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When Doctors 'See' My Weight Before They 'See' Me

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Anyone with a long-term illness or disability knows how tiring life can be. It’s tough when people and doctors don’t understand.

Everyday tasks take double the time they normally would.

Taking a shower is an event.

Our social lives become quieter and quieter.

However, one thing I have found is that being overweight, or being a curvier person almost always makes things harder. It shifts people’s perspectives of us and even leads to us being neglected by doctors. Instead of noting our disability and offering help, people assume we are taking breaks because we are lazy, not because we are fatigued. Doctors treat weight loss as a cure-all for all disease and often see my weight before they see me.

I have intracranial hypertension(IIH) caused by ciprofloxacin, an antibiotic I was placed on multiple times to treat a kidney infection. It is a rare disease that causes debilitating headaches, visual disturbances, vision loss, pulsatile tinnitus and fatigue. I also have hypermobility syndrome, fibromyalgia and fibroadenomas.

When I first saw a rheumatologist for my chronic pain, he took it seriously and ordered tests. However, when I saw him six months later (I had put on weight in between the two appointments), he talked about my weight. He told me my pain was a result of my weight; he tapped me on the nose and said “You know what to do, it’s all in here.” He discharged me from his care with no forward plan on how to manage my pain apart from eating salads.

When I went for a lumbar puncture to relieve the pressure on my brain and eyes, the on-duty consultant came and saw me; I was told I needed to think about losing weight and my procedure was then cancelled. I had already lost 20 pounds in the two months since my diagnosis.

When I went to visit my general practitioner to get medication for my headaches, he told me I probably didn’t even have IIH, and that I just needed to lose weight. I told him I had lost 20 pounds since the diagnosis — to which he said he didn’t believe me and asked me to step on the scales. He then told me I must have been losing weight too fast and that is why I had headaches. Then he told me to come off the pill, or try the pill. I told him I didn’t need to, as I’m gay. Unbelievably, he replied, “Well you never know when you may decide to switch genders.” I was stunned.

Even still today, being overweight makes some people think we are lazy. Many assume we brought our illness on ourselves. Somehow, we “had it coming.”

I am overweight, I have a disability, and I deserve the same empathy and respect as anyone else.

It’s time for doctors and society to realize this.

Originally published: March 19, 2019
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