Home Health and Health Care Fat Prejudice In Health Care: Revisited

Fat Prejudice In Health Care: Revisited

by Erika Nicole Kendall

This story actually mad me mildly nauseous. I just… my heart goes out to Drea for what she wrote below:

These stories are heartbreaking. brings me back to the time it happened to me. My regular doctor is cool…..nicest guy you can meet, no issues with him. The problem started when I was hopsitalized for diverticulitis. the first time I had the infection was in 2003. I went six years without incident until September of 2009. This time my doctor referred my to a gastroentorologist to discuss surgery. Again, great doctor, no issue with him. He recommended surgery to remove the affected part of my colon ( a little over a foot). This is where it all went to hell. The surgeon I was referred to was the damn devil. Comes in the room, doesn’t look at me, says I’m morbidly obese ( at 5′ 5″ 252 lbs he was right) and that although he’s a minimally invasive surgeon, i should be prepared to be cut wide open becuase of the excess fat around my waist.I sit there crying like a baby, terrified, and he just says well….you kinda did it to yourself. He walks out the room saying its in my best interest to lose all the weight i can in the next few weeks.

Fast forward four week,down ten pounds, prepping for surgery. The surgery was supposed to take four hours. After nine hours, I wake up to find out I had an active infection at the time of the surgery and they couldn’t reconnect everything. Here I am, 25 years old, mother of 2, with an ileostomy bag on my side. I was devastated.

After the surgery i was put in the CCU because my heart reacted poorly to the length of the surgery. For 3 days my heart rate was between 170-180 bpm at all times. The first day after surgery my surgeon comes in and tells me how in a billion years of practice i was the worst surgery he ever had to do, how i’m a selfish mother because i don’t take care of myself and i almost left my children motherless. In a room full of interns, nurses and residents, no less. All I could do was cry and cry.

It didn’t end with the doctor either. The nurses in the CCu were just as bad if not worse. After the 2nd day, my catheter was removed in an attempt to get me out of bed. By the way, he cut me wide open, from navel to my c-section scar, 29 staples, so i was in an insane amount of pain. The anesthesiologist had to come twice to bump my morphine up because I was screaming in pain. I’m no lightweight, believe me. i was 46 hours in labor with my daughter, no epidural. But this pain, was something esle. Back to the subject.

Once I was able to move around I asked a nurse to remove my morphine drip for a second while I go to the bathroom. After that painful five foot journey, I rang that nurses bell about a hundred times only to hear ( and see) the nurses talkin about me. One was like “oh I’m on break, she can wait” and the other said”well that’s what you get when you let urself go and then want gastric bypass”……WTF? Finally the b—- walks on and says sweetly what do you need? And i SNAPPED. “How about giving me my f—— morphine? I’ve been here for 30 minutes with no pain relief cuz you want to make fun of big people? Did you read my f—— chart? And even if i was here for gastric bypass, who gives a f—? Why are you a f—— nurse if you have no interest in helping people in pain? F—— B—-!!!!!!!” ( Totally not proud of myself but she had it coming)

I was enraged. Just becuase i was overweight she assumed I was there for vain reasons. Even worse was the surgeon who made it a point to tell me what a piece of shit i was inside and out (literally). He had no interest in curing my illness…..just degrading me. A few weeks later during my follow up, I let his ass have it too. He was actually proud of himself for “getting thru to me with tough love”. He got his dose of mouth, trust me but i had to get another surgery with him six weeks later to remove the bag. SO i saved most of it for that last follow up. Let’s just say in short…..I was escorted out of the building. He never saw it coming. he got it worse than that nurse did.

Now its a little over a year later (surgery was Feb. 2010), and it’s been a traumatizing experience. I’ve lost some weight since then, but I think back on it and it actually hinders my progress because i can;t get all those comments out of my head. My motivation was to prove them wrong. But that will do nothing for me, and they won’t give a rat’s ass just like they didn;t give a rat’s ass before. Reading this blog, I finally see the work I need to do inside, so my journey is renewed. I thank you for that Erika, I truly do.

Fat discrimation is so present, and even in instances like this where the emphasis should be on help, its only worse. I should’ve told him to f%$# himself after that first consulation. We, people of all shapes and sizes, deserve respect and care and compassion like everyone else. And if they, as doctors, can;t get off their high horses to do the job they swore to do, then its up to us to knock them off their high horses. Bet you he won’t be talking to another patient like that again.

I’ve got one more, from Adrianne:

I experienced poor medical treatment with an OB/GYN. He was extremely popular (it took weeks to get an appointment) and seemed really proud of the “thousands” of women he’d “helped.” He was recommended by my GP because I’d been experiencing unnaturally painful periods for months that she suspected might be related to fibroids or endometriosis and this doctor was considered an “expert” on the issue.

At our first meeting, he immediately harped on my weight and said that any reproductive problems I had were because of my “excessive” weight. My husband came for support, but the doctor said that he was glad my husband was there because “women should not make reproductive decisions without their spouses.” I was like, hey, nobody said a darn thing about babies. Plus my husband and I had decided long ago that babymaking wasn’t in our future. I mentioned that and he immediately pooh-poohed that and said, “You’ll change your mind but it will be nearly impossible to conceive at your weight and if you do, you’ll be high risk.” He also said that even if hysterectomy was my best medical option, he refused to do that on women as long as they were of childbearing age.

I felt like I was in the Twilight Zone. He listened to NOTHING I said. Dr. Giggles had a better bedside manner! I should’ve walked away then, but I was so desperate to relieve my symptoms and he was supposed to be the “best.”

The final straw was in the middle of a follow-up visit, he said he wanted to do a uterine biopsy. He failed to explain why that was necessary but said that it wouldn’t be as invasive as a pap smear. Well, I’ve had those before and while uncomfortable, are usually bearable. There is a HUGE difference between grabbing cultures for a smear and actually REMOVING tissue for testing. It was terribly painful. When I started crying, the nurse that was present immediately grabbed my hand. When I practically broke it, she said with horror in her voice, “Did you take any pain meds? It shouldn’t hurt this bad.” I told her I didn’t know he was going to do this. She gave him the meanest look. The doctor said, “Please, this procedure used to require an overnight stay in the hospital. You should be glad you can go home today.” I had no idea walking into that appointment that day that I would be having a surgical procedure! Before he left, while I was still in tears, he instructed the nurse to give me a maxi pad, telling her to do her best to “find one that will fit.”

Needless to say, after that I went back to my GP and asked for another referral. My new doctor was so wonderful, she made me realize just how awful the prior one was and I got angry. I made a lengthy complaint to my state medical board and told them that I would follow up to make sure that my complaint had been taken seriously. They definitely paid attention when I mentioned that a surgical procedure was performed on me without prior notice. He received a formal letter regarding the complaint, but he was not censured. I don’t think he lost sleep over it, but it at least made me feel better about standing up for myself and perhaps if the next person he mistreats makes a complaint, there will be record to back them up.

Here’s what’s so interesting to me.

The stigma surrounding “fat people” in this country is affecting the quality of care they receive… does it ever color the context of the care they receive, though? For example, a doctor who paints weight loss surgery as being the end all be all of an obese patient’s problems just because that doctor believes that’s the only thing that would compel them to lose weight… instead of realistically telling them “Yes, you’ll lose weight, but to keep it off you’ll need to…” If a doctor believes an overweight person is merely slovenly, sloppy and lazy… do you think they’d intentionally change the context of the advice they’d give simply because they don’t think the patient would even bother, “with their lazy asses?”

I look at Drea’s comment, and the context of the care she received – a woman not there for any weight-related surgery who can’t help but be chastized and penalized for being an overweight woman who needs care – and I cringe. The care she received was as if she were a lesser than – she needed “tough love.” She needed “straight talk.” She didn’t deserve the compassion we usually receive from our health care practitioners. With Adrianne, it’s almost as if anything she had to say about her own body didn’t matter, because “she didn’t know how to take care of it, anyway.” And really, the commentary about child rearing?

I know there are sites like Fat Health that share these stories… but I feel like this still serves a place, here. How do we combat this? How do we deal with this? And furthermore, is there anyone out there with resources or advice on how to report and fight against this? Because the care that my girl up there received is… abhorrent. Downright.

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Serenity June 10, 2011 - 4:38 PM

This has happened to me many times before. Add on being Blacks, means that I’m extra stupid and I get spoken to like a 6 year old. Fortunately, I’m also a dentist. Once that bit of Knowledge is made Born the focus completely changes. I let ANYONE have it who treats me like this. ANYONE. And I have no problems getting and leaving. Doctors aren’t different than the rest of us.


milaxx June 10, 2011 - 5:15 PM

I say you do as Adrianne did. Switch that doctor with a quickness and complain. Do it verbally and back it up in writing. Make sure they understand clearly why you are upset and if you can articulate it, how you would have preferred things be handled. I mention stating your preference because the backlash of poor treatment is the doctor too scared to discuss your weight at all, making it the elephant in the room. Also commend the doctors that get it right. When I had my hysterectomy my Oncologist told me he would attempt to do the procedure laproscopically but that might not be possible due to my belly fat. He promised to try the lapro first because the healing time and pain would be less. He didn’t make a big deal about the fat and he kept his promise to try. I had the lapro.
And if you have a good medical experience, pass it on. The doctor that is fat friendly will get the referrals.

Aubergine February 5, 2012 - 4:38 AM

Serenity, I’m glad being a dentist has helped in your case. I am a doctor and if anything, my experiences with doctors have gotten worse since starting medical school. Fascinating how a doctor who knows perfectly well what it takes can still treat me as lazy and stupid. (projection, much?)

ConshusMama May 24, 2012 - 3:44 PM

I know all this to be true, but as an obese black woman who experienced a 10-week stay in the hospital prior to the birth of my son, I KNEW I had to be my own advocate. While I can’t say it was all roses, I INSISTED that I be treated with care and compassion. I had a slew of doctors who came to see me. As soon as they tried to run that fat-prejudice crap on me I was all over them like white on rice. In the end, my nurses were sent from Heaven and I ended up with a wonderful PA who treated me like gold. My son is now a healthy four-year old and I continue to work toward a healthier lifestyle. But we MUST, not just as overweight women, but as Black Women advocate for fair, quality treatment by doctors.

Tiffany August 21, 2012 - 5:55 PM

I’m so sorry you ladies had to go through such horrible treatment by people who are supposed to help you feel better. I really think in addition to learning the science of the body doctors should also be trained in patient bedside manner and listening to a patient. These stories truly infuruate me and do nothing but to erode my already weary trust of the medical industry.

A lot of doctors I have come into contact seem to have a holier than thou attitude because they went to medical school and know so much more than everyone else. I remember as a child during one of my checkups my mom took me in and I was weighed and all that and then the very obese doctor looks at me and tells me I need to lose weight and to do it while I’m young blah blah blah. Now, I was ten, my mom was in the room and the doctor– all three of us were obese, but both were looking at me telling me I need to cut out the junk food and lose weight. I think that is the time I stopped looking at doctor’s as knowing the end all and be all. I mean how can you look a 10 yr. old child in the face and tell them to lose weight when you and my mother are both obese. Do I do the grocery shopping? Do I know how to cook? Do you know how to sustain weightloss? I couldn’t articulate all that at a young age, but I knew something was off. I’ve also had experiences where, as an adult I’ve gone for a checkup and immediately get lectured about my weight. In that instance, I cut the doctor off and told her I had recenlty lost 20 pounds (because I had) and all she said was “keep doing what your doing, it’s working.” Meanwhile, she didn’t know if I was sticking my finger down my throat (I wasn’t) or starving myself (I was sorta), and overexercising (was doing that too) but as long as I was losing weight. It really takes more than knowing the science of the human body to be a good doctor, and many fail to realize this.

BlackBerry Molasses August 22, 2012 - 1:13 PM

I feel this very keenly. I had surgery for fibroids and ovarian cysts in 2010 and I had to be my own advocate.
The first OB/GYN practice I went to was huge, well known and terrible. I never saw the same person twice so I had to re-iterate all my symptoms every time. They also had a decided prejudice against women of color, because they were steady treating me for PID or suspected STDs, even though I’m married and monogamous. I thought it was just me, until my friend who is the mother of twins told me how they commented on how her baby’s father was so involved with her pregnancy… they completely ignored the fact that she was Mrs…..and that they had matching wedding bands.

Anyway, the surgeon they recommended was horrible… he basically wanted to take all my parts. His reasoning? Since I was overweight, it would be hard to conceive naturally. Say what? And it wasn’t like he was slender himself. Much to the contrary.

Just so happens a family friend of mine is a reproductive endocrinologist and a FABULOUS doctor who performed my surgery. Even though the anesthesiologist was a c–t who wanted to awake intubate me. she (along with the nurse anesthetist) advocated for me. She preserved my ability to have children and is now my regular OB. She approaches weight management with kindness and compassion– never judgmental at all.

I talk to my friends who are physicians now (since I’m am epidemiologist, we tend to run together) and remind them about the fact that they need to remember their patients are people worthy of compassion and respect. Judgement gets you no-where in good medical care, and since reputation builds client base, bad online reviews can affect their bottom line. They need to be reminded of that constantly.

MM August 22, 2012 - 3:29 PM

I am a physician and I think that this is horrible treatment and there is absolutely no excuse for it! That being said, you have to remember that doctors are people. So there are many who are wonderful, nice, and will treat you well with kindness. That person will understand how difficult it is to lose weight (or whatever your problem is) and will do whatever they can to help you get to your goals all the while cheering you on. A good doctor can tell you that you need to change but doesn’t make you feel bad about yourself. However, there are also doctors that have no personality, have biases (against many things, weight included), and will treat you not so nicely. Trust me, I went to medical school and trained with a few of them. It’s unacceptable b/c we are in the position to see people at their most vulnerable state. For this reason, I always tell my patients, friends, family, whoever that if you don’t like your doctor then get another one! There are many qualified doctors out there and you do NOT have to deal with one who doesn’t treat you well. In short, your doctor should be like your hairdresser……..a person you look forward to seeing and one that you like and does you just right!

NaturalBlackOne August 22, 2012 - 5:44 PM

Wow I am disgusted by what I just read. I am so fortunate that I haven’t really had negative experiences due to my weight. Yes doctors have told me that I need to do so, but my genuine feeling is that it came from a good place-or at least I chose to see it that way! I guess I feel like I needed the reminders. But I absolutely will NOT tolerate a rude doctor. I had a OB/GYN that was rude and after the initial exam and follow up, I dropped her behind like a hot potato. I am very happy with my current one. Even he mentions my weight, but never ever does he make me feel less tthan because I am overweight. I had a c-section with thim thay came out well, though after I had complications. MY doctor as well as the nursing staff at the hospital were absolutely fabulous. I just believe that everyone needs to be an advocate for their own health, do their own research (on drs, procedures and conditions) so as ro be better informed patients. That way when some jerk doctor tries to pull the okie doke on us, they will soon realize they aren’t speaking to some idiot. Also please please do not be afraid to walk up outta some jerk’s office. If I am not a child, I do not need tough love. Just facts please… I am glad these ladies are better. I also hope they and all of us do not in the furure consent to being treated badly. Life is literally too short!

StudentDU May 2, 2013 - 10:14 PM

I’ve interviewed for a position and was asked, ” This job requires a lot of walking. Are you sure you can handle that”. Truth be told I had never been asked about my physical capabilities before. I was shock. Shameful assumptions that just because you are not a size 2, you can move, walk or run. I do all the above.

Lynn July 26, 2013 - 6:47 PM

I am a 59 year old female living in the Chicago area; have had stomach stapling 30 years ago, heel spur removed, hysterectomy for fibroids and endemetriosis, less invasive gallbladder removal, and two hernias removed (I was a mailcarrier for 37 years) and gastric bypass. I never encountered this rudeness. You definitely deserved better treatment. I’m so sorry you had to experience all this unprofessional treatment. I have been blessed to have doctors who were caring. Yes I am overweight; but I am winning the battle!!!

Megan December 2, 2013 - 10:58 AM

I am actually in nursing school right now and just read this article on obesity stigma: http://www.yaleruddcenter.org/resources/upload/docs/what/bias/ObesityStigmaPublicHealth_AJPH_6.10.pdf

It actually made me tear up to realize that I had been internalizing this dialogue, where people (including healthcare providers) believe that it is acceptable to stigmatize an obese person because it may “motivate” them to lose weight. The article contradicts this common, often subconscious belief, saying that stigma only increases emotional eating and is associated with less physical activity.

I realizes when I am trying to “motivate myself” I am actually berating myself for my lack of discipline. Obviously this tactic hasn’t worked, and has only led to some self-hatred. So, I am working on loving myself and halting my negative self-talk.

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