Finding her Voice: Kathryn’s Letter

Acute pain in a woman stomachFrom the author: I would like to share a very personal story. I dated a guy who is now two weeks away from becoming a doctor. Below is the email I just sent him. I had undiagnosed endometriosis and chronic BV and yeast infections, however my boyfriend thought I had somatization disorder. I changed the names, minus the name of my wonderful gynecologist. I would like to share my story with women and doctors alike to raise awareness about how the sexism prevalent in today’s medical and social society prevent women with endometriosis from being diagnosed.Readers may also be interested in this feature article by CEC’s Founder, Robert B. Albee, Jr., MD.  Thank you to Kathryn for allowing us to share her poignant words.

By Kathryn Williams

Bryan,

I had an interesting conversation with a close friend today who was a psychology major. Also, a few weeks ago, my allergist, who loves to talk, told me the reason he became an allergist was because his mother had horrible food allergies, but nobody believed her until she went into shock. He told me a big problem with the medical society is that many male doctors falsely assume women-particularly *young* women-make up their problems. My allergist said that what appeals to him most about his career is that the majority of his patients are women, because women are more allergy prone, and he is often the only one who believes them.

It got me to thinking… it is really messed up that you suggested I had somatization disorder a while ago. Your whole attitude about that showed, too. After talking to my friend, I looked up the disorder online. I originally only knew the basic definition from an undergrad psychology course. Sounds a lot like endometriosis, considering symptoms involve the nerves, bowels and reproductive system. An arrogant, sexist male likely came up with that disorder as a way to subordinate women in pain.

AFTER most times we had sex, I was in severe pain and had sciatica for two days straight. I had to take narcotics and was sometimes bedridden. I also sometimes got raging BV and yeast. I had to go to physical therapy twice a week; one reason why I never had any money. Two weeks after surgery, after we had sex, I was in so much pain that I no longer wanted to live, although I didn’t say anything to anybody. I had times where I couldn’t do any physical exercise, because I would pee myself, and sex just made that so much worse.

But after all that I secretly went through, you suggested I had somatization disorder.

I was raised in a culture where we don’t talk health stuff, particularly vaginas, pee and pelvises. Also, I never want to make anyone feel guilty. Well, you know what, such a notion is ridiculous because it is the precise reason so many women are in my position. I am telling you EXACTLY how it is, with the hope that maybe this will turn around and help somebody.

You are so sweet and kind in many ways, but you definitely have some arrogant, sexist beliefs. You told me the first time I met you that you thought young women overreacted about things. Secretly that frustrated me, as I went to a very feminist college.

Your brief but succinct suggestion of somatization disorder has at times, internally, enraged me to no avail. It was psychologically damaging that in the course of 5 years I saw over 15 doctors before I got diagnosed. One reason it took me so long to get diagnosed was due to sexist male doctors. Kamal Hamod, MD, an open minded MALE doctor, was a godsend! After all of that, it was ALSO psychologically damaging that I had to endure so much pain after we had intercourse, ONLY FOR YOU TO SUGGEST AND BELIEVE I HAD SOMATIZATION DISORDER.

People who quickly presume women with multiple complaints have somatization disorder should NOT BE DOCTORS. Those who assume they are always right should not be doctors. Even Lawrence, the doctor above you, stated the latter about you. Know-it-alls will automatically come to the conclusion of somatization disorder, if they can’t figure something out, so they can still feel intelligent.

Doctors who always think they are right and automatically think young women with multiple complaints have somatization disorder will ruin someone’s life. You ARE very intelligent, but that doesn’t matter in many instances, for you are closed minded. You put women into these generalizations you read in your text books without looking at them like a real person.

P.S.- You really only see people as the generalizations in your textbook. I ALSO got MAD when you said most people with cancer work full time. My brother, old coworker, and my favorite professor had cancer. Some people with cancer DO work full time, but their ability to do so depends on many factors. If my brother were old enough to work, he most certainly would not have been able. My coworker and old professor could not work full time. Also, my aunt who has sundry autoimmune diseases can’t work full time either. I work almost full time, and it’s hard when you have pain!

My personal observation, based on the cancer comment, is that you do not try to figure out what the lives of your patients are like outside of the very dry textbook symptoms, yet you act like you are an expert.

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