Since 500 years before the beginning of the Common Era, women and their medical issues have often been waved off as dramatic whining over nothing. In reality, just like men, women know when something is wrong with their bodies, and their concerns should be taken seriously. Even today, women are still doubted when they say they are in pain or that something is not right concerning the health of their bodies.
Healthcare professionals have a duty to attend to all their patients with seriousness and compassion, treating them respectfully as proper physical examinations and necessary tests are done. Even worse, Black patients (especially Black women) are even less believed by physicians. As these biases are becoming more obvious to the general public, more and more women are standing firm in advocating for themselves and the gravity of their pain. At Gainsberg Law, we see firsthand how these inherent biases can affect our clients when they have been injured. It’s why you can trust us to advocate for you, too, when someone else’s negligence has caused you harm.
Why the term “hysterical” should be thrown away
Hippocrates first used the word “hysteron” around 5th century BCE to describe the array of maladies and mental conditions women complained of suffering. They thought this “hysteria” was brought on by the movements of the uterus around the body. As far back as even ancient Egypt, women’s health has been depicted as being unstable and bothersome.
It should shock us all that today in the 21st century, women are still believed to be “hysterical” when they complain about their pain or discomfort. The Washington Post published an article recently that goes into detail the many ways women are ignored or dismissed by healthcare professionals about their pain. From a woman complaining of headaches being called “dramatic” (which she discovered was a brain tumor several months later when she was eventually given an MRI), to a woman suffering the pain of childbirth without pain medication (which she was supposed to be receiving) because her epidural had fallen out, and none of the medical team took her cries of pain seriously. It is obvious in many ways, women are still seen (and called) “hysterical.” We think it’s time that word was closed away in the history books.
The statistics show the facts of doctors dismissing women’s pain
It is increasingly frustrating for women to go to the doctor, concerned about pain in their bodies, only to be told they’re worrying too much or given a wrong diagnosis because their worries are not taken seriously. The Washington Post reports:
This year, the Journal of the American Heart Association reported that women who visited emergency departments with chest pain waited 29 percent longer than men to be evaluated for possible heart attacks.
An analysis of 981 emergency room visits showed that women with acute abdominal pain were up to 25 percent less likely than their male counterparts to be treated with powerful opioid painkillers.
Another study showed that middle-aged women with chest pain and other symptoms of heart disease were twice as likely to be diagnosed with a mental illness compared with men who had the same symptoms.
Women, even medical doctors and specialists, are being told that whatever they’re thinking or feeling
isn’t anything to worry about. Yet a larger percentage of women than men are seeing misdiagnoses, delayed examinations, or no examinations at all, leading to chronic health problems, unnecessary pain, and wrongful deaths.
Roger Fillingim, director of the Pain Research and Intervention Center of Excellence at the University of Florida, put it well, when speaking of how doctors and medical professionals should view all of their patients, stating, “you treat the pain that the patient has, not the pain that you think the patient should have.”
Women are doubted about their worries concerning their reproductive health
Everyone should be believed about their pain, as no one knows their body better than the person in that body. So when women speak of horrible pain during their periods, or during procedures where pain is likely to be substantial should something go wrong, you would think that medical professionals would be extra careful in listening to what the woman is saying, and double-checking their patient to ensure everything is well.
Unfortunately, women are also ignored in this part of their lives as well, because maybe the procedure or condition is bound to cause pain and the woman is “probably being dramatic” about it. However, extreme pain during a woman’s menstrual cycle is a symptom of endometriosis – a condition that often requires hormone or surgical treatment.
The Post article details how many women are often told how an IUD insertion will cause discomfort, but the doctor fails to mention how if the woman has never given birth, the pain of the IUD insertion will be immense.
Black women are ignored even more concerning pain management
More so than caucasian women, Black women have an even harder time getting medical professionals to take them and their pain seriously. Per the Post: “Abundant research shows racial bias in pain treatment. A 2016 study found half of white medical students and residents held at least one false belief about biological differences between Blacks and Whites, and were more likely to underestimate Black patients’ pain.”
One woman experiencing severe pain speaks of how she was told to “shut up” by a nurse as she cried out in agony while at the hospital. She goes on to say that when she feels the severe pain of the sickle-cell disease she suffers from, she doesn’t immediately rush to the hospital, but instead makes sure she’s wearing her best clothes and looks her best so that the hospital staff won’t “peg her as a drug seeker.”
The credibility gap
Women not only experience a pain gap when it comes to being compared to men, but also a “credibility gap.” Anushay Hossain, who was not believed when she cried out about the severe pain she was feeling during her labor and delivery (turns out her epidural had fallen out), writes that “women are not believed about their bodies.”
This may be, in part, due to how women have historically been excluded from medical research and studies. Only in 2016 did “the National Institutes of Health (NIH) required sex to be considered as a biological variable in most studies it funded.” Only 43% of medical students report that their curriculum appropriately helped them to understand sex and gender differences in medicine, and only 34.5% report that they felt ready to manage those differences in a medical setting. The credibility gap is not only societal, but systemic, and only now are we beginning to see changes.
As more women are advocating for themselves, we can only hope that there are fewer mistakes made concerning their well-being. However, if you believe that your doctor’s dismissal of your pain has led to further complications that might have been avoided had they listened to you initially, you deserve justice and restitution. Medical malpractice is a serious problem, and when your doctor acts in a way that directly harms you, they are betraying their legal and moral responsibilities.
If you believe this is what has happened to you, the medical malpractice attorneys at Gainsberg Law are ready to fight for you every step of the way until you receive the compensation that you deserve for your distress, pain, and suffering. For a free consultation, call us today in Chicago, or use our contact form. We will not only listen to you, but believe you and your pain.
Neal S. Gainsberg has spent the last 20 years fighting to protect the rights of the injured in Chicago and throughout Illinois. From consumer rights and bankruptcy to catastrophic injuries and wrongful death, Mr. Gainsberg stands up to large corporations, insurance companies, creditors and hospital administrators to ensure that his clients’ futures are safe and secure. Learn More