Welfare

Sexism in Healthcare

In my mid 20s I was diagnosed with a 17cm cyst on my left ovary. Prior to this my ex partner would gaslight me, saying I had given myself these symptoms of bloatedness, pain and nausea, because “the brain is a powerful thing”. The diagnosis came after months of to-ing and fro-ing with my GP, then Brixton based, who dismissed my concerns instead choosing to respond with wildly inappropriate remarks like “women don’t drink enough water, you’ve probably given yourself a UTI” and “stop eating your Bangladeshi partner’s cooking then” when I insisted he refer me for further testing. He didn’t and I had to seek alternative treatment, taking myself out of work for a couple of hours without telling anyone (I was a temp on a short-term contract and didn’t get paid for hours I took off) and visited the local sexual health clinic. I asked for a female doctor, because I felt she would take the matter more seriously. I hadn’t always thought of gender as having such a pronounced effect on the sort of service I would receive but here I was.

It didn’t take very long for this doctor to ascertain that something was indeed wrong. Following an internal exam where she pressed down on my stomach simultaneously, she announced there was a mass and it wasn’t small. She wrote a note to my GP insisting he refer me for an ultrasound. He wasn’t too pleased when I turned up with it and grumbled “I’m only the doctor, what do I know?” Not a fat lot of good, as it turned out.

6 weeks later, I had a scan at King’s College hospital where I watched as the sonographer’s face flitted from one part of the screen to another and she rolled the probe further and further up my abdomen. “You have a cyst, a larger one on your left ovary, and I’m just checking to see whether it’s affecting your kidney function”. This was all rather alarming, to say the least. She said she would be recommending an elective surgery to have it removed and they would need to test the mass for malignancy. After my surgery they told me they had drained 1.2 litres of fluid off the cyst but had managed to get it all and it was benign. I was perplexed then, when barely 6 months later, it had grown back to 14cm. Following this surgery I was left with very little functioning ovarian tissue but my doctors said my other ovary would compensate leaving me with about 80% function overall. I read a study that said people who’ve had more than 2 large ovarian cysts have an increase likelihood of premature menopause, which was just the shite icing on the shite covered cake.

A decade on and I am settled back in Birmingham. It’s not been more than a few weeks since I changed my GP (for the umpteenth time). I had an exceptional experience with them when I first fell ill with mental health in 2010. My female GP was a rock, she made all the right referrals and got me started on therapies and medication, honestly without her support I dread to think what could have happened. She left the practice a short while later and I was seen by 3 male doctors, whichever one was on duty. I felt as though I was a nuisance and they were just patching me up instead of looking at the causes of my symptoms. It all came to a head when one of their new partners, whom I’d never seen before, withheld my pain meds just before a weekend and only relented when all hell broke loose (me blubbering on the phone and my aunt actually marching on reception, plus the local pharmacist having a word). He said I was due a review for these meds they’d never put on repeat prescriptions because I was ‘a suicide risk’ and candidate for cardiac arrest. When I attended the surgery on the Monday following the weekend, he shouted at me, and threatened me and my aunt with police action, prompting me to run out of the surgery.

I registered with a new GP who did a review of my pain meds and decided to keep me on them because I ‘wasn’t abusing them’ and the risks of taking me off one drug and putting me on a new one outweighed the potential fallout from codeine. No surprise this was a female GP. She even put it on my repeat prescriptions so I wouldn’t need to speak to a GP to have it prescribed. When I mentioned the palmar erythema and tingling on my top lip and how I’d read that these symptoms are caused by elevated oestrogen levels and how I’d suffered with ovarian cysts when I was younger, she booked me in for a blood test to check my hormone levels. She was surprised this hadn’t been done before but I wasn’t. She said I’d need to be tested on my period, so they can gauge what is and isn’t normal. That must have been what done it for the male GPs, all that icky period talk, who can be bothered with that eh? What is most unsettling is that the symptoms all point to a bunch of scary conditions that can be life threatening, things like lupus or ovarian cancer, other auto immune diseases, cirrhosis of the liver.. things you don’t take chances with and yet.

Doctors are putting women at risk of premature death because sexism. All that power goes to their heads and they cannot conceive of a scenario in which a patient knows their own body better than they do. Yes, I use Dr Google, with the caveat that I am not a trained medical professional and am only seeking clues as to what could be wrong. I can understand medical jargon and make reasonable assessments that I would then like a doctor to follow-up on. I think this pisses them off because being a doctor is such hard work that mere plebs shouldn’t even attempt to understand. Perhaps it diminishes their self-worth, to be shown up like the sexist job’s worths they are.

I am proof that those of us on multiple axes of oppression will fall through the net, again and again. We’re easy to write off and brush under the carpet. I say this as someone who will scream injustice even when I’m on the floor and giving up, but most people aren’t like me. Most people do curl up and die, without a whimper.

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So over the DWP

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It has been almost a full year since my personal independence payments were stopped on the 27th January, a whole year sat around waiting on a tribunal and I still haven’t heard anything. A whole 550 pounds taken off my budget, impacting my recovery in ways that have only become apparent this many months on. I was awarded the higher level, based on my conditions and medical reports. My spine is fusing at L5/S1 following two surgeries to remove a prolapsed disc that had caused marked damage to the nerves in my left foot, leg and buttock. The second op was an emergency and doctors were amazed to discover I wasn’t incontinent considering the position of the disc. A stroke of luck. Adhesions following the surgeries have left me with chronic pain in my lower back and surrounding areas. I also suffer from complex post traumatic stress disorder. Commonly affecting prisoners of war, this condition was inflicted on me. PTSD happens when a life threatening event causes trauma that is still evident more than a month later. Complex PTSD arises when your life has been threatened multiple times. I am due to see a rheumatologist, to find out whether I have lupus or rheumatoid arthritis. Lupus is an autoimmune disease that seems to affect groups affected by white supremacist imperialism, funnily enough.

Of course I would rather have a life filled with new experiences. I would have liked to do a bungee jump. I would have loved to travel the world a bit more, gone to more music festivals, and taken that foodie holiday I used to dream about. A tour of all the foodie heavens; Italy, France, Spain.. I also wanted to go on a walking holiday, Camino de Santiago, even as a non believer, because it sounds delightful and you get to meet lots of people along the way, and I love people, despite all their bullshit. I would have liked to take in the world’s ruins and visited Frida Kahlo’s Blue House. I would eventually settle far away from the rainy fascist island I was birthed on, once I’d got my bearings in the world.

Life dealt me another hand. One full of pain and suffering, of unfulfilled potential. I don’t like asking for my dues. I don’t appreciate having to reel off my trauma history every time my status is called into question. That’s what doctors are there for surely? To confirm the treatment you have been receiving, to give their expert opinions on the state of your health? I asked for a supporting letter to send to the DWP who were insisting I come in for another ESA assessment, a thing I absolutely could not do. They are aware of my mental health, they’ve been advised numerous times. The admin service said a supporting letter would cost £46, approx 1/3 of the emergency rate they have now placed me on (because I failed to provide a GP’s letter). When I explained my circumstances they sent an identical email reiterating the cost and clarifying that supporting letters are considered ‘private work’ and not available on the NHS.

So this is how they’re going to kill us now is it? Make it impossible to jump through the hoops they expect you to jump in exchange for their meagre offerings?

I’ve stopped talking to everyone. I’ve stopped asking the GP for help, stopped bothering the DWP, don’t see any point in talking to my therapist or advocate. I guess I’m resigned, hurtling towards the inevitable. I’m calm, eerily so. I just haven’t enough fight left in me to tackle the system. I haven’t even told my family, because what good would come of it? Nobody is in a position to carry me. I have survived this long only because of the kindness of friends and even strangers. I don’t really have that access any more. I can’t be bothered to do anything about it either.

The British government has wilfuly caused the deaths of many thousands of sick and disabled British citizens. I have seen firsthand how they’ve implemented this, every step of the way. I have only made it this far because of all the support I receive but even that is insufficient now. I truly have no vision for tomorrow. I don’t see how my circumstances will improve and more to the point, I am done trying. This isn’t a statement of intent, just a heads up that I’m sitting down now and I’m not getting up.

Legitimate Concerns of the White Working Class

A few days ago, I went to a restaurant with a friend and after the meal we stopped off at a supermarket for some essentials. My date said he’d pop in quickly whilst I smoked my cigarette. Stood at the entrance I noticed a heap on the floor to my right, a young lad maybe no more than 18 with ginger hair and circles under his eyes – malnourished was the word that immediately popped to mind. I dug around in the bottom of my bag for loose change and found £1.70 in coins which I handed to him. It was a particularly blustery evening and his sleeping bag seemed inadequate, the air felt cold and sharp with the coming rain. It wasn’t right that he would have to endure a night like this. I asked him if he had anywhere warm to go and he said he just needed another fiver before he could make that happen.

Now I know some homeless shelters are free. I get that. I understand sometimes it’s not safe for people to stay at these shelters because they are vulnerable and the needs of all service users must be considered. He may have been talking about a cheap hotel, it really didn’t make a difference to me, I pulled out a fiver and handed it over. I said, “I really don’t care where you spend it, honestly, just that you need it and I can give it” and he seemed panicked as though he desperately needed me to believe him when he said it was going towards shelter. I suddenly felt sheepish, in trying to reassure him I’d actually made him paranoid, no doubt because this a conversation he has several times a day, and has had to defend himself against these cruel judgments.

To make things less awkward I decided to go into the store and track my friend down. We met in the queue for the till, there being one customer before us and so I proceeded to tell him about what had just happened. I wasn’t talking loud enough for anyone else to hear, I thought, yet the cashier, an older woman perhaps in her 60s, with a tattoo on her neck that resembled a port wine stain in the shape of a badly drawn daisy, suddenly barked at me “how much did you give him?” My response was equally abrupt, “nothing” I said, confused as to why this woman was inserting herself into my private conversation given that she was still serving the customer in front of us and we most definitely did not invite the interruption. Nonetheless she proceeded to tell me what a mug I was for giving this kid some pocket change, rolling off a bunch of other times customers had given him money including a chap who’d won £120 on a scratch card and she said he’d only go and spend it on drugs.

“GOOD!” I exclaimed, much to her annoyance. “Do you know how cold it is out there? If I can help someone find something that will make the cold night air a bit more bearable, even if it is just drugs, then I’ve done my part. In an ideal world, that kid wouldn’t be on the streets, we’d look after him.”

She didn’t seem pleased at this and started rambling about how he gets into a jeep with some lads and makes at least £50-60 a day and people like me were just encouraging this deception and suddenly the older white man in front of me in the queue pipes up about Brexit and how “it’s a good job we’ve finally left the union” not looking up from his shopping once, brave white knight that he was. My friend and I looked at each other like, what the fuck is going on, we’ve somehow got ourselves embroiled in an argument with Bigots for a Bastard Britain. I knew what Bashful Brave White Man meant, Brexit meant Pakis Out and soon enough there would be no Pakis around to give poor white kids money on the streets, or that once the Pakis were gone, the poor white kids on the street would have jobs and wouldn’t need to beg or something racist, at least, I know this much from his nonsensical interjection and entitlement to my time and efforts. We didn’t validate his pointless contribution with a response, he paid for his groceries and fucked off.

Ratty Old White Lady, seemingly hesitant to accept she had no right to tell me what to do with my money, continued to whinge about nothing until I stopped her and said “there are billionaires in the world hoarding money, the kind of wealth you clearly have no clue about or else you wouldn’t spend your days begrudging a teenager pennies, comparatively speaking, but you won’t challenge them, because you’re twisted and you don’t feel like you’re living unless you’re suffering. They’re laughing at you, and so they should, you haven’t got the first clue” and with this we paid for our things and left the store.

My friend and I seethed all the way home, analysing every little thing that was said before I launched into a diatribe on the state of the white British working class. As a born and bred Britisher, there are, unfortunately, members of my family I could describe in the same way, those who’ve brought into the protestant work ethic and live to work, but suffering is crucial for it to be considered worthy. You can’t do something you enjoy or anything that requires little effort on your part, that’s cheating. My friend is white British middle class and said that he could never say what I had just said because it would sound completely different, my point being, “the white working class is keen to point out how hard they work for the right to call themselves decent hard working folk but I cannot think of any other demographic so lazy and immature in its thinking.”

As a daughter of immigrants, my grandfather was a foreman for British Steel, my father a car mechanic (his work unit in the grounds of a council estate) I am completely wedded to this statement and couldn’t be more justified. I am justified in its application because I have come to detest the double standards and bullshit emanating from the general direction of the supposedly native and legitimately concerned white working class the establishment overlords wheel out to excuse their racist and inhumane policies against other working class people on rainy fascist island. I wish I’d said to badly drawn port wine daisy tattoo lady she was the mug for working at Asda for her £50-60 a day when young homeless lad knew to appeal to those who have more. I wish I’d called Brexit Bigot out when I’d had the chance and told him to jog on.

Stop making excuses for horrible people, I reckon. Stop legitimising their hateful creed, there is nothing virtuous about doing a job that pays you peanuts whilst lining the fat cat’s pockets with your blood sweat and tears. You don’t get a medal for keeping in line, that’s a myth. Stop being such an insufferable serf. Wake the fuck up and acknowledge this life you have as being more precious than the value some narcissist with a trust fund places on it.

Stop being so damn white and undeservedly proud of monstrous attitudes.