It’s Okay, You’re Just Fat: Finding Medical Care for the Obese
It’s not something that many people talk about when they are ill and need to see the doctor. Like many things surrounding obesity, most people who are obese prefer to swallow their pride and their hurt and try to access treatment for their illnesses, anyway, despite the roadblocks that are thrown up. But I am tired of being someone who smiles tightly whenever my weight is brought up at any doctor’s appointment, no matter if I’m there for my blood pressure or if I’m there for a sore throat. I’m sick of the fatphobia that seems to plague the medical community when it comes to treating fat patients. I have tons of experience with this. It doesn’t seem to stop.
To illustrate what I mean, here’s a timeline of my medical history from the past six or so months:
I go into the doctor for a routine check-up. I feel generally fine, no issues. I’m fairly surprised when the doctor tells me that I have high blood pressure.
“Oh,” he says, his blood pressure cuff on me, “your blood pressure is high. Well, lose weight and you’ll probably be fine.”
“Should I have other tests done?” I ask, frowning slightly. I’m overweight and I know that can be a contributing factor, but I’m also active and trying to eat a lower-salt diet. I tell the doctor this, and he just shrugs.
“No, you’re just overweight. Lose weight and you’ll probably see your blood pressure fall.”
I go into the doctor two months later for my stomach issues. I have chronic gastritis and IBS. They started after I had my very diseased gallbladder out at 23, and are common secondary conditions related to cholecystectomy. Lately, my gastritis has been awful, acting up badly no matter what I do to take care of myself. I’m fairly proud of myself, actually: I’ve recently lost 10 lbs and have seen a difference in my energy levels. I’m certain that my high blood pressure will have fallen, as the doctor said. I’m also certain that I just need new medication for my stomach to help it feel better.
The doctor shakes his head slowly. “Your blood pressure is very high. You know, you’re quite overweight. Probably most of the complaints you have are due to this.”
I shake my head slowly, trying not to feel hurt. “I’m actually losing weight. Shouldn’t my blood pressure be going down, not up? Maybe I need other tests done.”
“No. You’re fat,” he says, his voice like a whip, sharp and disgusted. “Try losing weight and see if you feel better. I don’t think we need to do any other tests at this time. I’m not going to prescribe you anything right now – see if you can lose weight and come back.”
I suffer with my stomach issues for another month before going into another walk-in clinic, this time in desperation. The doctor there prescribes me pills, but looks me up and down, his lip curled slightly in disgust. My blood pressure is again mentioned. It’s high, as usual. Nothing I’m doing is causing it to drop, and I feel tired and frustrated. I’m doing as the doctors have said. Why isn’t it working?
Again, I’m told no tests need to be run. Again, I’m told to lose weight. It will take another two months before I’m prescribed blood pressure medication that finally makes my blood pressure drop. I’m finally told that tests need to be run another month after that.
I don’t tell these stories to get people to feel sorry for me. I’m telling them because this is the standard of care for fat people, it seems. I’m by far not the only person who’s been written off because of her weight. I’ve been told by someone who went in for a strep culture that she was lectured about her weight before any medication was prescribed for her strep throat. I’ve been told by others like me that further medical testing is waved aside, that every ailment fat people present with is due to being fat, and being fat alone. People have gone without medicine and without any help for conditions that may or may not be related to their weight.
I’m tired of being treated like a second class citizen because I’m fat. I’m aware that many illnesses can be related to obesity. I read the research and I’m not stupid. I know that obesity can cause serious health issues. And I’m not here to argue that one can be healthy and fat, though it’s true for many people. There are lots of people that advocate health at every size – and I’m one of them.