Following the news of Kim Porter's death and Serena Williams' near-death labour experience as well several studies confirming that doctors tend to be dismissive of women's symptoms, we decided to reach out to South African women who have endured the same struggle. To you.
It's apparent that almost every woman (black women especially) you know has an anecdote to share about dismissive healthcare practitioners, whether minor or life-threatening.
I remember last year I saw a doctor (an ENT) about a sharp pain I felt periodically on the left side of my throat. I told her I would like an X-ray, as it felt like an object was lodged inside my throat. After asking condescending questions about the possibility of me having swallowed a bone, she recommended blood tests for allergies instead and showed no intentions to prescribe anything.
I never consulted with her again and luckily, the pain has not returned.
Unfortunately, not all symptoms are as easy to deal with until they return. Persistent symptoms can't be ignored, as the stories below explicitly show us.
Here are a few of the most shocking and disheartening accounts of medical gender bias our readers have experienced:
Read *Sophia Antipolis's full story below:
"I went to a doctor about strange flashes in my eyes and terrible sickening headaches and requested a CT scan. I was told that I drank too much and was dismissed with a paracetamol. Two months later I had a cerebral aneurism.
The flashes are called "scintillating scotoma" and may be indicative of stroke or aneurism.
I had to have brain surgery to remove the bleed. A bone flap in my skull was made and the healing process never happened. After six weeks of terrible pain with foul stinking discharge from the wound, not to mention the countless re-visits to doctor and hospital, I was just sent home with the story "healing takes time" or " there's nothing wrong".
Then I collapsed. I had a gangrene skull and systemic sepsis which required emergency surgery and several days in hospital on a drug to which I was allergic.
As a result from the above infection my general wellbeing was very weakened and a common cold turned into drastic sinusitis which infected all the sinuses in my nose, face and forehead. My face was bloated and skin inflamed and all the doctors I saw, (both male and female) inferred that I was an alcoholic.
READ MORE: How to make your medical aid benefits last
Over the past 8+ years I have seen countless doctors and two ENT surgeons about this severe congestion, and spent hundreds of thousands of rands (no medical aid).
I have had to diagnose and treat the cause myself and still the doctors belittle the reason, which is a severe intolerance to histamine that first manifested when I was in hospital for the sepsis. The doctors ignored the reaction.
By the way I am a white woman with no family to give me emotional support with all this doctor stuff and these doctors sure know that I'm a defenseless person so they up the ante.
And in my opinion this disgraceful attitude of doctors is rampant and affects all races.
You might be interested to know that I am unable to drink alcohol because of the histamine intolerance. But don't expect a doctor to listen to that let alone hear you. They all make hasty assessments and you are doomed forever because your medical records follow you like a bad smell wherever you go."
This is Natalie's full story, which was briefly told in the chat above:
"This was not specifically doctors not believing me about my symptoms, but not believing me that there was something wrong with my son.
From the time he was born I knew something was amiss. He didn’t sleep longer than 20 minutes at a time and put absolutely nothing in his mouth at all. Zero. Nada. Not even his hands. He used to rub his feet together almost constantly - also something that I found really strange as I had never seen a baby do that.
The pediatrician told me that it was me, and I needed to settle in with being a new mom, and lots of kids do these sorts of things. I was told that not “mouthing” things was a sign he would be a fussy eater! Paed gave my son some stuff to help him sleep (which didn’t work) and sent me home.
When he started eating whole foods, it really became a struggle. Anything with texture, he would not eat. Now that doesn’t seem like a big deal except that HE WOULD NOT EAT. I was told to leave him (by a doctor). Babies will eat when they are hungry. He didn’t. I resorted to things like yoghurt-based foods because it was all he would eat.
Temper tantrums are a normal part of growing up… not when they last for over an hour at a time, and the neighbours come around to ask if everything is okay.
We went from:
• Pediatrician (medication for epilepsy) referral to
• Neurologist referral to
• Play therapist referral to
• Psychiatrist (more meds for bipolar and depression – for a 3 year old) referral to
• A different neurologist who then referred us to
• Another therapy centre (who told me I had no clue what I was doing and said I needed parenting classes), and they sent us to
• Another pediatric neurologist who did an EEG with him while he was awake – and this woman finally believed me. It was here that we found my son’s brain waves were five times outside the range of a “normal” child. She insisted that we make an appointment with a specialist pediatric psychiatrist (we waited 6 months for an appointment), and referred us to a pediatric play therapist who refused to help us because she didn’t believe in the results of the EEG, and also told me that I was just a bad parent.
• Finally at the age of 5, we got him in to see the pediatric psychiatrist who diagnosed him with severe ADHD, and asked us to start with OT. She took him off all the meds he was on and completely changed his medication to treat the ADHD and the lack of sleep (at the age of 5 he has still not slept through the night).
• We’ve been working with the psychiatrist, the OT team, a clinical psychologist (who recently diagnosed high functioning autism as well – I told everyone from the start there were symptoms of autism!) for a total of six years now. So all in all its taken 11 years of my child’s life for people to take me seriously that something was wrong.
• The worst thing for us has been that because of the misdiagnosed and wrongly treated symptoms, my son has been in five different schools in his life. I’ve been told that he is a psycho, that there is something wrong with him and with me… what kind of monster am I raising. He just needs a good hiding! I must have been a druggie when I was pregnant (really!!), and its because I don’t feed him correctly (or that I ate the wrong foods when I was pregnant).
One woman even told me that its because I wore black when I was pregnant that he has the issues he does. All just because not one doctor or specialist would listen to me from the start.
I have to agree with this whole movement, doctors and specialists don’t take women seriously. It’s sad, and in most of the cases I’ve read, completely unnecessary. The pain, trauma and suffering is beyond ridiculous. My heart goes out to all these women."
*A pseudonym has been given.
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