You’re an emotional woman.
Last Thursday, I had pulled up to a beautiful medical building. I was hopeful, having placed my health in the esteemed hands of medical doctors who had cared for several Philadelphia sports teams. I was hoping that with this new set of eyes, I would finally get to the bottom of why (at 28) I have lost strength and function in my right wrist. I knew that this medical group was THE orthopedic specialists – THE people to get the job done – THE answer to all of my problems.
I was overjoyed, delightfully planning my return to yoga, weightlifting, and writing without pain.
After some polite and playful banter with the receptionists, I was escorted into a backroom to do an onsite X-ray.
Yes! I thought. Look at this! This is some amazing medical attention! Clearly the doctors will know what they are doing. I’ll be doing cartwheels (or, at least, Downward Dog) in no time!
The nurse who then sat with me in the examination room was sympathetic, nodding in all the right places as I explained my injury. She assured me that I had (finally!) came to the right place.
The room was filled with sunlight, easing me into relaxed relief. I would be heard, I would be understood, I would be fixed.
The doctor came in, a little hurried but nothing that set off any early alarms. He sat down, listened to a little of what I had to say (Yes, I really do fall that often), and then began looking at my MRI and recently done X-ray.
I’m not sure exactly what happened next or when the particular moment was when I realized it was happening, but I soon felt myself being discarded, swept under the rug, pushed out the door. He hadn’t even touched my hand yet, felt the swelling in my thumb joint that massage and physical therapists alike noticed immediately, felt the cracking in the wrist with every turn. And yet, I heard him say he would inject me with more cortisone and “see what happens.”
My eyes began to well up as they are prone to do whenever I feel a strong emotion. This time, it was frustration boiling inside of me.
I thoroughly emphasized the type of person I am: I am not one to easily admit that she’s hurt or can’t do a particular task. I take pain with a grain of salt until it becomes overwhelming. I wait it out and keep doing everything that I’ve always done until I can’t do it any longer, hence why it took me over a year and a half to visit the first doctor. In addition to the statement of my character, I began enumerating all of the things I have recently become unable to do thanks to my injury (hold my body weight, flex my hand, hold a pen…).
His eyes narrowed scornfully, “What do you mean can’t? You mean, if you do it you get sore?” He spit the last word at me as if the pain I felt from pinkie to elbow was as trivial as a split end or uneven cuticle.
“I have pain,” I corrected, the anger threatening to spill over onto my cheeks.
“I don’t understand why you’re getting so upset. What makes you think I’m not listening to you?”
I indicated my medical records from my previous doctor and said, “Because I haven’t been heard before. I was not listened to before and I am not seeing any improvement now.”
You’re an emotional woman. That’s intimidating for a man.
The comment hit me, blindsided me, tossed me about in turbulence. It felt rude, sexist, and an offensive judgement of my character that was unsolicited, unwelcomed, and unprofessional. It felt like a dismissal of my health and the pain I feel on an almost daily basis; the life that has been interrupted. It felt like a dismissal of Me.
Unfortunately, this is not the first time comments have been made to me in the privacy of a doctor’s office that have made me question not only the legitimacy of my doctor but my ability to understand what is happening within my own body.
I had two gastroenterologists claim that I had an eating disorder my senior year of high school. (I did not.) Though I’m sure that diagnosing a teenaged girl who can’t stop throwing up as a bulimic is far easier than actually finding out the problem, it took another doctor (a female) to realize I was having a bad reaction to a medication.
I had a third gastroenterologist claim I was overweight and that was why I suffered from severe constipation for two years. When I couldn’t understand (I was 5’7 and a size 6), he marched me out to the scale (twice) and pointed at the number. And, in front of the nursing staff, he said, “See! This is why you have problems. You’re overweight!” He then performed a rectal exam on me and left me crying in the nurse’s arms. (I had IBS. A fourth gastroenterologist figured that out.)
There was a general practitioner who yelled at me and stormed out because I wouldn’t sit still. I was a five year-old with chronic ear infections. His diagnosis was so often sinusitis that we often joked one could come in with a broken leg and leave with a packet of Benedryl.
There was the knee doctor who called me “sweet pea” and “shortcake,” though I towered over him by several inches. He often giggled when he rotated my knee cap in such a way that caused me pain. (Yes, giggled.)
The list seems to go on and on. And, though I’m not going to make this about race and gender (All of the above doctors were white males, though I know that incompetence knows no race, gender, or creed.), I am going to make this about professionalism and service.
Why does it seem that I, a young(ish) woman, cannot be taken seriously as a patient? Why do I pay nearly $200 a month for health care to be treated like a nuisance? When did a doctor who is there to care for and service patients, become bothered by the very people they are supposed to treat? Why should I feel that to get healthy I need to be subjected to inappropriate, sexist, and rude remarks about who I am and why I am there?
How is any of this making me well?
And, if you are doctor worth your paycheck, how is a patient’s passion and emotionality subject for your criticism? Why is it okay for you to pass judgment on my person, on who I am as a human being? How is my frustration a factor in determining whether or not I am worth taking care of?
You’re an emotional woman. That’s intimidating for a man, he said.
Emotion is strength, I replied.
It’s not always easy for me to accept my empathy and complex emotional life as a strength. Honestly, for much of my life my sensitivity has always felt like a weakness.
But, through the gifts of time (and great friends), I’ve realized that my ability to feel is what makes me special. It’s what makes Me. It’s what fuels my art. It’s what makes me a teacher, a friend, a communicator.
My emotions are also what allows me to recognize that something is wrong. My emotions are my life’s barometer and I know that this doctor, no matter how many Phillies he’s helped back onto the field, is wrong for treating me less than human. He’s wrong for trying to play off my sensitivity and passion as something strange that scares other doctors (and potential romantic partners), but merely annoys him. My emotions are what is informing me that I deserve a doctor who is going to respect me and my body the way it deserves.
And with that, I say again:
Emotion is strength.