We are all biased in one way or another, but what happens when being biased may cause a person to lose their life? Studies show that physicians listen to their African-American women patients less than any other group. Why is it that our voices are more often than not, whispers in the wind?
Symptoms of breast cancer
I can remember finding a large painful lump under my left breast. The various doctors I visited told me, "You have lumpy breasts;" "There’s nothing wrong;" "All of the tests were negative;" "Breast cancer doesn’t cause initial pain;" "There’s no blood or discharge when cancer's involved." They said, "You’re fine. Leave it alone."
All of these empty untruths rang in my ears like rain on a galvanized tin roof. If I had listened to them, I wouldn’t be writing this blog today.
I remember when I was first diagnosed with cervical cancer. I had been to the doctors numerous times, only to be diagnosed with endometriosis and sent home with meds. I remember the doctor giving me my medical chart and asking me to take it to medical records because I had surgery the next day. Back then they trusted you with your medical records.
I opened the records, and her words struck me like a bolt of lighting. I read, "desires to be sterile, can no longer deal with her endometriosis diagnosis." I was so baffled and shocked that I turned around and went right back into her office and demanded an answer. In her mind, she had concluded that I was tired of the miscarriages and stillbirths, and that I just wanted to get rid of my annoying and disruptive uterus, and that this would solve all of my problems. I explained to her that we had never had that conversation and that I wanted an actual solution not to be sterile because I couldn’t cope. I told her that I wanted her to redact her statement from my medical chart. She did so, reluctantly I might add. Her confirmation bias led her to false psychoanalysis rather than a factual diagnosis.
Changing my doctor
Not too long after that, I changed doctors, and it was the best decision that I could have made for my life at the time. Dr. Benjamin was kind, loving, and he listened, for the most part. After several tests were taken, he agreed that I should have a partial hysterectomy, only removing the cervix and the uterus. I was devastated; however, we agreed that this was the best thing for me. It was during this procedure that my cervical cancer was discovered.
Change to a medically based diagnosis mentality
How can we change to a medically biased mentality? It will require that doctors listen and care enough to make decisions that are best for your physical and mental health. Doctors can be trained to watch for signs of their own biases. We all desire to be heard and to feel as if we matter and that someone is concerned. We long for a proper bedside manner, a smile, a nonjudgmental evaluation, a listening ear, a handshake, and a pat on the back with reassuring words wouldn’t hurt either.
Medical bias hurts everyone. Let’s challenge the medical professionals to be better, not biased.
Caregivers: Do you practice self-care?