Is anybody listening?

Is anybody listening? A question I found myself asking myself over and over for at least a year during one of the biggest health scares of my life. Writing this to remind people to trust your gut and always advocate for yourself.

BACK TO THE BEGINNING

The Fall of 2020 I knew something was wrong, I just wasn’t exactly sure what. I was constantly in a state of stomach pains, discomfort, you name it. For a while I dismissed what was happening, in fact I chopped it up to the stress of my job and the pandemic. After all, the pandemic was certainly impacting all of us in some capacity. Even if you weren’t physically sick, the pandemic was definitely all consuming for everyone. Not only were we dealing with the pandemic in the newsroom, we were also dealing with social justice issues and protests. So, there was a lot going on in my world that I figured contributed to my overall declining health, I thought. Then some time between late November and December that changed. I don’t remember exactly what happened on this day, but I remember telling my mom how bad things had gotten. As mothers do, she told me I needed to go to the doctor. By this point, I was pretty much afraid to see anyone. It was less to do with seeing the actual doctor and more to do with self diagnosing myself based on my symptoms, thanks Google! Fortunately my doctor’s office was able to get me in pretty quickly. I remember telling my nurse practitioner everything that was going on. Then the conversation went to where I dreaded it would go. Paraphrasing, she said based on what I was telling her, it sounded like early signs of Colon cancer. If my stomach wasn’t upset before then, I remember instantly feeling sick and afraid. The next steps were to get in with a GI doctor and that was all setup fairly quickly. While that appointment should have been able to give me more answers on what was happening, it was the start of one of my worst healthcare experiences.

THE APPOINTMENT

The morning of the appointment, I remember sitting in the car with my anxiety at 10. I’ve always heard people say things about doctors who had bad bedside manner, I just never experienced it until this day. My doctor walked in, a very slender older woman, not very warm or friendly. I was sitting in a chair near the door when she introduced herself and asked me what was going on. I told her as she started doing all the doctor things, checking my heart, etc… you know standard appointment stuff. Then it happened… she put her hand on my shoulder while I was talking and told me “you really need to lose weight.” I wasn’t in denial that it needed to happen. I was surprised with when and how she decided to make sure she told me that. The exam goes on and finally I get on the table so she can feel around those areas where I had been experiencing the most pain. When she was done — she seemed to think that I might not be dealing with a colon issue after all. So, she explained to me what would happen next. I was going to do a stool test and get scheduled for an endoscopy. For those who are unfamiliar it’s a procedure where you’re put to sleep and an instrument is put down your throat to see what’s going on. In this case, the focus was on seeing what the issues were within my stomach. At this point, I’m feeling a little relieved that there wasn’t an instant cancer diagnosis. After all, I came there automatically thinking the worst. As the doctor wraps our conversation I’m sitting on the table and she says one more time, you’ve got to lose weight. That was the last time I would see her until January when the procedure was scheduled. Despite having several issues.. I’ll spare you the details. One night things had gotten so bad I considered going to the emergency room. This was the week of my procedure. I called my doctor’s office to tell them what was happening, hoping they would want me to come in to be seen. The final message I got from my doctor’s office was “doctor {insert name here} says she is going to see you on Tuesday and there is nothing else she can do for you now. If you’re feeling that bad or things get worse you should go to the emergency room.” I felt defeated, but knew what needed to be done if issues continued.

WAITING GAME

Waking up from anesthesia is always such a weird time. You go from completely knocked out to somewhat awake and barely remembering where you are and what you were there for to begin with. That was me in the evening after my endoscopy in January. There was a nurse with me — making sure I woke up okay. I was anxious to find out if the doctor saw anything during the procedure and when I would see her. The nurse told me the doctor had already left but talked to the person who brought me to the hospital. Maybe it’s just me, but I thought it was weird to not see or talk to your doctor, but I got over it. My frustration with the situation did escalate when I learned that I would not see my doctor again for another 3 weeks. That’s when I could expect her to go over what she found and next steps. So, 3 weeks of waiting to find out if there was anything to be seriously worried about, great. I called her office hoping to get in sooner and was told that was not going to be possible. Fast forward to appointment day and I remember leaving the office feeling no better off than when I first came there about 2 months back. The one plus, we were able to rule out the likelihood it was cancer based on the results of all my tests. We also determined there was nothing in the stomach that was concerning. I was given medication for acid reflux and sent on my way. Just for some context on that prescription, apparently my esophagus was narrow and they widened it. The medicine along with the widening was supposed to address one of the issues I’d brought up in my initial visit.

THAT JUST AIN’T RIGHT

For months afterwards, I never really seemed to get any better. When something felt bad, I would call the doctor’s office to be seen. A lot of times my doctor couldn’t get me in. Things finally got to the point where I no longer wanted to see that doctor because I didn’t feel like my concerns were being taken seriously. So I thought I was taking my health into my own hands by requesting a new doctor in that office. I talked to the office manager and explained what was going on. Instead of listening, she was instantly defensive. She actually blamed me for the reasons why I wasn’t being seen or getting call backs. Not the experience I’d hope for, and I decided at that moment I didn’t want to see anyone associated with this office. I no longer had faith in their ability to care for me or about me.

Months go by and I’m still just dealing with on and off stomach issues. I did this for about 7 months before I decided something is just not right. Again taking my health into my own hands, I called another GI office in town. It was late October at this point and this would be the doctor’s appointment that would give me back my health. Within the first 5 minutes of explaining to this doctor what was going on, the same way I explained to the previous doctor — he instantly ordered several tests, including a CT scan. The scan was something that he told me he was really surprised my previous doctor did not do given what I explained to him the problem was. At that moment I had no idea how much that scan would change the next few months of my life.

THE CALL

It was early one November morning and my doctor’s office was calling as I headed out the door for work. I answered and the receptionist asked me if I could come in to go over the CT scan. I remember telling her I had so much work that day and could someone just call me to go over my results. She told me she would call me back and when she did, she told me I had to come in. I instantly thought nothing good could come from this appointment and I was right.

The next afternoon I was told the CT scan picked up a mass and I would need to have it surgically removed. I was paralyzed because again, worst case scenario thinking over here. I was told the mass was likely the source of nearly every issue I had been dealing with since 2020 when my symptoms first started. At that point it was late into 2021. For a year I lived with this thing growing in my body making me sicker and sicker and finally we knew what was happening.

Surgery in December to remove the mass was a success. When it was removed it was 22cm and 4 pounds. The mass had attached to an ovary that also had to be removed along with a fallopian tube. Thank God that was the worst of it — cancer was ruled out the very next day following a biopsy.

MY TAKEAWAYS

While I will never understand or know how my original GI doctor failed to help me, I think it boils down to two things.

My weight really bothered her. Again, I don’t care that a doctor says you need to lose weight, but it seemed to be all she could focus on in that initial consult. It also wasn’t in a way that was like hey your weight could be a factor. It was almost a little on the disgusted side.

I know when it comes to healthcare for Black people, especially Black women… a doctor’s implicit bias can also play a role in how we are cared for. I’m not saying this doctor has issues with Black people. I am saying that there could be some underlying things that caused her to not take me too seriously. I won’t disclose her race, because I don’t want to say too much more about her or that office. My goal is not to put them on blast, which is why I never named her or them.

There are a lot of AMAZING doctors and healthcare professionals in my community, some I know personally. This article is not a knock on people in the healthcare field, but a reminder to all of us that we have to be our own advocates. If something doesn’t feel right, don’t let it go. Ask all the questions. Raise all the concerns. If your doctor isn’t taking you seriously, find somebody who will. It took me a year to figure out this last part, don’t be me. Don’t put anything else before your health. Remember there’s only one you and you have to do everything you can to be here as long as you can. 

One thought on “Is anybody listening?

  1. You exhibited extraordinary courage and grit! This is inspiring sister. I can only hope to ask the tough questions over and over again until the right answer is revealed. I am so glad you got the help you needed in the end. To God be the glory !

    Like

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