If you get a group of women together in a room, chances are they will all have at least one story about a doctor who dismissed their concerns or made them feel stupid. I have certainly had no shortage of these experiences: the doctor who scoffed at me for requesting to be tested for STIs (I was sexually active) and then jokingly listed off the results (“you don’t have HIV – big surprise there!”); the doctor who asked me if I had recently had a death in my family because I was concerned about symptoms related to alcohol consumption and smoking; the doctor who, upon learning of my depression, gave me a list of counselling facilities, each of which had a six month waitlist, and didn’t follow up any further.
Because of these experiences, I tend to seek out young lady doctors, who often lack the tendency to look at me and say, “you’re fine” two seconds upon the commencement of my appointment. I realize that some people appreciate a more brusque style of doctoring – my boyfriend, for instance, thinks it’s really great when his curmudgeonly doctor refuses to engage in small talk, gets straight to the point, and kicks him out if he lingers too long. If that works for you, then cool. But a laissez-faire attitude on the part of a doctor becomes problematic if you’re, say, not a tall white man patient with a booming voice. Or if you have an actual problem that needs attention and sound advice. For example, a woman I know had to go to three doctors before they told her that the cancerous lump in her neck was a thing. My mom is a fan of repeating that you have to be your own health advocate – especially as a women – and apparently, uh, YEAH YOU DO. The hysterical woman trope is very much alive and well in the medical community, which means that women’s symptoms are often attributed to psychological problems. Except, of course, if I come in wanting help with a psychological problem, in which case I’m so outta luck!
All this makes my delight at having found my current doctor that much more rewarding. I walked into her office one day with a problem I wasn’t even sure she could help me with; I had been concerned about my drinking and anxiety levels for a number of years, but after my experience with Dr Waitlist, I thought it would probably be futile to seek help from an MD for what I considered primarily a mental health issue.
I was pleasantly surprised, then, when my doctor took my problem seriously and developed a plan of action with me that included cutting down, contacting a low cost therapist (one without a waitlist), referring me to a psychiatrist and addiction specialist, and considering anxiety medication to begin to deal with some of the underlying causes of the alcohol consumption. Most importantly, she thanked me for coming in and told me it took a lot of courage to take that step. I was flabbergasted!
And then when I came into her office weeks later after having undergone a mental breakdown, she did everything possible to ensure I was in the best position to recover, including writing a note excusing me from work, starting me on SSRIs, and making a list of things I could do right now. One item on that list included getting a cat, which I did end up doing. I suspect the cat hates me with every fibre of her being, so the net effect is probably neutral, but it’s not my doctor’s fault I have shitty taste in cats.
I mentioned during this appointment that I might spend Christmas alone due to relationship issues. These were later resolved, but it still warmed my heart when I received a call on December 25th from my doctor, wishing me a merry Christmas. I’d like to think that folks become doctors because they care about people, and in that moment I felt very cared for – I don’t think I’ll ever forget her kindness.
Now, three months later, I’m in the early stages of remission from what I now know is alcohol use disorder, major depressive disorder, and anxiety, and I have a team of doctors that care about me and don’t push me out of their offices when I raise that one extra concern. They’ve referred me to seminars on coping strategies and mindfulness, taught me about sleep hygiene, and made key dietary recommendations (um sorry though – I’m not giving up pasta and chocolate LOLZ). I feel really lucky that I found the resources I did, and I can’t help but wonder where I’d be now if my concerns had not been taken seriously. So in conclusion, I’d like to say: TEAM YOUNG LADY DOCTOR 4 LYFE.