CN: emesis, classism, fatphobia from doctors, medical negligence, disordered eating
I’ve started this post a hundred different ways and nothing feels right. When was the beginning of my chronic pain? I think I was about 16, so it’s been 12 years. It all started with a nasty sprain. My right ankle rolled inward and my full weight fell on it. The pain was immediate and I couldn’t hold back the screams. My foot swelled and bruised. I was taken to the hospital. X-rays didn’t show any fractures. My ankle was wrapped up in an ace bandage, they told me to take acetaminophen for the pain and gave me crutches.
For years after, during cold weather or walking for long periods of time caused my foot to swell and ache. I’d go to the doctor. “The x-rays didn’t show a fracture”, “take some Tylenol”, “lose weight”. That last one would become pretty standard in my doctor visits. So much so that I avoided going to the doctor. As a fat person, any and all illness will be blamed on my weight.
So I managed. I rested the ankle, I iced it. I took over-the-counter painkillers. Then when I was 19, I started feeling weird tingling sensations in my right hand and fingers. My lower back was always painful. I ignored it until one day, I couldn’t move. I thought, if I explained these symptoms and made sure to stress that I couldn’t move, I’d get some answers. So in I went, and the doctor looked at me and asked me about my diet. What I explained, basically what I’ve learned from my own research, was disordered eating. The doctors have never noticed or cared. The doctor told me to see a nutritionist. If I lose weight, the pain would stop, was their reasoning.
Except it didn’t. By the time I was 20, my weight was pretty much a yo-yo. The stress of poverty, not to mention lack of food and dealing with an abusive boyfriend all made it so I either ate too much or too little. Around this time, I also started having issues with my liver. The doctors told me to stop taking the Tylenol and use ibuprofen instead. Again, I was told to go on a diet.
After giving birth, the back pain worsened. But by this time I was already so used to it that I just ignored it. I couldn’t just take it easy, or take a break. Single moms don’t take vacations. At 22 and with a child barely aged 2, I lived in a domestic violence shelter. Around Thanksgiving of that year, I climbed down the stairs carrying TJ; my right ankle gave out and I fell down the rest of the steps. Of course, my first instinct was to check on TJ. She was scared of course but otherwise okay. Then I tried to stand up and couldn’t. A neighbor and her son helped me up and over to a chair. The neighbor noticed my ankle swelling so she took off my shoe. At this point the pain was so bad, I thought I would throw up.
The last sprain was nothing compared to this one. My foot turned purple, I couldn’t put any weight on it. Since we lived in a shelter, I had to file an incident report, the director of the shelter wondered if I really needed to go to the hospital. See, because it was a domestic violence shelter, I couldn’t tell my friends or family my location. So they couldn’t come pick up my daughter. But she was only a year old and I couldn’t take her to the hospital with me. My neighbor said she’d babysit but I needed to come back as soon as I could. Otherwise, the shelter would have to call CPS to set up some sort of respite care. Thing is though that if you’re in a family shelter, and your children aren’t with you, you don’t get to stay there. I would have been sent to a single women’s shelter.
I gave the neighbor the key to my room so she could get some things out for TJ. Thank goodness for single mom solidarity. I baby sat her kids a few times and we’d do our laundry together, so it wasn’t surprising to me that she volunteered to help me. She even offered to meet my mom somewhere away from the shelter so TJ could go with her grandma, but the shelter was not having it.
So, after filling out a bunch of paperwork, the director had someone call an ambulance. A maintenance man helped me get to the lobby area. He held on to me so tightly that I had little bruises where his fingers held me. Eventually I found out he wanted to date me, but that is another issue for another post. (I have plenty of “creepy men working in shelters” stories unfortunately).
I texted mami on the way to the hospital. She eventually found me in the emergency room. My ankle and foot were so swollen the nurse couldn’t feel a pulse and had to use a monitor. I told them about my previous sprain; I asked if it might be broken. The doctor said I would be in way worse pain if I had. They had me wiggle my toes and I did, just barely. They put a splint on me and sent me “home” with a prescription for Advil. They offered percocet, but I refused it. I didn’t know how it would affect me and I could not risk having an adverse reaction to it while I lived alone with a baby. I had a follow-up the next week. The doctor wanted me to take it easy and not get out of bed unless it was necessary. I was up and about running errands the next week. Like mentioned before, I couldn’t send TJ with family, respite care would have ended up with me having to leave that shelter, and my neighbor helped as much as she could but she had children of her own.
Of course, to make matters worse, the shelter did not have an elevator and I lived on the top floor. The first time climbing the stairs with the splint was a bit comical. The maintenance man who helped me earlier had gone for the day so my neighbors went to get help and found another maintenance man. He was going to help me but the shelter director told him not to. And so, I ended up sitting on a step and then pushing myself up until I got to my floor. I did this for a few weeks. The shelter’s rules were so strict TJ couldn’t miss daycare but the daycare was in the basement. The woman who ran the daycare would pick TJ up and then bring her back at the end of the day but she had to stop because it was against the rules.
I learned to live with the pain until June 2016 when I woke up at 5am from what turned out to be a spasm. I couldn’t move. I laid there for two hours trying to breathe through the pain. It finally passed. I thought maybe I slept funny. I told mami and she wanted to take me to the doctor. But at this point I had dealt with so many fatphobic doctors that I just didn’t want to bother. During that Summer, Ania came down to help me for a few weeks. She noticed how much pain I was in and how little I slept. Getting my insomnia treated has been another uphill battle. That’s another post for another day.
September 9th, 2016 was a bad night. I was having shooting pains up and down my right arm. I felt light-headed. My right arm felt weak. My friends worried but I still resisted going to the hospital. “They’ll tell me it’s nothing. They won’t believe me”. It took a friend who’s a nurse telling she was worried I was possibly having a stroke that finally made me let mami call an ambulance. I couldn’t walk, I was so dizzy. I felt nauseated. I get to the hospital and my blood pressure was high. Before leaving me, the EMT said he hoped I felt better soon, and ominously, “Next time go to a different hospital. Hopefully you’ll be lucky though”. I wasn’t. I spent more than 13 hours in that ER and I didn’t have any tests done because I was “too young to get a cat-scan or have a stroke”. They wouldn’t give me anything for the pain either. I’m sure this white doctor thought my brown ass was lying to get high.
I asked to be discharged. That they did right away, of course. The next day I went to my doctor and told him what happened the night before and that night back in June. He ordered tests and sent me to specialists. But because this IS Medicaid, it took months to get referrals and appointments. After months of tests and waiting, I found out I have a pinched nerve in my lower back, carpal tunnel in my right hand and extensive nerve damage throughout my body.
So now I had more appointments, now I was taking medications for the pain and inflammation. Medication that one doctor recently felt he was justified in lowering the dosage of because what I needed was “to lose weight”. It felt like he was punishing me because I told him I would not entertain talk of diets or bariatric surgery, which has been offered several times.
Yesterday, I went to the podiatrist. My doctor had refered me two weeks ago. My right ankle was even more painful than usual. I couldn’t walk without wincing.
It was a cold morning and my back was feeling it. I considered not going. I thought, why bother? The doctor probably won’t believe me. But I forced myself to go, I reminded myself that maybe the X-rays I had done two weeks before might show something, then I prepared myself for when he’d dismiss me by telling me to lose weight. He didn’t though. He listened to me and looked at the x-rays and what did he find? A broken ankle. I’ve been living with a broken ankle for at least, at least, 6 years. Now I have follow ups with him to decide what the next course of action is in regards to treatment.
I left the doctor’s office feeling a weird mix of emotions. I was happy I had answers, but so angry, sad and just plain tired that it took so long.
And I had to think, how much of this could have been avoided if I had been listened to sooner? This is why I wrote this today, because I am tired. I am so angry but most of all I am tired. I’m tired of being in pain, of having to forgo one activity so I won’t be in so much pain to take my daughter to school. Because I’m tired of being seen as a lying faker.
Because I’ve internalized so much of this shit, that even when my joints are screaming I won’t use the elevator or my cane.
Because as a fat woman-read person, all people see is a fat lazy faker.
Because these people who took an oath to do no harm are deliberately disabling me because all they see is a fat, lazy, Latina drug seeker.
Because I feel like part of my life has been stolen from me. Who could I be if I wasn’t in constant pain? How much of my mental illness is actually caused by the stress of being a physically disabled fat brown person?
Because I feel like a bad parent when my child asks me to play on the floor with them and I can’t because I know I will be in too much pain to get back up.
Because my 8-year-old child shouldn’t have to tell me, “It’s okay, mom. I know you’re not well. You rest and I’ll take care of you.”
Because poor people deserve access to quality health care.
It should not have taken more than 10 years to finally get diagnoses for my various illnesses. I should have been believed the first time.