I’m sure some of us has found ourselves in a situation, where it feels like we are convincing our doctors of the kind of pain we are in, or that our gut instincts are telling us that something is wrong in our body. But do they listen? Sometimes yes, and sometimes no.
Jessica was in so much pain for the first few days of all her cycles as a teenager. She sometimes threw up, and that caused her parents to worry, but every time they took her to the hospital, she was just given pain medication and sent home. No one checked if there was more going on with her, even though she had requested more detailed investigations during one of her many hospitalisations. The doctor had simply said, the pain was because, she just started her menstrual period and that it would get better as she grew older.
Well, it did not. She survived on pain medication for over a decade, and it was when she was having issues with getting pregnant that her fertility doctor suggested an ultrasound scan, and there, they discovered she not only had endometriosis, but also cysts on her ovaries. No wonder she was in a lot of pain. And for years, she had complained, but her pain was dismissed as normal.
Tracy even had it worse. Yes, she had wanted a cerclage, because some of her friends got it and swore by its effectiveness, as insurance against any unforeseen cases of an incompetent cervix.
She had discussed the matter with the doctor for several months, even before she got pregnant, and it was agreed that she was going to have the stitches in as soon as it was safe for her to have the procedure.
However, all that changed when she became officially pregnant, and after the scan, her doctor hold her her cervix was long and intact, which was proof of competency, thus there was no need to have the procedure. Tracy told him point blank, “I’m not risking anything, besides, we already sorted this matter. All that is needed is to fix a date, and we can get it done. So, what’s with this new tune?”
The same way she stood her ground, her doctor did too. He refused to perform the procedure, saying there was no need for it.
The need to have that cerclage became obvious a few weeks later, when she went into premature labour, and before she got to the hospital, her cervix was dilated and it required little effort to bring the baby out. She was very bitter, so bitter that she refused to have the doctor attend to her.
It did not matter that he was remorseful, and said he had acted with her best interest at heart, nor did his promise to put in a cerclage the second time around help. It was as though a dog was barking, for all she cared. Immediately she left the hospital after that miscarriage, she did not go back there. It didn’t matter the amount of calls put through to her to plead the doctor’s case. All Tracy thought about was the fact that his stubbornness had cost her a baby…her first baby.
She moved to a new clinic, and the first subject she broached with her new doctor was her last miscarriage, and how she had insisted on a cerclage, only for the doctor to renege on their agreement later. Immediately, the doctor agreed that she indeed needed a cerclage, especially as she now had a history of an incompetent cervix.
The problem was she did not get pregnant spontaneously again. It took several years for her to get pregnant, and for every year that passed and saw her childless, she practically ‘prayed’ for her first doctor.
In the end, they had to resort to IUI, which thankfully worked for her, and she got her cerclage, which did wonders for her peace of mind. Tracy went on to have a healthy pregnancy, and birthed her baby girl, which she named after the son she had lost.
It even happened to my mom, when she wanted to have her hysterectomy. For years, the woman refused to think about surgery as an option, and then she decided to do it, after the pain of her period in January was unbearable, and had not wanted to go through same experience in February. In fact, she was practically scared of the pain at that stage.
That was when the doctor started to come up with different reasons why she should wait a while to do it. My mom did not like the sound of that at all. She called me, but, before I got there, my sister already told the doctor that if he wasn’t ready to do the surgery, then we would have to find an alternative. That fact alone prompted him, and within three days, everything (tests, scans, etc.) was sorted, and she went in for the surgery. She now wishes she had done it several years ago, instead of recently, having endured several cycles filled with crippling pain. The best part for her is that she would no longer have menstruation.
And in a landmark study aptly titled The Girl Who Cried Pain: A Bias Against Women in the Treatment of Pain, it was obvious that there seems to be discrimination against women, when it comes to complaints handling by medical practitioners.
The researchers concluded that, overall, women are “more likely to be treated less aggressively in their initial encounters with the health-care system until they ‘prove that they are as sick as male patients'” — a phenomenon colloquially known as “Yentl Syndrome.”
According to the authors, women are far more likely to be seen as exaggerating their symptoms, accused of being hypochondriacs, or told all their symptoms are from “stress” or “anxiety.”
This is the place where we need to become our own advocate. When your doctor is not listening to your complaints, or waving it aside, tell him or her and insist on being heard. If it still persists, perhaps, you need a second opinion.
Ladies, let’s speak up, our lives depend on it.
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