Doctor of the Fat Geek: Part 2

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Image: Karen Walsh
Image: Karen Walsh

Dear Primary Doctor,

6 months have passed. It’s probably a lifetime of flus and strep and ongoing illnesses for you. I don’t really expect you to remember me. That was a 40-minute conversation that I’ll never forget, though.

You are the problem, Primary Doctor. You and other doctors like you. Did you know that if you search “effect of weight discrimination in medicine” you find a really cool article written by a bunch of doctors. In the article, they talk about doctors ignoring fat people’s legitimate health concerns, just like you did.

“Finally, physicians may over-attribute symptoms and problems to obesity, and fail to refer the patient for diagnostic testing or to consider treatment options beyond advising the patient to lose weight. In one study involving medical students, virtual patients with shortness of breath were more likely to receive lifestyle change recommendations if they were obese (54% vs. 13%), and more likely to receive medication to manage symptoms if they were normal weight (23% vs. 5%) [23].”

Basically, doctors like you see fat people like me and fail to suggest diagnostic testing. You know, sort of like how you decided I didn’t need to look into anything that could help me. You abused my trust.

My concerns about MS? “Bad luck” and “not genetic.”

My concerns about always being exhausted? “Line up ten moms and they’ll all say the same thing.”

Concerns about my sinuses and my headaches? Totally ignored. “Go take an OTC allergy medication.”

And I did.

For almost 4 months.

Until I went to the nurse practitioner for the sinus cold that wouldn’t go away. She gave me an antibiotic and the name of an ear, nose, and throat doctor.

He was amazing. He stuck a scope up my snout and told me my sinuses were pink and healthy. He suggested migraines. He didn’t just see me as some kind of Adult Adipose (aka big fat blob). He saw me as a person with health issues and sent me for an MRI to double check the sinuses.

Then the MRI came back. Not sinus problems. He suggested a neurologist.

She was super amazing. She rolled her eyes about your 40-minute weight lecture. She explained that the MRI looked like MS. We decided to do the lumbar puncture since someone in my immediate family has MS so there was a higher chance.

Wait. Did you see that, Primary Doctor? Rewind. You told me that there was no chance. That it was bad luck. You stole my agency by treating me as neurotic. You made me feel crazy. You made me think that I was overreacting. You caused me to second guess my own health. I trusted you as a medical professional. All you saw was fat.

You.

Were.

Wrong.

You were wrong because you didn’t listen to me or think about my actual health. Your wrongness delayed my diagnosis. Had the ENT not intervened and suggested the MRI? Your dismissiveness could have led to years of my going undiagnosed because I would never have brought my concerns up to you again.

After an MRI and spinal tap, the test results confirmed an MS diagnosis.

You: Bad luck. No genetics. All moms are tired. I’m fat.

Reality: Multiple sclerosis.

Doctors like you do not consider treatment other than telling fat people like me to lose weight. Kind of like how you told me to eat fewer high-calorie bagels and go take OTC allergy meds.

All I know, Primary Doctor, is that I don’t want anyone else to have their health placed at risk because of the attitude you had towards me. I have a voice. I will use my voice. My voice will shout to the rafters because I have the opportunity to stand with and for others whose health is compromised by people like you.

You ignored my health concerns about the latter because you judged me based on the former.

You did harm, Primary Doctor. You judged a neurological and autoimmune issue based on cellulite. You ignored a patient you felt wasn’t worth your time because you made assumptions.

I am fat. I am a person with multiple sclerosis. I deserve the respect of being seen as a person and patient instead of as a number on a scale.