How the Healthcare Industry is failing Black Women

Over 90 days, I experienced discomfort and pain from an indelible menstrual cycle. In the first 30 days, I was not alarmed because my menstrual cycle has lasted 30 days before. Upon the second month, I knew something was not right; I made the conscious decision to schedule a doctor’s appointment. The initial doctor’s appointment went well and I was prescribed birth control pills to regulate the cycle.

In the next two weeks, my flow was getting heavier and my cramps were intensifying. I reached out to the doctor via their virtual system. Four days later, they hadn’t returned my call; when the doctor finally did respond, she told me to keep taking the birth control pills.

Several days later, the pain was getting unbearable and my flow was heavier. One of my schooled me on my patient rights and suggested I ask for pain management medicine and some medicine that could stop the cycle. When I reached out to the doctor, 3-4 days later, she rebutted by telling me the downfalls of taking pills with Progesterone. I responded explaining how my previous doctor prescribed this medicine before while living in Chicago and how it worked successfully. “She then asked me if that is what I wanted to do?” and I responded, “yes.”

Unfortunately, she never put in the prescription order then I proceeded to call the head nurse. I called the head nurse and left several messages, however, no one ever returned my call. The next voice mail following the others, I thoroughly explained how this was my third call and how much I was writhing in pain. 

After my dramatic call, the nurse returned my call. At this point, I could not sit up for a long period at a time and I had to take off multiple days from work. Due to COVID 19, I am working remotely, and I tried to alleviate the pain by wrapping my heating blanket around my stomach as my body was bent at a 30-degree angle. I was literally sitting like this:

I grew nauseous by the smell of food and was eating small bites. I was tired and stayed in bed because I was in too much pain to move. I explained all these details to the nurse yet, she called me back and relayed the doctor’s instructions to continue to take the birth control pills and take Ibuprofen for breakfast and dinner for the pain. Disheartened, I continued this regimen while progressively feeling worse.

A week later, the pain was now 100% unbearable, and I am emotional and physically spent. I was changing my “super strength” pads every 30 minutes. I was going days without eating. I called the head nurse and she advised I go to the emergency room. The emergency room sent me to the back right away and asked me a million times if I thought I was pregnant. After confirming I was not pregnant, they proceeded with a pelvic exam and ultrasound. 

I started vomiting while there and was prescribed several types of nausea medicine. The disregarded the fact that I described my pain at a level 10. After an hour passed, I requested pain medicine. They gave me Morphine which was my first feeling of relief in months. Three hours later, the doctor informed me that everything looked good and I would need to go back to my gynecologist. “Shit” I screamed in mind, knowing this doctor does not care about my situation. I asked if I could at least get prescribed pain medicine. They advised I keep using the Ibuprofen after I explained multiple times how that is not working. 

After leaving the emergency room, I contacted the head nurse and was later advised the doctor wants me to continue with the birth control and the Ibuprofen. At this point, pieces of my uterine line were falling out of me when I took a shower. Sorry to be graphic, but I wanted to describe the severity of my pain and how much the people paid to alleviate pain ignored me.  

Eventually, I made the conscious decision to stop taking birth control pills. Days later, I started to feel better. After a week of not taking the birth control pills, my period stopped completely. Afterward, I met with my doctor and she defended her instructions and said I needed to give the birth control time to work. I let her know that I gave that birth control almost two months of my life and lost all life functionality, lived in bed, lost 10 pounds from not eating while losing money from side jobs. I was disgusted that she was not admitting the birth control pills didn’t agree with my body.  

I dumped that doctor and met with a new one in hopes of her finding out the issue. What saddens me about this situation is I am not the only one that has endured such treatment. I have friends who underwent similar circumstances or worse pain due to Polycystic ovary syndrome or Endometriosis and was ignored by their doctor. Some pregnant black women are neglected and face the risk or have lost their baby due to neglect. 

The sad fact is the healthcare industry is getting away with their poor bedside manners and ignoring black women’s health concerns. I am honestly scared for us and our babies.

The Largest Myth EVER About Black Women: Black Women have the Highest Pain Threshold

Society has the notion that black women can endure a lot of pain and that we are resistant to being comforted. Although Wonder Woman took notes from us, in reality, black women are human and hurt like every other woman. This notion of black women being immuned to pain has bled into our professional, dating, social and medical situations. Sadly, black women are labeled as weak or angry when exhibiting any emotions. My general thoughts on this subject are expressed in one of my earlier videos “The Angry Black Woman”

The reality is this myth is causing women to be in unnecessary pain. It is causing our children to be born pre-term or not at all.

I want to share a quick video that expounds upon this idea. This video aired on YouTube on the BET Channel and consists of women that share their experiences. The clip I am sharing is a creative consultant, Iyana Robertson’s opinion regarding the misconception Black Women’s Teflon abilities.

Black Women, Learn Your Patient Rights

I listened to a podcast entitled The Dose The guest speaker of the podcast, Clinical Nurse Manager, Kennetha Gains, explained the many disparities in health care when it comes to African American women. When asked about her own birth experiences, she indicated that she was forced to have a C-Section and not given ample amount of time she felt would be granted to a white woman.

With my first experience, you kind of feel like in the back of your head, if I had been white, would my experience have been different?

https://www.commonwealthfund.org/publications/podcast/2019/oct/how-our-health-care-system-treats-black-mothers-differently

She also shared that she realized she had a voice when pregnant with her second child. This knowledge allowed her to make more decisions and be in control of her birth. I loved the fact that she mentioned minorities are not aware of their patient rights and most likely follow doctor’s orders. How many of us know our Patient Rights? How many of you know that we have the right to get a second opinion or switch doctors if the current one is failing? We have the right to hire doctors that grant us thorough information regarding our bodies and make the best decision based on that education.

According to the American Medical Association there are seven bullet points listed under the Code of Medical Ethics Opinion.

(a) To courtesy, respect, dignity, and timely, responsive attention to his or her needs.

Customer service is a factor that should be measured when choosing a doctor. You doctor should ensure you feel comfortable around them as you share your most confidential information with them. They should not condescend, discourage or brush you off when meeting with them.

(b) To receive information from their physicians and to have opportunity to discuss the benefits, risks, and costs of appropriate treatment alternatives, including the risks, benefits and costs of forgoing treatment. Patients should be able to expect that their physicians will provide guidance about what they consider the optimal course of action for the patient based on the physician’s objective professional judgment.

(c) To ask questions about their health status or recommended treatment when they do not fully understand what has been described and to have their questions answered.

A patient should be very knowledgeable and confident when leaving their appointment. They should be able to understand what is going on with their bodies. If the doctor spews a fancy term, the patient has the right to request a broken down explanation. I honestly recommend not leaving the appointment until you are fully aware of your diagnosis.

(d) To make decisions about the care the physician recommends and to have those decisions respected. A patient who has decision-making capacity may accept or refuse any recommended medical intervention.

(e) To have the physician and other staff respect the patient’s privacy and confidentiality.

(f) To obtain copies or summaries of their medical records.

(g) To obtain a second opinion

When in doubt, you have the option to seek medical counsel from another physician. It is sometimes good to seek another opinion to discover alternative options. 

Structural Racism

I read a ton of articles and viewed several videos indicating that income and education were key indicators of this issue. Most articles explained that an educated Minority woman is more likely to experience better treatment than an uneducated minority. Ironically, I came  across a video by Healthcare Triage that coountered this theory.

In other words, structural racism is systematically prohibiting Black Women access from receiving adequate healthcare. At this point, Black Women are looking for doctors that will listen and proactively investigate the problem and provide proper diagnosis and treatment. That is the literal job description for a doctor, yet this is not offered to all demographics. Am I missing something?

How to Break the Cycle?

The first word that came to mind is involvement. We need to educate the upcoming generations to become more involved in their healthcare. We need to educate them on ways to gain access to information to live a healthier life and speak up when we cannot articulate the Doctor’s diagnosis.

Involvement also includes linking up with organizations that are about the change, like the following:

*Organizations suggested by endofound.org

The last and most important thing I will suggest is knowing you have a voice. You know your body and can feel when something is not right. Your voice matters. Stand confident in your voice and stand in confidence to seek the medical service you deserve. We have to learn to demand the respect that should be liberally given to us. We must remember proper healthcare is a human right, not something has to be earned.

Have you experienced injustices when seeking medical help? Please feel free to share your story in the comments or send a text to the Be Your Own Kind community number (773) 819-2378. I would love to chat with you on this topic.

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