Contributing Author- Stephanie Wilson
In 2015, Joe Fassler wrote an article for The Atlantic recounting his wife Rachel’s experience of having her pain dismissed as an emergency-room patient in a US hospital. Fassler’s article details their visit to the emergency room after Rachel woke up with agonizing pelvic pain. Fourteen and a half hours after arriving at the emergency room—and once Rachel’s pain was finally assessed with adequate attention—Rachel and her doctors prepped for surgical removal of her ovary. Rachel was unknowingly suffering excruciating pain that accompanies an ovarian torsion. While providers told Rachel she was “just feeling a little pain” and misdiagnosed her pain as kidney stones without any proper tests, her ovary was left to die.
Unfortunately, Rachel’s experience is not an isolated incident. In fact, research has shown that women’s pain and other symptoms are often dismissed by medical providers. In addition to women as a group having their symptoms dismissed, research and popular press articles suggest that women of color have their symptoms dismissed at even higher rates.
As women, we have all likely had to learn to advocate for ourselves in healthcare settings. Some of us may have even had to demand a herpes test when providers told us it was not necessary. Similarly, perhaps some of us have had to plead with providers, and others, to understand our negative experiences with hormonal birth control—I know I have. It is evident to me that there is a systemic problem in medicine: the silencing of women’s experiences. Women MUST stand up for their health!
By calling this a systemic problem, I am identifying the medical system and culture as the culprit, rather than individual providers. That is, the white masculine culture of medicine impacts how providers interact with their patients. I do think that we need to hold individuals accountable, but I also think this problem is much larger than any individual or group of individuals. Unfortunately, I also think that means we—as women—need to advocate for ourselves in medical settings; and some of us more than others. If something does not feel right, make sure you find someone who will listen to you. If your doctor tells you your pain is normal, but you know it is not, get a second—and if necessary, a third and fourth—opinion.
I know advocating for your health is easier said than done, and our ability to do so depends on many other factors in addition to gender and race. Finding a doctor who will listen to your experience can be exhausting and expensive. However, as much as you possibly can, stand up for your health!
There is undoubtedly more work to be done to change the culture of medicine so that all women are heard. I hope to be a part of that culture change by drawing attention to these issues as a social researcher. But until that culture changes, we can hold the system accountable as patients. Make sure your symptoms are heard, and your experiences are addressed. Be an advocate for your health and for women’s health!
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Hi Everyone! My name is Stephanie. I was diagnosed with HSV-2 in April of 2014 when I was 22 years old. Right now, almost three years later, I am a doctoral student in the sociology department at Purdue University. I recently completed my MA in sociology at the University of Northern Colorado where I explored the role of stigma in the process of disclosing a genital herpes diagnosis. With that said, if anyone is interested in reading what I discovered in my project, I am happy to share that with you! I plan to continue advocating for our community, as well as studying the social factors that influence sexual health in order to understand how we can create a world that is easier for people diagnosed with STIs. I really enjoy writing for the Pink Tent community and am excited to be able to share some of my experiences and thoughts about living with genital herpes with you all.