Physicians are supposed to be able to navigate around emotional situations and decisions to solve issues and provide care for people. Sometimes the way we act can, apparently, still influence thoughts regarding our health. This is especially true for those of us dealing with chronic health issues and invisible disabilities.
This post is, in part, a sarcastic piece but also a piece in which we discuss the often ridiculous experiences patients have due to looks, actions, and assumptions.
1. Do not smile. Ever.
I went to my (now-former) general practitioner knowing, essentially, that I had a dental abscess and looking for antibiotics to help treat the issue or some guidance on what to do. When I arrived, my doctor was less than compassionate. Because of the fact that I’m a bubbly person who is polite and smiles, I wasn’t taken seriously.
He literally laughed in my face and said it was a pimple when my reaction upon him applying pressure to it (which, btw, is a no-no) wasn’t as horrible as he expected.
I replied that I deal with very high numbers on the pain scale fairly often and that it’s pretty ridiculous to expect every person to react the same.
Long story short: it took my (now-former) rheumatologist’s office seeing me two weeks later for someone to treat me for the abscess.
Tip: Always look pained while at the doctor for a pain-related issue.
2. Do not be fat.
I have so many stories I could share here.
One friend had tonsillitis that a physician refused to do anything about, despite the obvious diagnosis, because she was overweight and that would eventually cause breathing issues. He also did no actual exam to look at the tonsils.
Another friend was told that her rare neurological headache condition was caused by her weight. The most frightful thing about this situation is that the physician seen is one of the top experts in this type of condition.
One of my favorite patient people was told that her abnormally heavy period (menorrhagia) would be solved by losing weight. She was told this at 15 and then was instructed on ways to lose weight, especially withholding food from herself, by the doctor.
I could keep going, but then I might break my laptop.
Tip: Don’t be a part of 36% of Americans within the overweight or obese guidelines, even if that’s due to muscle or an issue related to your illness, disability, or pain.
3. Do not be poor.
Not only do those living in poverty have to deal with issues related to access to food and medical care in the first place, but when they do see a healthcare professional, they’re basically dismissed.
One friend, also dealing with Still’s, was told that his abdominal pain was being caused by a horrible diet – a diet that one keeps when one is poor, by the way. In the end, his gallbladder had to be removed via emergency surgery with a long course of antibiotics.
Another friend’s specialist asked if she had an exit strategy to get off of welfare. She’s not on ‘welfare’ as she works, but does receive some forms of public assistance.
If you’re uninsured – rare now, thanks to the ACA, but still happens – you can expect to not be fully treated or even fully evaluated for an issue… even one as fairly obvious as a staph infection in a patient with a history of them.
Tip: Pick yourself up by your bootstraps and stop being poor already.
4. Do not be a woman.
There is so much to say here – especially for those of us who fall into additional marginalized communities such as those with disability or people of color.
If you suffer from any pain related to your reproductive organs, you may be misdiagnosed with sciatica, not even treated, or told to ‘suck it up’ because all women have pain ‘down there.’
Tip: Struggle to be more masculine to please HCPs.
5. Do not have a mental health issue (or fibromyalgia).
If you have a mental health issue, real or perceived, you can expect for misdiagnoses to follow you around.
One of my favorite people in the entire world was being treated for some thyroid issues and depression with the thought that the vast majority of her issues were related to her depression. Fast forward almost ten years and she has been diagnosed FINALLY with Hashimoto’s Disease, an autoimmune condition.
Fibromyalgia is often seen as a mental health issue due to the lack of belief by many physicians in the disease. This is despite the fact that it’s been proven to be a malfunction in the Central Nervous System. Many women are diagnosed with fibromyalgia to shut them up and give their perceived hypochondria a diagnosis.
Tip: Do not ever wind up with a controversial illness that has a stigma associated with it.
6. Do not dress up for your appointment.
I have learned the hard way that dressing nicely when I say I’m in pain is only beneficial is I have come straight from work. Doctors do tend to take other ‘professionals’ seriously. That said, if I dress up too much, then there are questions about how I would have the energy while in pain to do so.
This isn’t the case anymore but has been in the past.
Tip: Rags are too dressed-down, but high heels are too dressed-up. Try sweatpants with a minimum of one hole but no more than two to illustrate that you’re not poor but you also hurt enough to not give a shit about looks.
7. Do not let your pain control you.
Be in enough pain for the pain to be more obvious, but not in enough pain that it alters how you talk to or interact with healthcare peeps.
They’re trained to deal with these emotions. It should not be that hard for them to look past the emotions related with, say, a cluster headache in order to ask the right questions to provide the right treatment.
Tip: Learn to be a Vulcan.