Book Excerpt


Michelle first grade, age 7

Michelle first grade, age 7

 Preparing for Michelle’s first day at a new school, I attempted to inform the staff how my little first-grader faked illness or injury for attention, but they cut me off.

“Mrs. Strebe, how many children do you have?” asked the principal.

“Three.”

“Well we have three hundred.  Don’t tell us about kids.  Believe me, we know about kids.”

“Okay.”  I shrugged and left the school.

Although Michelle’s bladder control at night had greatly improved, occasionally she still wet the bed, so it didn’t surprise me when she awoke covered with a rash due to sleeping all night in urine-saturated sheets.  I simply bathed her and put her on the bus to school.

At lunchtime, she slid off the cafeteria bench and lay down on the floor.  No one saw her get down, but the janitor noticed her lying on the floor so he rushed to rouse her, gently patting her cheeks and calling her name.  As a crowd gathered, Michelle moaned lethargically.  The more concern the faculty showed, the more listless she became.  Someone carried her to the nurse’s office where they phoned 911.

On September 9, 1992, one week into the school year, I received an urgent phone call from Michelle’s teacher, Wendy.  “Mrs. Strebe, Michelle passed out on the lunchroom floor!”

“Uh-huh.”  I didn’t sound too convinced.  Was it possible that my daughter had actually passed out?  Anything’s possible, but due to her past history and the intensity in her teacher’s voice, I suspected that she had just put on a masterful performance.

“Mrs. Strebe, you get down to this school immediately!” ordered Wendy.  (Sound familiar?)

I replied, “Okay, I’m on my way.”

In the meantime, the rescue squad arrived.  Paramedics lifted Michelle onto a gurney, positioned an oxygen mask over her nose and mouth, and wheeled the gurney out to the ambulance.  Bolting upright, Michelle exclaimed, “Do I get to ride in that?”  Then she lay back down.  Only Wendy caught her excitement and glee.

“I think we’ve been had,” she said.

The school administrators didn’t catch her momentary lapse in illness.  The paramedics examined Michelle in the ambulance and saw the rash.  That concerned them, and they wanted to run her to the hospital.  What could I say?  Michelle had put on an incredible exhibition and duped everyone.  The school personnel believed they faced a serious situation and that they dealt with an insensitive parent who didn’t care for the well-being of her child, so they refused to listen to me.  They demanded to hear from a doctor.

The ambulance transported Michelle to Mercy Hospital in Fairfield.  I followed and phoned my husband from the hospital.  Floyd left work and met us there.   The ER doctor examined Michelle, ordered a blood test, and happily reported that he found nothing wrong.  He recommended we schedule a follow-up with her pediatrician in a week.  If there was nothing wrong with her, why did she need a follow-up?  Knowing we’d suffer grief from the school if we didn’t follow it through, I scheduled a follow-up as suggested.  Exactly one week later, her pediatrician examined her and declared her to be in perfect health.  (But this incident taught Michelle how quickly she could get the rescue personnel to respond to her call for help, and she started dialing 911 with regularity.)

Taken from the chapter, “An Academy Award-Winning Performance.”