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"I will remember that there is art to medicine as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the surgeon's knife or the chemist's drug. Hippocratic Oath—Modern Version.
As I've gotten older, one of the many places that bring anxiety is the doctor's office. It is intended to be a place to obtain the treatment needed to live a long prosperous life, to build a rapport with your doctor and to hatch a treatment plan to make sure you receive the best treatment possible. As the candidates for the 2020 election begin to flood our television screens one of the topics some candidates are using as a talking point is the mortality and treatment of African American women when it comes to healthcare. Our cries are heard on deaf ears. As a woman of color who does suffer from chronic back pain and is always told no when it comes to pain medication, it's despicable and frustrating.
History has shown that some believed that women of color had the "strength" or the mental capacity to endure treatment and pain. During the 19th Century J. Marion Sims was labeled "father of modern gynecology," according to some critics he wasn't qualified to practice gynecological. He invented speculum that is still used to perform pap-smears across the world. While many would praise this non-qualified doctor of his invention, many skips over the fact that he performed procedures on slaves that would change the dynamic between a woman of color and doctors for decades. One of those techniques that Sims practiced was vesicovaginal fistulas. According to Clevelandclinic.org, it is the unwanted opening that forms between the bladder and the wall of the vagina. According to historians, he would purchase several slaves who happened to be women to perform this heinous act, without any anesthesia. It was dehumanizing and inhumane. Many of them didn't recover, were left to die, and others would suffer the psychological and physical pain until their dying days.
Although, African Americans are encouraged to "forget about it" I find it difficult to turn the other cheek when I listen to generations upon generations of black women in distress about their overall health and well-being. The mortality of black women while giving birth is almost unimaginable. According to the Virginia Department of Health, "Black women in the United States and Virginia are known to suffer the greatest burden of pregnancy-associated death, a perplexing and consistently reported fact. In each of the 15 years of pregnancy-associated deaths reported in Virginia, the mortality ratio for Black women exceeded that for White women," the report stated. With the help of social media, women of color are finally exposing the mistreatment and countless encounters with medical professionals.
Many celebrities like tennis star Serena Williams, Beyonce, and Remy Ma all had had traumatic complications when it came to childbirth. Serena has been quoted to have a tug of war with her doctor to get necessary tests needed to check for blood clots after giving birth. Williams has suffered from pulmonary embolism (blockage that occurs in the lungs, usually due to blood clots) in the past and was experiencing the side effects. If it weren't for Williams persistency requesting those tests, she wouldn't be alive today. It's a shame that black women have to fight tooth and nail with medical professionals to demand the treatment they deserve.
As a responsible patient, you do your due diligence in making the appointment and being brutally honest on the patient questionnaire. One frequent question is, "Rate your pain from 1 to 10 with ten being the highest." As someone who suffers from chronic back pain 85 percent of my life, I'm in unbearable pain. So, when I rate my illness as an eight or a nine that should send red flags and missiles to the doctor that I am uncomfortable and on the verge of tears. When your name is called to go in the back to talk in further detail about the pain, the one answer that I get is "just take Tylenol." It is always "assumed" that I want a narcotic when I want a muscle relaxer. The part medical professionals miss in the Hippocratic Oath is warmth, empathy, and understanding. Sometimes I feel like I'm having a Charlie Brown teacher moment when I'm explaining myself to my doctor. I choose a woman in hopes to gain some understanding of my woman issues in hopes to achieve "understanding." As I come to realize their treatment isn't any different than their male colleagues. In a 2016 study, the University of Virginia discovered "black people are systemically undertreated for pain in relation to white people. Researchers found that a substantial number of white medical professionals and students held false beliefs about biological differences between black and white people. For instance, they might think "black people have tougher skin than in white people."
According to Dr. David Satin from Minnesota Medical Center states that new medical students are taught this behavior in year two of medical school. According to Rewire News, currently, 80 bills are being introduced on the mortality of women of color dying from childbirth since January of this year. In my state of California bill SB-464 "California Dignity in Pregnancy and Childbirth Act" requires medical professionals involved in perinatal care receive implicit bias training to combat racial disparities in maternal and infant mortality rates. The bill mandates that they "complete initial basic training through the program and a refresher course every two years [after that], or on a more frequent basis if deemed necessary by the facility." (California Legislative Information)
According to Forbes.com presidential candidate, Cory Booker introduced a bill that will combat the bias women of color experience when seeking help and guidance from medical professionals. The MOMMIES Act "extends postpartum Medicaid coverage for new mothers from the standard 60 days after childbirth to a full year, increases access to primary health providers, and offers the use of services from midwives, doulas, and holistic birth workers." Elizabeth Warren proposed a bill that would compensate hospitals if they meet the low mortality rate quota. Kamala Harris has introduced the Maternal Care Act that "would incorporate bias recognition into medical school curricula and award grants to maternal healthcare providers for unconscious bias training."
The only way to bring about any change on this topic is for women of color to be brave enough to tell their stories. As someone who works in the medical field and a frequent patient, I find myself exhausted, leaving a doctor's office empty-handed without a plan to cope with my chronic back pain. The last thing a patient wants to do is debate a doctor about why it is necessary to have some pain medication while in pain. To the white women who can skip inside of a medical office and leave with what you've asked for it's a must you use your white privilege to combat racism in this country by also speaking up. If you are against any discrimination, then you should speak up. If you grew up in a household where your parents provided the real history of this country, then you should speak up. If you are confident in America's Democracy, then you should speak up. Not only at the rallies or the Share button on Facebook but at the polls. One must remember that medical professionals are public servants. It is their duty to have "sympathy and understanding" when it comes to women of color and their medical problems.
"In every crisis, there is a message. Crises are nature's way of forcing change — breaking down old structures, shaking loose negative habits so that something new and better can take their place." — Susan L. Taylor