Sexism and Pain

hardship

As the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements gain power and voices, I’ve been nursing my most recent story in my head. I was quick to jump on with accounts of my own harassment, assault and constant struggle to be taken seriously in my career. I think it’s time to talk about my most recent medical journey as well.

Two years ago, I was rehearsing for a show when I bent backwards to narrowly escape a fencing jab. My left knee gave out and I crumbled to the floor. An intense and sharp pain shot from my knee through my whole body. It was the worst pain I’ve ever felt.. so bad that when my writing partner went to grab her car, I started throwing up. My knee started swelling immediately and I couldn’t put any weight on it without unbearable pain.

The morning after I went to the ER, the hospital called me to let me know they found a small fracture in my kneecap and advised me to get to an orthopedist as soon as possible. As it was Friday, my options were limited. I called every orthopedic office until I found someone with a Monday appointment.

That following Monday, I saw Dr. Trash for the first time. (Why I’m concealing the identity of a doctor that doesn’t deserve protection is beside me, but his pseudonym is not only fitting but also very close to his actual last name so it works.) I didn’t think much of having to wait over an hour past my appointment time in his office (all doctors operate like that, right?) and didn’t care that he rushed the appointment. All I cared about at that time was getting the medication needed to ease my pain and the doctors note to clear my absence from work. He asked about the injury and I explained it to him. I told him that it felt like my knee twisted and that there was bone on bone. He laughed at the description, citing it’s impossibility. He looked at my x-ray for about 30 seconds then diagnosed me with a dislocated knee. He advised me to stay in a thigh to ankle immobilizer and come back after two weeks.

I went home and, despite my medication, was still in so much pain that I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t even lay in my bed because laying flat was uncomfortable. For the next two weeks, I just dealt with the pain and powered through it.

Two weeks later, I went back to Dr. Trash’s office. When I said that I wasn’t doing any better, he said it was probably because I wasn’t icing or elevating. I told him I was doing that constantly and my office even got me a special chair to elevate. He told me I would be sore for a bit but that’s “just how teenage girls’ bodies are.” I was 25. I thought it was a weird comment but didn’t think much beyond that at the time. He wrote me a script for more pain meds and pushed me out as fast as I came in.

I started PT and spent the first month relearning how to walk because the immobilizer stiffened up my leg. I was in constant pain. I started to get worried that something more was wrong. My roommate has a strong history of dislocating her knee and I’ve seen her recover before. Her recovery was much shorter and appeared to be less painful, but I thought “oh well, everyone’s body is different.”

A month later, I was back in Dr. Trash’s office. At this point, I was starting to get really concerned. After relearning how to walk, I was finally starting to strengthen my knee at PT and it was met with intense, localized pain.

When asked how I was doing, I told Dr. Trash that my pain was getting worse with physical therapy. I told him it was localized and that it almost felt as if my knee was like a puzzle that didn’t quite fit together. He dismissed my pain, stating that these things take time and I would be sore for awhile, but I told him that I wasn’t sore, I was in pain. He told me that the way teenage girls’ bodies are stacked puts pressure on your knee and therefore causes discomfort. I revealed to him, yet again, that I wasn’t a teenage girl and that my pain wasn’t discomfort – it was sharp, localized pain. He mentioned my teenage girl body yet again, and said this is all common for girls dislocating their knee. I told him that I was concerned I tore something when I fell, and asked why I didn’t get a MRI. He told me that he usually doesn’t issue MRIs for women with knee dislocations since dislocations are so common in, you guessed it, teenage girls. Defeated, I gave up.

I feel like I need to clarify at the point that I never had a “teenage girl’s” body. I grew boobs and hips before I ever knew what they were and never hosted a typical teen body. As an overweight 25 year old, I DEFINITELY wasn’t hosting one. I also grew up as an athlete and had my fair share of sprains, pulls and thrown out necks. I had chronic pain due Lyme putting water in my knee as a kid and carpal tunnel as a teen. I understood the difference between long term ache and “holy shit something is wrong.” Something was wrong.

Over the next two months, both of my PTs and I started getting frustrated with my lack of results and increased pain. There were sessions that brought me to tears because I was in so much pain. No one knew how to help ease it and it seemed that everything they did made it worse. I recall holding my breath and concealing my tears as my PT rolled out my patellar tendon because the pain was so bad it sent goosebumps to my skin. (Turns out she was rolling right over the actual trouble spot without realizing it.) Defeated, my PT checked in with me one day. “So it’s just a dislocation. Your x-ray didn’t show anything else, right?” “Aside from the ER showing a small fracture, nope.” “And your MRI was clear?” “I didn’t get a MRI.” “Why?” “My doctor won’t prescribe one.” “You need to push for a MRI.” he mumbled under his breath.

That was the jolt of confidence I needed to make another appointment with Dr. Trash. I decided I would push as hard as possible for a MRI then take it to another orthopedic surgeon. The night before my next appointment, I ran into my old roommate who broke her femur when I lived with her. As I was telling her about my rough recovery from a seemingly simple injury, she asked me who my doctor was. I told her it was Dr. Trash and she told me to run away from him. He was the same doctor who did her leg surgery wrong, and when she questioned him about her pain and bowed leg, he dismissed the pain and told her she would just have to wear long skirts for the rest of her life, like her problem was that superficial.

The next day I went into Dr. Trash’s office with more confidence than I had over the last 8 months. When he asked me how I was doing, I was honest and told him worse than when I came in. I told him that I was in immense pain that only got worse with PT. He told me women tend to feel pain worse than men, especially when it came to TEENAGE GIRLS DISLOCATING THEIR KNEE. I was done with his shit, and demanded a MRI. He told me he doesn’t prescribe MRIs for women’s knees because of the high statistics of TEENAGE GIRLS DISLOCATING THEIR KNEES. I told him I was not a teenage girl, and even my limited medical knowledge told me that there were enough ligaments and cartilage in the knee that a MRI seemed appropriate. He told me “honey, you didn’t do any damage to your cartilage or ligaments, you dislocated your knee.” I asked him how he was so sure, and again he gave me the stats on how common of an injury it was with teenage girls. He told me insurance would never cover the MRI. I told him I didn’t care, I’d pay full price for it. He then, defeated, told me “Well I guess I can falsify your prescription and tell them we’re looking for floating cartilage or something so insurance will accept it. Will that make you feel better, sweetie?” I resisted the urge to punch him in the dick, said yes, grabbed my script and walked out of his office for good.

After getting my MRI, I went to one of the best knee surgeons in Chicago. In my first appointment, he spent more time that Dr. Trash did in all my appointments and told me that the problem was that I chipped a chunk of cartilage off my leg. He said it could be seen a bit in the x-ray alone, but was clear as day in the MRI. The MRI also showed bone bruising and minor ligament damage, all of this caused by… my bone coming together when my knee twisted. EXACTLY WHAT DR. TRASH TOLD ME WAS IMPOSSIBLE. My new doctor, Dr. Hair, told me nothing was impossible in medicine. A few months later, I found out that the second thing I felt, my knee feeling like a bad puzzle, was also true. I had surgery that revealed a piece of cartilage as big as a nickel chipped off and lodged itself into another part of my knee.

It has been almost two years since my initial injury and I’m still recovering from my most recent major knee surgery which should correct my defect. I spent eight months of that time with a doctor who dismissed my pain and diagnosed me off of statistics instead of symptoms then didn’t listen when I told him I was in pain.

I wish I knew at 25 what I know at 27. You know your body. Trust it and listen to it, and the second a man starts comparing it to the statistics of teenage girls, run to a doctor who will listen to you. I heard stories that women often had pain dismissed by male doctors but had never experienced it myself. I wish I listened to the little voice that kept telling me something more was wrong, but instead I trusted that someone who thought my biggest symptom was being female knew more than me just because he had 50 years of medical experience. Every single day I’m thankful for my PT and old roommate who gave me the confidence needed to run away from Dr. Trash.

When I think about that time in my recovery, I fall into a depression. This injury changed everything for me. It kept me from performing and pursuing my comedy dreams, cost me thousands of dollars, made me miss months of work and stopped me from being a typical mid-20 something. Instead of going out, I had to relearn how to walk three different times. I spend $90 a week on PT. I lost friends because I couldn’t do anything for weeks at a time. For two years, I couldn’t perform or hustle like I used to while I watched peers get closer to their dreams. My plans of moving to LA were replaced with surgery dates and recovery windows. When I realize that this all could have been resolved in a single year instead of two had I not gone to Dr. Trash, I become furious.

So, ladies (and gents too), what can I teach you? Listen to your bodies and trust that know them. You are not reduced to a statistic based on your gender. And the second a doctor starts dismissing your pain or comparing you to a teenage girl, run the fuck away.

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