Guest post by ly Kerr
When I began having health issues, I accepted the consensus that fat was bad and thin was good. I was in the process of some seriously unhealthy dieting when I initially experienced quite serious gastric pain. There were other symptoms, vomiting and difficulty eating, but pain was the standout.
I progressed from short bursts to hour long stints of excruciating pain. My GP said it was most likely indigestion and/or heart burn. They could be surprisingly painful, I was told. Change my diet, lose some weight and things will improve. I tightened up my already drastic diet and continued to lose weight. My symptoms did not improve. In fact, they worsened. I began to have prolonged periods of pain. It would last for days at a time. I would be unable to eat or move or sleep. It felt torturous.
By this time, I was being sent to A&E by my GP, and attending myself when the pain become unbearable. Doctors continued to tell me it was heartburn or indigestion. They all said the same thing: change your diet and lose weight. I was prescribed omeprazole but had no investigation. No one listened when I told then I was hardly eating. No one cared that I was losing lots of weight. All the doctors were dismissive of my pain. Most were patronising. Some were hostile. No one helped. This went on for over a year.
The last time I went to A&E I was in so much pain I could barely talk. I had thrown up so much that I was only bringing up bile and blood. I saw a deeply unpleasant man who vacillated between me being an hysterical woman and being convinced I was an addict seeking drugs. He gave me a cup of peptac (which I promptly threw up) and sent me home. I felt utterly beaten that night. I knew there was something wrong with me. There was no way I could feel this bad and there not be problem. But no one would listen. I was tired of being judged and looked down upon. I went home, lay down and cried.
Luckily my mum visited me a few hours later. She was shocked when she saw the state I was in and insisted we return to A&E. With someone fighting fit to advocate for me I was finally taken seriously. A doctor ordered the simple blood test that would diagnose me with pancreatitis. By the time those bloods had come back my body had gone into shock. Had I not returned to the hospital that night I would have likely died. I spent 7 days in HDU. I was catheterised. Fed only fluids via drip and given a morphine pump. I don’t even recall that first week in hospital.
Afterwards I discovered that, although I didn’t fit the usual profile for pancreatitis (often older men, big meat eaters, heavy drinkers), I did have classic symptoms. The pain I had been describing was textbook. The onset and progression of symptoms was exactly what was to be expected of pancreatitis. Had someone taken a minute to listen to me I could have been diagnosed on my first trip to A&E. I really believe, if I hadn’t been a fat woman, that’s probably what would have happened.
I had several more bouts of pancreatitis and a number of gallbladder issues were diagnosed in the subsequent months. Ironically, I was to discover that my weight was not the problem. The most likely culprit was spending my 20s yo-yo dieting. The fad dieting and resultant weight loss that doctors had always encouraged made me ill.
As if almost dying because medical professionals wouldn’t look past the size of my belly wasn’t bad enough, I have also since been diagnosed with fibromyalgia. A condition I did not suffer from before all the trouble with my pancreas. Pain specialists have told me that the physical and emotional trauma of such a prolonged period of undiagnosed severe illness is likely to have caused the fibro. So, I not only got to suffer multiple times with acute pancreatitis, but I will also now deal with chronic pain for the rest of my life. I wonder how different my story would be if I were a size 10.
Near death experiences aside, almost every medical interaction I have involves some discussion about my weight. With multiple chronic conditions I am a complicated case. Every new symptom, no matter how unconnected, involves answering questions and listening to lectures about how fat I am. I must push for investigations and interventions because the first advice is always ‘lose weight’. Often, I must identify possible problems via my own research.
You would be shocked at the number of times professionals have dismissed my concerns only for my theory to be confirmed when they finally do the necessary tests. I have my cholesterol, blood sugar and pressure tested an inordinate number of times and am met with shock that they all measure within ideal levels. When I tell medical professionals that I do not wish to discuss weight loss, my request is usually ignored.
Explaining that I endured years of disordered eating and misery related to trying to reduce my size has no impact. My mental wellbeing seems entirely unimportant. Even when I am brutally honest about the fact the I used to starve myself, purge and use appetite suppressants, doctors still advise diet plans.
When my eating was at its most disordered, I was never dangerously thin. So, I was never considered at risk. The sizeist attitude towards disordered eating is a whole safety issue in itself. For the record I am vegan with digestive issues that limit my diet. It would be difficult for me substantially change what I eat even if I were inclined to. All this falls on deaf ears.
Weight loss remains a priority for almost every doctor I see. When I have stomach flares and lose weight because I can’t eat, I am congratulated. When I am in hospital, unable to stop vomiting, nurses will joke that they wish they could not eat for a while. It is relentless and exhausting.