Originally posted to the Community section at MyMedia.
This one is very tough to write about, for very personal reasons: the incredible gender bias in health care. How many times are women patients in critical circumstances, sent home with what is, essentially, a pat on the head, only to suffer severe health consequences later? That is not a rhetorical question, by the way. The answer is: several times more than men.
Some of you reading may remember reading on the news about a woman in Florida who was asked to leave the emergency room, since there was ‘nothing wrong with her,’ only to die right outside the hospital as the cops who had arrested her for non-compliance were trying to get her into the patrol car. Even as she’s lying on the floor, dying, people around her insist that there’s ‘nothing wrong with her.’
It’s easy to find excuses in the media for this particular case. She was loud, and had a history of being disruptive, she was heavy set (we are told her weight in the freaking headlines, for dog’s sake). But mostly, she was female (and also black), and complaining of pain.
Oh, you may say, but that’s just one case, why are you making noise about that?
Because it’s not one case. From the Journal of Law, Medicine and Ethics, in 2001–fifteen freaking years ago!–here’s the abstract from “The Girl Who Cried Pain”
In general, women report more severe levels of pain, more frequent incidences of pain, and pain of longer duration than men, but are nonetheless treated for pain less aggressively. The authors investigate this paradox from two perspectives: Do men and women in fact experience pain differently – whether biologically, cognitively, and/or emotionally? And regardless of the answer, what accounts for the differences in the pain treatment they receive, and what can we do to correct this situation?
Because health professionals (of both genders. though it does happen more with male doctors/nurses/etc), are less well educated on women’s health issues than men’s health issues, and thus, it just doesn’t occur to them that acute abdominal pain is not ‘oh, just kidney stones, they’ll pass, stop making such a fuss, honey’ but instead an ovarian torsion, which could kill her.
This bias towards dismissing women’s pain and health issues as “psychosomatic” (the new ‘hysteria,’ for those who care), means that women have to advocate fiercely, repeatedly, tirelessly for themselves–even when those health issues they are seeking help for are crippling them.
There’s this thread on twitter (go to the top for the full story) that brings this bias into even sharper relief:
“There was the time my doc said my chest pains were anxiety. I dogged him & ended up with a cardiologist. Turned out I needed heart surgery. Heart surgery that was “or you’ll probably die” kind of surgery. I would have died if I’d let my doctor write off my pain. But I almost did because, you know. He told me it was nothing. He told me I was probably “very sensitive to stress.” I’m one of those people who never want to go to the doctor, because it’s exhausting to have to fight to be taken seriously.”
“I was told chronic stomach pain was stress. It was ovarian cancer.”
“I was told my neck pain was from depression. I fought it. It was 4 herniated cervical discs.”
“I was told gut pain was ‘female problem.’ It was diverticulitis requiring 6hr surgery.”
And if you happen to be heavier than the accepted ‘norm,’ all your health issues are attributed to your weight, no further inquiry necessary. “Oh, you can’t breathe? No, dear it’s not asthma, it’s that you are fat.” “Oh, you don’t have energy? No, dear, it’s not a congenital heart defect, it’s that you are fat.”
PLEASE NOTE: I am not saying that men don’t go through horrible instances of medical neglect, injustice, abuse, misdiagnosis, etc. I AM saying that women go through this routinely.
For women, it is the rule not the exception–and if we dare talk about it, we are very often told to stop complaining. Our issues–women’s issues, be health, pay gap, societal expectations, rape, etc–are never THAT important, or that unique, and, don’t men suffer too?
So, we are told in so many words, over and over and over, be quiet, dear, and stop disrupting our peace and quiet.