Lately, I wish I could avoid hospitals forever.
Now as someone with chronic lung, sinus, digestive and liver issues, an intensive CF-based treatment regimen and a recent alpha-1 identification… this may sound completely ludicrous. Moreover, after an almost 2 week foray with IV antibiotics, fluids through my port, and intensive breathing therapy, one would think I’d be super happy to finally be taking care of myself, even if admission isn’t my favorite option. My team of doctors are happy with the new plan of action, our ability to fight infections quickly, and my progress whilst in the hospital. I recently started oxygen at home at night, which- although it hurts my pride- could go a long way in helping me feel better during the day. So why in the world am I totally done with everything medical?
About 7 years ago, I went to a doctor shortly after my first daughter was born complaining of stomach pain. After talking only somatic issues- which had become increasingly worse by the week- the elderly, male doctor looked me square in the face and said: “I think it’s post-partum depression.” For years after the appointment, I would secretly glare at his office through my car window when passing… all the more so after another hospital swiftly found me to be suffering from celiac disease, or a severe inability to breakdown gluten substances within my tum. (No wonder my stomach was hurting, right? Apparently, my real complaints- which had yet to be tested when this claim was founded- were simply the aftermath of an overwhelmed new mother, a quandary that likely would never have been presented to a male with the same complaints).
Cut to 7+ years later, and I am discussing my most recent hospitalization with my care team. I have a great crew of specialists who are open and honest about all of my treatments… including a recent account from a Hospitlist (a doctor who only treats you while “in house”), that made me immediately feel diminutive and denigrated. Although a pun could perhaps be intended (the reason for his claims was my quote en quote “slight stature”), I simply felt unfairly judged and incorrectly treated. Despite my team of specialists, long term documentation of respiratory illness, infection, comprehensive medical regimen, prognosis and everything else… he said the most recent weight loss should not be excluded from a bout of anorexia.
That’s right, he said the A word. Now mind you, this presumption was made after absolutely zero discussion regarding my relationship with food, body or anything of the like. The only mentioning that had been made was my recent loss of appetite from infection and high-duty meds, my inability to keep food down consistently, and my own profuse desire to gain weight and get back on top of eating.
As I said to the doctor in a most recent letter (written in the most classy of ways, of course): “But since not a word was discussed more than my own misery at not being able to eat, at wanting to gain weight, and wanting to get healthy and go home… clearly, this feels unfounded on a vastitude of levels. I may not be a doctor, but I do know that anyone suffering from an unhealthy body image would likely never be pleading to eat again, and wanting to gain stature once more. Frankly, I don’t really know any women who would be unhappy being at my weight… except, of course, the ones who can’t actually keep food down, have a huge medically-indicated loss of appetite, and are starving to get back to normal (so, that would be myself).”
Now let me be the first person to say that this is a sore issue for a variety of reasons. Firstly, I did struggle with eating and body image issues as a very young teenager, whilst vying for balletic solos and staring at myself in a mirror day in and day out as a dancer. I have written about this before (I never received treatment, nor became gravely underweight), and don’t attempt to keep it secret. Then again, most of us do a lot of strange, stupid things when we are kids (too much black eyeliner comes to mind), that we switfly outgrow. For myself, as soon as I went to college at 16, and became a young mother at 19 – I had better things to do than worry excessively about a number on a scale. For over a decade I have eaten somewhat normally (too much cheese and chocolate, yes), and stayed at literally the exact same weight. Looking back, we assume some of my disordered habits may have also been the undiagnosed health and dietary issues running rampant- causing not only hormonal imbalances and a general sense of low worth amid high pain, but a ton of stomach melees and absorption issues at a fragile age. Point being? That was long, long, long ago (three bottles of wrinkle cream ago), and has never been mentioned or made issue since.
So why does one man’s random, unfounded slander and falsities upset me so much? To begin with, I’m a mother. I’m a mother of two little girls who’s body image and healthy relation to food is extremely important to me. On top of that, I am choreographer and dance teacher (something this doctor noted, mind you, which adds to the layer of prejudice)- shaping the minds, bodies and positive self image of little ladies throughout my area. To me, I have not only become an enormous advocate for women’s bodies and aesthetic balance within the media (see most recent articles: “I am starving to death… and a lot less happy about it than Kate Hudson” or “If Beyonce is plus-sized, then most of us are hippos“), but for everyone around me. If anyone wants to feel fitter faster, it would me (just read my recent Makeover Momma post: “Being skinny isn’t all it’s cracked up to be“).
As I said in my letter to this physician (who likely will never read it): “I cant help but wonder if a male patient were to arrive with the exact same issues (hoping to gain weight and feel better)… would this presumption have ever arisen? If I were a slightly heavier patient with a CF treatment regimen, or a far older woman… would weight loss be cause for alarm (as it should be) towards declining health, rather than an immediate assumption towards an aesthetically driven mentality or need for attention?”
There is nothing worse than feeling like a wimpy, whiny, useless housewife by someone who has never even met you before… but I’ve encountered this sort of sexist placation towards a female’s medial realisms twice in my lifetime now. How many more times will this happen, before a patient’s chart speaks for itself? “As I’m sure you can relate doctor- as a handsome, intelligent physician, with which you are aware”, I said in closing, “I get enough attention through my profession, talent, personal accolades, self worth and looks, and have never needed societal affirmation of such an offensive nature elsewhere. What I do need is- apparently- a bit more oxygen at night, a little more empathy in regards to finding the prognosis, and a really good meal.”
For now, I’ll keep fighting with my team to keep infections at bay, understand my gene disorders more, continue with daily treatments, keep up with the nighttime oxygen, try to force-feed myself at every waking moment… and avoid the hospital even more.
Why? Because when patient care is overcome with fiscal and insurance questions, as well as false assumptions or unfounded claims… the meaning of the word “care” starts to wear thin.
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