Tag Archives: chronic illness

Women and chronic pain: The issues with getting fair treatment

Women and chronic pain: The issues with getting fair treatment. Found at http://www.allthevs.com


It’s been awhile since I’ve written a blog post. I’m still sick. I’m still untreated. My GP thought it was rheumatoid arthritis. He’s the third doctor I’ve seen in the last year who had that same thought. I haven’t wrote anything here because, frankly, I’ve been depressed and I feel beat down and discarded. I feel like I’m swimming upstream trying to find out what is wrong with me, and getting treatment for it. Or even getting help with pain management.

I saw a rheumatologist at the beginning of October. The visit involved giving a lengthy medical history during which his nurse chastised me for not knowing the exact dates for every CT scan, MRI, and doctor visit I’d had in the last 10 years. She chastised me for not showing up with my medical records and imaging results from every single past doctor visit. For not having every single test result with me.

As if I was suppose to know that sometime, in the future, I’d experience chronic joint pain and fatigue, and need to have those things in my possession.

I’d originally been told I wouldn’t be getting in to see the rheumatologist for about a month. That would have given me time to get any medical records and reports. Instead, they called me just a few days after receiving my referral and said they had a cancellation, so I could go ahead and go in. I had no time to prepare.

Yet at the same time, symptoms I have now and in the  past were brushed off as unimportant. The wrist pain I’ve had for at least five years was considered inconsequential – even though I was in their office for joint pain. It was inconsequential to them because it was usually brought on by doing something with my hands, such as typing. Because apparently, chronic pain only counts if it is never worsened by doing manual labor.

Makes total sense, right?

Because I show no inflmmation in my blood work, and show no visible inflammation in my joints, the joint pain was basically ignored entirely. The rheumatologist refused to take into account that I never have swelling when I am injured. Serious sprains and surgery has never – and yes I do mean never – resulted in visible swelling. The pain can be at a 10, but there will be no outward appearance of injury.

No one thinks that might be a little bit… odd? Or I dunno, maybe a reason why inflammation isn’t in my blood work. Why is my body not responding to injury the way most people’s do? Why is that not a puzzle to figure out?

Where the hell is House, M.D. when I need him?

They focused on the timing of onset of symptoms: Shortly after stopping Zoloft. They’re sure that the Zoloft was keeping the pain at bay. In other words, the doctor chose not to look at symptoms I’ve had for years when not on an antidepressant and instead imply that the symptoms I have right now are all in my head.

Cause you know, women be crazy. We can’t be trusted to know our own bodies and surely any pain we feel is exaggerated for attention.

It’s not like we are designed to handle pain. Do men forget that we’re the ones that push human beings out of ourselves?


The rheumatologist ordered more blood work. Results showed that my iron levels are high, but my kidneys are functioning “better than they should be” (doctor’s wording) and my liver function is also good. He finished up my last appointment by telling me, “Come back if you feel worse, but I suggest you get a job because working takes my mind off my pain.”

Yeah, that’s the answer. Just distract myself. Forget the wonky blood work and forget that some days, I can barely handle grocery shopping, and forget that if I do too much – like vacuum the living room – my joints will be throbbing in pain for hours after. Surely the answer to my problems is to do more things.

I plan to go back to my GP to follow up on the iron issue. The rheumatologist wasn’t interested in doing further testing (even though high iron can explain my joint pain).

I’m not alone in seeing first-hand how women are treated as less sick, and less likely to get treatment, than their male counterparts. Studies and reports have shown women receive inferior health care.

In a clever 1999 study, researchers from Georgetown University videotaped professional actors portraying people with chest pain. The researchers showed the videos to more than 700 primary care physicians and gave them data about each hypothetical patient. The doctors were much less likely to believe that the women with chest pain had heart disease. Similarly, when European researchers looked at the records of 3,779 heart patients, 42% of them women, they found that women weren’t worked up as thoroughly. It was the same story in a 2000 Mayo Clinic of 2,271 men and women who went to the emergency room with chest pain. 

I do not think the rheumatologist would have been so blase about my symptoms if I were a man. I feel fairly confident that I won’t get that same treatment from my GP, as he didn’t brush off any of my symptoms or complaints when I saw him, and he was proactive in getting a battery of tests ran and referring me to a rheumatologist. I don’t think he will be so quick to tell me that there’s nothing he can do for me.

I think there’s plenty the rheumatologist could have done for me. I don’t think the issue is that he couldn’t, it’s that he didn’t want to.

I already have an appointment for a workup with another rheumatologist, but it’s not until April. This time, the doctor is female. I’m interested to see if I will be treated differently by her, if I do end up needing to see her. Maybe treating my high iron levels will make a difference, and I won’t need a rheumatologist at all. One can hope, right?

Have you had problems getting healthcare practitioners to take you seriously?