I’ve been looking for a good doctor ever since I moved from Michigan to Florida just over 6 years ago. I love my doctor and my gynecologist in Michigan and because of them have sort of high expectations for what I expect from medical doctors and how I expect to be treated as a patient. I’ve tried friends’ recommendations – at least 6 different doctors. It’s a trepidatious thing for me to seek out a physician as a fat woman. For most doctors, that is all they see and that is super frustrating and dangerous.
In fact, three different doctors that I saw just over three years ago all failed to catch a cancer diagnosis because they were all fixated on my weight. I actually went back up to Michigan to see my doctors up there because I knew something was wrong – and nobody in Florida was listening to me. I’d been seeking help for about ten months down here. By the time they did the biopsy up there, discovered cancer, and I had a full hysterectomy, I had stage 3 cancer. Fortunately, they got it all with the surgery and I didn’t have to have chemo or radiation. But had it been left up to the highly prejudiced and completely incompetent doctors down here, I probably wouldn’t still be here today. So, it’s literally a life or death issue to find a good doctor.
I tried a new doctor yesterday on the recommendation of a good friend who is a nurse. Even so, I went prepared to walk out, to fire him, to protect myself. The last time I tried a doctor in Florida, the nurse flipped out when I declined to be weighed – and then the doctor came into the room and lectured me about how important it was for me to be weighed. She didn’t listen at all to my feelings on the topic, just rode over me. She was so busy lecturing me about weight that she used up all of the time and never even listened to the symptoms that I came for – later I learned all of which were screaming uterine cancer. I was so depressed after that appointment with her that I almost just gave up. I felt so traumatized that I was in tears sitting in the parking lot after my appointment. That’s when I decided that I needed to go see my doctors in Michigan.
Yesterday, when I said I preferred not to be weighed, the nurse could not have been nicer. Okay, no problem. She sat and talked to me like a human being. When I’d filled out the paperwork, there was no “health” questionnaire as in most offices. She just talked to me and got all of the necessary information, taking hand-written notes. She wasn’t in a hurry. She listened to me and my concerns – not about my health (I’m actually feeling pretty healthy right now), but about doctors and prejudice and finances. We exchanged stories, so I got to know her as a person as well. It was such a good experience!
She left and the doctor came in a little while later. If you could put kindness into a human form, it was this man. He sat and talked with me, going over the notes the nurse had taken. He also got to know me as a person and we exchanged stories. He didn’t seem rushed at all. He was present with me and heard me. He listened when I said I preferred alternative medicine when it was possible. He respected my own bodily autonomy and my right to make choices. He consulted with me about what routine lab tests I’d like to do, told me what was suggested, but left it up to me. He never once mentioned my weight. He is exactly what I want in a doctor! Someone whom I can consult with if I have concerns. Someone who will share his medical expertise and opinions with me, and will also support me in whatever I choose to do about that. I feel seen and cared about as a human being – which is so important and also so rare in the medical profession. I am so grateful to have this man as my doctor!
After one of my failed attempts several years ago at finding a doctor, I wrote the following letter (when I had cancer, but didn’t know it):
“Dear Doctor ~
In choosing you to be my physician, I am trusting you with my health – and even with my life. I need you to be worthy of that trust.
When I am your new patient, I need you to take at least half an hour to get to know me. My doctor back in Michigan took over an hour our first time together – and then a full half hour every annual exam to really check in. I knew if something went wrong with me, she knew what she needed to know to help me.
When I come to you for the first time and your nurse is cold and unfriendly and asks me some of the same questions I just filled out on your forms, I am unimpressed. When you come in and ask me a few of the same questions AGAIN, I am really unimpressed. You obviously haven’t even looked at the paperwork I just filled out. When you stand there behind your computer and don’t sit down and actually talk to me, I already don’t trust you. You aren’t treating me like a human being. And when you see that my blood pressure is high today – and assert that I may need to go on medication for it – tell me that we’ll check it again in a couple of weeks and then take action if necessary – you have completely lost my trust already. I cannot be your patient [side note: sudden high blood pressure is a symptom of cancer – and they didn’t listen to me that I’d been the same size for over a decade and had no previous blood pressure issues – they wrongly attributed it to my weight].
If you had taken the time to talk to me, here is what you would know:
*I’ve never had high blood pressure in my life. Just the last few days. It didn’t start creeping up. Something happened that set it off. I wanted you to help me figure that out. I’m not sure if it is a reaction to a homeopathic remedy I took or having my hair colored or an allergic reaction to something else or what. I don’t know if it’s a hormone imbalance or if something went wrong in my liver or kidneys or something is stressing my system. Something feels off inside of me. I know my body and I am concerned. I want a doctor that I can trust to help me to figure it out and decide what to do. Not throw drugs at me. I am a complex human being, not a couple of symptoms to be erased.
*The reason I was taking a homeopathic remedy is that my hormones seem off – I have been spotting a lot recently. Had you bothered to talk with me, you might have ordered additional things (like hormones) to be checked in my blood. But you didn’t take the few minutes to find out anything about me.
*I don’t do drugs. Prescription or other. Unless absolutely necessary. I will never think blood pressure pills or cholesterol pills are necessary.
*I believe in holistic health and prefer to practice alternative health care whenever possible, but would like to have an MD to supervise and make sure I’m okay.
*Yes, I know that you noticed I am fat. If you can put aside your almost guaranteed prejudices for a moment, I can assure you that I have a mostly healthy diet and that I am active. I have a long history with battling my weight – too long to list here – but what you need to know is that I am at peace with my body, my weight has been stable for years, I subscribe to the HAES (Health at Every Size) philosophy (and if you haven’t heard of it, you need to look it up) – and my health indicators numbers are usually good.
*My mother died of breast cancer. I do not elect to do mammograms. If you want to know why, then ask me – and be prepared to spend a few minutes learning about me.
*I am an intelligent, educated, health-conscious and aware person – and this is MY body. I would like your medical expertise, yes. But I would also like your respect – for whatever decisions that I make about my body and my life.
*What I need is your time and attention. I need you to sit down and not act like you have one foot out the door and I need to hurry up and tell you what you need to know so that you can decide what medical intervention to give me so that you can leave. I’m not necessarily looking for medical intervention. I am looking for a discussion with someone with medical expertise so that I can decide what to do to take care of my body.
*I’m not looking for assembly line medicine. I’m looking for a doctor who sees me as a unique human being. I want to feel like you care about whether I live or die. I don’t just want to be a number in front of you that doesn’t really matter. Trust me, if I am sitting in front of you, I am a little scared. It is unlikely that I would be in a doctor’s office otherwise – other than for my annual exam, which I have not because I think it’s necessary, but just so that I know I have a doctor I can trust in the event I need one. So, when I’m sitting there worried for my health/life, I need to feel like I have your full attention and like you have a few moments to talk with me and reassure me either that I’ll be okay or discuss with me what you think we need to do.
All of this starts with the first meeting. Be human. Sit down with me and introduce yourself. Put your computer down and look at me a minute. My doctor in Michigan wrote notes by hand. She sat down with me and talked with me about my life for a minute. She got to know me. She knew my relationship status. She knew I have a daughter. She knew I was (at the time) taking care of my dying mother. She knew quite a few things about my life. And I knew her too – that she was married and had two kids who were about ten years younger than my daughter. I got to know her personality and her sense of humor. We were human beings to each other! And then for my annual exams, she asked me at least 100 questions about my health history and took notes. She addressed every system. I didn’t feel under any pressure to remember what symptoms I may have wanted to talk about – because there was no way I could have forgotten. And when we were done, I felt like she had a complete picture of my body and my health – and that if I ever had a problem, she would know how to address it with me.
Now, maybe she is an extraordinary doctor. But she is what I believe ALL doctors should be. And I am looking for one just like her down here in Florida.”
After a very long and trying search, I have finally found what I am looking for! I am beyond grateful. I wish every doctor would treat their patients with this level of attention, kindness, caring, dignity, and respect. We ALL deserve that!