awareness in that regard. Give yourself credit for that,” Dr. Phil tells her.