Facing Ageism: You are too young for that…

Dealing with health issues when you look younger than you are

Ageism doesn’t just occur because someone thinks you are too old to do something. Ageism also occurs when you are told something can’t be true because you are too young for it to be happening to you.

When I start seeing a new doctor, the visit starts with me filling in pages of health history. Even if I have brought in a printed history. Whether or not the doctor already has my records from the previous doctors. I sit in the office and try to make my hands write legibly, knowing that the things I wrote won’t be read anyway.

The next step is for me to get called back to go through all the usual check in things every doctor does. This includes the question every woman gets: When was your last period? Are you sure you aren’t pregnant?

The nurses almost always give me a second look (me, not the papers in front of them) when I tell them I had a hysterectomy a decade ago. They don’t know what to say. (More on that in a bit.)

Eventually, the doctor comes in to talk to me. Seldom does the doctor look at what I have written. Frequently, the doctor will give me some version of “you don’t look old enough to have” which ever health issue has brought me to the office.

The pictures above are both of me. They are a good indication of the ageism I get every time I see a new doctor. The me on the right was already being told that I would eventually need knee replacements — but that I was too young. The me on the left is still being told the same thing. I face this problem with doctors all the time. I am sick of it.

The thing is most of the issues I have now, I had when the picture on the right was taken. My knees were bad then, they are worse now. My asthma and allergies were bad then, they are worse now.

What really bugs me about the nurse’s questions and the doctor’s comments isn’t just that they are asking these things. The thing that bugs me is that they are asking me the questions based on what they see. Not based on what I have told them in the paperwork they have in front of me.

Here’s the kicker… Like most people who meet me, you have made a guess about my age based on those pictures. There are things in the pictures that don’t quite jive with what your eyes are telling you, but you have still decided you know how old I am. But you don’t know. Like those in the medical profession, you have used your beliefs to decide who I am.

I have even had people tell me I can’t possibly understand ageism “at my age.”

So let me lay this out for you in simple words.

The picture on the right was taken in the late 1980’s. The picture on the right was taken two years ago.

No matter what you or the medical professionals see, you don’t know the reality. I am almost 54 years old. (Yeah, take a breath. It surprises everyone when they find out.) My body is in very bad shape for someone the age you think I am. It is even in bad shape for the age I am.

But for doctors and medical professionals to make a decision about my health based on what they think instead of what is — that’s ageism. It’s also a bad way for people to be treated.

Earlier today, Francine Hardaway published a great piece about doctor’s looking at what they want to see and suggesting extreme treatment options based on those opinions. What she has gone through with her back and what I deal with due to the difference between my appearance and my actual age — they are two sides of the same coin. They are people applying generalities to situations without stopping to check to see if they are right.

If doctor’s did stop to read records, question patients, and listen to what patients are saying — maybe then we could start to address the ageism in the medical profession.

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