Friday, January 22, 2010

When Doctors Care More About Your Weight Than Your Health...

CNN.com recently published an article titled "The surprising reason why being overweight isn't healthy". Usually, I just scan over articles with those types of titles, because they typically ignore social and other factors and just list reasons why fat people are unhealthy, lazy, irresponsible, or otherwise to blame for their own poor health and/or the ills of our nation. This one, however, is worth a read, because it goes into detail about something many of us fatties have experienced, but that is seldom talked about - the effects of size discrimination, rather than actual medical causes, on the poor treatment and outcomes of overweight patients.  The article mainly refers to bias against fat women, but from anecdotal sources, I'd say the same problem affects men as well, at least to some degree.

One of the things I was glad to see acknowledged is how often people are denied medical care, or have legitimate complaints ignored because the doctor is focusing only on their size. I have had it happen, and heard of it happening from friends, but people seem to think doctors are infallible and free from bias. I noticed that the comments section was full of the same hatred and ignorance that the article pointed out as a problem in the medical profession, so I guess it's not surprising that doctors and nurses would reflect the same attitude as society as a whole. What does suprise me is the amount of commentors basically saying that fat people deserve to be denied medical treatment because of what our supposed lifestyle is [because nobody seems to believe that some of us do exercise and eat healthy].

In the past year, I've encountered this bias a few times myself. The first was last spring, after a car accident - I was in the waiting room with an arm fractured in two places, and the anesthesiologist took it upon himself to give me a lecture about my weight and how it was dangerous [the irony here is that the wreck was 2 weeks after I ran my first half marathon, and after losing 60+ pounds]. The second was during my early pregnancy - the first OB practice I saw automatically placed my into the high risk category, denying my plans for a midwife to manage my birth, and assuming I would be likely to have a c-section and probably gestational diabetes. I switched practices, am planning a midwife-assisted waterbirth in March, and continue to have no problems with diabetes, blood pressure, or any other "obesity-related" conditions.

However, the worst example of fat discrimination I've seen in my own life has been what my father went through over the past year. What makes it so bad is that he's faced a possibly life-threatening bias not only from the doctors he saw, but also from his own wife. My dad has been suffering from severe pain and digestive problems for over a year, and had been to the doctor repeatedly, but the only treatments offered were suggestions to lose weight or have weight loss surgery. He did not want the surgery, but finally gave in after being badgered for over a year about it, even though he was very uncomfortable with the idea, but was still having the same pains and problems and mentioned it to the surgeon before his WLS. Since he was now "doing something about his weight", I guess they finally took him seriously, and found that he had colon cancer that had been causing the pain and was ignored to to the sole focus on his weight and eating habits. He had immediate surgery, but it had spread during the delay, so he is now having to undergo radiation and chemotherapy to treat it. This treatment is leaving him very weak, but my mom is blaming that on his weight as well, saying that he's "just lying around getting fatter" and should be out exercising during the days he has off because of the treatments. She even went as far as to say that it was "doing him good", not because of any decrease in the cancer, but because illness from the treatments has caused him to lose 40 pounds. It's sad that not only can a doctor miss something like cancer because of their own prejudices, but that another person [who was over 300 lbs at 5'4" before her own gastric bypass surgery] can basically tell a loved one that they're better off with a fatal disease than they were with a body that didn't conform to society's standards.
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