- Damaris Chanza
Sharing My Medical Journey
Updated: May 27, 2022
I'm terrified of the doctor. Even as a grown woman, I do everything to go to the doctor as little as possible.
I suffer from chronic pain. Every step I take hurts my feet as if I had been walking nonstop for hours. Once my feet hurt too much, I subconsciously compensate for the pain by walking differently, making my knees, hips, and back hurt. I have also suffered from joint pain for most of my life.
I have felt these pains in my body for as long as I can remember. I remember being nine years old, and a trip to the laundromat was so physically painful I would be in tears by the end of it. I would have to lay down and suffer until the pain subsided.
Despite wanting to be, I wasn't an active child because my body always hurt. I went to the doctor in search of answers. Unfortunately, my doctors didn't believe me. To them, my pain was not real. Eventually, they even convinced my parents that my expression of pain was just a dramatization so that I could be lazy. I was too young to advocate for myself adequately, and the adults around me were content with their answers.
Growing up, I've told every doctor I've ever seen about my pain, but I was always dismissed. Male doctors blamed my shoes and clothing for my pain, and female doctors were unwilling to search deeper. Eventually, I felt like they were gaslighting me into believing that my pain was something I was making up. As a result, I hated going to the doctor, which worsened my anxiety.
It wasn't until I found a doctor outside my urban area that I was finally believed. I walked in, entirely confident this appointment wouldn't be different from the others. My doctor was a blonde white woman who came off more like a second-grade teacher than a doctor. I explained my lifelong struggles, painfully prepared to get dismissed again, but she believed me.
A blood test deciphered I have Lyme disease. Finally, being acknowledged and seen brought me to tears.
I have no idea what was different about this doctor, facility, or appointment. The only things I can somewhat pinpoint were location and my insistence on a female doctor.
When I moved to the suburbs, my overall experiences with doctors suddenly improved. They give me so much more information and take the time to answer all my questions thoroughly, and they take my concerns seriously. I don't feel rushed, like I'm just another patient they're trying to get in and out quickly.
I have read endless articles online of women who tried to advocate for themselves but were never respected or acknowledged. They told stories of men who just dismissed their pain as anxiety or hormonal issues without looking further to find the root of the problem. Women have died from missed or late diagnoses because their pain was not seen as valid. I had experienced something similar with my pain and could relate to their journeys.
But why did location and the doctor's gender matter so much?
Are suburban doctors getting paid more? Do they have a better bedside manner? Do they have fewer patients overall, so there's no need to rush? Is it because in the suburbs, most of their patients are white? Were male doctors not taking me seriously because I'm young and baby-faced? Are female doctors more receptive to the needs of their patients?
I wish I knew how to answer these questions, but the truth is I have absolutely no idea. Lyme disease doesn't explain away all my pain, and I still have to work on advocating for myself better. I will continue to search for doctors and professionals willing to help me. Reading other women's medical journeys helped me find the courage to start my own, and I hope that sharing my story helps others find that same courage.