Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The case of Emily Errico

Several weeks ago, there was a report of a young, anorexic girl named Emily Errico, aged 25, whose mother was indicted of neglect. For whatever reason, I found this case horribly tragic with a variety of thoughts brought up. If you are not familiar with the case, police found Emily in full rigor mortis, in a "completely weakened state" after a 911 call was made by her mother in 2007. The police said it was difficult to navigate the area, because there were trash bags everywhere, including on windows and on Emily. She was found with a fabricated halter top out of a trash bag, sweatpants, and at a very low weight for her height.

Police said her parents were very controlling and fed her a diet of only granola bars and seltzer, allowing her to waste away. Despite the fact that Emily did see a nutritionist back in 2004 and a diagnosis of malnutrition was determined, not much follow up was made, especially since her father canceled her appointments.

Though Emily did complete a college degree and was "exceptionally bright" according to the prosecutor on her case, her parents continued to control her food intake by bringing meals to her. After graduating, she moved back home where they had complete control over her. This control was evident from her birth where she was kept in a crib as a toddler and not permitted to socially interact with peers. Neighbors even say they never saw her leave the house. Most did not even know she was living there at all.

I bring up this, not to point fingers at parents, though I do think her parents are certainly negligible for her death in this case. I know most parents are not like this, and this case is on the rare side. However, I do wonder about the nutritionist who didn't follow up. Did she not follow up, because eating disorder patients are notorious for canceling appointments? Was this just another young, underweight girl in the crowd? To me, (and of course I am only speculating) if these parents were as controlling as they seemed and maybe a bit odd too, weren't any red flags raised? It's really hard to say, and again, I'm not pointing fingers, just asking questions.

This reminds me of the time I was 16 and
od'd. I actually called my therapist to cancel my appointment, telling her I was ill. Whatever intuition she may have sensed, she came to my house to check up on me, and of course, after finding me, called my mother, went to the ER, etc. My parents were forever thankful, but I know now that is like a one in a thousand occurrences since there are so many privacy laws nowadays.

I also wonder about the neighbors. These days, we are so afraid of being considered "too nosy," but what happens when a human or animal life is at stake? Where is the line drawn between what is too "private" and out of concern? It's similar to the cases which many of us have witnessed in stores of hearing stupid/hurtful/out of line comments said to young children/teens/adults about their body, their looks, their clothing, etc. We always wonder whether to speak up or stay silent. It really does become difficult to decide what to do. The line has to be
treaded so carefully it seems.

Certainly, I don't have the answers to any of these questions, and I doubt professionals do either. I know I have struggled with the issue of what to say or do, whether to intervene or not. Ironically, as this article came out, the story of
Jaycee Dugard hit the headlines. Though they are different, there are similar aspects to both cases. There are also many whys as well which may never be answered.

So what are your thoughts? Where do you tread the line?

Side note--father pled guilty of third degree neglect this year and faces three years probation and a psychological evaluation.

Note:--*Other related articles: Mom charged with neglect in adult daughter's death
Ermina Errico of Garwood indicted for neglect in conncetion with the death of her daughter
Invisible life: Learning from Emily Errico's anorexia death in Garwood
Following a hunch, solving a crime (how a mother's intuition helped free Jaycee)


Eating Alone said...

BLAH! I need happy thoughts this just makes me sad. I understand not getting involved, lets face it ED kept me isolated for a very long time. And if you went for one appt with someone and then canceled the next it's a lot different than if you had a theraputic releationship with someone. That's my 2 cents.

Telstaar said...

I can't say what I would've specifically done as the nutritionist in Emily's case... but I know I had a client a few years ago and her parents were somewhat charming but also controlling... now I happen to know that this client is alive, but the parents completely cut me off AND reported me for misconduct! I had no choice but to leave it alone. That was when I was somewhat involved in the life of the family quite extensively as well. I can imagine that for a professional with much less contact, it becomes far more difficult to make those judgement calls.

Similarly, a few years ago, I had a client I organised a welfare check on (basically an urgent police attendance at the last known place due to serious or grave welfare concerns), in her case I barely knew her but did know that prior to my call she had been in the hospital with a punctured lung and I couldn't track her down there anymore... so I called the police.

I'm lucky that I'm always more likely to err on the side of over response than under response, but it really can be a hard call to make.

Another client of mine somewhat disappeared in not to great a situation... I did try calling and even visiting but with no response I had no alternative but to write letters stating I'd be more than happy to continue with her in the future and then close the file!

Similarly, the other night, my T called me very late at night because she'd only just rec'd the msg the office had contacted with from my call earlier in the day, she KNEW that I would not have made that call in that way unless I was absolutely desperate (and I was)... but I know that other clients will not automatically engender that response.

At the end of the day, I think its all very grey and tricky. With minors or people under control of parents it is even more so. I think professionals can only really go with the information they have and trust their general gut instinct, but gut can be really difficult to determine and sometimes even if you know something is up, you might not be able to do something about it.

I think the questions you ask are all very good and important to ask, I just wish there were simple answers!

One thing though (slightly off topic)... I know that most parents are simply doing their best to raise their sons and daughters and sometimes it is mistakes that unwittingly lead to an ed... and I know that usually it is NOT useful to blame parents for ed's. I'm quite fine with all that. However, I DO think that sometimes it IS useful for a parent to recognise that they may have contributed to or caused an ed (when that is actually true). I think not considering this option often means that people who are identified as having an ed are not suspected as victims of abuse or similar as often and that could potentially be dangerous and thus I think it is wise to be open to the idea! But that is perhaps a discussion for another day :)

Anonymous said...

That is a very tragic story...I had no idea there were parents like that. Makes me feel VERY lucky I had mine.

But parents aside, I am a bit surprised that nobody caught on to that, too. I guess these days the culture is just very...individualized. People take care of their own business, and give little attention to others. It's sad that the nutritionist didn't follow up, but not everybody gives the care and attention to each patient. I suppose the nutritionist was also busy with other patients and when the appointments were canceled, it was just one less patient to worry about.

It's sad what a misconceived form of responsibility people have these days. As long as they've done their obligatory part, they lay their hands off. I guess there's a difference between SOCIAL responsibility and MORAL responsibility.

Anonymous said...

OK so the OP story is extreme and made the news because she died. But control is interesting. I dated a young man who at 22 was totally under the thumb of his parents. The whole family ate really small meals and he was always hungry but that was not all. He always had to ask his parents if he could go out and had to phone and ask note ask not tell his parents if we were going to go somewhere different to where we had originally planned to go.