It took writer and poet Jeannine Hall Gailey 15 years until she finally got a proper diagnosis for her bleeding disorder. Fifteen freaking years. The first time she got her period, she bled so profusely that she had to be hospitalized. And though this excessive bleeding continued for years, her symptoms were always blown off by medical professionals — even as she pleaded with them to take her more seriously.
“Every OB-GYN between 13 and 30 either blew me off saying, ‘Bleeding that much is normal’ (it wasn’t) and ‘It’s not that big a deal’ (it was),” Hall Gailey told Scary Mommy. “I missed classes because I was bleeding and cramping so bad I would vomit, and the bleeding would get worse the more I moved around, so I would have to lie down in the middle of the day to slow down the bleeding.”
Hall Gailey said that she was misdiagnosed with endometriosis at one point and almost died from an endometrial ablation because her gynecologist underestimated how much she would bleed from the procedure. “It’s a shame that having a near-death experience was required before anyone even took me seriously enough to send me to a hematologist,” said Hall Gailey.
It turns out that Hall Gailey is definitely not alone in her experience of having her symptoms ignored by doctors. Even though her case is perhaps a more extreme example, across the board, women report that their symptoms are often simply disregarded by doctors, especially when it comes to complaints of pain or discomfort.
“Unfortunately, women are taken less seriously more often than men when it comes to pain,” Dr. Jennifer Wider, women’s health expert and spokeswoman for the Society for Women’s Health Research, explained to VICE. “Studies show that doctors, regardless of gender, tend to undertreat female patients and take longer to administer medication to women.”
Well, that’s absolutely infuriating, isn’t it? It’s unbelievable that in 2017 women are still having to deal with nonsense like this.
Andra Watkins, New York Times-bestselling author and speaker, has a similar story to Hall Gailey’s. Watkins told Scary Mommy that she has toxoplasmosis gondii, which the CDC describes as a relatively common parasitic disease that affects as many as 60 million Americans (sidenote: this piece of data is horrifying, I know, and I apologize for your impending nightmares).
Watkins ended up with an extreme case, with the parasite attacking her retina. And yet, even after she suffered through four different attacks over the course of three years (which permanently destroyed over 25% of the vision in one of her eyes), her doctors did not take her symptoms seriously. In fact, she was dismissed as an overreacting, hysterical woman.
“Every time I went to my eye doctor, he treated my growing alarm like hysteria,” Watkins shared. “He told me my brain would adjust and dismissed my request for more aggressive treatment as ridiculous. By the time I found an expert using Dr. Google, I was in the midst of my worst attack.”
Part of the reason that doctors brush off women’s symptoms may be because they believe that women have a superior ability to deal with pain. And as badass and resilient as we women truly are (because, duh), that should not mean for even one millisecond that we are not entitled to receive the same treatment or care for our very real ailments that men do.
If you think these reports of mistreatment are also “all in our head,” well, screw you, and also check out the research. A 2011 report on chronic pain from the Institute of Medicine found that women were more likely to suffer from pain than men and had a higher tolerance for it. But in all cases, their pain was more likely to be minimized by health professionals. It’s no wonder, then, that when 2,400 female chronic pain sufferers were surveyed by the National Pain Report, a whopping 90% of them reported feelings of gender discrimination by their health care providers.
And listen up: These sorts of reports don’t just come from women who experience chronic pain or other chronic conditions. Take your average woman’s experience in an emergency room. A National Institute of Health study found that women are made to wait an average of 16 minutes longer than men when they are seeking pain meds in the ER, and they are 13–25% less likely to receive pain medications once they get there.
In a way, this should come as no surprise because gender discrimination is everywhere. Everywhere. It can be found in every nook and cranny of our society — our work environments, the media, our home lives, our marriages, and even in the bedroom. And now you can add gender bias in the medical sphere to that list.
Now, I know what some of you are thinking: “Oh, that never happened to me,” or “Not all doctors are like that,” or “Men are discriminated against too.” And while those are all valid points and certainly have their place, we are talking about an overall trend that is documented in medical studies and that so many, many women have experienced in their own lives.
So let’s not lose our focus here.
Imagine, too, for a second if the tables were turned — if men were the ones who were brushed off as “hysterical” every time they went to the doctor to complain of an ailment that was supposedly “all in their head.” Do you think men would put up with that bullshit for one second? THEY. WOULD. NOT.
Karen Goldstein, a mom of two from New York, recounted for Scary Mommy the story of when she was in her early-20s and was plagued with repeated vaginal yeast infections. She asked her gynecologist whether the birth control pills she was taking might be causing the yeast infections and also if there was anything in general she could do to make them go away. Her doctor basically disregarded Goldstein’s concerns completely, saying “Getting a yeast infection once a month or so is not that bad. I have a patient who has it chronically and has to be on Diflucan every day.”
Goldstein remembers thinking, “Let’s see how ‘not a big deal’ you’d think it was if your dick felt like it was on fire around once a month and you couldn’t have sex one out of every four weeks.”
A-freaking-men. Men would not put up with this kind of fuckery for one damn second. And neither should we.
For real, ladies. While we can’t change everything out there about the enraging gender biases in the health care industry (and literally everywhere), we can start by saying that we’ve had enough. We won’t put up with this shit. We won’t allow you to “mansplain” our symptoms away. We are not hysterical, overreacting, or “crazy.” We have a voice, we have needs, and we deserve to have our health and well-being taken seriously. STAT.