By: Zara Maqbool
Sister to a very caring and loving brother, and a very competent doctor, for years every time I reached out to him to discuss any physical ailment I was mocked by him and never taken seriously. Whether it was my appendix, which he felt the doctors took out cause they had nothing better to do or my recently acquired tachycardia, he felt I was psychosomatic and inflicting this on myself. Only after one of the top cardiologists of the country confirmed that my tachycardia was a genuine issue along with my husband acting as my witness that he finally decided to share his pearls of medical wisdom and empathized with my situation.
This attitude is not limited to my brother only but many of my female friends have shared similar stories where the doctors and family members don’t take complaints of any health issue seriously unless its very critical and hitting them in their face.
I am not saying that every male doctor or men in general discount women’s health issues but its still quite common. My experience with tachycardia, which is an increased heart rate that can go very high, validates this belief for me. When the doctor mockingly asked me, “ aap ka dil kitni zor se dharakda hai?” Making a joke out of an illness that affects my life style.
The common diagnosis for many issues is anxiety and stress. Many women are put on anti-depressant drugs. In a way the message being sent is that this is self created by them and it is all in their head.
Low blood pressure, gastric tummy aches, headaches, muscular aches and pains are some of the common problems faced mostly by women and made fun of. We are usually referred to being hormonal even when these hormones genuinely have a role to play in our mood swings or unexplained erratic behavior.
I also noticed that anytime the men are there to validate our health issues, the doctor’s attitude is different. My friend Sumera says, “ If my husband goes with me and validates my symptoms I am taken more seriously. “
This practice is not peculiar to our society only but a cousin who was visiting form US was telling how in ER over there, women are deprioritized and treated less aggressively.
I think this attitude is why many of us including myself take our health’s less seriously too. Female suffering is mocked and dismissed. For men on the other hand even flu becomes a critical issue and needs full attention. At times it feels like women have to show a concrete form of the pain they feel to make it significant. Just narrating is not enough for others.
Recently when I went for my Echo, after the test was clear the ultrasound technician turned around and said, “ Everything is fine. Why did you get it done?” the implication was that if the test is fine then what was the big idea of going for it. The message was loud and clear.
Psychosomatic is referred to those whose physical conditions are exaggerated by mental stress or conflict. One would think that if mental stress can cause so much pain that it leads to physical pain then its all the more reason to pay attention to it. But then the most common statement we hear from our significant others is, “ its all in your mind. Or its self created.”
At the end of the day it’s easy to place labels on women and discount their issues as non issues. Maybe one day most of us do not need a male figure to tag along to the doctor’s office to be taken seriously.