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Medicine and Women


A few years ago, I felt so much pain in my joints that I couldn’t walk or pick up a carton of milk in the morning. At age 21, I limped and ached; my right ankle, left knee, and right hand were swollen. I was also sore in my back and shoulders. I cried in pain daily.

I went to the first doctor. He x-rayed my hand, told me that I may have a jammed thumb, but that there would be no evidence of it in an x-ray and that the pain and swelling would just go away. Then I went to the second doctor. There may be a stress fracture in my right foot, he said, but it was nothing serious. There were no drugs prescribed for the pain, and he handed me an ace bandage and a pair of crutches and headed me out the door.

I went to my third doctor, who happened to be the first female doctor I saw. She put all the symptoms together and thought I may have a form of arthritis. She referred me to a specialist at a nearby hospital.

She was the first doctor who listened to me. Every other experience of mine was of a doctor addressing only one of the problems I mentioned, then brushing the problem off as minor. I felt as if I was getting nowhere in discovering the root of my illness. I felt as if no one wanted to help me.

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A friend and co-worker was recently hospitalized with an ulcer. When she came back, the pain still remained­especially during menstruation. She always had severe menstrual cramps, and with the ulcer present there would be days at the office when she would have to lay down underneath her desk until the pain went away.

Sometimes the pain would make her cry at her desk. Once I had to help her walk to her train station in the middle of the day, because she had to be bed-ridden and she didn’t know if she could walk the block to her train without collapsing.

She didn’t want to go back to the hospital after being admitted for days with an ulcer. She told me about how uncomfortable she felt with her male doctor. That the doctors she had never listened to her. That she felt they dismissed her problems as all in her head. I told her to see someone else, and to tell them how she felt, even if she had to be belligerent. She was paying for and had the right to proper treatment.

She finally saw a doctor. Then another. A few times it was suggested to her to go on the pill, since hormonal therapy may reduce the cramps. But she took that advice from a doctor years earlier, and she knew the pills made her more violently moody, and often didn’t help with the pain. No one suggested other alternatives to her. She followed her doctors orders.

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My grandmother was a feisty and strong woman in her mid-eighties. Her bowling average hovered around 176. She lived alone in a condominium. Our family had dinner together weekly with her.

While I was away at school, I started getting phone calls from my family about how grandma hadn’t been feeling well. She went to a doctor complaining of stomach pains, and his diagnosis was that she had a yeast infection. She told him she knew her body well enough at this point in her life to know that she did not have a yeast infection. That a yeast infection wasn’t causing this pain. She thought his diagnosis was ludicrous. The doctor brushed her off.

She told us this. We told her to get a second opinion. She saw another doctor. The stomach pains persisted, and due to the cold weather her asthma was acting up. She was always out of breath. Tired. In pain.

Still no answers from this doctor. He told her it was probably a stomach flu and that she would be fine soon. He gave her a prescription.

Within two weeks she was in the hospital with a laceration in her stomach. The laceration was worse because she had it for a while and it wasn’t treated. Strong acidic fluids were seeping through her body and infecting other organs. She was admitted to the hospital on a Friday; by Saturday morning, she was dead.

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I told friends about my grandmother’s experience with the doctors. More than one person mentioned that my grandmother’s next of kin could probably win a lawsuit against the doctor who misdiagnosed her, especially when she complained to us when she was alive that he didn’t listen to her. But the problem was deeper than that.

That doctor, like the ones myself and my friend had been to, didn’t think he was doing a poor job. If you asked him, he probably would have thought that he was doing a perfectly good job.

The problem was as simple as not listening. Those doctors didn’t take us seriously. Simply put, they didn’t listen to us.

Why? Is it that all doctors are callous? No, from my experience alone I knew that the female doctor was helpful and took me seriously. Was it that male doctors didn’t listen to anyone and female doctors did? Not from what I knew. Stories like these of doctors ignoring patient’s feelings and statements are relatively foreign to men I talked to. In fact, often when I mention stories like these to a woman, she usually has another story like it to add to the list. It almost seems that most women I know don’t feel comfortable with a male doctor. But men don’t feel that way at all.

Most men don’t feel that way because they have never had that problem. They have always been listened to. They have had doctors pay attention to them. They have received better treatment, on the whole, than women.

I decided since that last bout with the doctors that from now on I would see a female doctor whenever I could. But that doesn’t solve the problem either. I should be able to go to a doctor, no matter if the physician is male or female, and feel confident that I will get the medical attention I need.

But I don’t feel that confidence. Neither do a lot of women.



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