In 2017, it is hard to believe that a woman would receive inferior medical treatment…but here we are. Online news sources have been quietly breaking stories about this phenomenon for years, but it is still so separated from the collective public conscience. Women are treated differently by their doctors than men. So many women are familiar with the parable, “go home and take a Tylenol.” Be it for migraines, back pains, menstrual pains, or any other legitimate ailments, we are always told the same thing. “Go home and take a Tylenol.”
We are delicate, little flowers. We are dramatic, and frantic, and we need a big, strong man to tell us it is all okay. Enter our physicians. They give us some Tylenol and send us home. Sure, there are WONDERFUL doctors out there who go above and beyond for their patients, regardless of gender. But there are doctors who aren’t so wonderful. This is my experience with those doctors.
I have suffered with chronic pain for nearly as long as I can remember. When I was seven, I told my mom I had a tummy ache. She kept me home from school that day. Now, nearly two decades later, I am still suffering from that same stomach ache.
I cannot reach far enough back in my memory to recall a time that I was not in crippling pain. I do not remember a morning that I did not wake up already exhausted, already doubled over in pain, and already dreading the day. On my best days, I can lean on over the counter medicine, and leave my house for an hour or two at the time, but I have to plan time to rest between activities or I will crash and burn. On my worst days, like today, I can barely walk from my bed to my couch without feeling weak and faint. My weight fluctuates from underweight to severely underweight and my energy levels are always, always low.
I have seen doctors on-and-off for years. I sit in their offices and I tell them that I cannot make it through a day without crying from pain. I tell them I cannot eat or drink without constantly fighting intense pain, and, some days, fighting the reflex to vomit whatever I’ve just put in my mouth. I have never been tested for any illnesses. I have never even been given an exam. Instead, the story is always the same. A big, booming man sits me down in his office, and tells me that nothing is wrong. I have seen five different doctors, and these are the diagnoses I’ve received: not wanting to go to school, too emotional, low pain tolerance, eating disorder, and pregnancy (I was a fifteen year old virgin).
Let me just say: no. No to all of those. I graduated nearly top of my class, got into every college I applied to, and graduated college with honors. Clearly, I didn’t mind school. I love food and am known to “eat through the pain” when a delicious southern meal is at stake. The first time pregnancy was suggested, I had never seen a penis (IRL or otherwise), and my doctor asked me to leave when I refused a pregnancy test. As for a low pain tolerance, waking up each morning with crippling pain makes you pretty immune to pain. I can take a punch to the gut and not even flinch. But my favorite “diagnosis” ever was that I was too emotional and my emotions were making me sick. My doctor, someone I hadn’t had an appointment with before, told me that, in time, I would become less hysterical and my pain would go away. Well, here I am, in my mid-twenties and happier than I’ve ever been, and I’m still in as much as I was when I sat in his office six years ago.
My brother, on the other hand, got stomach pains at work one day, saw his doctor, and was immediately sent to the hospital. They ran every test in the book without even waiting for his admission paperwork to clear. What was his problem? Food poisoning. It went away two days later, and he has existed pain free ever since.
Me? Well, I’ll keep “doctor shopping.” I’ll wake up every morning, acknowledge my pain like a beast hovering over my shoulder, dry my tears, and face my day. I’ll keep sitting in waiting rooms, and I’ll keep listening to men tell me that I don’t need an exam, and that I should just take a Tylenol and rest for a day.
I’ll keep waiting to be tested for Crohn’s disease, or ulcerative colitis, or one of the other illnesses that runs in my family.
But, until then, I’ll take a Tylenol and go home.