She was only 7 years old when Ana got the first sceptical look from her doctor when she said her tummy hurt. The doctor whispered in Ana’s mom's ear, “Are we sure she is not faking it?” Years later, she experienced similar looks from medical professionals. In her teens, when she visited one of the most renowned hospitals in the UK, the gastroenterologist looked at her, while she explained that she had been suffering from stomach issues for months and cut her off by asking, “Did your boyfriend break up with you? You seemed stressed.” She went mute.
A year later, in the summer of 2018, on a hot day in Paris, she went back to her family’s home and visited a second doctor. He had good reviews, his office was in one of those Haussmann buildings, and he seemed professional. The consultation went well, and the doctor prescribed her a colonoscopy. Few people would be happy to receive a prescription for this, but for once, someone believed her. It was only at the end of the session that the doctor started to question her origins. She is mixed Arab and Spanish, and her ambiguous look always makes French people ask. He then started to flirt.
She thought, “Is this guy really going to explore my insides?” One day before the colonoscopy, on the 22nd of December, riots started in Paris, and the doctor could not come to the hospital. It was a Christmas miracle. Ana stopped going to the doctor, the pain slowly went away, and she forgot. Until one day when her close friend called her.
“I think something happened,” Yu said.
“I think he put his hand inside me.” A flaming rage burst deep inside Ana. How could a doctor take advantage of her friend like this? Yu is 30, Chinese, and lives in France. She does not speak a word of French and has been seeing this old chiropractor for a year. He is a dear friend and the doctor of her boyfriend's family. He only speaks French and has always been sweet. Until this day. Hell.
Yu did not want to talk about it more. She hung up and said she wanted to rest. Ana had no news for a few days, and she decided to give her some space until she was ready to talk about it. She was never ready to talk about it. They never talked about it.
Ana’s sister, Tahir, suffered from migraines since childhood. Ana remembers their mom saying, “Shush, Ana, don’t be loud, Tahir has a migraine.” Ana would then tiptoe, at 4 in their shared bedroom. She climbed on the top bunk and tried to make as little noise as possible. She lit a tiny light to read, and a few minutes later, she would hear Tahir groaning, “Too much light.” Till this day, even as an adult, Ana dims the light before her sister comes into the room.
Ana’s mom, May, also suffered from migraines. Bigger ones than Tahir, scary ones. She locked herself in her room for 3 days, without food or water. Shutters were down, and no sounds came out of the room. One time Ana heard May throwing up from pain. She rushed in the bathroom and helped her mother clean herself up and put her in bed. May started crying, “Please don’t tell your dad,” and “I am so sorry” were the only sentences she would say in situations like this. May also saw her share of doctors, the best ones in France and in the UK.
She has been on the waiting list for the Center for Pain for 2 years. May is 54; she feels like she is living a half-life. She feels guilty for feeling pain. Probably as much as the physical pain she feels.
Ana’s friend Osis does not have her period. She is 24 and scared of never being able to be a mom. Alex is 23; she got cancer at 17, and the doctor removed one of her ovaries, saying that she could still have her period after. She now has menopause.
Those are stories of the women around me. There are others. Way too many.
I am going to finish writing here and give you a bit of context. I am Ana, I am 23 years old, and I am scared to go back to the doctor. I am scared of having stomach issues again and having to go back to those looks old doctors give me. Many people experience prejudices when it comes to medical issues, minorities, trans, veterans, black and asian, old people, young people, and the list goes on.
I naively thought that as I was growing older and expressing myself better than when I was 7, I could get the doctor to listen to me. But in my teens, they just saw an adolescent probably upset about some love story, and now they see an anxious young woman.
A hilarious story I experienced recently was when I had a psychologist appointment, 180 pounds an hour, no joke. I talked as fast as I could to make my money worth it. Towards the end of the session, the doctor stared right in my eyes and claimed, “You are having a panic attack.” I said, “What do you mean?” He said, “You are having one right now.” I could not stop laughing and couldn’t erase my smile as I was telling him that I did not wish to see him again.
This is a small part of my story and the stories of the women around me. I believe there are more, if you feel like it, you can search in your memory bank and share any story from your childhood or from your friends that might pop up in the comments.