Inspired by Shapely Prose’s initiative: the First Do No Harm blog, I am re-posting an entry from my old blog which covered some of my own experiences of medical discrimination against fat people. Each of these experiences left me emotionally shattered, shamed and distrustful of doctors. Thankfully, I now have a GP who has never mentioned my weight.
I’ve had at least 3 or 4 bad experiences with the medical profession because of my weight. Fortunately, as my life progresses, I have become much more assertive and able to stand up for myself in this regard.
At 18, I went to a doctor who had been recommended to me by a (super thin) friend as having helped her lose weight. When I told him that I wanted to lose weight, and needed his assistance, he looked at me scathingly, and said in a really rude tone of voice:
“You know, you fat people are always looking for excuses. Only a small portion of the population have endocrine problems, but if you really want to go to all the bother we can take a blood sample and run the tests.”
I was horrified!
- Firstly, I hadn’t gone in there saying that I thought I had a metabolism problem, I had simply asked for help with weight loss – be it a ‘Dr approved’ diet or otherwise.
- Secondly, his attitude towards me was more than rude, simply because I was a fat person asking for assistance. I guess he was of the old “you just need to eat less” school.
- Thirdly, he had been helpful to my already quite slim friend in her efforts lose weight (I think he prescribed some kind of medication), but for me – whom in his eyes ‘needed’ to lose weight in order to be worthy of politeness – his prescription was scorn.
I had the blood tests, but needless to say, didn’t go back for the results. I did not want any more humiliation. In hindsight, I am glad that he wasn’t ‘helpful’ as diet drugs are pretty dangerous things.
When I was about 24, a doctor found that I had high blood pressure. Without enquiring any further in to circumstances, he assumed that the problem was my weight. His prescription was for me to lose weight and take high-blood pressure drugs for the rest of my life (I went on the drugs for a while, but they made me feel worse). In fact, my high blood pressure was a result, not of my weight, but of a number of factors that would increase anyone’s blood pressure.
- Stress – I was in a very stressful job at the time working as a PA to the CEO of a major international corporation. Work hours were horrendous, and of course, when dealing with that level of executive, everything needs to be spot on every single time, and you need to anticipate what they want before they know they want it. AAARRRGGG!
- Time – when I was going to the doctors office for tests, I was rushing to and from work, trying to get back to my job in the minimum time, and knowing the pile of work would have increased when I got back.
- Depression – I didn’t know it at that time, but I have had Depression all my life and, at that time, was right down in depth of the abyss. So I was functioning on sheer will power alone, feeling like I was failing at every step, and feeling physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally drained.
I stopped taking the blood pressure meds after a short time, and made some lifestyle changes that removed some of the stressors. After the settling down period, my blood pressure came down to a normal level, without dieting or meds.
At 30, I was diagnosed with Depression (as I mentioned above). The first psychiatrist I saw was a fat phobic freak and ignorant to boot. She kept raising the topic of my weight as an issue, even though I didn’t raise it or see it as such. Specifically, she wanted to refer me to an endocrinologist who “had had great success with helping my (the psych’s) patients lose weight”.
I had issues with that on a number of levels:
- I know that some endocrine problems can cause sluggishness, and depression-like symptoms, but my GP had already checked it out, and the psych knew it.
- I had said to her on a number of occasions when she raised the topic of weight loss that my size wasn’t the issue, and that I was feeling comfortable in my own skin at my current weight…but still she kept raising it.
- She seemed to be implying that all I had to do was lose a bit of weight and I would feel better ( In fact, she actually used those words in our last session). Now what was a psychiatrist doing displaying such an ignorant attitude to depression.
- I kept getting the feeling that she had made the wrong career choice – perhaps she would have been better suited to being a Jenny Craig consultant because she was really doing the hard sell on “lose weight or else”. She gave the impression that she sent a lot of patients to this endocrinologist.
It gets worse, though. I actually only saw this psych on three occasions, and on each occasion she badgered me about my weight.
The second time I saw her was just after a suicide attempt which very nearly succeeded, and the only thing she wanted to discuss was my weight – not adjusting my meds, not what was going on in my life. My weight. Because that was my problem.
The third time, I actually noticed that she had a set of scales ‘discretely’ in one corner. Hello!! Was that because she anticipated my compliance to her prescription of endocrinologist aided weight loss? Or was it there because she weighed every patient at some point? Or was it because she was totally obsessed with her own weight, and needed to hop on the scales at every opportunity? In any case, it was highly inappropriate to be in a psychiatrist’s consulting room, if you ask me. Once again, she went on about how much better I would feel if I lost weight. I told her emphatically no, and that I didn’t want to hear about the subject again, as it had no relevance to my treatment whatsoever.
Now, here comes the good part. She began to list every single reason she could think of why I should lose weight. She basically tried to frighten suicidal me in to losing weight by throwing medical statistics at me. How surprised was she when I argued her on every point based on my own reading on the topic? Very. Indignant, in fact, that I was challenging her authority. I walked out of there that day in tears.
Once I got home, however, I rang her office, cancelled my next appointment, and sat down to write her a letter on why her treatment of me was inappropriate. I researched thoroughly, and ended up sending her not only the letter, but 50+ pages of supporting documentation! Maybe that was a bit of overkill, but I really wanted to make sure she did not treat anyone else in a similar manner to how she had treated me – even though I didn’t want to report her to her professional association or anything drastic. She did actually call me and thank me for the information. I don’t think she had ever thought about how her behaviour was fat phobic and offensive. Who knows if she has actually changed, though.