Doctor Attacks, I Push Back: My Experience with Medical Gaslighting

 In Anxiety and Stress, Health, Medical, and Biome, Honesty, Compassion, and Respect, Nurturing Honesty, Respect, Compassion

Along my journey, I sought an OB/GYN specialist’s guidance to understand the link between female hormones and IBS among other complications. I waited six months for a visit with the “best OB/GYN” in our county, having consulted with two others in the past who weren’t of much help. 

Due to COVID rules, my mother was not allowed into the appointment with me. This policy wasn’t communicated ahead of time. I was still a minor. Anyways, after much commotion with the front desk, I went into the appointment alone expecting–at the very least– to feel trusted, embraced, and guided with compassion.

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The specialist herself wasn’t the first one to begin the questioning: it was her assistant. I was assertive in communicating that I came to see the doctor specifically. “She’ll be in shortly,” she affirmed, “following a preliminary set of questions.” 

Rounds of interrogation ensued. The medical assistant began by asking me to share my story with her. I’d then wait for her to discuss with the doctor outside of the room, and proceed to answer additional questions from the doctor herself. 

The two-hour process was nauseating, especially since my responses seemed to be ignored, being asked similar questions by both the OB/GYN and her assistant. I told them both, over and over again, “I’ve had a GI condition for three years now, and am still dealing with it–stomach pain, belching, nausea, vomiting, etc. I am working with GI doctors as well but I’m here hoping that maybe you can help me figure this out too. ” 

The two-pronged interview seemed to slim my situation down to a single conclusion: “I am going to refer you to the eating disorder department. You’ve seen a therapist before right?” After a two minute physical exam she gathered, “you’re just nervous, tense, and anxious.” I was fuming. Of course I’d be anxious if a stranger who just targeted me and dismissed my pain was touching me!

This wasn’t the first time someone had made this assumption because of my lower body weight coupled with my history of stress and anxiety. So that’s exactly what I told her: “I can see why you would think that, but you have to understand– I eat healthy, I am an athlete, and I know I need to nourish my body to train and thrive. I’m really trying, but I have a problem digesting what I am consuming, which may have caused a disordered eating pattern. Besides, my therapy was for something else I was going through five years ago, and has nothing to do with any of this.”

To my surprise, she only pushed further, and further, and further with a condescending tone and a scornful demeanor that I could sense hidden behind her mask. The frustration inside of me could no longer be withheld, nor could I allow this gaslighting to continue. I lashed back: “With all due respect, doctor, you’re not working with me here. I am telling you my story, and you’re accusing me of something I am not. I need physical help, I have a GI condition, and again, I am an athlete. If my mom was here, she would also tell you that I eat A LOT, probably more than you and your whole department combined! IBS is on my medical file, so please, believe me! I am being totally honest with you because I need your help.” 

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