The Medical Profession and Social Literacy

Now, this post is late and it doesn’t fit exactly within my Health category as I’d originally intended it, but that’s still where I think it belongs, if you’ll bear with me for a little while.

I feel like maybe this post may a little bit of an over-share for some people, but so many women go through this that I feel the need to get this out for other people to hear about. I shan’t go into any explicit details or anything, but be cautious nonetheless, I suppose.

I’ve always had incredibly painful menstrual cramps. From the first period I had at age eleven or twelve, I knew I was in for a lifetime of pain. When I was fifteen, I was put on the pill. When that did little to help the pain I was told to use the pill in a way such that my cycle was ten weeks rather than four (that is, I only take the “blank” pills on one tray of three). When the pain was still too much each time I went through it, I was given anti-inflammatory pain pills which were so strong that I can only take one per day when I do take them, and started to use heat packs when the weather allowed for it.

The last three or so times I’ve taken them, these pain meds weren’t working.

At the age of fifteen I was checked for endometriosis, but due to my young age and the fact that I wasn’t sexually active, the radiologist I went to (with my mum) would only do an external examination, an ultrasound like the ones used to take a peek at foetuses/unborn babies. This isn’t a very effective way of checking, as you can’t really see too much from the outside. As there is no family history of endometriosis, and my mum claimed similarly painful cramps without having it, the idea was more or less abandoned and I was left to cope.

When I went to the doctor this time she decided I was ready for the internal exam, or pelvic ultrasound as it’s often referred to. As an eighteen year old who has only just gotten used to going to get check ups without her mum, I was (I think) understandably nervous about having some stranger stick a probe inside me, but I pressed forward, saw the necessity and made the appointment.

Melbourne is still relatively new to me as a city, and if it’s not in the city centre, chances are I haven’t been there and don’t know how to get there. The radiologist I went to couldn’t be gotten to by tram without three or four changes, and I didn’t like my chances of walking there in less than an hour. So I decided to take my bike.

Bad idea #1. I’d not been on my bike in over a year, and it was too much too soon. The migraine I hadn’t yet paid much thought to (my vision goes, but I don’t get a lot of pain) came into full force and upon getting off the bike my legs had forgotten how to walk. I was hot, sweaty and thirsty and I realised I was going to be late, and my bladder would probably not be sufficiently full for the initial ultrasound.

Having locked my bike to a post, I called the radiology to let them know I was running late. I suppose I must’ve sounded fairly distraught as I was stressed and still out of breath. I found a tram nearby that took me close enough and after a huge amount of stress I got there about fifteen to twenty minutes late. I walked in, red faced and sweaty, and the receptionist assured me that they’d managed to move some things around to fit me in still.

“Is this our girl who’s been crying and stressed out?” was the first thing the woman performing the exam said in my presence. No “hi” or “hello”. No “it’s alright”. Just accusing me of sobbing down the phone at the receptionist, something I categorically had not done.

I won’t go into specifics of the things she said to me during the examinations, because bit by bit they don’t sound so bad, and a lot of what was horrible about this experience was in tone of voice, inflection and emphasis. She did tell me off at least seven times for not having a full enough bladder, however, and made several incredibly condescending remarks about giving myself more time to get there next time.

There will be no next time. If I ever need to have a similar procedure done again, I will be taking it elsewhere. That she assumed she knew my circumstances was incredibly aggravating for me. “Leave yourself a bit more time next time”? Screw you, lady. I left an hour before my appointment to get here, and that it took me longer than I thought was beyond my control.

I spent who knows how long lying on that bench, naked from the waist down but covered in hospital gowns in possibly the most vulnerable position a woman could be in, while she sporadically told me off and otherwise made me feel like a piece of meat.

Very rarely do I allow strangers to make me cry, but this woman managed. It was no incident in particular, just the experience as a whole (the icing on the cake was when I was told to hand over about $210 for it). I made it outside and called my mum before I properly broke down, and my mother reassured my belief that she is the most amazing woman on the planet by knowing exactly what to say and being appropriately outraged at how I’d been treated.

I know from talking to a few other women around me and my mum that this is not an uncommon occurrence. Women, particularly young and solo women, are treated this way all the time by medical professionals. Mum postulates that this is because they can get away with it. There’s no doubt that the woman who examined me was displaying bullying behaviour, and I truly believe that had I had my mum or a sister (if I had one) with me, or been a decade or two older, I would’ve been treated differently.

I don’t know what it is that makes medical professionals occasionally forget that they’re dealing with real, actual people and not just slabs of meat. I don’t know why it is that some doctors feel the need to treat their patients like they’re somehow worthless. The fact is, it happens, and it’s not okay.

Hopefully this next week will be a little less insane and I’ll get more writing done. I’ll be heading to the pool on Wednesday for the first time (I’m much too saddlesore for any more bike rides for a few days) and after my birthday on Monday sees two pieces of assessment finished and handed in I think I’ll feel a lot freer.

Until next time,