It’s Not Just Male Doctors Who Dismiss Female Pain
Last updated: January 2019
Doctors, often male, are notorious for dismissing female pain.1 Throughout history, women have been labeled hysterical for pretty much everything.2 But the first surgeon to diagnose and treat my endometriosis was a man. Since he’d already seen many like me, he took my complaints seriously.
I lost my specialist when I moved out of state, and my new insurance plan only let me choose from a few different gynecologists. I picked a female physician familiar with endometriosis and hoped for the best. Unfortunately, things didn’t work out.
The frustration of switching doctors
I hate starting over with a new physician and having to explain the laundry list of symptoms that come with endo. But my new doctor seemed knowledgeable enough — and quite concerned — after my first visit, insisting that my latest cyst was large enough that it required surgery. But three months after the laparoscopy — my second — the pain came back.
This wasn’t my first rodeo, and I wasn’t surprised my cramps returned. The same thing happened shortly after my first surgery several years earlier. My doctor, however, seemed dubious. She didn’t believe my cramps could be that bad or that they were endo related. She had removed my endometriosis, she assured me. Well, so had the first doctor, I told her. Thankfully, an ultrasound proved I was telling the truth and showed an endometrioma on my left ovary.
“Well, you can’t have surgery every three months,” she said, clearly more disappointed over the procedure not working than the fact that I was still in pain.
It’s worse when a woman doesn’t believe you
Right after my surgery, the doctor put me on birth control to prevent my endometriosis from “spreading”. My cyst had come back while I was on the NuvaRing — making her logic not exactly sound — and she insisted we try another hormonal option. I objected, a decision she wasn’t expecting.
I thought having a female physician was my ticket out of having to constantly justify myself, but when I told my doctor synthetic hormones made my cramps much worse, she literally put up her hands in frustration. She looked at me and said “That’s impossible”.
Breaking up with my doctor
It was bad enough that she made me feel like I was exaggerating my pain, but I wasn’t about to let my doctor gaslight me into thinking my symptoms weren’t real. I know my body better than anyone else, and I couldn’t stick it out with someone who didn’t believe me. (I have since learned that synthetic estrogen can lead to pain, and hormonal options sometimes help endometriosis symptoms, but they do not treat the condition.)
While I haven’t found another endo specialist yet, I did find a general practitioner who listens without judgment and takes my concerns at face value. Switching doctors was frustrating, but feeling heard makes it worth it.
How well do you feel your physician understands your endometriosis?
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