What it's like going to the doctor as a fat person.

I am visiting my family when my hearing cuts out.

It’s scary to abruptly lose one of your senses. Everything sounds muffled, like the people speaking around me are behind a closed door at the end of a long hallway, distant and unreachable. The pain in my ears is sharp.

I feel my breath shallow and quicken, anxiety beating its hummingbird wings in my ribcage. First, because something is so clearly wrong. And second, because I will have to go to the doctor, and I am fat.


As I walk into the office, I steel myself for the charm offensive I’ll need to wage.

As a fat person, my health is always suspect, and never more than when I step into an unknown doctor’s office.

Image via iStock.

The nurse and I chat away as she takes my vital signs, though I still strain to hear her. As we speak, she takes my blood pressure once, then frowns. She takes it again, then another look. She excuses herself and comes back with another cuff, trying a third time. Nervous, I ask her what the problem is.

“I’m just not getting a good read,” she says, adjusting the second cuff.

“Is everything OK?”

“It’s coming back great, but that can’t be right. Overweight patients don’t have good blood pressure.”

It’s a familiar moment that I’ve come to dread. Even with her trusted equipment, even with the numbers clear as day in front of her, she cannot see that I am healthy. She anticipates poor health, and anything better becomes invisible.

I have entrusted her with my health, and she cannot see it.

Eventually, the doctor enters. Both of my ears are infected, and I’m prescribed antibiotics.

He gives me detailed instructions on how to use the eardrops and advises me to take all of the medicine as prescribed. As the visit wraps up, I ask the doctor if there’s anything else I should do for aftercare.

“You should lose some weight.”

This moment is familiar, too. It leaves me disappointed and unsurprised. When I seek medical care, many providers only seem to see my weight. Whatever the diagnosis, weight loss is its prescribed treatment. I explain what I eat, how much I exercise, my history of low blood pressure, and general good health. It only rarely influences my course of treatment. Because the biggest predictor of my health, even in the eyes of professionals, is my dress size. I have proven myself an irresponsible owner of my own body. Every detail I provide is suspect.

And I am not alone. Many fat people find the doctor’s office — which should be safe, confidential, and constructive — is instead a home for shame and rejection. Health care providers congratulate fat people for their eating disorders, they tell patients they should lose weight if they “want to be beautiful,” and fat people are given lectures on weight loss instead of receiving medical treatment.

Like all of us, health care providers can be products of a culture that teaches us to shame, exclude, and be disgusted with fat people.

Image via iStock.

Often, it can show in their treatment of fat patients.

A growing body of research shows that doctors are less likely to show empathy for fat patients, making many unable to take in important diagnostic information. Doctors are more likely to describe fat patients like me as awkward, unattractive, noncompliant — even weak-willed and lazy. Because despite extraordinary training and expertise in medicine, health care providers are products of a culture that shames and rejects fat people. And those beliefs inform important, sweeping health care policy decisions.

When thin friends and family talk to me about my health, this is a part they almost never imagine: Getting basic health care, from regular check-ups to minor interventions, requires tenacious self-advocacy. Because in the doctor’s office — just like the rest of the world — I am forced to defend my body at every turn just to get my basic needs met. Unlike other patients, I must prostrate myself, prove that I am worthy of treatment.

And that’s made possible by the way we all talk about being fat — all of which muddies our ability to measure health in more complex, precise ways. I think we use “losing weight” and “getting healthy” interchangeably. We reject fat people’s accounts of their own weight loss attempts, opting instead to believe that they simply haven’t tried hard enough, or don’t know how.

When we talk about fatness as the only real measure of health, we bypass many other pieces of the puzzle: nutrition, heart rate, blood pressure, sleep patterns, mental health, family histories. We ignore precise, important measures of health, collapsing all that complexity into the size of someone’s body, believing that to be the most accurate and trustworthy measure of a person’s health. This is what happens to me. My health is disregarded, all because of how I look.

In order to get accurate diagnoses and real treatments to fat patients, we’ll all need to examine our own thinking about fat people and health.

Changing the conversation around fat and health will take more work than that — but it’s a place to start. Because as it stands, few of us are willing to believe that fat people could have health problems stemming from anything other than their fat bodies.

Family

As a child, Dr. Sangeeta Bhatia's parents didn't ask her what she wanted to be when she grew up. Instead, her father would ask, "Are you going to be a doctor? Are you going to be an engineer? Or are you going to be an entrepreneur?"

Little did he know that she would successfully become all three: an award-winning biomedical and mechanical engineer who performs cutting-edge medical research and has started multiple companies.

Bhatia holds an M.D. from Harvard University, an M.S. in mechanical engineering from MIT, and a PhD in biomedical engineering from MIT. Bhatia, a Wilson professor of engineering at MIT, is currently serving as director of the Marble Center for Cancer Nanomedicine, where she's working on nanotechnology targeting enzymes in cancer cells. This would allow cancer screenings to be done with a simple urine test.

Bhatia owes much of her impressive career to her family. Her parents were refugees who met in graduate school in India; in fact, she says her mom was the first woman to earn an MBA in the country. The couple immigrated to the U.S. in the 1960s, started a family, and worked hard to give their two daughters the best opportunities.

"They made enormous sacrifices to pick a town with great public schools and really push us to excel the whole way," Bhatia says. "They really believed in us, but they expected excellence. The story I like to tell about my dad is like, if you brought home a 96 on a math test, the response would be, 'What'd you get wrong?'"

Keep Reading Show less
Packard Foundation
True

Someday, future Americans will look back on this era of school shootings in bafflement and disbelief—not only over the fact that it happened, but over how long it took us to enact significant legislation to try to stop it.

Five people die from vaping, and the government talks about banning vaping devices. Hundreds of American children have been shot to death in their classrooms, sometimes a dozen or so at a time, and the government has done practically nothing. It's unconscionable.

Keep Reading Show less
Education & Information
via Hollie Bellew-Shaw / Facebook

For those of us who are not on the spectrum, it can be hard to perceive the world through the senses of someone with autism.

"You could think of a person with autism as having an imbalanced set of senses," Stephen Shore, assistant professor in the School of Education at Adelphi University, told Web MD.

"Some senses may be turned up too high and some turned down too low. As a result, the data that comes in tends to be distorted, and it's very hard to perceive a person's environment accurately," Shore continued.

Keep Reading Show less
Education & Information
Truth

Don't test on animals. That's something we can all agree on, right? No one likes to think of defenseless cats, dogs, hamsters, and birds being exposed to a bunch of things that could make them sick (and the animals aren't happy about it, either). It's no wonder so many people and organizations have fought to stop it. But did you ever think that maybe brands are testing products on us too, they're just not telling us they're doing it?

I know, I know, it sounds like a conspiracy theory, but that's exactly what e-cigarette brands like JUUL (which corners the e-cigarette market) are doing in this country right now, and young people are on the frontlines of the fallout. Most people assume that the government would have looked at devices that allow people to inhale unknown chemicals into their lungs BEFORE they hit the market. You would think that someone in the government would have determined that they are safe. But nope, that hasn't happened. And vape companies are fighting to delay the government's ability to evaluate these products.

So no one really knows the long-term health effects of e-cigarette use, not even JUUL's CEO, nor are they informing the public about the potential risks. On top of that, according to the FDA, there's been a 78% increase in e-cigarette usage among high school and middle school-aged children in just the last two years, prompting the U.S. Surgeon General to officially recognize the trend as an epidemic and urge action against it.

These facts have elicited others to take action, as well.

Truth Initiative, the nonprofit best known for dropping the real facts about smoking and vaping since 2000 through its truth campaign, is now on a mission to confront e-cigarette brands like JUUL about the lack of care they've taken to inform consumers of the potential adverse side effects of their products. And they're doing it with the help of animal protesters who are tired of seeing humans treated like test subjects.

The March Against JUUL | Tested On Humans | truth www.youtube.com

"No one knows the long-term effects of JUULing so any human who uses one is being used as a lab rat," says, appropriately, Mario the Sewer Rat.

"I will never stop fighting JUUL. Or the mailman," notes Doug the Pug, the Instagram-famous dog star.

Truth, the national counter-marketing campaign for youth smoking prevention, hopes this fuzzy, squeaky, snorty animal movement arms humans with the facts about vaping and inspires them to demand transparency from JUUL and other e-cigarette companies. You can get your own fur babies involved too by sharing photos of them wearing protest gear with the hashtag #DontTestOnHumans. Here's some adorable inspo for you:

The dangerous stuff is already out there, but with knowledge on their side, young people will hopefully make the right choices and fight companies making the wrong ones. If you need more convincing, here are the serious facts.

Over the last decade, 127 e-cigarette-related seizures were reported, which prompted the FDA to launch an official investigation in April 2019. Since then, over 215 cases of a new, severe lung illness have sprung up all over the country, with six deaths to date. While scientists aren't yet sure of the root cause, the majority of victims were young adults who regularly vaped and used e-cigarettes. As such, the CDC has launched an official investigation into the potential link.

Sixteen-year-old Luka Kinard, a former frequent e-cigarette-user, is one of the many teens who experienced severe side effects. "Vaping was my biggest addiction," he told NowThis. "It lasted for about 15 months of my high school career." In 2018, Kinard was hospitalized after having a seizure. He also had severe nausea, chest pains, and difficulty breathing.

After the harrowing experience, he quit vaping, and began speaking out about his experience to help inform others and hopefully inspire them to quit and/or take action. "It shouldn't take having a seizure as a result of nicotine addiction like I had for teens to realize that these companies are taking advantage of what we don't know," Kinard said.

Teens are 16 times more likely to use e-cigarettes than adults, and four times more likely to take up traditional smoking as a result, according to truth, and yet the e-cigarette market remains virtually unregulated and untested. In fact, companies like JUUL continue to block and prevent FDA regulations, investing more than $1 million in lawyers and lobbying efforts in the last quarter alone.

Photo by Lindsay Fox/Pixabay

Consumers have a right to know what they're putting in their bodies. If everyone (and their pets) speaks up, the e-cigarette industry will have to make a change. Young people are already taking action across the country. They're hosting rallies nationwide and on October 9 as part of a National Day of Action, young people are urging their friends and classmates to "Ditch JUUL." Will you join them?

For help with quitting e-cigarettes, visit thetruth.com/quit or text DITCHJUUL to 88709 for free, anonymous resources.

truth
True