I recently came across an article about a 27-year-old woman, Amanda Lee, sharing her traumatizing experience after seeing a doctor for her severe stomach pain and rapid weight loss.
After her story went viral via TikTok, Lee spoke to TODAY, recounting how she spent months in agonizing pain, to the point that she was having trouble eating. She lost 35 lbs as a result.
Worried, Lee was able to secure an appointment with a gastroenterologist near her home in Los Angeles, which turned out to be even more painful than the symptoms she was experiencing.
While being examined, the doctor didn’t seem concerned at all about Lee’s symptoms. In fact, to him, it was a good thing.
“He said, ‘Maybe it’s not such a bad thing’ that I couldn’t eat because of my pain,” Lee told TODAY Health. “He was praising the fact that I was not eating.”
It gets worse. The doctor went on to suggest that what was going on was a “blessing.” And when Lee expressed astonishment to his response, he followed up with, “Well, you don’t look malnourished.”
This alone is beyond unacceptable, but this doctor, who hopefully is no longer practicing, then refused to run any tests and wrote Lee a prescription for a urinary tract infection. Yup, something completely unrelated.
After seeking out a qualified medical professional and getting the vital tests she needed, a large tumor was found in Lee’s stomach. She was subsequently diagnosed with stage 3A colon cancer.
Sadly, Lee’s horrifying story is more commonplace than you might expect, especially for women and people of color.
Numerous studies and reports have surfaced over the years of doctors brushing away people’s complaints that turn out to be quite serious. Many are quick to blame patients’ weight, lifestyle choices, or even “it just being that time of the month” to be the cause.
There is no denying that a poor diet, lack of exercise, or excessive drinking can definitely cause health issues, but health care professionals shaming patients and refusing to run tests should never happen to anyone—period.
While I have luckily never experienced the severity of symptoms or subsequent diagnosis like Lee, I have experienced doctors not taking me seriously and worse, shaming me. The worst was my primary physician I had in my early 20s. I came in repeatedly for my symptoms, but kept getting brushed off.
I felt betrayed by someone who I was turning to for help. I had to fight to get tests ordered. I had to dismiss questions about only trying to get a prescription out of her. I had to deal with the shame she threw at me at a time when I was confused and scared.
I was later diagnosed with a chronic condition, one which I have learned to manage with daily medication and adjustments to my diet. I also immediately found a new doctor who actually listened to my concerns, was empathetic, and never hesitated to order tests or try new treatments.
I realized later on I should have found a new doctor ASAP. Just because you’ve been seeing someone for years or they come highly recommended doesn’t mean you need to stick it out. Unfortunately, with our mess of a health care system and insurance, a lot of people don’t always have many options.
So what can be done? First and foremost, if you find that your doctor is not listening to you and you’re in the position to find a new one, do it. If that’s not an option, keep pushing. I was able to get my doctor to relent after repeatedly laying on the pressure. And if you feel up to it, share your story.
Social media can be a powerful tool, as Lee demonstrated. In fact, it was because of the encouragement and support she received from her TikTok video that prompted her to seek another doctor. And lastly, share your voice at the polls. Contact politicians, because change happens through laws and through those putting them into action.