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Medically Misinforming Women

· Women's Health,Health,Wellness

Brace yourself.  This post contains profanity.  I'm angry, and I have good reason to be.  In the next few paragraphs I address just a couple of the many, many issues surrounding the mistreatment of women's health even in our first world society.  I recently attended a presentation by the University of Alberta which had some alarming statistics on women's heart health and how women STILL aren't being listened to, even when they are standing in the ER concerned that they are experiencing some sort of myocardial incident.  While I don't consider myself a feminist - I prefer the term "equalist" - I can guarantee a man who showed up in the ER with concerns he was having a heart attack would be taken seriously.  That's just the tip of the iceberg, and one of the issues I don't cover here.

I am one of a growing number of women who are completely and utterly FED UP with how many women are treated by the medical system.  I personally haven't had too many issues - I have a tendency to push back, and I speak the language.  It probably helps.  But why is it that when I say "I'm really happy with my doctor" that the response is, "you're lucky"?  I was born in and live in a first world country.  I'm lucky on LOTS of counts that don't belong in this post.  Having a doctor who listens to my concerns and then works with me to give me options shouldn't be a matter of luck.  I'm pretty certain I've told clients to "get a better doctor" when they've had docs who wouldn't sign off on an exercise release form...or wouldn't give them straight answers about their health.  Or - figuratively - patted them on the head and said "now don't you worry dear".  THIS IS A HUGE PROBLEM.  Another problem is that most of these doctors are men...but not all of them.

I've had a female G.P. my whole life - I'm more comfortable that way.  I have had male doctors for some surgeries and I've had no issue with any of them.  (By that same token, I've also had several surgeries involving nether regions and other sensitive areas...anyone ELSE need to take a look??  I may be a little desensitized at this point.)

But here's the thing.  Women simply aren't treated equally in the doctor's office.  I've had female clients go in with genuine concerns about their health, and all the doctor will tell them is "you need to lose weight"...but without ANY guidance on how to do so or helpful resources.  While it's true that many health problems will improve with lower body fat and higher muscle ratios, if an individual is in pain, the last thing they're going to want to do is exercise unless that pain is managed...we're back to square one.  Or with no guidance on where to start other than "Here's the Canada Food Guide.  Follow it, starve yourself, exercise more, then come back and talk to me."  That's not helpful.

I liken a G.P. to an agent.  I fully understand that in the 5 to 10 minutes (if you're lucky) they may have with a patient who comes in and says "my thumb hurts", with no other info, the doc needs to bust that information down into the 5000 things it could possibly be, then refer the patient to a specialist who can bust it down to 50 things...and then hopefully treat it.  I have lost track of the number of times I've been asked for medical advice by a client.  I'm not a doctor, and it's WAY outside my scope of practice as a personal trainer to give medical advice.  But I can point them in the right direction...or tell them "you can ask your doctor for a diagnostic on that", to which the response is often, "really??".  Yes, really.

But more to the point of this post: misinforming women.  At the time of writing this, I've experienced 2 early-term miscarriages. (2016 and 2018.  I'm fine: I'm of the belief that if my body says no, it's for a reason.  They were ill-timed and I was not upset about either.  Both were considered a non-viable pregnancy at the "6-7 week" ultrasound.  More to follow on THAT.)  During those times, I learned a lot about what happens to women when they get pregnant, and about our whole reproductive system, some of which definitely wasn't taught in school.  Fortunately the popularity of books like Taking Charge Of Your Fertility are improving the overall public knowledge about reproduction and fertility from the female side (understanding that it's a two-way street), but there's still a group of people who aren't yet as informed as they should be, and it still seems to be the ones women often have the most contact with, medically.

Doctors and nurses.

Doctors need to stop misinforming women about their reproductive cycles, and they need to start listening to their patients, who probably know their bodies better than the doctor does.

During pregnancy #1, I expressly told both the doctor and then the nurse that I did not, and have never had, a 28-day cycle.  I knew when I ovulated, and it wasn't on day 14, so my cycle wasn't going to line up with their cheat-sheet wheel.  I probably said this 15 times to people over the 5 weeks I was in the system.  You'd think this would get noted in my file somewhere.  It didn't, and I was CONSTANTLY explaining to every. single. medical. professional. that I had to deal with that my ovulation date wasn't going to line up the way they wanted with the date of my last period.

Because here's the thing....doctors consider the date of your last period as the start of the pregnancy.  HUH?  That may be considered the start of the cycle, but ovulation occurs roughly two weeks later (I say roughly, as the statistics and data shows that anywhere from 10 to 16 days after the start of your period is normal.  It's different for every woman, and it may change month to month and depending on your age.)  YOU CAN'T GET PREGNANT IF YOU HAVEN'T OVULATED.  So why is the medical system including the first 2 weeks in their calculations, when you're not actually pregnant?  This is a BIG FAT FUCKING LIE and it's no way to accurately assess anything health related.  I wasn't pregnant for 6 weeks at that first ultrasound.  I was pregnant for 4 weeks.  I know this because I knew - both times - when I had ovulated.  If you don't know how to track your ovulation, it's REALLY EASY.  I learned about it from the brilliant book Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler, but at this point a Google search would probably tell you everything you need to know.  (Although I still recommend the book.  It's fantastic.  Every single person who has, or had, or plans to have, or who knows anyone with a uterus and/or vagina should read it, regardless of what stage of your reproductive life you're in.)

A typical pregnancy is 38 weeks from ovulation (obviously with some wiggle room).  In the words of one doctor when I questioned the cheat wheel "it makes it easier for us to count".  REALLY?  You're so lazy that you can't subtract 2 from 40?  Or 2 from whatever week your outdated system tells you we're on?  THERE ARE APPS where you enter in the date of ovulation and which will give you a due date as well as where you're at in the pregnancy, and which can be downloaded on your phone, or brought up on your computer screen from the internet...since every time I've been to the doctor in probably the past 8 years they've had all their files on a computer system.

Not only that, when I mentioned to the pediatric nurse (who was, for the record, probably in her late 50s or early 60s and overweight) that I was planning to have a midwife rather than an OB-GYN and go to the birthing centre for a water birth and not one of the hospitals, the look on her face said it all.  She didn't approve.

(FYI: Every single person I've known who had a midwife and a water birth had zero complications during the birth and as good a birthing experience as possible.  Most of those who went to the hospital did not have good experiences.  Since I'm not an expert on birthing - and yes, I know that there are a multitude of things that can go sideways at the last minute, that's the last I'll say on this until I've popped out a kid or two and have some firsthand knowledge.)

This isn't the only issue with women's health and how it's approached by the medical system.

A couple of years ago at age 42 I discovered I had to be treated for a health situation I never, ever thought I'd have.  It involved a couple of surgeries and a lot of recovery time, and I was, quite frankly, terrified.  Had I found out even a few years later the chances of me living to see 50 would have been drastically reduced.  At one point I asked one of the surgeons, "Should I be doing anything nutritionally in order to help what's going on?"  Her response, "Just keep doing whatever you're doing."  BUT SHE HAD NO FUCKING IDEA what I was doing...because she didn't ask.  She ASSUMED that because I am skinny and therefore "healthy", that my nutritional strategies were therefore sound.  Listen - I have an extremely high metabolism.  Even when I DO eat like crap for an extended period of time (yes, it happens, I'm human too), I gain weight more slowly than many people do.  I could have had a diet of chips and chocolate bars and she would never have known.  Which circles back to what I was talking about at the beginning of this post: doctors judging a person's health and what the patient wants based on their looks. 

I had a doctor when I lived in Vancouver who was TERRIBLE.  I went in one day with crappy flu symptoms...bordering on what I know meningitis symptoms to be.  I was legitimately concerned.  She didn't even take my temperature, and basically patted me on the head and said, "you're fine dear".  I never felt as if I was welcome in her office.  British Columbia in general has a terrible medical system compared to Alberta (where I'm from, and now live...and for the uninitiated, Canadian health care is run provincially, not federally), and I was not unhappy to be gone from there.  But I've heard horror stories from across the country - Ontario and the Maritimes aren't much better off.

One of my business connections here in Calgary wrote a rage-fuelled post about women's health, and it's worth a read: http://danagoldstein.ca/what-i-learned-after-writing-a-book-about-menopause/ (She's also got a book out about menopause.  In my never-ending stack of books to read, it's one I need to pick up.  I'm not menopausal yet, but I suppose it's inevitable that I will be, and going in informed is never a bad thing.)

In all of this, women - young and old - are still being told that their voices about their own health don't matter, and they are being told things that are not only questionable, but downright wrong.

THIS NEEDS TO CHANGE.

One of my long-time best friends is a doctor.  She's worked in family practice for many years and delivered so many babies she's lost count.  I am extremely grateful for my friendship with her because it gives me some insight on the other side.  We have had a lot of open and candid conversations about the medical system.  She gave me some tips on where to start if you are concerned about your doctor or the medical system:

Start with your local College of Physicians & Surgeons.  Alberta's link is here: https://cpsa.ca/ and Google can help you if you're not from Alberta.  This is where you can report a medical professional with whom you have an issues with their professionalism or how they conduct their practice.

Another thing you can do is write to the provincial and federal Health Ministers.  When you write, keep it as factual as possible and - unlike this particular post - leave out the angry emotions and the profanity.  Write drunk, edit sober, in the words of Ernest Hemmingway.

And finally, you can start pushing back.  ASK your doctor for more clarification if you're not getting definitive answers.  Ask for the ultrasound, the MRI, the x-ray, the mammogram (if you're female and over 40, start getting mammograms), the blood test...most of these are routine diagnostics.  I frequently tell my clients to ask their doctors for an ultrasound.  (Ultrasounds are usually quick to get in to and tell me far more than an x-ray when it comes to muscles.)  Those results can then be sent to the others on your team of medical professionals: specialists, movement and rehabilitation practitioners, alternative/natural health practitioners, trainers.  All of them can - and likely will - spend some time going through the results with you if your doctor won't.

I could go on EVEN MORE but I'll cap this for now.  Ladies, start pushing back.  Start standing up for yourself.  If you have questions about your health (or the health of your family members), ask and keep asking until you get clear and concise answers and guidance on what to do if anything is a concern.  Because this problem won't change until we start showing the medical system that it's a a problem.

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