24 August, 2010

Dear Doctor: Actually, I *am* sick

I have read a lot of horror stories about doctors, and it is certainly not something I am unfamiliar with. I want to share with you some of the things doctors have said and done to me during my life.

My health problems started when I was young. I had trouble running, and was prone to dizzy spells, nose bleeds, and shortness of breath. The first doctor I saw was a friend of the family. He checked my blood pressure, listened to my heart, then declared me healthy. His reason? "You're young and thin, there's nothing wrong."

After coming close to passing out during a school fun-run (which was not fun. I hated it, and was forced to participate). I went to see another doctor. After the preliminary examination (same deal as last time) she asked me to strip and stand on the scale.

I have to say, I was mortified. I was an 11 year old girl with a lot of body shame (thanks Mum!), and the idea of stripping in front of a doctor was, well, scary. She frowned an my non-compliance, and asked me about my diet. I told her the truth: I was currently vegetarian because I didn't like meat (actually, I was copying Lisa Simpson). She frowned again, and gave me the "concerned doctor" look.

"Are you sure that's why you're vegetarian?"
"Yeah, why?"
"Are you comfortable with your weight?"
"I dunno, should I be?"
"Do you think you're fat?"

Well, I was stunned. I mean, talk about unprofessional! Let's completely ignore the actual health concerns in exchange for shaming a young girl. Classy. And let's not forget the fact that, were I suffering from an eating disorder, this is not the way to broach the subject. I left that appointment feeling shamed and humiliated, and with no answers.

I was fourteen the next time I sought the help of a professional. I still got sick regularly, which the doctors declared allergies, but I was seeking help for my mental health. I was in a pretty bad place, and wanted - needed - help.
The response I received was... Heartless. "What have you got to be upset about? You're thin and beautiful!".
Any wonder why it took years for me to finally get help for my depression?

I have asthma, low blood pressure, low iron, bi-polar. But doctors decided to ignore all of that because I didn't fit the "typical" image they had of a sick person.

I don't know about you, but i call bullshit.


lilacsigil said...

(here via FWD)

This is why size acceptance is so important - women (and girls) are not a number, or a figure, or a "type". We are individuals who deserve respect and appropriate care, but medical professionals seem to be far more interested in categorising, maintaining power and shaming.

Allison Wonderland said...

(via FWD)

I've also experienced the invalidation of mental health problems in the face of what appears outwardly to be a good life. I no longer give blood because several years ago a phlebotomist was preparing to insert the needle and saw some of the scars on my arm. I used to self-injure and when she asked how I got them I outright admitted how it happened. The response I got: "Why would a pretty girl like you do a thing like that?" It's similar to what my mother says any time my depression is bad. What have you got to be sad about? That's not what's at issue here.

Thankfully, my PCP recognizes that things aren't always how they appear - both for the good and for the bad. But it's a hard system to navigate, to find a doctor who can look beyond those first few keys of health.

notemily said...

I've gotten similar responses about anxiety, from close family members--"What do you have to be anxious about?" One of those family members had actually HAD an anxiety disorder before, so I would have expected her to be more sensitive, but no luck. Stuff like that is so invalidating and awful.

I wish more people realized that it's impossible to ever really know what another person's going through.