by miki hickel
I’m not a doctor, but I’d like to believe that if I were one I’d be one of the understanding doctors who doesn’t see a fat person and have the automatic reaction to start mentally listing off all of the health problems they MUST have because of their size. My patients wouldn’t sit at home telling themselves that they’re not really sick enough to come see me because they don’t want to sit through yet another one of my lectures about their size instead of me treating them for what they originally came in about. I’m not a doctor though. Fortunately, there are some who practice medicine the way I think I would. The unfortunate part is that there is no shortage of the kinds of doctors who’ve led me to make this decision.
From time to time I ask questions in a few online communities what they think about certain aspects of what it’s like to live life as a large person. When I started spending more time in my doctor’s office and he only mentioned that my losing weight might help me out in a gentle, tactful, not unfriendly or judgmental way I realized how lucky I am to have found a doctor like him. However, I cannot ignore the stories of other women who’ve been insulted and dismissed by the people who are supposed to be making them well. I asked to hear the good and bad stories regarding doctors and weight and here is what a few women like all of us had to say.
I've never had a doctor that didn't harass me about my weight. In fact, even after my charts showed a significant weight loss (when I was in high school) I went to the doctor to check out my PCOS (which has still never actually been addressed) and all he said was lose weight. After I'd already lost 40 pounds.
When I went for my first annual/birth control prescription almost exactly a year ago, they were hesitant to give it to me. Only because of my weight. They also would only give me one month's worth of pills at a time. I'm dreading going back for my next annual because the doctor threatened me that if I don't get blood tests (having nothing to do with my one legitimate medical problem, my PCOS), she won't let me stay on the pill. The pill that is vital to my regular periods and my lack of man-hair all over my body, she won't let me keep. Because I'm fat. I have 3 weeks before I have tog o see her again, and I'm dreading it.
I know I won't go to the doctor unless I have accidentally severed a limb or something. I don't need to be told that my severed head is 'cause I'm fat. Fat people aren't in shitty health cause they're fat, they're in shitty health 'cause they're afraid to go to the doctor. No one likes to be harassed.
Well, this happened at a dermatologist's office. I was seriously just getting my upper lip waxed, and the lady (who I'd known for about six years) asked me out of the blue "So when are you going to start losing weight?" And she went on and on about Jenny Craig and how I was unhealthy. First of all, she's a DERMATOLOGIST. She doesn't even know about that sort of thing. Second of all, it pisses me off when anyone assumes that I am unhealthy just because I'm large.
But in terms of regular doctors, there's not been a single time my weight has not been mentioned. Only one of those times was I not blamed for it, but rather my genetic makeup.
Whenever I go to my doctor his response is always "Lose Weight".
If I am having knee troubles - migraines - strep throat - or a bladder infection - his response to everything is Lose Weight. It drives me MAD!
Once I went into the doctors because I was having neck pain. The neck pain was due to studying too much for too long of periods of time (it was finals). The response I get is "you need to exercise your neck more, that is your problem"
As if being heavy has anything to do with how often I use my neck.
Also, I have had a problem with my leg since before I was truly overweight, but I will not go to the doctor about it because everything always comes back to my weight. They will say the problem is weight related, and I know they won't listen if I tell them I had this problem since I was 12 and I wasn't big then.
I have gone in for routine colds, I've had strep throat over 15 times, ear infections, and many other problems, and have had the doctor tell me, quite aggressively and belligerently, that it's ALL to due with my weight.
I've recently had problems with my eyesight, and I am almost afraid to go in, because I KNOW he'll attribute that to my weight.
I'll totally cop to the diabetes, the back problems, and the foot issues being about my weight, but there are many other afflictions I've faced that have nothing whatsoever to do with weight.
I've never had doctor treat me like anything but a statistic, especially with my problems with mental illness.
I recently heard from a therapist friend of mine that if doctors see on your history that you are a victim of sexual abuse, they automatically think you are a hypochondriac, because apparently there is a high number of sexual abuse victims that have hypochondria.
I am a sexual abuse victim, and I do not have hypochondria, but every time I go into the doctor, I am treated like I'm "exaggerating" or "being dramatic"...which also goes along with being belittled for my weight.
I’m hoping that the people who’ve never had an issue with their doctor just didn’t feel compelled to answer my questions because it’s overwhelming how many of these women aren’t being treated properly (medically and/or personally) by their doctors. Is this time of the war on fat even our doctors seem to have forgotten that there are actual people behind all of the statistics. It’s just easier to treat all fat people the same no matter what. In a way it’s like how smokers are treated.
When my father was a little older than I am now, his doctors found a spot on his lung. Because he’d already been smoking for so long they immediately assumed that it had to be cancer and removed a significant part of his lung. It turns out that when he was working near some chicken farms, pulling old missile silos out of the ground, he’d inhaled some sort of airborne fungus that they could have gotten rid of without any surgery at all. I’m not defending smoking because it does cause so many health issues, but it’s dangerous to think that all people are going to have the same health problems. These days, it’s likely that you’ll either be treated for a condition you don’t even have or your genuine medical concerns are dismissed because you couldn’t possibly know what you’re talking about…you’re fat. What do you know?
You know how you feel. Your doctors know how you’re functioning. It’s up to both you and them to figure out get everything working together so you can live a happy and healthy life. If you don’t feel like your doctor is listening to your concerns I think it’s time to stand up for yourself. If you avoid seeking medical treatment because you just don’t want to hear the lecture again, then it’s time to do something about it to make sure you’re not making your situation worse. Get educated about your health issues and discuss with your doctor how you’d like to be treated. If they’re not responsive to this, then they’re not the right doctor for you and it’s time to look for a new one. It would be unrealistic to think that your weight will never come up as a topic of conversation or a concern medically. (It’s one thing to not want to get a guilt trip every time you’re sick. It’s another to just be in denial about potential health issues.) Just know that there are doctors who will be sensitive to your feelings and concerns.
So what can we do about this as a group? Start demanding to be treated as an individual. Make your doctors listen to your concerns. Speak up when your friends, mothers, sisters, or daughters say they’re avoiding the doctor because they leave feeling worse than when they went in. Let them know that it’s okay to take an active role in their own health and treatment. Doctors are just people too and while they do know more about medicine they’re not mind readers and they’re not really going to know how you feel until you tell them. Love yourself enough and give yourself a chance to live a long and healthy life.
Until next month…I wish you all the best for your curvy life! Thanks to all of the wonderful women who shared their stories with us. It’s always nice to hear from you so if you have any other issues you’ve been wanting to vent/hear about don’t hesitate to let me know!
about miki hickel
Miki is a freelance writer and artist. She has a BA from The Evergreen State College in Olympia, WA where she studied interdisciplinary media arts, marketing, public relations, gender studies and multicultural studies.
As far as her writing goes, she has always found it's the easiest way for her to get her point across without forgetting what she is talking about. She use to write an advice column under the name "Charisma Lacking" for the Evergreen Queer Alliance and one day she hopes to prove to all of her former teachers that "excessive talking-is disruptive" isn't always a bad thing. For more information on Miki and to view her artwork, photos and essays, log onto her website.