Ever gone to the doctor's for something that feels really concerning, only to be completely ignored and dismissed? "That's not real," the doctor says, "now stop wasting my time."
Unfortunately, this happens far too often - especially to women. For some reason, there are medical professionals out there who choose to dismiss their patients' pain instead finding out what is truly wrong just because it's easier. These brave women share what happened when their doctor invalidated their potentially life-threatening health conditions. Content has been edited for clarity.
"I have an inflammatory skin condition that leaves me with constant, painful boils and abscess. Every few years, I have one that gets infected and I have to go to the ER to get it lanced. It's painfully and psychologically traumatic every time.
Maybe four years ago, I'd had a fever for a week, which is always a sign that the infection has gotten out of control and I needed IV antibiotics. I went to the ER and explained the situation to the triage nurse, and of course, my fever finally broke as soon as I spoke to her. But fine, she admitted me and I waited.
My name was called and I explained the situation to the doctor. He rolled his eyes and told me, 'It's called the flu. But fine, let's take some blood. Oh, the nurse mentioned you had something with your skin, let me see.'
I uncomfortably pulled down my pants and showed the doctor my skin. He proceeded to tell me to stop shaving (I very clearly cannot and do not shave) because those were just ingrown hairs. I very politely told him that no, actually, I have this skin condition called Hidradenitis Suppurativa, those are boils, and I need a particularly bad one lanced. He proceeded to again, roll his eyes and tell me I was wrong, belittle me, etc. I walked out. I later got my IV antibiotics from my dermatologist who was horrified.
Thanks for almost killing me with sepsis, you ignorant, misogynistic doctor!"
"I had always been the chubby girl since high school. About four years ago, I find out I have Lupus. I went to my rheumatologist who looked at me for a few minutes and said, 'Your knees... where are your knees?'
I thought to myself, What, have you not seen fat people's knees before? I left, but her comment haunted me.
Then, one night last year, I started googling fat people knees and the word 'Lipedema' came up. I immediately started crying. These were my people. I finally felt like I found my truth. Lipedema is a fat disorder where your body doesn't store fat correctly. Therefore, no diet or exercise will remove the fat because the body doesn't recognize it correctly. It starts during puberty and increases during other hormonal times. Its other name is 'painful fat syndrome,' which explains why sometimes even a blanket on my lap hurt. It also explained explains why 1,200-calorie diets never worked and gastric bypass didn't work.
But still, my doctors didn't believe me. I had to sit one down with over 300 pages of documentation before he understood. Very few doctors have heard of it and even less treat it. I had to drive two hours to a lymphatic specialist. He looked at me and immediately diagnosed me with Lipedema. Since then, I have had two very large liposuctions to remove the diseased tissue. I will have to wear compression garments to prevent regrowth, but at least I know what is wrong with me now."
"I currently have a hemorrhaging ovary. It's been hurting for 5 weeks, so bad I thought it was my appendix bursting. I went to my doctor after a week and he said it was a UTI. I said it's different than that feeling as I had a lot of UTI's in my life. But I tested positive for it (I usually do) and he gave me antibiotics.
Well, it kept getting worse and I went back in to do a urine culture and he also ordered an ultrasound. I did both and my doctor's nurse called me back in a panic saying I'm bleeding in my ovary and need to see a Gynecologist immediately. I couldn't get a hold of any in the three offices I called, so I called back and she told me to go to the ER.
I spent 5 hours in the ER and the rude nurse tells me 'it's just a period, that's how they feel hun.' I've had my period for 13 years and even after surgeries, giving birth, miscarriages, and an abortion, I've never felt pain like this before in relation to a period. She also said irritable bowel syndrome could cause it, but that is something I never have had problems with, ever.
So today I finally got in with a GYN and they're going to just monitor it with ultrasound every three weeks. I can't stand for very long, have a hard time keeping up with my daughter, and lost my job. I honestly just want them to remove the ovary. My tubes are gone and my aunt died of ovarian cancer young. I had a bout with cancer last year and to be brushed off with this when they know what's wrong is awful."
"Interstitial cystitis. It's a painful bladder condition that is poorly researched and not well known about. How I explain it is, when it flares up, it feels like I have a bladder infection - burning, peeing lava, feeling like there's a rubber band around my bladder, all that. However, I can't take antibiotics because there's no infection to clear up and the prescription medications for it are really iffy. I just have to wait it out.
Anyway, I went to the doctor for 5 years who kept telling me, 'I don't know what's wrong with you, drink more water.'
Then I finally got a diagnosis from another doctor. Then, it flared up really badly so I went to visit another doctor who refused to believe the diagnosis and made me do STI tests (which I had already done about 10 times), as well as a pelvic exam (which are extremely painful when I'm in a flare). Then they told me I probably have pelvic inflammatory disease from an untreated STI.
I told them, 'I've been in a relationship for 7 years, I've never had another partner, I don't have an STI.' He said something about how that doesn't matter.
I spent a week internally freaking out that my SO cheated on me, then they called back and said my results were totally clean. Now, I don't even bother going to the doctor when I have a flare up."
"Back in the second semester of my first year of university, I started to notice something was... off. I was having bad stomach aches. My hair and skin went super dry, I randomly gained 10-15 lbs (which at 5'2" was quite noticeable), and I was exhausted all the time. I could get 10-plus hours of sleep and wake up out-of-my-mind tired. Finally, when it got to the point that my friend in calculus had to wake me up from nodding off literally six times over the course of one 50 minute lecture, I decided I'd had enough. I got him to help drag me over to our campus clinic and got on the list to see a doctor.
A couple hours later, I was in an office, explaining everything to the nurse and then again to the doctor. He asked me a few basic questions about my lifestyle, when my last period was, etc, and said that they'd do a blood test and see me back in a couple days. They took my blood and he told me it came back normal, but he wanted to do it again. So back I went to the clinic to get poked.
Yet again, the results came back 'normal.' Lather, rinse and repeat for a third time. Now, through all of that, I was still experiencing all the same symptoms and was in no way, shape, or form the functioning human being I previously was. It had been a month and a half, and I was tired of being poked and told everything was fine. What does this guy want to do, of course? Run A FOURTH BLOOD TEST.
I lost it. I asked him, 'Do you think it will show anything different?'
He replied, 'If it's what I think it is, it might.'
I said, 'I'm done with might, I'd like to know what the next step is in regard to diagnostic options.'
His solution? An abdominal ultrasound. OK, at least it was moving somewhere away from what had gotten us nowhere, but I was curious. What was he looking for?
It turned out that doctor had decided that as a first year, newly legal, and single female living on her own, the only solution was that I had gone crazy with my promiscuous ways and MUST have gotten pregnant. Despite the fact that I was on birth control and had had three blood tests done with negative results, he was convinced that I was early enough that the hormone levels hadn't built up enough to be detected in my blood.
Luckily, I live in Canada (yay universal healthcare!), but still. I ended up getting the ultrasound anyway, partly to prove him wrong and partly just in case anything else showed up that this idiot would've otherwise not tested for and, sure enough, guess who wasn't pregnant? Everything else looked normal, too, so I gave up and didn't go back.
A week or two later, I had a four day weekend and flew back to my home province. My mom took one look at me and drove me straight to my childhood family doctor's office. By the time I was ready to fly back for school four days later, I had been diagnosed with an autoimmune disease called Hashimoto's that had become severe due to being allowed to go unchecked, had a treatment plan in place, and finally felt for the first time in months like I wasn't crazy.
How did they diagnose this, you ask? A simple blood test. Turns out it's amazing the amount of information you get back when you aren't only checking the box for pregnancy tests to be run."
"Ignorance on doctors' parts is quite common in my opinion.
My mom had an issue where her abdomen all of the sudden became ginormous as if she was 9 months pregnant. Needless to say, she was miserable and begged her primaries, who were doctors specialized in diabetes, for help in what was going on.
She had two doctors tell her that she was over eating and one doctor even said, point black to her face, 'Frankly you need to learn to put down the cheeseburgers and you need gastric bypass surgery,' and kept pushing for her to get the surgery until she fired him and filed a complaint.
My mom at this point at time, I should mention, was barely eating from a thyroid issue. This thyroid issue, mind you, was another point of contention. She spent years begging doctors for a referral to a specialist only to be told she was crazy, she was lying, and trying to blame her weight on her thyroid until one doctor gave it to her to more or less shut her up. She was starting to choke every so often and was having irritation in her neck. Turns out, her thyroid was riddled with tumors.
My mom finally found a family practitioner who told her her issue their first visit. She is insulin dependent and the insulin she injects (into her abdomen) was causing a build up of adipose and that is why her belly suddenly got huge."
"I’ve got a couple of conditions and a couple of doctors who like to pretend I don’t have them, but the thing that sticks out best is when I had to have my appendix removed.
It was a few years ago. I was in my mid-twenties. Also I’m female, which I think matters in regard to how it went down.
So, I had been up all night playing video games and come morning I just got this huge wave of nausea, totally out of no where. I hadn’t eaten anything since the night before, so I thought it was kind of bizarre. I went to the restroom and as I was doing that I started to get the pain in my right side and it was just a weird pain unlike anything I’d felt before. I couldn’t use the restroom, so I just tried to lie down for awhile but it was really uncomfortable and the pain was growing.
I thought it might have been my appendix. I googled around on my phone for a few minutes to confirm the location of my appendix and then I called the hospital.
I described it all to the advice nurse on the phone. I told her it was a pain that felt so different from anything else, that I hadn’t eaten in like 8 hours and that my period had a couple weeks before it arrived. I asked her if that was anything like appendicitis... and she was kinda like, 'well maybe' but because I am a woman of child-bearing age, she made me an appointment with the OBGYN instead of sending me to the ER.
So like... this all started at like 7:00 AM. I get to the OBGYN around 9. I can’t even walk. I’m hunched over, my fiancé is practically carrying me. They want me to change into a gown, which I struggled to do because by now I’m hurting bad and in a constant state of almost throwing up. I couldn’t even lie flat on the exam table.
The doctor I saw was not my regular doctor. She gets my chart and asks me all the regular stuff... my last period, birth control methods, whatever. But as I said, period was like two weeks away, I take the pill, and I was not active in the bedroom (fiancé and I are waiting for the wedding night), but she kept acting like I probably had PMS.
She wanted to do a Pap smear 'since you’re here' and that was awful. I could barely lie there, but now I had to get in the stirrups and have her shove her hand inside me. She found nothing out of the ordinary - like aside from the fact that I was crying by now - and says she can do the ultrasound wand up my lady bits and see if there’s anything there.
I just told her no.
And she was like, 'Well I really don’t understand why you came here.'
And, like, neither did I.
I didn't really have a say - I was told it was where I needed to go.
So I left there. My fiancé drove me across town to the ER. By now it’s like 10-10:30. I don’t remember how long I was in the waiting room, but I was in the ER proper for like two hours before a nurse gave me an IV. I was laying in bed for longer than that before a doctor came by and told me I would be getting a CT scan soon.
Around 4:00 in the evening my mother finally was able to leave work and come to the hospital, all upset. And by 6:00 they did the scan and confirmed that, shocker, my appendix was getting all huge and swollen and it needed to come out. I remember my little brother called me and cried. I’ve also got thyroid cancer, this was obviously not related, but the poor baby just heard 'surgery' and lost it.
Appendectomies are routine and I was in and out, but because it was late at this point they just admitted me and I spent the whole night being denied pain killers and food. They didn’t want me to eat because it was abdominal surgery (fine, that’s fair) but they never gave me so much as a freaking Tylenol. Apparently the surgeon went home without signing off on medicine for me and I asked probably three nurses if they could do something.
I heard... your doctor went home... we can call your doctor... we can ask the on-call doctor...
Never got anything.
When the shift changed at like 8AM the next morning, a doctor came in and she says, 'I heard you’re in a bad mood' and I almost killed her. Like, no kidding, they wouldn’t relieve my pain and wouldn’t feed me.
I got to go home by noon.
And I’m okay and I lived but I freaking hate the doctor. If I would have just gone to the ER when I felt sick, I would have maybe had a better time, but excuse me for trusting the phone nurse."
"In November 2017, I started having acute pain behind my ribs. Sometimes it was so painful, I couldn't stand up or sit and breathing was horribly painful. Over the month, I noticed that I had a brick hard lump under my right rib cage. One day I couldn't take it anymore so my mom and sister took me to the ER, but they were laughing at me because they thought I was being weak. The doctor who saw me was talking to me like I was a stupid kid (I'm 26, but look way younger) and he was very condescending. I insisted something was wrong so he did a cardiac check, I don't know the English word, but he put stuff on my chest and stomach and the machine was printing my cardiac rhythm on a sheet. Well, he saw some sort of arrhythmia but brushed it as the machine was not functioning. He told me that my pain was coming from constipation, so he gave me laxatives and sent me home. My mom and sis were laughing harder than before.
I kept insisting something was wrong, but my boyfriend was the only one taking me seriously. My regular doctor also told me it was constipation. They touched me every way possible, but they were sure it was because I was full of poop.
By December, the pain was getting worse and worse and on the 26th, I was in so much pain that my manager called my boyfriend to pick me up and take me to the ER. When I got there, the lady at the front desk was dismissive because I couldn't tell her exactly why I was here. I told her that I had been in pain since November and that that day I felt a really sharp pain, like someone punching me from the inside. She was not convinced, but I got to see a doctor who did an ultra sound. She looked at me like I was really stupid and wasting her time and told me, 'Yeah well you're around 8 months pregnant.'
I had no idea. She realized we didn't know when I started puking everywhere and kept saying 'no no no no no no.' After that we were with an awesome team who helped us though. I gave birth five days after the ultra sound. My mom and sis laughed a little less.
And to anticipate the questions: I'm not overweight, I was on the pill, I still had my period, and nothing changed about my body. The pain came from the fact that instead of developing forward, the uterus and baby grew along my spine and behind my ribcage. My son is healthy."
"I had Giardia in college. Went to the nurse on campus, she gave me a condescending talk about trying Imodium first before I bothered the all important Student Health with something like diarrhea. I was crapping blood and mucus, and yes I told her this. I then called my parents after the double doses of Imodium didn't work and they came and took me to the local hospital.
I pooped in a cup for the doc at the hospital and he came back and said I was dehydrated but fine (even though, I had filled the cup with mostly blood and mucus). At this point my dad said something along the lines of, 'You must be fine because two medical professionals said so.'
I cried and begged my mother to believe me, and she took me to a GI specialist in a larger city, who had me poop in a cup again. At this point I was emaciated and crapping my brains out if I took even a sip of water. He gave me Flagyl and I lived to tell about it."
"My wife has (had) a condition called Vaginismus. It was impossible to be physically intimate and led to a lot of problems. She sucked it up when we wanted a baby and finally got pregnant, but only we know how difficult it was and how painful it was for her.
Anyway, when she was six months pregnant, she asked me to come with her to one of her gyno appointments and I was like sure, I'll go. When I got there, I saw this flyer outside describing vaginismus and realized this was exactly what my wife had. We went in for her check up and I found out that the doctor had been having a really hard time doing her inspection and all. She was getting visibly frustrated with my wife and saying things like 'Okay, I haven't even touched you yet, you need to relax, it can't be painful if I haven't even started yet.'
I took that opportunity to tell her this had been a problem for years and showed her the brochure and asked her if this could be the problem. She dismissed it completely and acted like I shouldn't be commenting at all. She patted with these words of wisdom 'if she got pregnant, I'm sure it's not as big a problem as you are making it.'
She ended up going to see a physiotherapist who helped her a lot with exercises and yoga and she is fine now. It amazed me that a doctor with a specialization in that field could completely ignore and downplay the issue."
"I thought I might have Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) for a couple reasons, one of which was not menstruating for two years. At 17, I went to a doctor about it. Doctor was like, 'Yeah, no here's some extra-strength birth control to start your menses.'
She didn't listen to me about another condition. I thought that other condition could make the birth control dangerous. I don't know, I'm not a doctor, I wanted to have a discussion because I was afraid, but that was too much to ask for that doc apparently.
So, I ignored the potential PCOS and missing menstruation for the next decade. I'm 29 now. I went to a dermatologist recently for a rare disease (that I have an actual diagnosis for, yay!). Dermatologist asks, 'So hey, have you ever been tested for PCOS?'
Sigh. Turns out, I have physical features that are consistent with PCOS.
I also get scintillating scotomas in my eyes. I told my old primary doctor, he laughed and asked, 'Where did you learn that word?' and when I told him Wikipedia, he laughed again and dismissed the issue.
I still haven't had either thing looked into because I lost my health insurance recently. Beyond not having insurance, it's so, so freaking frustrating to not be listened to. I understand doctors know more than me. I would never insist I'm right over the doctor. I'd never disregard test results. But can we please just test, instead of pill-flinging or total dismissal?"