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Episode 20: Women's Healthcare

Hey guys! Welcome to another episode of Kelly and the Encouragers podcast! I’m your host, Kelly Sisson! I am so, so happy to be back with you. I don’t know if you had a chance to listen to last week's episode. If you didn't, I would encourage you to hop back. You’re going to hear some real life stuff from me. It was really heavy stuff but I felt like I needed to share that.

I am so happy to report that things are on the uphill journey! So, we are just doing so much better so I want to thank all of you for the support you’ve shown me over the last couple weeks with different things that have been happening.

A few things for today’s episode. may notice my voice sounds a little bit funny. I am allergic to Illinois! What’s really interesting is that I’m from there! I was born and raised there! Every time I go back, I seem to have an allergic reaction. This time seemed to be a little intense so I’m still getting over it, doing much better now that I’m back in North Dakota.

I’m really excited about this episode. This actually, this idea came from a listener. They wanted me to talk about women’s health and really the disparity in getting treatment for women. And I was so thrilled to have been able to see quite honestly more information coming out about this. This has always been something that I have said, quite honestly, from the beginning of my social work career, sometime around there, that it seems like women aren’t taken as seriously with their health issues. And sometimes that seems a little extreme to say that, right? Like sure, certainly not every woman is not taken seriously. And you’re right! Not every woman is not taken seriously. Some women are. But just because it’s not true for you doesn’t mean it’s not true!

So, I’m going to encourage you to go through this podcast just to keep that in mind - just because you have an experience doesn’t mean that it’s not accurate and just because we can absolutely love doctors and love professionals - I have so many dear friends and family members that work in the medical field and I love them and they’re fantastic at their jobs and they do amazing work.

But let's be real and let's be clear.

There are always going to be some people in professions that are really passionate about their work. And there are always going to be some people in professions that aren’t and that don’t take it as seriously or maybe just aren’t quite as naturally gifted for the position that they’re in and so they may not get the same or have the same abilities as somebody else. That’s not to say that all medical professionals are going to fall short by any means. But there are times when we’re not getting answers as women, when we’re not being taken seriously.

So let's back up a little bit. How did this even come about?

Like I said, a listener had mentioned, “Hey, maybe you should do an episode on this!” I was excited about that. Around that same time an article came out. I was going to go into it all but quite honestly guys, I’ll just tag it. If you want to read it, by all means, feel free. But the basic gist of it is that Americans find...okay, basically they [Americans] were shown a picture and they didn’t know for sure if it was a boy or a girl so they thought it was a boy, they always thought the boy was in more pain than if it was a girl.

And that was super fascinating to me and not surprising at the same time. I was like, “Yup, that makes sense.” It’s just interesting that a study has finally been done about it. And maybe there were other studies but I haven’t heard about them. I don't know, have you? So I went to my FaceBook page. Now granted, these are just people that I know in my daily life so this isn’t going to be a good representation of the nation as a whole so keep that in mind. I asked the question - I believe that my healthcare concerns have not been taken seriously by a medical professional at least one time or more throughout my life.

When I put this question out to women I had 41 votes. 90%....90% said yes. 10% said no. Actually, I’ll be honest guys, I thought 10% was kind of high. I was like, “Wow! That’s actually not too bad!” But, 90% of women feel that their healthcare needs haven’t been taken seriously.

So then I thought, “Well, I can’t just ask women.” Again, this is not super scientific but I have to ask the men in my life. Now, it’s obviously harder to get men to answer things and get involved in stuff like this. Not all the time but a lot of the time.

Only 16 men responded. And for half of them it was their wives responding for them. They would ask them and respond but whatever! We got the answers. So, 16 votes. 69% said yes, they felt that their healthcare concerns had not been taken seriously at least once or more times in their lives. And 31% said no.

Now, I was shocked. I’m not even going to lie to you. I thought that all of the men, for the most part, were going to say, “Nope, my healthcare concerns are always taken seriously. I have no idea what you’re talking about.” But that actually isn’t what happened. And that was extremely fascinating for me and I think important to note. We could have a whole series on America’s healthcare system and some of the challenges that we face.

But that’s not what this episode is about. So please note that yes, there is some disparity in men’s care as well but even now, even with just that small group of people, there’s a larger percentage for women who view that their healthcare concerns are not being taken seriously.

So why does this happen?

You know, that’s a good question. I have a lot of theories behind it and again, they’re not scientific but here’s what I kind of do. When someone tells me a story, and it’s happened so often, especially with women, about their healthcare not being taken seriously, in my mind I am angry! Like again?? This is happening again?? It feels sometimes like we can’t make traction on this. Like why is this happening again? Why has a woman been suffering with health issues for so long?

Here’s what I think it goes down to. I think it starts from an early age. I was talking to a coworker of mine and we talked about how a lot of times women are more proactive and sometimes even more attuned to what’s going on with their body. So a woman is probably going to be more likely to go to the doctor when they notice that something just isn’t quite right. Again, these are just generalizations so it doesn’t mean that every man or every woman is going to be like this. But overall, women want answers and want help.

So what I think happens a lot of times is that if a woman tends to go to the doctor quite often, they get labeled as a hypochondriac and aren’t taken seriously. We see this time and time again. Someone will say they had one thing going on and they were told by twelve doctors...I just saw this Twitter feed about it. There was this lady that went to I think it was seventeen different doctors. Seventeen guys! Different doctors! And it wasn’t until the seventeenth one, she didn’t get answers on what was going on. And the things that were told to her were just so dismissive. I mean, it was like “This is all in your head. You’re focused on a trauma that you had.” Which reportedly, it doesn’t sound like she even had. There were all these bizarre statements as to why this was happening to her and it just didn’t make a lot of sense.

So if you want to check it out you can go over to Twitter and search #MyDoctorSaid. It was Suzannah I think was the lady who started this but I think it’s a great conversation to have. So, that’s a portion of it - that women truly get labeled as hypochondriacs sometimes. Men also often don’t want to go to the doctor. So, at times, by the time they go in there could be a significant issue. But that isn’t necessarily always true.

I think the other thing too is that men often are taught, even from an early age, pick yourself up by your bootstraps and keep truckin’ along. And I think in some ways, women are taught that as well. Not always but can be taught that as well. But men are taught just to keep going no matter what it is. And so I think, a lot of times in doctors minds, they think that if a man is there for help, something must be really wrong. I think at times women are dismissed as emotional or told that there’s something with their mental health going on.

I have so, so many clients that have been told, “This is just your anxiety,” and it turned out to be a significant health issue. There are people who are given just random, random medications and I’m not a medical professional so this is not me trying to prescribe or anything like that. I don’t know anything about that.

But from their report, they’re prescribed a lot of random medications that they never even dealt with just to kind of push them out the door. But can you imagine? If you’re given medications that doesn’t really treat what’s going on with you that you would come back and you would want answers?

I mean, it makes sense to me that women would want some help, doesn’t it? I don’t think it sounds that outrageous that we don’t want to be in pain or we don’t want to be whatever it is that’s going on, we don’t want to deal with that. We want to feel our best and live our best lives but you can’t do that when you don’t feel good.

I also think sometimes that women have a harder time advocating for themselves.

When you’re young, you often get a lot of praise from others for behaving in a certain way.

A lot of times you might hear someone say, “Oh, she’s such a good girl” about their child or their grandchild or someone they randomly see and why are they being praised because they’re being complacent or they’re falling in line with whatever the person wants them to do.

You start to notice what gets you good praise and so if just falling in line gets you praise, people have a hard time later on actually advocating for their needs.

I don’t know if this has ever happened to you. It’s happened to me before, I’ll be honest. You have all these questions, you go to the doctor, you ask them, they spew out information to you or they spew out information and ask if you have any questions and you’ve forgotten everything. Or you don’t feel comfortable bringing it up anymore.

I remember one time, I asked my doctor, not my current doctor but a previous doctor, I said, you know there was something that was happening in different parts of my body and I was like, “Doesn’t it make sense that that would be connected?” to which they said, “Oh no, those are completely separate.”

And maybe they are guys. I mean really, I’m not a medical professional. But I do believe that our body is connected so if this same thing is happening in different parts of your body, it does make sense to me that it could potentially be connected and to be completely dismissed like that was quite honestly very hurtful and made me feel very dismissed at the same time. Like I’m never going to find out what is going on or what I could do to change it. And it becomes a problem.

So I had asked the listeners, I had said I don’t know if any of you had saw this but I said “Is there anyone who would be willing to share their medical stories with me that I could share on the podcast without using identifying information.” And we got some responses.

So, I’m going to share a few of those with you and then we’re going to break them down a little bit. Okay, so this first one comes from someone who lives in a rural area.

“A common issue in a rural area is that primary physicians are in a revolving door. We are asked to pay for a meet and greet in order to be accepted as a new patient. The person leaves within a year to a year and a half, often before their services are needed. We’ve had to pay to meet three or four in the past several years and use those services maybe once or never before they move on. I understand that they want to get experience and move on to a more lucrative area, but I couldn’t get into the clinic in town because it books up so fast. I had seen the physicians assistant as the doctor had left. I went to the towns prompt care. The doctor for the day had flipped out that I had no longer had a regular physician. Prompt care is not a substitute for having a regular physician. All of these things sounded reasonable except her tone was absolute hostility. She blew off my symptoms. I was coughing so prolonged that I could barely teach, make it through the day and had to give up all sense of bladder control.

“She was livid actually. The staff seemed subdued and there was a horrible vide in the place. She would not prescribe anything and I left exhausted and fighting tears. I tried to tell her the situation and she said, ‘I need to try again and go get a doctor.’ So I took her suggestion to heart after mulling it over and coughing for the next five to six weeks. My sister had met a new doctor and by August, I was able to get in. Paid the $50.00 to meet her and liked her. Another six to eight months and then I had my first reason to go see the doctor. The doctor was gone already. I go to Prompt Care. Yup - meanie doctor. She remembers me! Maybe she remembered my coughing, weak attempt at sass from the last time. She barely begins her tirade and I tell her to look at my chart. I told her how I had taken her advice to heart and look what happened. She looked at my chart and her face changed. She did note that it happened again. She was not friendly or kind, but prescribed what I needed and now it will play out over and over again.”

And that’s what’s unfortunate. It’s not like these situations are happening once. It’s this continuing revolving door. I love how she mentioned that about the doctors. You know, doctors do move a lot. And certainly all professions move. That’s okay. I don’t think, like she said, anyone is blaming any one doctor for wanting to move on. That makes sense. But what ends up happening is you don’t get any answers and you don’t have consistency and the continuity of care is just not there. It’s just not. And so you feel hopeless and dismissed and even sometimes it leaves you with a sense of not wanting to mention if you have other health issues going on.

And how terrible is that? To feel like you can’t tell anyone what’s going on with you and you can’t get the help that you need and be ridiculed because of a system that you can’t control. It’s not like our listener was shipping all the doctors out or can help the fact of where they live. They live where they live and they work where they work and the doctors leave. That’s not the clients fault.

Patients don’t decide if doctors stay or go. The doctors do. And again, we don’t expect anyone to live their entire life in one area. But it’s really problematic and we have gaps in our healthcare system. And truly women are suffering for it.

The next situation unfortunately is one that I see time and time again. It’s about postpartum care. I’m so thankful for this listener writing it.

“The birth of my first son is the worst experience I’ve ever had. I tore horribly during birth. I was given a ton of pain meds afterwards and given some meds to help. They did not help. I could not go up the stairs. More than three stairs killed me. My wonderful husband moved our bedroom into our living room to make this better for me. At my six week checkup I let my doctor know of my inability to go up stairs and that I could not stand for more than thirty minutes without being in tons of pain. She told me everything was normal and that I would be fine in a week or so.

‘A few weeks later I called her to tell her I was still in a lot of pain and still couldn't stand for more than about thirty minutes. She basically told me to take some tylenol and to get over it. It took me almost six months to be out of pain and to have the ability to stand for long periods of time. I also had postpartum depression that was ignored by this doctor. I had to call another doctor to get help for that. He also told me that it wasn’t normal for me to be in pain but that he wasn’t that kind of doctor. He did kindly order me meds though.

‘It wasn’t until I was pregnant with my second son and voiced my concerns to my new doctor about what happened before and it was confirmed that something was not right. She would not directly tell me that the other doctor did something wrong but her face said it all. She repeatedly told me that it would be different this time.

‘I had a lot of anxiety until after the birth of my second son and had no pain.”

I mean, do you hear the emotion in that? Do you hear the pain that this women went through? For over six months?? That pains not normal. It’s not. And it was dismissed time and time again. And tylenols not going to fix something if it’s wrong. Again, not a medical professional. I’ve got to put my disclaimer out there. But it’s not a long term solution if something is really wrong in your body. And realistically, we know postpartum depression is hard. It affects so many people and it’s not identified enough. People are not given the help that they need enough. If you’re dealing with pain on top of postpartum, could you imagine how hopeless that would feel at times? My heart literally breaks. My heart breaks. I have so much empathy for both of these ladies and the situations that they dealt with.

And this isn’t even the tip of the iceberg guys. The amount of women who are dealing with painful, serious healthcare issues and are not getting the care that they want is insane. What is even more sad to share is that there are other things making it more challenging. Obviously, being a woman. Your ethnicity, your race, you’re economic status, your weight, your mental health.

I get so passionate, I’m sure you can hear it in my voice and I’ll be honest, I’m angry. I’m angry that this keeps happening. Something has to change. It just has to. You’re telling me that based on race, ethnicity, economic status, weight, mental health, gender...I mean you’re telling me that based on all of these things, healthcare is not going to be as helpful or healthcare professionals are not going to be as receptive to help? That is ridiculous! I’m just going to say it like it is. That is absolutely ridiculous. I’m so frustrated by that and I try to help women all of the time advocate for themselves. Advocate, advocate, advocate. Nobody is going to do it for you and that is what’s so hard. If advocating for yourself is not something that you’re used to, then it’s really challenging. It’s so challenging to do that.

But here’s the thing...

You’re living your daily life, right? You’re living it. So if you are in pain or if you know something is not right, I would encourage you to keep going until you get answers because not only is it affecting your life and the life of your family and friends, it’s not affecting the doctors and it’s not affecting whoever that is that’s not listening to you. It’s not affecting their life. They get to go home and not deal with those problems. You are dealing with your problems.

So if you have to deal with an issue, then they have to listen. And if that doctor doesn’t listen, do like the lady on Twitter did. Go to eighteen doctors if you have to. Go to twenty-five if you need to. I know it’s expensive. I’m not immune to and I’m not ignorant to that. I know that it is expensive. I know that cost. But here’s the thing. Quality of life matters. It matters for mental health. It all is connected. Our mental health, our spiritual health, our physical health - it’s all connected. And if one part of it is off, it all is off. So whatever you need to do, whatever way you can advocate for yourself, your friends, your family members, whatever that might be. Even if you have to say, “I don’t care if I have a mental illness, I’m still dealing with a health issues” or even if you have to say, “I don’t care that I just had a baby, this pain is not right.” Whatever that may be, I would encourage you to speak up. And I know it’s hard. I know it is so hard and I am not blaming anyone for their health issues not being listened to. That is not on you. I want to be really clear...this is not on you. This is on those who are not listening you to.

But you have a choice. You can sit there and you can have people be dismissive or you can keep going and keep fighting until you have answers. And I hope you do the second option because you deserve a good life. I want you to have a high quality of life. I want me to have a high quality of life. I want it so bad for all of us that I am...gah, you can tell in my voice that I’m just so passionate about it! I want so badly for everyone to have a healthy quality of life and I hate that there are some roadblocks here.

Okay, so now that I’m off my soapbox on that (laughing) I hope that this episode was helpful for you to just know that if you are not being listened to, you are not alone. If you feel like doctors are being dismissive, you are not alone. If you are a medical professional, we love you, we honor you, we respect you and everything that you’re willing to do. You are doing a good job. You are doing a good job. We are cheering for you, absolutely. Just know that every time you listen to a patient, that makes a difference in their life and you are doing amazing.

I hope you guys have a great day and I will see you next week!

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