“being afraid of the dark” or “a young woman navigating the health care system.”
As a child, going to the doctor meant ‘They’re going to make me better.’
As a teenager, going to the doctor meant ‘They’re going to ask me if I’m sexually active yet.’
As an adult, going to the doctor means ‘They’re going to ask me if I’m sexually active, ignore my actual symptoms and then prescribe something arbitrarily chosen’ (and all of this within 15 minutes.)
I’ll always remember being 6 years old, in the first year of elementary school, finding my thighs incredibly itchy through my leggings. When I went to the bathroom to pull them down and investigate, I discovered my legs to be covered in raised, red, blotches. I was terrified. Naturally, I ran to the secretary’s office, cried, then was swiftly picked up by my concerned mother. My pediatrician saw me almost immediately. She examined my legs. Asked a 6 year old girl how much it itched, when I saw them first and if I had gone swimming recently (my mother helped with that last one.)
I was better in three days. I got to take a lot of calamine baths, my mother applied cream before bedtime. The blotches were quickly nothing but a memory.
At 19, I was so incredibly depressed that I was seriously considering ending my life. It was more than teenaged angst — I had been riddled with severe anxiety for months. I was medicated and unhappy. I walked into the nearest clinic and declared this to the dejected looking twenty-something sitting in scrubs behind bullet-proof glass. Without even a look at me, she asked for my medicare card and told me to sit down. Four hours later, I was seen by a nurse who took some notes and my blood pressure. Another two hours after that, I was seen by an even more dejected looking female doctor who, evidently, could not wait to end her shift.
“I would kill myself, if I didn’t think it would hurt everyone around me. So I figured maybe…it’s the medication?”
“What’s your dosage?”
“The lowest, but — ”
“You need a higher dose. Just keep in mind, I’m not a magician. I can’t just wave a magic wand and make you better.”
Never once was I offered an explanation as to why this might be a solution to my problem.
In the end, I weened myself off of the medication and felt better in only a couple of weeks. I no longer felt the urge to accidentally overdose or throw myself off of balconies. I also lost nearly 40 pounds over the next few months, despite the doctors assuring me my unusual weight gain had nothing to do with the pills.
At twenty-something, 3 months after the removal of an IUD that was causing me discomfort and hair loss, I experienced menstruations that lasted over sixty days, without an end in sight. When I called to make an appointment with my gynecologist, the soonest appointment was three months later. I was offered to see a nurse the next day.
“Are you sexually active?”
“Yes, but —
“So why did you take the IUD out?”
“…well I had lower abdominal pains, like pinches, and I started losing clumps of my hair and my skin was breaking out. I went on the pill and then this bleeding started.”
“You need a pill with a higher dose of estrogen.”
I had an intense sense of déja vu. I started to cry. The nurse sighed and just stared at me until I offered an apology for crying.
“Sorry,” I whimpered, “I’m just don’t understand what’s happening to me and I’m afraid.”
The nurse pointed to a box of kleenex on her desk. I expected her to offer some support or advice, but instead, she flatly declared:
“I know it must be hard to have something between your legs every day.”
The problem was never resolved, despite the higher dose estrogen . I take iron supplements and spend obscene amounts of money on sanitary napkins and tampons.
Every doctor visit in my adult life has been like feeling around in the dark, feeling for a switch to shed some light on what is wrong. I’ve gone for more inconclusive blood tests than I can count. I’ve had doctors swab me, poke me, jab me, insert cameras through my throat and anus, x-ray me… to no avail. Our medical system is all about the fastest path to shutting someone up— especially when it comes to women. Here’s a pill. Here’s a test. Here’s a referral, go bother someone else. Should the results not be what they were hoping for? Oh well. There goes that idea. Let us know when you feel better or worse. NEXT.
Meanwhile, the paths of uncertainty just multiply. The symptoms persist.
The darkness increases.