health · Sat with Nat

Why I hate (yes, hate) going to the doctor and why I go anyway 

As a white, cys-gendered anglophone in Canada I have many privileges. This post is about how, despite those privileges, I truly hate going to the doctor. 

It is the 1980s, I am a child at the pediatrician my mother asks why there are folds of skin in my armpits. “Babyfat, it will go away.” assures the pediatrician. In fact it is breast tissue. I find out when nursing my first son in 1999 as milk leaked from my underarms that I have breasts under there. 

It is 2009, I am sitting in a public health clinic room to have my pap. I’ve answered the medical history questions and the nurse practitioner stares at me. 

“How many sexual partners have you had?”

“My whole lifetime? I don’t know. I didn’t keep a list.”

“Well, if you had to guess.”

“I guess about 30. ”

“30!?! Who is the father of your children?”

“My partner.”

“What? How?”

“I’m sorry you are confused. I’m married to a man, who has a penis, that I have sex with that I refer to as my partner. We are the parents.”

It is 2004, I am sitting in the military hospital getting medically released after 12 years of service. My doctor talks to me about my mental health, my asthma and my bloodwork. He scribbled a fourth thing on the list but does not discuss it with me. I read it at home. 

Image of a medical firm listing illnesses and injuries. The list states major depressive disorder, mild exercise induced asthma, borderline cholesterol and obesity.

It is 2012 and I am at a colposcopy clinic for an abnormal pap follow-up. The nurse asks when my last period was. I didn’t know. She asked what birth control I was using. I said none. She chastised me for taking risks with being pregnant. I knew I wasn’t pregnant as my partner had a vasectomy and I had a tubal ligation in 2001. It never occurred to me that this was “using birth control”.  I explain my misunderstanding to the nurse from my feet in the stirrup position. She further castigated me as pregnancy could still occur and how would I know if I didn’t track my period? I explain I didn’t think my uterus required constant supervision. 

There are so many more moments that are flooding back to me as I write this but you get the idea. 

When I go to the doctor I feel on the defense right away. My body is deemed too heavy. My blood somehow lacking or having too much of the wrong things. There is something wrong and more often that feels on my part like the something wrong is my whole self. It’s terrible. 

In the military I was regularly categorized, measured and tested to ensure I was fit for flying duties. Many years later I feel the complicated things about not fitting expectations or having medical issues. 

I go anyway because not accessing care is why queer women have worse health outcomes than other women. 

I go because my health is worth the effort and I’ve honed and prepared my responses for when medical professionals cross a line. 

I go ready for a fight. I hate that too.

24 thoughts on “Why I hate (yes, hate) going to the doctor and why I go anyway 

  1. Nat, I appreciate your honesty and vulnerability so so much.

    As you know I do a lot of work in healthcare, and have thought so many times about the impact of the training that enculturates healthcare providers to notice only the anomalies and problems. It’s a diagnostic mindset that serves really well to identify and act on early warning signs of disease, but it’s a really really shitty way to interact with human beings. With shitty HCPS, it means people are framed as commodified bodies, and it really wreaks havoc on our senses of self.

    You are such a beautiful strong amazing woman… I’m sorry that this has been your experience with how your HCPs relate to your body. xc

  2. You can’t be feminist and involved in the Canadian military. That is like being a black liberationist cop.

    1. You are uninformed and have no idea of the context of the poster’s life.

      Feminism isn’t an exclusive club where you get disqualified because you don’t fit some arbitrary standard. I am partnered with an active service member and I know lots and lots of women who have been in the military or are presently in the military who call themselves feminists and clearly live and deserve that title. Some of them have struggled as service members and some of them have thrived. All of them have encountered sexism and harassment of various types. Some of them fought it and some of them walked away. None of them should be judged.

      Clearly something about the military traumatizes you. There’s lots that could legitimately have caused that. However, what is relevant to you is not necessarily relevant to the context of Natalie’s life and a feminist should at least understand the idea of contextualization when assessing any kind of social positioning.

      Perhaps there is more to your story then you reveal. Natalie has been pretty clear about her context. What’s yours?

      1. Yes — also curious about what you’re basing your comment on, Black Metal Valkyrie. It seems like a rather blanket statement that needs some unpacking.

    2. I don’t feel you can make that judgement Black Metal Valkyrie as Natalie is a wonderful example of a feminist who was in the Canadian military.

    3. Oh I disagree. Feminists can be found in all kinds of places. I think if it weren’t for my experiences in the military I would have never considered myself a feminist or taken women’s studies or realized many of my personal struggles were actually political one. Yay feminism!

  3. Sending you love, Nat. I’ve been there too. And remember, part of the “fight” (ugh!) is also looking for the best, feminist doctors we can find and then sharing that info with others. I’ve had several here in London; let me know if you want to talk!

  4. Great post, Nat. Awful experiences. I am blessed to have a doctor who is feminist and unshakable. I have shared many things with her that I thought would shock her or cause her to judge me and she has remained professional, non-judgmental, and committed to addressing my needs in ways that make me feel supported. I had ONE appointment last year with a locum who was replacing her for a week and it was horrible–it wasn’t even about anything terribly personal (or I would have waited for my doc) but the whole tone of the interaction was condescending (despite the replacement doctor being about 12 years old…sorry did I say that out loud?) and I came away feeling as if I’d done something wrong. Thanks for your post.

  5. Natalie– thanks for sharing publicly what so many of us have gone through privately and felt horrible about. I went to the same doc for 12 years, and each visit was unpleasant. I worried about the weighing, which I hate, and the invariable disapproval I would get NO MATTER WHAT. After I had lost 56 pounds with no help from her, she still said that I needed to lose another 10 or 15 lbs because I would gain weight during menopause (then 10 years away). When I was heavier, she said I needed to lose weight and admitted that it was hard and that she had no suggestions for me. wrt exercise, she discounted the effects of cycling and said I should do more high-impact sports. After I joined a squash team she grilled me about how often I played. She even pooh-poohed my xc skiing, saying that was all well and good, but that I needed to do real exercise, which to her was weight and cardio work at a gym (which I hate).

    Finally, I switched practices, and I like my new one better. They still try to weigh me all the time, but respond better when I decline to be weighed for a sinus infection visit.

    I’m so glad you have prepared your responses and management techniques for these visits. Wouldn’t it be better if we didn’t have to do this? Thanks for sharing!

    1. Very thoughtful comment, Catherine. The other thing I would add is how much I have come to understand the limits of the medical system for the reality of our bodies. (I know this isn’t news to anyone who thinks for 5 seconds, but just reflecting on my own recent experience). I’ve had all of this GI stuff and not once has she suggested altering my diet or seeing a nutritionist. Her basic assessment was “you do have parasites and sometimes antibiotics help but mostly they dont.” And I commented that my hip has been bothering me in certain circumstances and she did a “range of motion assessment’ while I was lying down and said “it’s fine.” No suggestion that I could maybe work with a physio or try to figure out WHY I’m causing pain in my hip. Kind of astonishing.

      1. Hip joint pain is a thing for women, as I discovered two and a half years ago. I ignored mine thinking it was just part of aging and learning new exercises (had started weight training). Turns out my SI joint slipped and then I was facing a lot of pain. My physio carries out a well woman assessment, and hip joint/SI joint issues are part of the package. Worth checking out if your problems persist.

  6. Your last comment resonates with me. I also go to the doctor ready to fight. I have some rather involved mental health issues and am only ‘allowed’ to see a psychiatrist 4 times a year. In the meantime my family doctor does the prescription management. I told her during my last visit in August that I was especially tired lately (thyroid operation in June – no good control yet of thyroid hormones) expecting that she would pick up on that and test hormones. No – her comment was that it was no wonder I felt tired with all the drugs that I am taking. I felt small and stupid and like fighting all at the same time. I left it alone, I had my husband there as witness and that had to be good enough for that visit. You need to know this is a female doctor, highly recommended and generally sympathetic to my issues. But this comment let me know her real thinking and I was sad, mad and humiliated and just wanted to leave and go home.

  7. I’ve had my share of different doctors. I get along well my current family physician. She responds well to my questions by giving good answers that are meaningful to me.

    Honest, I also phone up my sister who is an emergency medicine doctor to cross-check. I know I’m incredibly fortunate to have this family benefit ..

    Just 2 other different experiences: at a sleep doctor (he is an MD and does specialize in this area and does research for the university), who lectured me about doing exercise because that was to keep me away from the computer in summer evening. …to help sleep patterns. I was quite annoyed because he knew I had a cycling accident and therefore was a cyclist. I was not weighed t because the nature of my visit didn’t require it.

    Today I was at an employee health session at noon…the nurse was explaining HDL, triglycerides, etc. when we get our free health assessments. She talked about genetics and heart condition predispositions and drew up a chart that lumped Asians, etc. in this group vs. others.

    I appreciate some patterns, but this gets all skewed depending:
    a) culture, country where person was raised and grew up which influences food choices, lifestyle, etc.

    b) degree of Westernization in a person’s diet. We’re in a miuch more global community with far greater access to junk food, etc.

  8. I am a family doctor and I am sorry that your medical care has so many horrid incidents. In the US I am supposed to record the “race” of every patient, or “refused”. This is not science at all. I have had elderly caucasian women say “What if I say african american”? I reply “I am the recorder and I don’t argue.” They chose to be listed as african american. Medicare’s “reasoning” is that there is discrimination in providing health care, but I do not know what they are doing with the “big data” other then selling it.

  9. I definitely show up to doctors’ officers prepared to receive judgment, with all the stress in my body that entails.

    As a light flipside to your anecdote about birth control, I have multiple partners and so I use different methods to cover the various situations. When I was asked at a clinic what I was using for birth control, I ticked off vasectomy, condoms, and hormonal birth control (because there are different conversations to have about each one), which then made me look *over* cautious to them, on the assumption I had one partner. So, there’s apparently no winning there.

  10. Thanks for sharing your story! Our experiences are definitely different, but I also hate going to the doctor. I have social anxiety, and appointments always make me nervous in the first place, but uncomfortable interactions have only made it worse. I was seeing my GP for major depression and he didn’t seem to want to really listen or understand that it wasn’t just situational! He said “You’re a smart girl” (I was 24) and that I would be happier when I achieved my career goals or whatever. It made me feel so small and unheard.Good for you for continuing to fight for your health!

  11. Girl, I lactate in my armpits too. I’ve got 9 nipples total. I got to show them on Dr Oz once. Anyway, I’m in Canada too. I hate going to the dr as well. I swear the best advice my dr ever gave me was “don’t tell anyone you have extra nipples, they’ll think you’re a witch”. Thanks doc, so handy if it were like 1742

    1. I’m agog at the dr “advice”. What the actual fuck?
      I’m not sure the stats but it’s fairly common to have extra nipples. I’m constantly underwhelmed by the body patrolling of people.

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