This morning I read an article on Buzzfeed.
It was titled:
“Stories From Women Whose Doctors Did Not Take Their Pain Seriously”
In it, twenty-nine women told stories of times where serious medical problems they had been suffering from were dismissed & delayed in diagnosis & treatment because their doctors had brushed it off as ‘normal’.
And it really struck me because I have experienced that exact thing so many times.
I have been in & out of hospitals & doctors appointments my whole life. I’m very accident prone & have weird joints & body parts, had my first surgery aged six for a hernia & my second aged twelve for a still-unknown wrist problem. I’ve currently on my third physiotherapy course of treatment, all three of which have been for totally separate problems.
At the start of March last year I had to quit my job due to medical condition. I became the lowest I’ve ever been both physically & mentally.
I’d been suffering from severe abdominal pain for years. The first time I ever went to the doctors about it the male doctor put me on the contraceptive pill, didn’t listen to any of my pain concerns & just talked about all the benefits the pill had whilst I was sexually active. I was fifteen, in pain & he wouldn’t accept that I wasn’t making up a story just to get on the pill so I could go have sex.
In late 2014 I thought I’d found an answer by being diagnosed with PCOS – polycystic ovarian syndrome. It’s pretty much untreatable so I just tried to suck it up & accept that the rest of my life would be filled with painkillers & hot water bottles & the occasional days where I couldn’t leave my bed.
In late 2015, after pain had worsened, I had to get an emergency appointment at my local practice due to the amount of pain I was in. That’s where the male doctor I was seeing told me that PCOS actually doesn’t cause pain, & so not to worry. Literally. He told me that the condition I thought I had wasn’t the case of any of my problems, & that it was probably something else. He didn’t give me any answers for what that something else might be.
I then booked an appointment with my regular GP, a wonderful wonderful woman who I owe so much to. She discussed the possibility of endometriosis with me, & referred me to the centre at the hospital. I got an appointment for October, & was excited to finally get some answers.
That October appointment was pushed back to January, & than again pushed back to the end of April. But at least I had an appointment.
In early 2016, I was in a lot of pain & had to book an emergency appointment again, where I had the same male doctor at my local practice again. He recommended I get the contraceptive coil. FOR FUCKS SAKE. I didn’t feel good about it, but I was feeling helpless & booked the appointment to have it inserted. A couple of days after the appointment I still really didn’t think it was the right thing to do, so I cancelled the appointment. I am so glad i trusted my instinct there because the coil would have worsened the condition I actually have so, so much more. I’m not even joking – I don’t want to delve into it too much but there literally could not have been a worse idea to treat my condition.
Then came March 2016. The pain had been gradually getting worse & worse over time, & one Sunday when I literally could not move, open my eyes, or stop crying; I got an emergency doctor’s appointment at a local community hospital. My Mum took me over & when we eventually got to see someone, he said it was period pains.
Let me just say, to anyone with a vagina – NOT BEING ABLE TO WALK IS NOT A ‘NORMAL’ PERIOD PAIN. VOMITING DUE TO PAIN IS NOT NORMAL PERIOD PAIN. FOR FUCKS SAKE.
I wasn’t letting another doctor tell me this, so I sat there & cried & my mum shouted until he referred me to the women’s centre at the big hospital. By the time I got there & was put in a consulting room, it was already 8pm on a Sunday night. The doctor on shift was called to an emergency, so wasn’t able to see me until 11pm – & after she examined me she said it was going to be best if I stayed in overnight. It was too late to come up with answers, so the best they could offer me until the morning was morphine & a bed. I also got my first meal of the day in that bed around midnight because a) I hadn’t been able to stomach anything all day & b) I’d been advised not to eat anything if there was a slim chance I’d be needing surgery.
It’s nice to throw in at this point that my phone fried, & I was left alone in a hospital with no idea what was wrong with me & nobody to talk to or text. That was a very tough night. In the morning, where morphine was only dimming the pain, I was scanned & tested for a couple of things. Then I lay in wait, still in pain, for the doctor to come round & tell me what was wrong with me.
He told me there was nothing wrong with me, & that he doubted I even had PCOS because I was so young (which is utter bullshit by the way, one in five women in the UK alone have the syndrome – of all ages). Also bare in mind I’d been diagnosed after multiple scans & blood tests, so I still don’t know how the two results told such different stories. He told me I was good to be discharged.
I was distraught. I thought that the only upside to me getting so bad I had to be admitted to hospital was that I would finally get an answer to what was causing me all this pain. But instead I was dismissed by another doctor. My Mum (who’s in healthcare herself), reassured me that it was the emergency ward, & that they just hadn’t found anything that was an emergency. She also got a nurse to prescribe me some better painkillers.
It wasn’t until that appointment finally rolled around in April that I was finally diagnosed with what was actually wrong with me, & put on the right course of treatment. In one session with the right Doctor, I was able to get a correct diagnosis & an explanation of what that meant, & how to improve it. One session. It just took four years to get there. I’m still on that treatment now. I’m better than I was this time last year, but I’m not near healthy yet at all.
Why does this happen? Why is pain suffered by females dismissed by doctors? Women have always been taught not to make a fuss, to be quiet & collect, to be “ladylike”. If we express an opinion it’s blamed on our ‘time of the month’, if we have feelings we’re ‘over-emotional’. Everything we do is dismissed.
I don’t feel fully comfortable sharing all of this story, I’m going to be honest. But speaking up is going to be the only thing to fix this.
Half the reason why so many women suffer with medical conditions is because they think it’s ‘normal’ – because that’s what some doctors are telling them. If you know you are in pain, trust your gut. If a doctor dismisses that pain, persist until you are taken seriously & have answers.
I am ridiculously lucky to have the doctors I do. The doctor at my local practice, my doctor at the hospital & my physiotherapist are all wonderful, & have never doubted me for a second, only done everything they can do to help. They’re all female too. Just saying.
Don’t let this continue to be a thing. Don’t suffer in silence. Women’s pain needs to be taken seriously.
You can read the original Buzzfeed article here.