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When You Spot a Medical 'Zebra'

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Imagine you are walking in the grasslands of South Africa. You can feel beads of sweat trickling down your sunkissed skin, a heavy knapsack on your back and your sandals strapped across your feet. You’ve been traveling for close to an hour now and you’ve only encountered a few birds along your journey. You start to get tired. You realize that you’re thirsty and almost out of water. Your head hurts. You’re dragging your feet. You think, “What a long day it’s been. All this walking for nothing.”

And then, you see something. You try to make it out but you have no idea what it could be. You start seeing stripes but you aren’t sure if it’s a zebra or your vision playing tricks on you. You forget about it and keep walking. It can’t be a zebra. The hike is over. It’s time to leave.

That zebra? That zebra was me. There have been so many times during my health care journey where health professionals have doubted my chronic pain and its legitimacy. I’ve met so many dismissive doctors who thought, “A zebra? No. It can’t be.” If the doctors had just listened more, looked a little harder and considered the possibilities, they would have spotted the zebra. They may have noticed that it was suffering and helped it heal.

I tell this story not to spite the medical community. I tell this story so others can realize that when a woman, or any person for that matter, says they are in pain, it deserves investigating. No one should have to suffer in silence. Patients deserve to be believed. Zebras exist. They deserve to be cared for, protected and respected.

Getty image by Leamus.

Originally published: January 31, 2020
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