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My Frustrations With the Gender Bias I've Experienced in Healthcare

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Most women I have spoken to over time can attest to feeling as if they have been treated differently by medical professionals than men are. I, myself, have had many doctor visits like that. For instance, when I visited my gynecologist to speak about a hysterectomy, he completely agreed that the surgery was a promising idea. I had suffered from irregular and often painful periods, as well as cysts that had started out small and simple but had begun turning into larger complex cysts and rupturing painfully. Birth control was no longer an option due to my body not reacting well to hormonal birth controls, and only hormonal ones could affect whether I kept getting cysts or not.

He agreed to the surgery on one condition… I first speak with my husband and a therapist and get their permission. I was too stunned to speak when he told me this, but in my desperation to receive my surgery before another debilitating and possibly dangerous cyst rupture, I obliged. I immediately set up an appointment with the therapist he recommended. She was a lovely and gentle woman, and at first, I was actually enjoying speaking to her. Then, I didn’t. The conversation had finally turned toward getting a hysterectomy and she asks, “Hypothetically speaking, what if you and your current husband don’t stay together? What if the man you find after that wants children?”

I was thoroughly appalled by her question. I had already gone over the reasons that I needed the hysterectomy and that I had also already had three kids with pregnancies so complicated that if I tried carrying a child again, the baby and I might not make it out alive. Considering those circumstances, I don’t quite care what a hypothetical man might possibly want me to do in the hypothetical future.

Upon leaving her office, she agreed that I was “mentally stable” to receive surgery. Next was to address the fact that my doctor wanted my husband’s approval. I had already spoken with my husband before the appointment, and he was completely for the surgery. When I told him that the doctor wanted me to speak to him and the question that the therapist had asked, he said, “Why does it matter to him what anyone else decides about your health? It’s not my place. I know for a fact I would not have to ask anyone permission if I went in for a vasectomy.”

His words finally hit me like a ton of bricks. I suddenly understood why the doctor and therapist hadn’t sat well with me, and why possibly several other doctors I had been to hadn’t worked out. There had been many times that I have been in severe pain but was subsequently blown off. This includes a time that I went to a separate gynecologist with debilitating low abdominal pain on one side. An ultrasound revealed an enlarged, fluid-filled tube called a hydrosalpinx. He said he would not be doing anything about it, despite the fact that I had been in pain for several weeks. I began to sniffle and hold back tears as I asked him again to please help me. As soon as a tear slipped out, he said: “I think you should go get psychological help.” This doctor had just found a legitimate problem, and yet considered me to be hysterical. Every time my husband goes in to the doctor, he is treated like a knowledgeable and capable adult. Yet I am still treated like a child who needs someone else’s permission to receive proper care, or just simply “crazy.” Matter of fact, most of the very few times I have received even average level care has been when my husband was with me for it. Had I been alone, I almost certainly would have been dismissed as usual. I can’t even begin to explain how many times I have been tossed out of the emergency room with only a diagnosis of PMS after nothing more than a five-minute consult before anyone figured out that I had ovarian cysts and gastrointestinal issues.

There are a variety of ways in which women are treated differently than men in the healthcare setting. One instance is the “husband stitch,” an extra stitch
meant to tighten the vagina after childbirth, often without asking the woman and further causing her pain. Another instance is a study funded by the National American Heart Association and the National Institutes of Health that measured the difference between women and men receiving CPR in public. Only 39 percent of women who have a cardiac arrest in public receive CPR, whereas 45 percent of men are given CPR.  Men were also 23 percent more likely to survive because of this.

Healthcare is one of the last places that women can afford to be discriminated against in. This bias can mean severe complications for women at best, and a shortened life at worst. There is no room for gender bias or any form of bias by medical professionals.

Getty Image by romankosolapov

Originally published: March 30, 2018
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