On Friday morning, I looked like this:
By Friday night, the swelling on the left side of my face was three times as bad. And also, it hurt. A lot. Enough that they gave me morphine at the hospital, just before they gave me a CT scan that found a general infection. In my FACE.
I’m still doped up, and kind of out of it, but I wanted to talk about something really important: fat healthcare. Marianne Kirby talks about it at XO Jane. Anyone who is even a little “over weight” knows what I’m talking about. Going to the doctor when you’re fat can be unpleasant. And just the idea of the unpleasantness that might come is enough to keep fat people from getting prompt health care.
I’ve had a chiropractor call me a whale when he was frustrated that my body wouldn’t go into the position he wanted it in.
I’ve had a gynecologist talk to me about weight loss surgery, completely out of the blue, in the middle of a Pap smear.
I’ve been turned away from emergency care for extreme stomach pain. The ER doctor gave me a roll of Tums and told me that I was too fat for him to diagnose and that I’d have to lose weight before he could treat me.
On top of experiences like that (and I would wager that just about every fat person has similar stories to tell), there is the added stigma that society piles on. Fat people are fat because they’re lazy and too stupid to figure out calories in, calories out. Right?
We’re dirty and smelly and sweaty. So, when our faces suddenly swell up like the Godfather and we feel like we’ve been dropped on our heads from a two-story window, it is almost impossible to completely fight the fear (and shame) that comes with the idea that there is something wrong with us.
In other words, we don’t just have the same fear everyone else does about needing healthcare. We also have to be concerned that we’re somehow disgusting the doctor on a physical level, or that the doctor will think that we’ve done something to cause our own misery that a thinner person wouldn’t have done. We have to be afraid that we’ll end up with an over-worked doctor who hates fat people, and will take it out on us when we’re at our lowest ebb.
We have to fight against all of that. Every time. And, you know what? It’s not okay.
I received excellent care on Friday night. I was treated with sympathy and respect. I was weighed without comment by the triage nurse when I arrived so that whatever meds I needed could be dosed properly. And no other mention was made of my weight. This is the way everyone should be treated. One of the most positive things for me that has come out of being involved with Body Acceptance is the internalization of the belief that I deserve to be treated with respect.
When you go to a doctor:
- Your weight is part of your medical record. It should be taken without comment. Unless you ask your doctor for advise about your weight, it should not come up. Especially during a medical emergency situation that has nothing to do with your size.
- If your doctor is concerned about some aspect of your health that diet or exercise can affect (cholesterol, say, or blood sugar), he should bring it up at the appropriate time (not in the middle of a Pap smear) and the focus should be on health and not weight.
- Every person on Earth deserves basic respect. Fat jokes, name calling, fat shaming of any kind are never, ever appropriate. Not as “motivators,” not when the doctor is frustrated or in a bad mood. Not ever. That doctor wouldn’t call a black person the N-word on a bad day or make anti-Semitic jokes because he’s trying to get a point across. Expect professionalism.
- If you receive poor care or leave a doctor’s office feeling shamed, remember where to put the blame. It isn’t your fault. Report that doctor to his or her licensing board and find another one.
I know that last one is easier said than done. If you have no health insurance, you may not have choices regarding which doctor you get to see. But remember this: doctors, even fat-phobic ones, are people, too. If your doctor says or does something that makes you uncomfortable, tell him or her so. You’re allowed to tell anyone who is making a joke at your expense that you’re not okay with it. Or to tell your doctor that you’re willing to talk about dietary concerns, but not weight loss. It’s your body and your health. You set the boundaries.