Kim Porter's death is a reminder of how hard it is for black women to get their chronic illness diagnosed because doctors dismiss their symptoms

Kim Porter, Beverley Hills, 2015
Kim Porter, Beverley Hills, 2015

There are many studies out there showing that women’s pain is often treated with less seriousness than their male counterparts. And this really became evident lately when model and actress Kim Porter was found dead last week at her Los Angeles home after being sick with pneumonia. 

Porter went into cardiac arrest after having previously alerted her doctor the evening before to the fact that she was not feeling well after a brief recovery from pneumonia, TMZ reported.

Kim Porter died at age 47 - an age at which one could hardly be considered frail, let alone frail enough to not survive a bout of pneumonia. She had access to medical care that did not act when she called for further care, and she died. 

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One might even imagine - by filling in the gaps between the time she called her doctor and the next morning when she was found dead at her home -  that Porter was probably instructed to take a painkiller and sleep it off. Women, especially those of colour, experience this often.

Tennis champion Serena Williams' almost lost her life a day after giving birth to daughter Alexis Ohanian Jnr. She detailed her harrowing experience to Vogue earlier this year, recalling how a nurse initially dismissed her request for a CT scan and a heparin drip as soon as she started experiencing shortness of breath.

Ultimately, Williams was right, but had she not insisted, we would be telling a different story today.

Unfortunately, this is the plight of many women across the world and it spans all class groups. Recently, writer Suzannah Weiss tweeted about her own experience as a woman whose symptoms of chronic illness have been downplayed by doctors. 

It took her 17 doctors and 11 months to finally get to the bottom of Weiss' condition and receive treatment for it. Along the way, she experienced misdiagnoses, wrongly prescribed medications, and even being told that her symptoms were all in her head.

Since Suzannah shared her story, more than 100 women have come forward to talk about their own experiences, and it’s horrifying to see exactly how many haven’t been taken seriously by the people who are supposed to be taking care of their health. 

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She started the thread by saying, “Women with chronic illnesses: how long & how many doctors did it take you to get diagnosed? I counted 11 months & 17 doctors & wrote down what each did to show what we go through just to begin to heal.” Suzannah included a screenshot where she had written down what it took for her symptoms to be taken seriously.

“Women, PoC, NB folks, & LGBTQ people w/chronic illnesses are criticised for self-diagnosing, but the reason we self-diagnose is that those charged with diagnosing us are biased against us & don't understand issues that disproportionately affect us,” she tweeted, pointing out that many marginalised groups often get substandard treatment from their doctors. 

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Women everywhere responded to Suzannah’s tweet and replied with comments about their own journeys to find healthcare professionals who actually took them and their symptoms seriously. 

“Research shows that doctors are less likely to treat women’s pain and take longer to diagnose women (the average time it takes for endometriosis to get diagnosed is six to 10 years!). Women, like the ones in my thread, often describe doctors attributing their symptoms to anxiety or depression—or, worse, telling them they somehow brought their illnesses on themselves,” Suzannah told HelloGiggles. 

Have you ever not been taken seriously by a doctor? Tell us about it.  

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