Friday, March 28, 2008

Perspectives and the Dr. Office

So in that great leap of synchronicity that hits me so often, This Post on Shapely Prose and This Post on The Rotund came out just as I actually needed to go to a doctor for the first time in several years because of some internal feminine malfunction (of which I will not be going into details).

My dad is/was the type of person who never actually goes to the doctor unless he needs stitches or cannot possibly deny the fact that he's at risk of dying within 24 hours (i.e. heart attack). My mom has to bully him into regular checkups. I think I inherited a lot of his stance on this. When I do actually have to go to the doctor I tend to do as much research as possible beforehand so that I can walk in and say "I have an ear infection, give me this specific antibiotic." If I think it will pass without treatment or if there's nothing they can do but give me a fancy brand of cough syrup, I don't go. I also (off paper) don't have a specific primary care doctor that I see. Instead I ask for whoever can slot me in after work or on a weekend in the group of doctors that work at that office.

Maybe it's fear of fat-hate, and there are probably some vestiges of that somewhere in the mental process. But if I really examine it, I find my aversion to doctors and checkups has more to do with my being a fiercely private person. I don't like the idea of a single person knowing so much about me. I don't generally discuss my health issues with friends and family, so why should I let a stranger have all this private data and such very personal access to me?

So I hadn't been to a doctor in a year or two and hadn't had my girly bits examined in about six years since I went off birth control (bad reaction to it). In the meantime, I've discovered FA, and read the stories at First Do No Harm. The stories of fat women being humiliated, harassed, or refused treatment when seeking care are horrific. The reluctance to open private matters to a stranger became a solid gripping fear that I would undergo an ordeal of hate and disgust for daring to demand medical care as a fat person. Unfortunately, my internal organs decided to not allow me a choice.

That's when I learned a much-needed perspective. The horror stories of fat prejudice in health care are a real problem. They're horrific, outrageous, and call for much-needed correction in the medical industry's treatment of fat people. They are, however, not necessarily the norm.

I'm sure that at some point in my life I will probably experience prejudice from a doctor. For that matter, maybe it is the norm and I'm just extremely lucky. All I know is that after working myself into some serious stress, I had nothing to worry about. I stepped on the scale (digital) and looked away, the PA wrote the number down in my chart without comment or reaction (thinking back, in that office they have never said the number out loud during weigh-in, or commented on it, during any visit!) She and the doctor were both very concerned that I was comfortable, asked good questions, and listened to the answers. When the doctor asked why I was reluctant to get a pap I specifically brought up FA and the fact that so many fat women have bad experiences or are refused examinations by doctors. She was shocked and outraged at the idea and responded that she treats patients, big or small. By her reaction, I'd say that the idea of refusing treatment to anyone or treating them badly because of their weight had never even crossed her mind. Better yet, she never once made any sort of premature "guesstimate" diagnosis or suggested that my weight might be a factor in what was going wrong. She simply ran the gamut of tests (needles...brrr!), warned that if they didn't show anything conclusive I might need more, and made sure I was comfortable every step of the way. I'm going back in little over a week so that she can go over the test results and decide what to do from there. I think I'll wait and see how that goes before I submit her name to the fat-friendly doctors list.

Basically, I went in with an expectation of something to fear that I had greatly exaggerated in my own mind. I think it was a learning experience for me. I need to adjust my perspective to where I don't expect prejudice, since the fear of it will lessen my ability to live and enjoy life, but am aware of prejudice so that when it does occur I can respond appropriately. It's a fine line to walk, but it's the difference between making activism a part of your life and allowing it to take over.


fatgirlonadate said...

This is something I haven't thought of before: Do we do fat women a disservice by telling our horror stories? Are we keeping women away from the doctor by sharing our own painful experiences?

I'm definitely not advocating that we stop telling our stories. We need them to make change happen. But it is a good reminder that a lot of women have really positive experiences. Is there a place to collect positive stories? Or link women to fat-friendly doctors?

JoGeek said...

I absolutely do not think there is any disservice in sharing stories of prejudice; it IS a serious problem and sharing both spreads awareness and support for those who experience fat bias in medical care. is a forum to share stories and maintains a list of fat-friendly doctors. They have posted positive stories in the past, so maybe people just don't realize they can also share them, or don't feel they need to share them. This post was more about my own personal experience getting caught up in my own head and allowing my fear of discrimination to run away with me, to the possible detriment of my health.

Juliet said...

You got very lucky. I haven't had the same level of abuse some women have, but I've had it nonetheless (my favorite anecdote involves a doctor performing a vaginal ultrasound the day I learned I might be infertile. He told me during the procedure that I should have WLS if I wanted "any hope" in ever having kids. Charming man, that guy.

I've been lucky on the whole, and I think where you live plays a role. Back East, in NYC especially, doctors are far more fat-phobic and far more likely to blame everything on your weight. Here in Colorado, I don't find this to be so much the case. In fact, aside from a few isolated incidents, I've never really been lectured about my weight or treated like a walking heart attack. I think there's a location specific component to these sorts of abuses in the medical profession.

Mike Hunt said...

I have a wonderful and positive interview with a fat friendly doctor on my Bigger Fatter Blog.

Here is a bit of it.

Q: Doctor, I've heard that cardiovascular exercise can prolong life; is this true?

A: Your heart is only good for so many beats, and that's it... don't waste them on exercise. Everything wears out eventually. Speeding up your heart will not make you live longer; that's like saying you can extend the life of your car by driving it faster. Want to live longer? Take a nap.

Q: Should I cut down on meat and eat more fruits and vegetables?

A: You must grasp logistical efficiencies. What does a cow eat? Hay and corn. And what are these? Vegetables. So a steak is nothing more than an efficient mechanism of delivering vegetables to your system. Need grain? Eat chicken. Beef is also a good source of field grass a leafy green vegetable. And a pork chop can give you 100% of your recommended daily allowance of vegetable products.

Q: Should I reduce my alcohol intake?

A: No, not at all. Wine is made from fruit. Brandy is distilled wine, that means they take the water out of the fruity bit so you get even more of the goodness that way. Beer is also made out of grain. Bottoms up!
Q: How can I calculate my body/fat ratio?

A: Well, if you have a body and you have fat, your ratio is one to one. If you have two bodies, your ratio is two to one, etc.

Stop by and help us usher in the next phase in fat acceptance.