Tuesday, April 19, 2011

An Open Letter to Doctors.

Dear Doctors, Nurses and other medical people in whose hands I may trust my life,
Hello, I'm Shannon and I am a fat person. After years of being everything from sadly underweight to fat I would like to tell you all a few things from my heart.

I'm sorry if I act weird when I arrive. Some of your peers have treated me in awful ways and I've grown mistrustful of the person bearing the clipboard. You see, I am very sensitive to things like tone and facial expression. Sometimes to my own detriment I can see the tightening of a mouth to indicate that I've done or said something wrong and I know I will act a little weird.

It's not personal, you might be the best medical person ever in the whole world. The problem is that many of your peers have taken one look at me and made up their mind about everything.

I'm talking about yes being a fat person and going to the doctor with ear infections in both ears. A look at my medical records would show a medical person that I have a long and storied history of being prone to ear infections starting from about infancy. I have been on a multitude of antibiotics, I know usually days before the infections actually bubble up whether or not they are coming and whether or not I may need antibiotics.

I walked into a doctors office, asking only for antibiotics and perhaps an anti-emetic because most antibiotics make me throw up. I sat shivering and feverish, in pain while my doctor spent ninety percent of the visit telling me about all the ways I was a failure in the health department.

I was coming off of being a vegan and I was sickly. I was gaining weight and my body was in flux. My immune system was compromised. I was not well and yet this doctor berated me because I was gaining weight and "not taking care of myself". She did not ask how I was doing. She didn't ask me if my ears were doing okay or if I was in pain. She didn't ask what I was or wasn't eating or whether or not I was exercising which I had been until that week.

I sat there taking it until I threw up all over her exam room, all over her shoes and the table.

She was visibly angry with me and seemingly as an afterthought asked, what my problem was.

I felt humiliated and awful. There have been a lot of instances at doctors offices where the doctors expressed little or no interest in helping me or healing me of whatever ailment unless I lost weight.

Medical people, you went to school for a long time. I did not. How is it that I can tell you which of my health issues has persisted since childhood regardless of my weight? How can I believe that everything will magically be better if only I was thinner?

I may have believed that wholeheartedly at one time. I lost weight. I lost a shitload of weight. I proceeded to spend three years eating the bare minimum and exercising for hours and hours to maintain that weight and it was awful. I wasn't healthy, by no standard save perhaps for BMI was I healthy.

Despite that, my treatment by medical people magically improved. I wasn't being cared for (it took a doctor telling me I was making myself sick for me to stop) but at least I got the chance to get help.

The fact is this.

Yes, being fat can be an issue. Being fat can contribute to ill health. Being sedentary can contribute to ill health. A lot of things can contribute to ill health and I see the number one health killer as being the bias of doctors and medical personnel.

No one like to be treated as a second class citizen. No one likes to have a stranger be an asshole to them.

No one wants to be humiliated by someone who whether it's acknowledged or not is in a position of power over them.

If you are so unable to keep your biases from causing you to be inhumane and cruel to someone when they are in fact putting their lives in your hands.

For some people years of bad treatment from doctors makes them stop seeking treatments. Those are the people who then come to you in their fifties and they are riddled with sickness and yes, they know you're disgusted but you and your peers had a hand in it.

If you are a medical professional and you cannot bring yourself to treat someone you find gross, do that person a favor and refer them to someone else. Do it politely and do not try and take their dignity with your very apparent disgust.

Fat people or other people you personally disapprove of are not blind nor are they stupid. We see your disgust. We hear your shitty snide comments. We see you rolling your eyes or clucking your tongue.

We see your disdain and it hurts because we're not just a walking set of potential health problems we are people.

If you want to be a proactive part of solving the "obesity crises" here is what you do.

Understand that regardless of what you learned in school there is no One True Vision of a healthy person and you know that. You know it damn well and you need to remember it.

The next thing you can do is remember that being a medical professional does not make you a parent. You have no right to treat people like children.

Understand that for some people health means that next week they can walk a block without huffing and puffing and for others it means bi monthly marathons.

Remember that fat and weight are not cure alls or the cause of all ills. Remember how to listen.

Remember that even though you have so many years of experience and schooling, a lot of people know their own bodies and a part of your job is not to shove your wants down a patients throat but to listen to them and work with them.

Health and wellness as passionate as you might be about them as much as you may build your career on morals based on health and wellness, those things are not the same things for everyone.

Understand that pushing health and wellness as a moral issue will probably go over as well as a fart in a phone booth for a lot of people and it makes us not want to even try getting health care.

The bottom line is this. If you want to be a part of the solution to the health crisis, you have to do better. You have to learn or relearn that sometimes the victory isn't in making someone fit a predetermined shape but rather to let that person find the best shape for themselves.

Shannon- a fat patient looking for a good doctor.


maggiemunkee said...


Anonymous said...

This should be mandatory reading for all medical professionals

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