It’s no secret that women’s medical issues have historically been minimized and dismissed by healthcare professionals worldwide. In ancient Greece, doctors described how the uterus is like a living breathing creature that wreaks havoc on our systems and so I would expect Dr. Hippocrates to tell me that my illness is hysteria. I expect that from medical care from centuries ago.
We’ve come a long way since then, so I wouldn’t expect an ER doctor to say that in the 21st century.
Welcome To Medical Care in the 21st century of the Middle Ages
But yet, that’s exactly what happened. I went in with high blood pressure, chest pain, and fatigue, and I was told there was nothing wrong with me, and to go home. That was the first of many times that doctors dismissed me, ignored my complaints, or told me to relax. (Yes, it was, in fact, my doctor and not Frankie who said, “RELAX”).
I had to deal with:
- The doctor who told me that my migraines were here to stay, so I should just take some Excedrin and get used to agonizing pain being the rest of my life.
- The urologist who told me that despite the fact that I can feel my bladder pretty much 24/7 that there was nothing wrong with me, and he couldn’t help me.
- And the primary care doc who treated me like I was a checklist to complete and hand back to the insurance adjustors.
But that was the first time I fully understood what it meant. It meant that it didn’t matter that I was in pain, or sick, or struggling – they just wanted me out of there. I remember the feeling of being half-naked in a hospital bed, with wires attached to my chest.
Vulnerable and afraid, now I had a new feeling. Shame. I felt ashamed for wasting their time. No. that wasn’t it. I felt ashamed because they made me feel like I was wasting their time.
In my replays of that scene, I’m assertive, and I make my case. I floor him with my eloquence calling him out on his misogyny. I tell him he’s dismissing me, and I ask for a second opinion.
In real life, I burst into tears.
Making My Voice Heard
I didn’t know what to do, but I was going to make my voice heard. Unfortunately, as it turns out, no one wanted to listen. Calls to their patient advocacy office went unanswered, and no one other than the billing department even seemed to remember or care that I was a patient, a customer of their establishment. I tried to advocate for myself – but no one was listening. We need to make ourselves a priority
My experience isn’t unique. A quick search on Google reveals that this is an ongoing problem. John Oliver did a piece on the disparity of treatment between men and women by healthcare professionals that sounds like our medical system is stuck in the dark ages. And unfortunately, there’s plenty of evidence in the laws being passed that women’s health simply isn’t a priority. And it won’t be unless we make it one.
The other day I was driving my husband to the airport and my chest started to hurt. I suffer from chronic pain from an undiagnosed mystery condition (otherwise known as IDS – Ignored by Doctor Syndrome), so I tend to simply ignore it. It’ll go away in a few days. 6 years later I’m still saying that.
I bring it up at my checkups, but it’s routinely ignored. It occurred to me that if Alex was in pain, he’d go to the doctor, he’d be seen, and he’d come out of there with a solution. He simply wouldn’t entertain any other option.
Why wasn’t I doing the same thing?
I realized that as much as I hate to admit it, part of the problem is me. I rely on humour to cope, so I spend a lot of time minimizing my own symptoms and pain, historically even with my doctors. I was always putting everyone else ahead of myself because I’d lived with the pain for so long, why prioritize it now.
The question I should have been asking is why not prioritize it now? My family relies on me to take care of myself to be around for years to come, and part of that means taking an interest in my own healthcare. I’m done ignoring my health, and I’m done letting others ignore it too. For the first time in my life, I am going to prioritize myself.
Because that’s what we need. As chronically ill patients, we need to put ourselves first so that we’re around to take care of the people we love. I resolved to set up a system to make sure I get listened to and get the healthcare I deserve.
Take Yourself Seriously
The first thing that we as women need to do to make sure we’re taken seriously is to take ourselves seriously. If you tend to downplay your pain or put on a brave face by minimizing your pain or your symptoms, even the best of doctors is going to have trouble diagnosing you.
Pay attention to your body and be mindful of your symptoms. Don’t ignore them simply because you’ve had them for a long time. If you’ve been in pain for a while and don’t know why, that’s something to take note of.
Write It Down
I always think of things I need to discuss with my doctor in the most random places and times. In an escape room, while I’m doing dishes, or right before bed. I always say I’ll remember but I never do. Write down your issues when you think of them, and don’t dismiss them when you’re in the doctor’s office just because you aren’t feeling that way at that moment. Articulate the feeling in your smartphone or your journal or notebook so you have it to refer to.
Do Your Homework
This one is the most time consuming but will make a difference. Research your doctors on Yelp, Angie’s List or Healthgrades. Look for people with 3+ star reviews and read through them to learn why people rated the way they did. Google the doctor to see if there are any articles or blog posts written about them that raise red flags. You can also check with your friends and family to see if they have someone that they recommend.
This part may not work well for everyone, but if you aren’t happy with your experience, try another doctor. Years ago, I went to see 5 different physicians before I found the doctor I was with for 6 years, and I would have stayed with if he hadn’t relocated.
Enlist A Friend
If you’re worried about your ability to remain calm and put together or advocate for yourself, bring a friend or a family member you trust with you.
I’ve been in pain as long as I can remember, and I’ve been ignored for years, and sometimes I get tired of fighting and feeling like its an uphill battle. I remembered though that as long as I have a voice, and I do, I can speak up for myself and others, and I can be heard. As long as I have a choice, I can find healthcare professionals to take me seriously. I don’t have to stay where I am, I can always make a different choice.
Have you found any techniques that work particularly well for you to get taken seriously by healthcare professionals?
About The Author
Minessa Konecky is a social media strategist and business coach who has lived with an assortment of chronic illnesses since her teens including chronic back pain, migraine, general anxiety, and depression. Instead of a unicorn, she’s opted for a dragon as her unique snowflake avatar because for her they symbolize wisdom and strength that help her triumph over her restrictions, but also let her take a nap when she needs one. She enjoys bingewatching post-apocalyptic TV shows, meditation, playing with her 3 mini huskies and has an encyclopedic knowledge of pointless 80s and 90s media trivia.