Ly highlights the life threatening consequences that weight stigma from health care professionals can have.
Hello, my name is Ly. I’m a freelance writer and blogger. I have been blessed with a whole host of chronic conditions and obviously, I am fat. All of which means I spend a lot of time thinking and writing about Fat Acceptance and Health at Every Size.
When I began having health issues, I accepted the consensus that was fat was bad and thin was good. I was actually in the process of some seriously unhealthy dieting when I initially experienced quite serious gastric pain. There were other symptoms, vomiting & difficulty eating, but pain was the standout. I progressed from short bursts to hour long stints of excruciating pain. My GP said it was most likely indigestion and/or heart burn. They could be surprisingly painful, I was told. Change my diet, lose some weight and things will improve. I tightened up already drastic diet and continued to lose weight.
My symptoms did not improve. In fact, they worsened. I began to have prolonged periods of pain. It would last for days at a time. I would be unable to eat or move or sleep. It felt torturous. By this time, I was being sent to A&E by my GP and attending myself when the pain became unbearable. Drs continued to tell me it was heartburn/indigestion. They all said the same thing, change your diet and lose weight. I was prescribed omeprazole but had no investigation. No one listened when I told them I was hardly eating. No one cared that I was losing lots of weight. All the DR’s were dismissive of my pain. Most were patronising. Some were hostile. No one helped. This went on for over a year. The last time I went to A&E I was in so much pain I could barely talk. I had thrown up so much that I was only bringing up bile & blood. I saw a deeply unpleasant man who vacillated between me being an hysterical woman and being convinced I was an addict seeking drugs. He gave me a cup of peptac (which I promptly threw up) and sent me home. I felt utterly beaten that night. I knew there was something wrong with me. There was no way I could feel this bad and there not be problem. But no one would listen. I was tired of being judged and looked down upon. I went home, lay down and cried.
Luckily for me my mum visited me a few hours later. She was shocked when she saw the state I was in and insisted we return to A&E. With someone fighting (& I do mean fighting) fit to advocate for me I was finally taken seriously. A Dr finally ordered the simple blood test that would diagnose me with pancreatitis. By the time those bloods had come back my body had gone into shock. Had I not returned to the hospital that night I may well have died. I spent 7 days in HDU. I was catheterised. Fed only fluids via drip and given a morphine pump. I don’t even recall that first week in hospital.
Afterwards I discovered that although I didn’t fit the usual profile for pancreatitis (often older men, big meat eaters, heavy drinkers), I did have classic symptoms. The pain I had been describing was textbook. The onset and progression of symptoms was exactly what was to be expected of pancreatitis. Had someone taken a minute to listen to me I could have been diagnosed on my first trip to A&E. I really believe if I hadn’t been a fat woman, that’s probably what would have happened.
I had several more bouts of pancreatitis, and a number of gallbladder issues were diagnosed in the subsequent months. Ironically, I was to discover that my weight was not the problem. The most likely culprit was spending my 20’s yo yo dieting. The fad dieting & resultant weight loss that Dr’s had always encouraged made me ill.
As if almost dying because medical professionals wouldn’t look past the size of my belly wasn’t bad enough I have also since been diagnosed with fibromyalgia. A condition I did not suffer from before all the trouble with my pancreas. Pain specialists have told me that the physical and emotional trauma of such a prolonged period of undiagnosed severe illness is likely to have caused the fibro. So, I not only got to suffer multiple times with acute pancreatitis, I will now deal with chronic pain for the rest of my life. I wonder how different my story would be if I were a size 10.