I wrote recently about how it felt to not be believed by someone in regards to my Chronic Fatigue.
However, as painful as it is to hear the words, “I don’t believe you” from someone you love – or statements that imply something similar that those with invisible illnesses have heard in all varieties – it’s far more painful to hear these words implied by the people we depend on most: doctors.
I’ve read more times than I can count that doctors are more likely to dismiss women; women are less likely to receive treatment; are less likely to be believed and often have to fight to be heard.
From my own personal experiences, this is most certainly the case.
When I was a teen, my parents and I had to fight – constantly – with my doctor over whether my period pain was normal or something more sinister.
My doctor believed I was overreacting and over exaggerating my pain.
My parents didn’t believe that having periods should cause so much pain that I would literally pass out.
My parents were right: I was later diagnosed with endometriosis when a cyst on my ovaries burst.
Later on, my appendix would cause me intense pain: While I didn’t know it at the time, I had a rumbling appendix and apparently there’s only so long an appendix can get angry before it bursts.
I was hospitalised twice, at least, during the year where I couldn’t cope any longer with the pain.
I also saw countless doctors who all said the same thing: that my pain was brought on by stress.
If you’ve ever had appendicitis, you will know just how bullshit that response is.
After a year of hearing “It’s just stress” and “It’s probably just bad period pain” one of my closest friends decided that my pain was not normal.
I couldn’t stand straight, I was sweating profusely, I had an extremely high temperature, I was vomiting continuously and I was using all my strength to avoid screaming.
After being admitted, the doctors again didn’t believe me.
I wasn’t even given Panadol.
At around 9 pm, I decided I wanted to check myself out. I’d be more comfortable at home where I could take Panadol and Nurofen – both more than I’d been given at the hospital.
The nurse that came into my room, when I explained why I wanted to leave, berated me.
She actually called me stupid and to “harden up” as I didn’t know what real pain was.
By the next morning, I was delirious from the fever and barely able to speak from the pain.
My vomiting had increased dramatically and after two IV anti-nausea injections, they decided to complete blood tests.
My white blood cell count was up.
I then listened as my doctor fought with another doctor: my new doctor believed my appendix was about to burst.
Not wanting to risk a malpractice suit, my doctor won, and I was airlifted to the closest nearby hospital that offered surgical procedures.
By the time I was admitted into surgery, my appendix had burst.
Over the next few days, I was pumped full of so many different antibiotics (and some rather lovely pain medication).
When I was finally released, I had to continue antibiotics for another week.
While I returned to work much earlier than I really should have, it took me months to recover.
All of this could have been prevented if my pain hadn’t been dismissed for an entire year.
All of this could have been avoided if one person, in that entire year, had thought my pain was too intense to be stress-related.
Women are ignored way too frequently, and this needs to change.
We need to start listening to people so it doesn’t take years for some to receive a diagnosis.
After all … how many of you have waited years to receive a diagnosis and made to feel crazy about your “stress-related” symptoms?
In Emergencies: 000
Lifeline Australia: 13 11 14
MensLine Australia: 1300 78 99 78