Patient or Pretender

Marc D. Feldman and Charles V. Ford. Patient or Pretender: Inside the Strange World of Factitious Disorders. Wiley, 1994.

A strange world indeed, one dominated by incredibly devious and manipulative personalities who are able to convince doctors and other medical workers that they are suffering from an immense range of symptoms: this is the world of Munchhausen's Syndrome.

Some of the accounts in this book are almost beyond belief, and sometimes need a strong stomach even to read about, like people who have deliberately injected themselves with infected materials in order to make themselves the centre of attention at a hospital. Many of these 'patients' display an acute knowledge of medicine - or at least symptoms - and move from one hospital to another displaying their imaginary or self-inflicted illnesses and symptoms.

Of course, none of these people have "anything to gain" in the conventional sense from their extreme actions - no financial reward or increase in status - quite the opposite. Exposure of their pretence has often resulted in personal ruin and shame for their families. Reading the accounts in this book one is irresistible drawn again and again to the narratives of abductees and satanic `survivors': these people show a compulsion both to present themselves as victims deserving of attention and sympathy, and to place themselves in a position where they can dominate and control the 'professionals' (ufological, medical or social) to whom in other circumstances they are obliged to defer. How often have we heard someone saying, with satisfaction, rather than fear which would be the logical reaction: "the doctors are baffled, they don't know what I've got"?

Similarly, many UFO percipients are more concerned with ensuring the bafflement of investigators than trying to find out the origin of their observation. And has any abductee, no matter how flimsy and unconvincing their story, ever said, "sorry I must have been wrong, I dreamt it all". No chance; Munchhausen's Syndrome, like so much of the UFO and abduction phenomena, is about who is able to control who. This book serves as a valuable guide to the lengths to which individuals are prepared to go in order to assert that control. As my colleague Peter Rogerson commented: "after reading this you will never think the same way again about abductee's scars and their children's nosebleeds" -- Reviewed by John Rimmer, from Magonia 50, September 1994.

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