How to Advocate for Your Health
I’m pretty sure that 75% of the doctors I’ve seen over the past six years were totally full of shit.
It started as a journey to find out why I was constantly tired and sad. I’ve definitely found some answers, but I hate to say that some of them are literally coming to light RIGHT NOW. Literally. This week.
Full disclosure, I am entirely aware that I am fat.
But more often than not, I’ve met doctors who assume two things:
- I am completely unaware that I am fat.
- Whatever my complaints or problems are, they’re because I’m fat.
For almost four years, I had tingling pain and numbness in my right thigh. I play Dr. Google and came up with everything from sciatica to tight underwear. I brought it up to a few medical professionals, both in actual doctor’s offices and friends on Facebook, and I was always told the same two solutions:
- Eat less food and lose weight.
- Stop wearing tight pants and underwear (which honestly just lose weight instead of sizing up)
So I did both. I gained and lost the same 30-50 pounds through a menagerie of crazy concoctions. And to all the doctor’s surprises, my leg was still in pain when I walked or stood for longer than 30 minutes. And it kept getting worse, so I was convinced my leg was going to be amputated. I definitely have a folder of links to fashionable prosthetic legs.
At the end of last year, after accepting my limb-less fate, a friend suggested a chiropractor. I thought it was a joke. But I trust her and my insurance covered it, so why not try at least one weird bone-cracking massage.
I spent three weeks researching, trying to find someone who supported Health at Every Size and wouldn’t be the fifth doctor to tell me weight loss surgery was my only option. I read every review on every platform, google the hell out of their names, and found enough info to write their biographies.
When I finally worked up the courage to go to one I had settled on, I thought I was going to vomit in the parking lot. When I went into his office to explain why I was there, I vomited words, almost yelling that I wanted him to look past my BMI and trust my instinct it was something more. And he did.
One x-ray later, he showed me a photo of my spine clearly curved like I was doing a permanent jig.
I had undiagnosed scoliosis that was crunching the nerves in my hip when I stood, causing nerve pain and an extremely inflamed hip flexor.
I started crying in his office as he told me we could stop the pain in six to twelve weeks. And here I am, three months later, and the pain in my hip is gone. I spent four years screaming internally and free-balling it, and my problem was solved in three months.
It’s disgusting how much goes unheard when doctors can’t see past the “elephant” in the room: my weight.
I have a huge collection of doctor horror stories as a fat woman.
Having my blood sugar checked everywhere from the eye doctor to the gynecologist because they’re sure I’m diabetic and just in denial. Being prescribed barely legal amphetamine weight loss drugs. A psychologist signing off on my readiness for weight loss surgery after telling her my detailed history of eating disordered behavior. An endocrinologist refusing to see me until I lost fifty pounds. A gynecologist who told me to stop lying to myself and others that I have hormone issues; I just needed to eat more almonds.
And sadly, almost every plus size person I have ever met says the same thing when I tell these war stories: “Yeah, something just like that happened to me, so I don’t go to the doctor anymore.”
It breaks my heart that an entire population of people are afraid to go to people who will help them because doctors won’t listen to anything but the heavy clunk of the scale.
Everyone deserves to feel safe, heard, and seen when it comes to their health. No matter what.
But how do you do that?
While I don’t have the bandwidth to singlehandedly break down the biases of every medical professional worldwide in 2020 (sorry y’all, I have to pay rent and provide a life for my dog), I can share some advice of how I’m learning to find doctors who will listen and how I speak up:
Do your research on them and yourself.
Google is my best friend. There are some resources out there to find doctors who associate themselves with the HAES movement, but there was nothing useful in my city. So I went to the streets and started reading every Yelp, Facebook, Google, etc. review that I could find. I looked for comments about patients who “felt heard,” “had all their questions answered,” and “been seeing them for years.”
I also started stalking them like a nosy ex, looking for articles about them and anything they were associated with. Was it creepy? Maybe. Did I know my doctor’s wife’s name before he ever mentioned being married? Yes, and I might have some shame around that. But I saw a real human, and that made me feel safe in a whole new way.
Finally, don’t forget to research your side. No, you don’t have to Google yourself unless you want to find the MySpace you thought you deleted. But learn as much about what you’re worried about as possible. No, you don’t need to diagnose yourself via WebMD. But knowing what the symptoms of hypothyroid look like and ways they test for it left me far more prepared for a diagnosis at the endocrinologist.
Speak up. A little louder now.
Nobody can hear you if you don’t speak. I know, it seems obvious. But let it sink in:
If you never cry for help out loud, no one can answer your call.
It can be so scary to speak up for yourself, especially if you never have AND you’re placed in a situation with someone in a role of authority. I always get red and sweaty, basically rushing out my words like I’m trying to beat the clock. It can be easy to fold back into yourself. But you deserve better, love. So give yourself a chance to be heard.
A wonderful piece of advice my dear friend Brianne suggested was to write down everything you want to ask or say. Grab an index card, open a note on your phone, fill out a sticky, whatever. Literally write yourself a cheat sheet for when your palms get sweaty and knees spaghetti. I always write things in the note section of my phone, and the act of writing it down makes me feel more in control. Half the time I don’t even use the notes, but knowing I have them gives me a boost of confidence.
Trust your gut, literally and figuratively.
The hardest part of not being listened to is when you start questioning if you even have anything to say.
After three doctors told me to my face that the only cure to all of my question, from anxiety to infertility to back pain, was eating less pizza and more salads, I believed it. Maybe my pain or worry wasn’t even real, and I was probably just being dramatic.
STOP RIGHT THERE. THAT’S GASLIGHTING, BBS.
Gas lighting is a form of psychological manipulation when someone else makes you question your sanity, judgement, experiences, or perceptions. I’m not saying that every medical professional is trying to use the dark side on you. But you have to listen to yourself.
If something doesn’t feel right, then it probably isn’t. If you think that leg pain is more than just tight underwear, then make them take a damn x-ray. If something about the doctor seems off, don’t go back. If you are in pain or feel like something isn’t right, FIGHT FOR YOURSELF.
You deserve to be seen, heard, and valued. You are a human being, just like that person in the white coat. Don’t ever forget that.
Do you have any doctor horror stories? Share your experiences with me! You’re not alone, and I’m listening.