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Tuesday, May 21, 2024
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Identities: Why don’t doctors listen to me?

I am tired of my voice not being heard by the people who need to hear it most

The following piece is an opinion and does not reflect the views of The Eagle and its staff. All opinions are edited for grammar, style and argument structure and fact-checked, but the opinions are the writer’s own.

When I was 13, I had my first migraine. I was nauseous, dizzy and couldn’t handle loud noises or bright lights. After 24 hours with no improvement, my parents took me to my primary care doctor, who referred me to a child neurologist and told me to drink more water. The neurologist — who I got in with three months later — told me to sleep more and drink more water. I was fine. It was probably just puberty, maybe menstruation. Definitely nothing more.

I went through six more years of suffering from migraines at least once a month and headaches every single day. Every time I mentioned this to my doctors, I was told the same thing: “You’re fine. Just drink water, exercise and sleep.”

This was so frustrating because I knew something was wrong. I knew that a normal person didn’t have a headache every single day. A normal person didn’t have regular migraines. But no one would listen. I was always brushed aside, told I was okay or even told that I didn’t understand the difference between a migraine and a headache, so how would I know what I was having?

In January 2023, I was 19 and rushed to the emergency room after learning I had abnormal swelling in my optic nerves. The person who found this out was not a doctor but my optometrist, whom I saw yearly. When he described seeing swollen optic nerves and the fact that this can sometimes point to issues in the brain, I let him know about my history with migraines. He told me to get to the emergency room immediately. The best-case scenario was nothing, but the worst-case scenario was not something anyone wanted me to risk.

At the emergency room, I sat in the waiting room for eight hours before getting in for an MRI of my brain. A doctor then nonchalantly told me, “Oh yeah we found something, but it’s not worrying,” which, shockingly, did not make me feel better.

After pleading with the doctors, I found out that I indeed had a mass in my brain, which ended up being classified as a benign pituitary tumor. But why did I have to beg my doctors to tell me what was happening with my body?

Later that year, in the summer of 2023, I had more medical issues, including being diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease and a ruptured appendix. Again, in this situation, I was pushed off by my doctors who said my stomach issues had to be because I was eating poorly. They, again, prescribed me a medley of exercise and a change in diet, but of course, nothing helped.

After countless doctor visits, four trips to the emergency room, three hospitalizations and one massive surgery, I was finally believed by my medical team that, indeed, I was sick.

The underlying problem here, however, was the judgment from my medical team regarding my weight. With my tumor, an ophthalmologist who looked at my optic nerves told me the only way to get better was to lose weight. During my hospital stays with Crohn’s, doctors frequently asked me about my plans to lose weight. When my appendix burst at one point, they told me that my piercing pain was likely indigestion from eating poorly again. Fatphobia in the workplace, especially when said workplace is a hospital where you should be helping patients of all body sizes, is unacceptable.

Kate Manne, an associate professor of philosophy at Cornell University, recently published an opinion piece in The New York Times titled “Doctors have fatphobia, too — which does serious harm to patients.” Manne wrote in her piece, “Many nurses admit: They feel repulsed by our bodies and do not want to touch us. Doctors are more likely to view us as a waste of their time and have less desire to help us. We are hence, unsurprisingly, far more likely to die with serious health conditions that have gone undiagnosed.”

Also, unsurprisingly, I could have died because of the gross negligence of my medical team. When your appendix bursts, it needs to be treated immediately, or you can go septic, which is a recipe for disaster — namely death. Manne’s points throughout her piece hit home for patients with bigger bodies, and it feels like she puts all my thoughts into words.

“Many fat people recall going to the doctor with symptoms unrelated to their size yet being summarily told to lose weight, when a thin patient with the same symptoms would receive treatment and medication,” Manne wrote.

Being told to lose weight when weight loss isn’t a cure for either of my conditions is, frankly, insulting. I am more than my body inside and outside of the hospital, but when I’m getting treated for severe conditions that threaten my immune system, change the way I live my life, cost me tons of money in medical bills and are confusing and new to me, the last thing I want to face is a doctor telling, “maybe you should try Ozempic!”

When I was 13 and first suffered from migraines, my body looked much different than it does at 20, so fatphobia isn’t all of the story. I empathize with doctors and nurses, especially those in emergency departments, because they are constantly swamped with patients and life-or-death scenarios.

I’ve been to hospitals in multiple countries because I am always suffering from something, and I know that other countries can do it better. When I was in Chile in 2019, I went to the hospital for an infection in my arm and left in an hour with a prescription and a bill for 18,845 Chilean Pesos. That is $20 in the U.S.

I want to finish with a call to action, but honestly, I don’t know how we fix this. The American healthcare system is incredibly messed up in ways beyond simple repair. I want to have a positive outlook, but it’s so hard, after all of my doctor visits and now medical trauma, to want to be on the side of the healthcare system. But I know it can and should be better.

Alana Parker is a sophomore in the School of Public Affairs and School of Communications and the assistant opinion editor for The Eagle. 

This piece was edited by Jelinda Montes and Abigail Turner. Copy editing done by Luna Jinks, Isabelle Kravis, Charlie Mennuti and Julia Patton. 

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