The Invisible Medical Hoops That Black Women Have to Jump Through
Three days from now, I have a doctor’s appointment. This isn’t anything new. I have a doctor’s appointment at least twice every two weeks, when I can muster up the energy, when I can work through the pain, and when I’m not too depressed to go – which I usually don’t know until the day of or the hour before. But this doctor’s appointment is a big one, and I’m really nervous about it.
Going to the doctor is a struggle, and not because of the long waiting in the faux-inviting waiting rooms or because I’m afraid of needles or blood (I’ve had to get over those phobias a long time ago). No, going to the doctor is a massive feat, every time, because I’m tired of not being heard. I live with several chronic conditions and invisible disabilities, and I feel my doctors don’t take them seriously. I have lived with these for years, but when I ask for something to making the living more bearable, I am met with stoic silences or weak excuses. For instance, two months ago, I tried to advocate for myself and asked for testing for chronic fatigue syndrome. I was shut down and told it wasn’t worth it because there is no cure for chronic fatigue syndrome, so diagnosing me would be a waste of time.
As a woman of color, I feel like I’m expected to jump through invisible hoops that someone like my white husband doesn’t have to. After all, on my first appointment with my general practitioner (GP), I had to pee in a cup to prove I wasn’t a substance abuser, which I felt was an assault on my character. My husband has been going to the same GP and has never been asked to pee in a cup. Instead of the hostile way the doctor handles me, she talks to him casually and with congeniality, with a familiarity of colleagues. With him, she speaks of her chronic back pain and her ailing father.
I’m forced to advocate for myself in a time when Donald Trump is the president, when Serena Williams wasn’t listened to by doctors after she gave birth, when police brutality against black and brown bodies is still at a high, when immigrant children are separated from their parents…and none of these things may seem related, but they absolutely are – especially for me, the black woman who is supposed to hold it together, be strong, be a superwoman and not be angry.
I am a wife, a college professor, a friend, a sister, a daughter, a writer…I am a person. And yet, I find every doctor’s appointment to be a test of strength. Every time, I find myself holding my breath, praying it will go well and just be over, holding back tears, and crying in my car afterwards.
And I do this by myself. Every time. I sit in the sterile white or gray room in the blue or gray chairs, waiting for what seems like hours, for a doctor to come bustling in, wearing a white lab coat and judging me for not taking my meds or not showing up to an appointment.
Three days from now, I have a doctor’s appointment. It is nothing new. But every time I pray for a doctor who has empathy. I pray for a doctor who understands.
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