Quick appeal: Stories of weight discrimination and health care

This thread contained a number of stories of Shapelings’ experiences of discrimination from doctors – including stories of patients being directly and concretely physically harmed by a doctor’s failure to diagnose something properly due to weight bias.

Okay, so I feel like what I’m about to say is some kind of thick purée of every daytime television commercial ever, but still I press on: Are you between the ages of 25 and 60? Have you or has someone you love been hurt by a doctor because you’re fat? Are you in a position of enough safety that you can allow your name to be used? Please consider contacting Ginny Graves, who is writing a story for Healthon weight bias in medicine. She’s put up notices several places, she says, including First Do No Harm, but has not so far gotten any takers. So if you’ve already put up your story on FDNH and are willing to be identified in the article, you’re one of the people she’d like very much to hear from.

Please contact her at glgraves@comcast.net. And thanks!

27 thoughts on “Quick appeal: Stories of weight discrimination and health care”

  1. I imagine it must be hard for people to share their real names. I hope someone is brave enough because the public needs to know about this from a source that they will believe!

    Not that there’s much chance of the mainstream media listening, but I can hope.

  2. I’m a different Starling from the one who has been posting recently, but I have used this name before.

    When I was in my early 60s my knees started hurting me. Because of my size they wouldn’t do anything for me. I ended up needing a walker, and finally progressed to a cane. I took Vioxx for 3 years and then other heavy pain medications after it went off the market.

    Moved from California to Pennsylvania. New doctors. New insurance company. Went on Medicare at 65 still using that cane. Turned out what I needed was a simple operation, not a knee replacement, but just a little fix in one knee and some cortisone shots in the other one. Three years later, no cane, no walker, and not pain medications.

  3. That’s funny that this came up today. I was at the doctor’s last week and sort of tried to bait him into being a jerk about fat and he just would not take the bait. So major kudos to my doctor, and if anyone needs an ob/gyn in the Chicago ‘burbs, I can recommend an awesome doctor!

  4. Bekbek:

    I have a similar doctor story from here in NY. I went to a new doc about 2 years ago, and was bracing myself through the whole exam for the inevitable lecture. But when it came time for the “talk”, he completely surprised me by saying that he wasn’t going to sit there and lecture me about my weight, because if he had the magic secret he would have made millions and retired long ago, and he was going to wait for all of my tests to be run first before he made any stupid uninformed assumptions re: weight and health. If my tests came back normal, he’d never say another word about it. Needless to say, my tests were normal.

    And I honestly think the only reason he said that much was because at age 35, I’m so used to getting *that* lecture from medical practitioners, that he probably thought I would think he was oblivious and negligent if he didn’t say anything at all.

  5. hmm let’s see… When i was pregnant, the Ob/Gyn said to me “Have you ever SPOKEN to any vegetarians?!” (I’m a lifelong vegetarian…

    surgeries that could have been avoided: gall bladder removal (instantly profiled as fat therefore MUST be gall bladder… issue not resolved satisfactorally to this day – 6 years later)
    hysterectomy (at age 32) – because it was deemed “necessary”- pathology – “perfect” uterus… endometriosis solved I guess…. quite radical though!

    I went to the doc for tonsilitis & a chest infection (i’m an asthmatic, and so have to be careful) and the visiting indian doctor took one look at me and said “you need to lose weight. this is your problem”… DUH

    My regular GP kept espousing the WONDERS of lap-banding (mutilation) and I said to her that if I ate badly and did no exercise (average at LEAST an hour a day of focused exercise; used to train 20 hours a week pre-hysterectomy) then perhaps I’d be of the mindset to consider it, but I am SO anti LB it’s not funny. The second time she mentioned it I almost SCREAMED at her and threatened to take her to the AMA (Australian Medical Association) if she ever brought up LB again. There is NO psychological counselling, nutrition and dietary advice, behavioural guidance and exercise advice that MUST be provided. Aside from this, I am extremely anti-LB because it is unnecessary mutilation.

    i’ve had doctors and specialists who nearly fall over when my bloodwork comes back with perfect cholesterol (2.4) and can’t figure out why my body is this way. meh! i’ve given up waiting for them to figure it out, and instead i just do what i can (i have back and neck injuries – motorbike accident, not from FAT; knee and ankle issues – netball originally, plus some wear and tear from my weight… so i can’t lunge – i’m not sad about it!; hip dysplasia – surprise! it’s a genetic problem! my dad and sister and grandmother all had this! NOT from Fat!)….

    i dance, i walk, i do exercise classes. i am happy and i am healthy.

  6. I just sent her an e-mail about my own story. The short version: I fell and injured my knees, aggravating an old injury. My doctor told me that all my women my age (37) have bad knees and I needed to lose weight. It turned out that I had severe tendonitis. When that got better, it turned out that my kneecaps were misaligned, probably since the first injury. Thanks to physical therapy, I feel great, even though the pain kept me from exercising and I weigh MORE than I did when I first went to the doctor. There is no way that weight loss would have fixed this.

  7. I don’t really want my story to be put out there, but I feel a need to write this down:

    I’m 328lbs, and my doctor told me recently she does not want to be my doctor anymore because I’m not doing anything to lose weight, and that she doesn’t feel it’s in her best interest to see me because she becomes emotionally upset looking at me and has a hard time separating her personal feelings from her distaste for obese women.

    I drove home from that appointment, crying all the way home. Now, I just want her to know she can go fuck herself.

    By the way, I’m new to this blog and after finding you, I felt as if I had found a home. Thanks.


  8. Aish :( This broke my heart… I’d like to give you a big hug right now to make you feel at least a little better.

    I am experiencing some health problems at the moment, but I’m so terrified to visit a doctor, because I simply know I will be treated like a piece of trash, a liar or mentally unstable person, who doesn’t know how much they eat… :(

  9. Aish: I am so sorry–so incredibly sorry–that you were treated that way.

    At the end of Linda Bacon’s book Health at Every Size, she offers some photocopiable forms and letters, for us to take with us to the doctor’s office, educating doctors about weight discrimination and HAES. I hope to always be armed with those when I go–maybe it might help you to have them?

    I avoid going to doctors SO much, largely because as soon as I hit puberty, every doctor’s visit became an occasion for fat-shaming. Ugh.

    I’m so sorry!

  10. I would be totally willing to share, but I haven’t been harmed in any concrete way by fat-hating doctors. Just pissed off by them. Like when I had my employee physical to start work, and the employee health doctor told me, without preamble or anything, “Well, you’re obese, so you’re at a high risk of diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.”

    The kicker is that the EH doc is just as fat as I am, and my (very thin) regular doctor had told me just weeks before, “I don’t have a problem with your weight if you don’t. Your labs look great, so keep doing what you’re doing.”

  11. I had my appointment yesterday and spent some time discussing HAES with my doctor and asking him whether he felt it was sound (I already believe it) and he said it felt it was very sound. He also noted that he doesn’t deal with the BMI much because he finds things like how a patient is doing emotionally AND physically (ie are they eating healthy and being active and maintaining a STABLE weight range without manipulating it) is much more indicative of total wellness than being a certain height and weight assigned by some chart.

    I mean I already knew he was a good guy, but it felt wonderful to get that kind of feedback from a physician I respect and one who has seen me transform my body image dramedy (and has never been “you’re fat lose weight blah blah bmi blah blah”) and find real comfort in my own chunky skin.

  12. @sam –

    Would you be willing to say who your doctor is?

    I will make you cheesecake. From my mother’s recipe.

  13. You know, something else is occurring to me (sorry, brain has been otherwise occupied today):

    Does anyone think another reason people are reluctant to have their real names used is because they think the article may receive a wide, lurking audience of medical professionals, and no one wants to be identified as “the troublesome, non-compliant patient” for fear of retaliation, and also for fear that new doctors might refuse to see them? See their names on charts, and say (or just think), “Oh, you’re that one ..?”

    Because doctors, all mythology to the contrary, are human, and not immune to bias.

  14. @littlem

    That might be part of it. Given how scarce Primary Care Docs are it’s doubtful folks want to risk losing access to the care (regardless of how substandard) they currently receive. I live in a tiny, tiny town and am a visible minority in that town and despite being pretty outspoken and generally badass, I probably wouldn’t feel comfortable airing critiques of my health care practitioners (if I had any) for fear of being denied access to care. Considering my location, that would be quite a hardship as the nearest medical center is about 70 mi aways.

  15. @snarkysmachine:
    “Considering my location, that would be quite a hardship as the nearest medical center is about 70 mi aways.”
    Exactly. And I can’t imagine you’re the only one in that position.

    If Ms. Graves is getting frustrated at lack of response, I’m wondering if she’s thought about that at all. It might actually be an interesting tilt to the article, if she has any other research to back up the hypothesis.

  16. I have contacted Ginny Graves but I’m agonizing over giving her permission to attach my name to my story. I don’t want someone from my family to see it. It’s humiliating how I’ve been treated but given how my family is about weight I’m sure they will say “But your doctor is just trying to help… He is just doing his job.”

  17. LittleM, I think that’s part of it. But for me, I’m worried about a potential employer googling me and finding references to my physical health. I have a very googleable name, and work in a field where it’s common practice to google job applicants. I wouldn’t want potential employers to find a reference to my worst medical story, that not only reveals me as OMG OBEEEEEESE but also talks about my gynecological health.

  18. @O.C. –

    I hope I didn’t imply anything that would minimize your concerns.
    If anything, I’m wondering if Ms. Graves might have underthought (is that a word?) the numerous reasons why someone who’s dealt with a health professional’s discriminatory behavior would be reluctant to give full disclosure, even to a journalist who wanted to offer a fair, balanced portrayal of the issues.

    Yours is another reason I just didn’t think of in the initial rant. :-)

  19. My response to docs that pull this kind of crap: “Excuse me, you work for ME, and you have no right to judge me or my lifestyle. Treat the medical problem or I will file a complaint, and BTW, after we’re done, you’re FIRED!” I worked in the medical field when I was younger, and don’t take crap off doctors. (Ask me sometime about my pulling a doc over the counter by his labcoat when my brother was in the hospital with cancer.) Yes, they have college degrees, but they are just people, don’t be afraid to stand up to them and tell them to cram it where the sun don’t shine.
    Iron L, I read articles every day that states “names changed to protect the persons”, so using a fake name shouldn’t be a problem.

  20. ((((((Aish)))))

    Oh. my. God.

    There are no words. I’m so sorry you had to deal with that kind of hate.

  21. I don’t want my real name attached. I’ve got great doctors here and I’d like to keep it that way.

    But I did spend a year fighting my way to an oncologist once. Part of that was my weight. Obviously he couldn’t find my cervix because I was too fat and not because I had cervical cancer. Part of it was a NO hysterectomy stance by the insurance company.

    I ended up with multiple doctors who were angry and in one case described as hysterical at the insurance company. I ended up with a doctor who decided he was doing surgery the way HE wanted to do it and he would worry about getting paid after he took care of his patient – me.

    I was lucky. The cervical cancer was operable. The uterine cancer had not metastasized yet. The things that really were killing me – blood poisoning and a gangrenous dead tumor got removed with the uterus. The ovarian tumor was benign.

    By the way, my heel spurs were caused by a fall and not my weight. And you don’t get hepatitis from being fat. But the cervical cancer took the cake. I kept getting back normal reports until California changed the laws and let me go to an OB/Gyn for my annual exam. I left with a stack of pink slips for tests no one had ever suggested before. What was going on had nothing to do with my weight.

  22. I just got a message on facebook from GG and we are setting up a time to discuss this issue. My story was just posted to First Do No Harm yesterday.

    I have discussed this in the past on my fat acceptance blog (which is out of date due to time issues) and have always had my name attached to it, so now I’ll have it attached in a bigger manner. I am lucky that I have a fantastic urology team now but, the fact that fat people are treated so poorly by medical personnel needs to be put out there.

    Things will not change if we keep this all to ourselves within the fat community.

  23. I’m told I can’t donate a kidney to a friend because I’m fat. I’m extremely healthy. Yeah, I’m on a diet now, you can be sure.

    I don’t thing that’s necessarily discriminatory, though, because apparently being obese makes it too dangerous for me, as the recovery would be more difficult. So I hear. This is apparently up for some debate, though.

    *googles some more*

    Ok, there are studies from 2003 to 2008 showing unilaterally that obesity has no significant effect on recovery from kidney donation. I am getting back on the phone with the transplant organization tonight.

  24. I think I might be willing to talk, if she’s still looking, though none of my persona; experiences are quite as egregious as a lot of the stuff I’ve read at First, Do No Harm. Until I found my current beloved primary care practice, I routinely left doctors’ offices in tears for the level of weight shaming, even once when I’d begged the doctor to stop.

    I also have a friend who had a doctor, in the middle of a gyn exam, with the doc’s hand up inside her, tell her, “Oh and of course if you ever want to get pregnant you need to lose weight.” Talk about being in a vulnerable position. My friend now has a very lovely healthy toddler, so phooey on that doc.

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