Today was brutal. First off, I am agoraphobic. I don’t leave my home unless it’s for an appointment or on rare occasions, accompanying my husband on an errand, where I usually wait in the car. Second, I am terrified of doctors. I was raised to not trust them or anyone “claiming to help.” But I am diabetic and therefore have routine follow-up visits to my PCP and endocrinologist, both of whom took years to find. Like finding a therapist that is a good fit, it also has been a struggle finding other health care providers. This time I lucked out. Maybe it’s karma for all the past experiences with apathetic, negligent and unprofessional care. Who knows, but as my insurance company likes to boast, my “team” was working well together. Until now.
I guess it was only a matter of time before the dreaded gynecology appointment. I have been having issues after stopping my birth control pills last year and my health insurance encourages that only gynecologists are to prescribe them, so my PCP referred me to the OB/GYN office in the same building. A MAN. This was in late July. About a week before the appointment, his office called to reschedule. They set me up to see a midwife in the same department, but for a month later, in August. A woman. Much better. Only soon after, my labs showed that I developed a hormone imbalance and since I have a history of having an abnormal pap smear, it became apparent that I needed to actually see an M.D. and not just get an exam by a midwife. So I called to set up the appointment with another doctor and of course the ONLY doctor on staff was the MAN. And like clockwork, two days before the appointment in October, the panic began to set in and I canceled. It was rescheduled for today.
As the day approached, I obsessed over the pros and cons. I knew I desperately needed to see a professional about the hormonal imbalance and all the complications it was causing. I also knew I might completely freak out during the exam. What if I start to cry uncontrollably or have a flashback? What if I totally freak out and kick him? I kept telling myself that women do this every day and somehow survive it, that I would no doubt dissociate anyway and it would be over before I knew it. The evening of, I took a couple of anti-anxiety pills before bed and collapsed.
The nurse called my name and took my weight and blood pressure. I was stunned at how much weight I had gained since my last doctor’s appointment in August – twenty+ pounds! I knew I was gaining weight, but I didn’t expect it to be that drastic. I was speechless. She told me to undress completely. I asked her if I could keep my socks on. Suddenly it seemed extremely important that I was allowed to keep something on. She said it would be fine, pointed to the gown on the exam table and told me to put it on. Before leaving, she said the doctor would be in soon.
I froze. For a minute, I stood there not knowing what to do. She had left out the door we entered, but I noticed a second door on another wall. At first I was relieved. Agoraphobics need to know there are additional ways out. This was good. But then it wasn’t. I began to wonder if this alternative door meant that someone else could just barge in, join us? It would be me against two of them?
I heard a noise in the hall and quickly remembered that HE could be there any second and frantically undressed. My OCD “part” would have insisted that I fold my clothes neatly if I hadn’t started to feel nauseous. I clumsily attempted to tie the stings in the back of the dumb gown without success. I heard the rustling of papers outside the main door and leaped onto the exam table, almost sending myself flying off the other side from the sheer force of the jump. I grabbed the sheet that had been under my gown and anxiously arranged it around me, hoping to compensate for my lack of “closure” in the back when someone knocked on the door.
He came in and introduced himself, shaking my hand. Then he asked what I was there for. Umm, what? Okay, fine. So, I get that that might just be his casual way of greeting someone, but I felt anything but casual. I stuttered and managed to say that my PCP’s office referred me and told him about the hormone issue. He glanced at my chart and said “You are quite overweight.” I almost laughed. Not because it was obvious or even funny, but because of his expression. He was squinting, looking me up and down, as if he were guessing what my drug of choice was. Pizza? Ice cream? Fudge maybe?
Instead, I nodded. I mean, what else was I supposed to say to that? Yes, you’re right? I’m sorry? No. It’s taken me years to pull this off. I haven’t always been like this. During my early adolescent years, I dealt with anorexia and soon after, bulimia. I was always fragile and underweight, even while I was considered athletic while I figure skated, I was never very strong. I remember once while in group therapy as a teen, an overweight girl who hardly ever spoke, while choking back tears whispered, “I hate being fat because no boys will ever like me.” I remember her every word because it was at that very second I knew she was the luckiest girl in the whole wide world. Five years later, I was officially considered “chubby, but cute.” Success.
And that’s when it got even more awkward. The doctor switched on the monitor in the corner and punched in a bunch of numbers. He said I needed to have lab work done, get my thyroid checked, but that my problem was my weight. I told him I had a pretty extensive batch of labs done in August and that they checked my thyroid. He told me that they didn’t. I clearly remember discussing the results with my endocrinologist and suggested he might see something in her notes. He said she didn’t leave any notes, so I told him that if he looked under my last appointment with her, he should see them. He did and finally confirmed my thyroid was not the issue, but that my weight was. Again, I nodded.
He went on to say “You should be dead. Someone like you won’t live long.” I thought I must have heard wrong. But it was so familiar. Then he said “Someone like you should be dead.” I wanted to say “Yeah, no shit.” I squeezed my fists so tight so my nails cutting into my hand could help me focus. It was like I was back THERE again, being told how I should have died ages ago, that I should be so appreciative that he let me live this long.
Even biting my bottom lip wasn’t helping. Where is the nurse that’s supposed to be here? I need a witness! Where are my clothes? Where are my shoes? Where is the door? Why is he blocking the door? Where is my voice? Why can’t I talk? Would I be able to scream? I felt four-years-old again.
He said that people are lazy these days and don’t care about their health. He complained about how these people make his job more difficult, that how conditions like mine are caused by being fat. He took my issues and related them to their cause, then related those to their cause, and after another two or three tiers, laid it out. It’s because I am fat. Diabetes (type 2) is a fat disease. Where have I heard this before?
It’s all because I am “not exercising and am eating too much.” When I told him I have drastically changed my diet since finding out I was diabetic and that I cannot exercise, that I can’t even walk through a grocery store or wash dishes because of a back injury, he was silent for a moment before he said “That’s not the point. The point is that you weigh too much. You keep eating and eating and eating and not exercising. How are you going to live? You are going to die.”
Now you might be surprised at what bothered me the most. It wasn’t that I was going to die. It was that I’m NOT “eating and eating and eating.” I have made so much progress concerning my issues with food. I’m not saying I don’t have relapses. I do. I have panic attacks and bad days like everyone else. I obsess and I eat junk and I eat too much of it until I’m sick. Literally. I pay for it and it can take a whole day before my blood sugars are under control again. It happens. But it doesn’t happen enough to cause me to gain over twenty pounds in less than four months. I have gained practically ninety pounds in the last two years. I know something is wrong and I’m scared. That’s why I am here.
So I asked about the drastic weight gain. He asked if I have always been overweight. I told him as an adult, yes, though not this heavy, not even close. He then asked me “Do you eat?” I was confused again. Eat what? Huh? I think I nodded. He said “If you keep eating, you’re going to die. Your weight is the problem. Do you understand?” I nodded. Haven’t we already discussed this? Yes, I realize that obesity can lead to many health conditions, many of them fatal. If I had felt he was simply trying to educate me, I wouldn’t have felt so attacked. He just kept repeating it over and over again, like I seriously wasn’t aware that I am a disgustingly fat person.
He continued. “Someone like you will die of cancer. I can’t help someone like you if you keep eating eating eating.” Someone like me? Someone like me? “I cannot treat you if you’re going to lead a lazy lifestyle.”
I must have been silent too long because he then asked if he made it clear or not. I nodded. Crystal clear. He asked again so I said “Yes, it’s super clear.”
Then I remembered that I was basically naked and here was a man who had little regard for me at all. I wasn’t even fit for the bottom of his shoe. This couldn’t end well.
Shakily, I told him I wasn’t comfortable being examined today. He seemed a little taken back at first and then said we could schedule it again if I refused. I said “I need to leave.” He said “You need to come back for the exam if you want a prescription and I will probably have to cut a piece out of your cervix.”
And that’s when I realized I could pick up the chair my clothes were sitting on and club him over the head. But all I could say was “Cut?” He wasn’t coming near me with a knife! He said “I will need to take a biopsy, to cut a piece – “
I know what a biopsy is. I have had it done before. It’s like having a miscarriage. The flashbacks were starting. Where am I? I looked at him and measured the distance between me and the door and then me and the chair and said “I have to leave right now.” He squinted at me, shrugged and left, shutting the door behind him. I slid off the table and flew toward the sink. I threw up. Or at least tried. No food but phlegm. Acid. Fear. I didn’t even care if I clogged the drain. I saw a bunch of tools lying on a towel on the counter, searching for something sharp. Where is something sharp? I need to cut this out of me! I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe.
Somehow I managed to focus. I dressed as fast as I could and got lost on my way out. I of course practically walked right into his office at the end of the hall, saw him sitting at his desk with a smug but slightly alarmed expression before a woman kindly pointed me to the right door. The room was spinning and I could feel my ears burning and my heart race as I walked as quickly as my back would allow.
To make matters worse, on the way out, I had to stop at the lab for some blood work for my appointment with my PCP next month. I was really in no shape to have my blood drawn, but knew I was not going to come back anytime soon. I figured since I was already here, I needed to push on through this last part. Just get it over with.
I was shaking and mid-panic attack when they called on me. I quietly explained to the woman that I was a hard draw. She had me sit in the chair on the right, which to my relief, had the arm rest on the right side. I don’t like lifting my left sleeve since that arm is scarred. So this helped a little. But when she couldn’t draw blood the first time, or the second, or the third, I could feel the tears start to well up and I could hear my heartbeat. She kept jabbing the needle in, trying to find a good vein and by the fifth time, she called over her supervisor. I had been looking to the side because I thought I might pass out. But when I looked up, there were four others watching, trying to advise. When did they all get there?
A few seconds passed and one girl asked “Does it hurt?” and that was it. I could barely get the words out, but I said “Too much” and tried to slide out of the chair. They stopped me and said they couldn’t let me go yet in case I fainted. I watched the one girl dab at my bloody arm with some gauze before reaching again for the needle. That was my cue to leave, so I mumbled that I was fine and successfully slid past them. I could have easily fainted twice on my way to the car, but I believe it was my back pain that kept me going.
Once in the car, my husband called my therapist and got me in two hours early. I was lucky. She was willing to push back her lunch break so I could have my meltdown. And as if the day wasn’t bad enough, I was having a low blood sugar episode because I had to fast for the labs and hadn’t eaten in over 12 hours. Usually the best thing for me to have is juice because it raises your blood sugar quickly. But I wasn’t having it. I was stuck in that exam room again with the man who was telling me that eating was going to kill me. In my diabetic delirium, I refused the juice. I refused to eat or drink anything. I was going to die. No more food. Food is bad. I was bad. I should be dead.
Usually this train of thought wouldn’t be uncommon or of much concern. Suicide has been my companion for so many years. But having this doctor berate me and predict my death like this really threw me. When he didn’t address my concerns regarding my recent weight gain, it made me realize that as much as I have day dreamed about dying, I have actually been working hard at staying alive. Now, when I would say my diet is most under control and its healthiest ever, I’m still doing something wrong because I’m still getting fatter every day. Most days are two meal days and I’m seeing absolutely no change. My husband thinks it’s a metabolism issue combined with the hormone imbalance. Who knows?
One thing I do know is that being fat is no fun at all. Being scrutinized and hated for being overweight really hurts. I do get it though. I know that fat people make folks feel uncomfortable. But do you really think we do this to make you feel bad? To make your life inconvenient? To make your bus rides or airplane flights miserable?
Of course not. This isn’t about you. This is about our demons and how no matter what we do, nothing quiets them like a full stomach. It’s about longing for a family and how that emptiness can sometimes be filled with comfort food. You know, the dish your mom makes that you can’t get enough of? Maybe some people don’t have that. It’s about the children who were locked out of their homes and forced to steal groceries and break into school cafeterias to get something to eat, that now as compensation later, eat until they are stuffed full in fear of going hungry again.
Please stop attributing our eating habits as if they are a personal attack against you. Please take a moment when you see that fat person in the grocery store or on the street or at work, and consider for ten seconds that…
You don’t know their story. You don’t know what health issues they are dealing with. You don’t know where they come from and what they’ve had to survive. We’re not just “lazy” and “gluttonous” pariahs that haven’t any self-control. We are people. We feel just as much as you do. We get hurt just like you do. And we DO notice it when you stare or shake your head or point. And it makes us hate ourselves that much more. We don’t want to make you feel uncomfortable. We don’t mean to bring attention to ourselves. We would rather you not notice us at all.
I don’t think I will ever know why there is so much aggression and pure hated toward overweight people. I don’t know why people do the things they do or how they can be so cruel. I’ll never know why some folks that clearly dislike people, take on careers that revolve around taking care of others. I don’t know how people can find pleasure and power in belittling others and pointing out their flaws when they know what it’s like to live with their own. I don’t know how I will ever feel comfortable enough to see another doctor again. All I know is that I should be dead.