Guest post by Candace Martin from the US
I’m a 5’ tall woman. I’m 30, but look younger than I am. As a result, doctors often don’t take me seriously. I find myself having to get second and third opinions if I want my health concerns to be listened to.
In 2012, I was living and working on the Navajo reservation in New Mexico. I was sick with respiratory illnesses most of the year that I lived there. When I went to a doctor, he told me that I needed a strong father figure in my life. He suggested that I start going to church and get close to a priest. None of this was related to my health or concerns I brought up. I got a bill for $800 worth of bloodwork that I had to pay out of pocket. He diagnosed me with seasonal allergies, something that I already knew that I had.
In May of 2017, I weighed 110 pounds. In June of 2018, I weighed 84 pounds. I had some stressful life events happen (a breakup, a move) and made some dietary changes (cut out meat, dairy, and alcohol). Still, it was a significant and totally unintentional weight loss. I was concerned about the possibility of something being very wrong with me.
I went to my primary care physician at the time. He told me, “that’s concerning because if you meet a man and get pregnant, you might not be able to sustain the baby.” He wasn’t worried about MY health, but the health of a hypothetical man’s baby. He also asked me if I had any “Asian heritage” because that would explain my petite frame.
This is the same doctor who told me that my IBS was “all in my head” and I just needed to “learn to relax.” Pretty sure he wouldn’t be telling a man that it was all in his head, or that his health was concerning because of a hypothetical woman he might meet one day.
I switched doctors after that. The next doctor was a woman. She listened more to my concerns about my weight, but seemed to misunderstand vital things about me. She sent me home with a guide on “healthy weight for teens.” When bloodwork showed some elevated calcium and protein levels she told me “oh, they’re only a little off.” A Google search told me otherwise. I had to go to a third doctor to do more thorough bloodwork and get some answers.
In short, my experiences have made me skeptical of doctors as a whole. I’ve had some good doctors in my life, but I’ve had many more bad doctors. I have some friends who are studying to become doctors or who became doctors, which makes me hopeful, because I know they’ll be great physicians. But I am concerned about the pervasiveness of doctors not believing women.
I am a cis white woman, so I know that I have more privilege in this area than POC, people who are outside of the gender binary, etc. It’s disheartening that anyone who isn’t a cis white man has to plead with those in the healthcare field to be taken seriously, listened to, diagnosed.
I’ve found some tips online for how to deal with this going forward. If a doctor refuses to give me tests that I think I need, I can ask them to indicate in my chart that they wouldn’t do so. I’m going to try to do a better job of pushing back when a doctor tells me something is “all in my head,” gets my age wrong, infantilizes me, etc. Still, it makes me sad that we need these sorts of strategies to get help from people who supposedly went into this profession to heal people. Doctors need to do a better job of listening to the people who know their own bodies best.
You can find Candace on Instagram @swipingrightmistakes