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What Makes a Good Gastroenterologist vs. a Bad Gastroenterologist

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Editor's Note

If you live with an eating disorder, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “NEDA” to 741741.

For many, many years I have struggled with nausea, acid reflux, and severe abdominal pain. Since I was 13, I have struggled with anorexia and binging and purging, but it wasn’t until the past few years that my abdominal issues became so severe that it became difficult for me to function. Due to my severe symptoms, I saw many gastroenterologists to address my pain and nausea.

To be honest, most of the gastroenterologists I saw were incredibly unhelpful and many were downright toxic. Throughout my recovery journey with my eating disorder, I have gained weight as my body begins to adjust to a healthier state. However, my weight gain has been used as a weapon against me by multiple gastroenterologists.

Upon seeing me, without hardly addressing my symptoms, I have been told that my weight is the cause of all of my pain and discomfort and that all I need to do is lose weight to feel better. But what they didn’t even take into consideration is that even when I was at a lower weight, I struggled with the same pain and discomfort. Without considering any tests that could be done to address my pain and discomfort, I have been attacked and blamed for my weight and the most they said to me was that I probably have irritable bowel syndrome.

I consider these gastroenterologists to be “bad” because I often left my appointments in tears and feeling attacked. The appointments often only lasted 20 minutes at most, and they felt rushed as though the doctor seeing me felt like seeing me was a waste of time. These doctors would often refuse to listen to my health history and address my eating disorder as a possible cause of my pain, which it was.

Eventually, I saw my mother’s chiropractor and he suggested that I might have a hiatal hernia. This was the first time I felt seen, because my pain was taken seriously, and I felt like I was finally discovering the true cause of my pain. From there, I saw a general surgeon to have tests done to see if it really was a hiatal hernia that was possibly causing my pain. After confirming that I did have a hiatal hernia, I was referred to another surgeon. Little did I know that this was to be the most harmful appointment I had yet experienced.

When I saw this new surgeon, I discovered that she was a general surgeon, but she specialized in weight loss, which I did not know before seeing her. She completely discounted my pain and my hiatal hernia, and instead suggested that I needed weight loss surgery to solve all my problems. She discounted my eating disorder, and instead had the nerve to tell me that my “weight problem” was a medical condition that could be treated by weight loss surgery. I was absolutely devastated. I felt like once again, I was not being taken seriously, and it began to make me angry at my body because all of the doctors I had seen had insinuated that my body was the problem and that it needed to be fixed.

At this point, I was ready to give up seeing doctors. I had not yet found someone who would listen to me, and the appointments up until this point had done more harm than good. Because the doctors had all expressed how problematic my weight was, I had a relapse of my eating disorder and ended up having to go to partial hospitalization to try and get back on track with my recovery. It was while I was in partial hospitalization that my treatment team became very concerned about my hiatal hernia and acid reflux because of how my pain interfered with my ability to maintain my eating plan. I felt seen while in treatment because my pain and discomfort were acknowledged.

I ended up being able to see a surgeon while I was in treatment who became the very definition of a “good” healthcare provider. At this point, I had already been ready to give up ever finding help for my pain and discomfort, but this surgeon became the first gastroenterologist and surgeon who took me seriously and agreed to perform surgery on me to fix my hiatal hernia and improve my acid reflux. At no point did he criticize my weight, and he addressed my eating disorder by acknowledging that my eating disorder did cause my hiatal hernia, and that my weight was not a factor in my pain and suffering. This doctor became my savior, and after surgery, I no longer experience pain or acid reflux. His care and understanding were what made him a “good” physician.

It took me a long time to feel understood. For so long I had been harmed by gastroenterologists and surgeons simply because my weight was assumed to be the cause of all my problems, and this severely impacted my mental health. If you are experiencing the same thing, please know that you are not alone. Keep fighting to be heard and eventually, you will find a “good” doctor who will listen to you and regard your pain and discomfort in a caring way. Sometimes it just takes seeing multiple doctors before you find the one that serves you the best. Don’t give up.

Getty image by Westend61.

Originally published: August 15, 2022
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