Winter 2006/07. I'd just turned 18 years old. In college about 10 hours away. Living out my dream of playing soccer after high school. When I'd experienced the worst pain of my life that wasn't from an injury. I've had several broken bones, torn ligaments, and bumps and bruises, this was different. In my abdomen, off to the side, I felt sharp pain that literally brought me to my knees. I was alone.
As a player there was a staff of physicians and trainers that I could reach out to and I did. I was given off brand pink Pepto Bismol in a disposable tube by one of the athletic trainers. I lived off that stuff for weeks to no avail.
Then it happened again. This time I was taken to the ER. After being there for hours I'm told it was indigestion and to eat a bland diet of rice, mashed potatoes, corn, and wheat bread. Mind you, I'm on a meal plan, using my swipes, eating cafeteria trash ... I mean food, practicing everyday and going to classes.
Finally, I get in to see a family physician. I go over all my symptoms:
- acute pain in a localized area
- inability to keep food down (mainly fatty foods)
- no injury occurring in that region
He asked if I had endometriosis y'all!! Never formally diagnosed me, gave me Zantac, said it was heartburn.
3 months go by.
I'm still vomiting almost daily (which also wore down the enamel on my teeth), still playing soccer everyday, lost 8-10 pounds, no change in symptoms. Other than I'm on the verge of going crazy.
I see another doctor. He says I'm lacking the healthy bacteria in my gut, those damn good germs! He prescribes me a probiotic called Acidophilus and says:
take 3 pills, 3 times x day. You won't need to see me again.
I hadn't vomited so many times in my life as I did the 3 days I tried to stick to this regiment. At this point I'm 3 doctors in. I've already lost 15 pounds so now I'm extra SKINTY, and embarrassingly asked by my coach was I anorexic. MF NO! I'm sick.
Finally, a sports medicine doc who was a D.O. asked randomly if it was my gallbladder. I went in originally to see him for sprained ankle when he noticed my rapid weight loss. This man saved my life simply because he asked questions and cared about my wellbeing. I told him my symptoms and boom I was scheduled for a hida scan within the week.
I remember laying on this cold table all by myself still not even knowing what a gallbladder was. I remember as soon as the drip hit my bloodstream there was a rush of nausea, a flash of heat, and immediate panic that I would throw up on this hospital table I'm strapped down to. When the results came back I was diagnosed with Cholecystitis, I only had 10% function of my gallbladder, possibly due to a restricted duct and it would have to be removed.
Yet not one MD, NP, PA, RN, PT or ATC even attempted to suggest anything except heartburn, GERD, acid reflux, or that I was faking for attention. No one believed me. Granted, I wasn't overweight, I exercised daily, and I was under 40. Yet, every single symptom I suffered from lined up exactly with the tell tale signs of gallbladder disease. I was also a young, smart, somewhat outspoken black girl that questioned everything living in rural Southwest Missouri. That didn't sit well with anyone there. :)
Numerous times I pleaded with these people, hell I even begged. I was just so tired of being sick.
December 24, 2008 I had my surgery.
The procedure didn't go entirely as planned as my gallbladder was basically infected after nearly a year of being untreated and so inflamed that an additional much larger incision had to be made. One I was self conscious about for YEARS. See below lol.
It's 2018 and I'm back where I started it seems. Over 10 years later I'm still struggling daily and weekly. Recently, I had a big scare and have yet to figure out what's not right with my GI tract. Honestly, after seeing numerous specialists, still not feeling justified in a diagnosis and being mentally and emotionally exhausted I decided to take break from modern medicine and just chill out. But a lot of other women are not that lucky...
In New York City, a 2016 analysis found that college-educated black women were more likely to have severe complications of pregnancy or childbirth than white women who never graduated from high school.
Some will argue that Black women are exposed to more environmental factors or predisposed to a number of common and serious health conditions when compared to white women, but none of that data represents the unfair treatment and lack of proper diagnosis. A common problem I ran into was doctors not even putting my symptoms or a diagnosis in my chart for the next physician to work from. Do you understand how belittling it is to find out the person in charge of 'fixing' you doesn't even care enough to record what they 'fixed'?
According to a study done by the University of Virginia, racial bias is a leading factor in determining pain management when it came to black patients. The original article goes on to state that Black patients are under treated for pain because doctors fear Black patients may abuse the drugs or that they don't even see the pain in the first place. I vividly recall the day about a year ago when I was in so much pain I passed out and woke up about an hour later on the bathroom floor not knowing where I was. I told my doctor about this and he literally brushed it off, like 'nah you're good luv, enjoy'.
“Black women are also even more commonly affected than white women by many conditions that have a tendency to be misdiagnosed, including autoimmune conditions such as lupus, which is two to three times more common in women of color than white women, as well as fibroids, which are almost three times more likely to occur in black women,”
Nancy C. Lee, MD, a member of the board of directors of the National Black Women’s Health Imperative.
One specialist I saw asked me how many other specialists I'd seen before him to see if there was a pattern. I'd already waited 4 months to get in and I was hot! I recall looking at him dead in his wrinkled face and saying "if you're gonna call me crazy, just call me crazy but I'm not leaving without an answer. I know your hourly rate and I'm getting every dime out of this."
Serena Williams, one of the worlds greatest athletes had to save her own life after giving birth to her daughter. Williams, with a known history of blood clots knew something was wrong and knew her treatment plan. None of that matter when she suffered from a pulmonary embolism followed by several life threatening blood clots just a day after a seemingly standard C-section. She told her care providers exactly what she needed, she was prepared, she had money and 'good' insurance, yet the nurse admitted to thinking Williams was 'groggy' and dismissed her requests. They failed to help her until it was nearly too late.
CNN reports that "black women [like Saba] are about three to four times more likely to die of pregnancy or delivery complications than white women." From a socio-economic stand point Black women are more likely to receive little or no care especially in low income communities where access to quality healthcare is typically limited.
It's clear there is a disconnect, data now proves what we've already known. So it's up to you to take control and demand what you need to stay healthy and alive. Here's a few tips:
1. Go with your gut. If you feel like something is wrong, go with it and get the help or support you need.
2. Be prepared. Bring a list of questions, concerns, and be prepared for a number of outcomes.
3. Keep a record. Try to journal when key moments happen, diet, onset of symptoms, conditions, etc.
4. Advocate for yourself. No one loves you like you love you so cherish that relationship. If you think you need a test, push for it.
5. Educate yourself. Look up basic anatomy terms, don't get blindsided because you don't understand what the doc is referring too.
6. Pray it out. Sometimes your faith is the only thing you can count on. I pray through the joy and pain and sunshine and rain. Cues Rob Base and DJ EZ
Lets Ball Out.