Updated: Aug 21, 2021
Needless to say but it still needs to be said.
I just turned 26, which means two things: I’m entering the last year of my “mid-20s” and more importantly, I got 30 days to get health insurance since my parental coverage is coming to an end. Naturally, I went straight into adulting mode and got all my check-ups in one day before transferring to another healthcare provider. What I got after those two back-to-back appointments was a somber reminder of what my identity and voice is worth in a typical white doctor’s office. In addition, I got to see what it feels like to be truly heard by a doctor who was a woman of color. I started my first appointment at 8am. OBGYN. I thank my mothers for teaching me early to write down my questions before my appointment, as well as document any pain and its location for reference. It was a revolutionary act to teach me that advocacy. Upon walking into my appointment, I was disappointed to learn that my previous doctor, a woman of color, had left the office but I was already here so I figured might as well get this check-up over with. After my exam, I asked a question regarding something I’ve been meaning to ask since my last appointment.
Non-POC Doctor: Oh? Okay.
I repeated my question just in case she didn’t hear what I just said was actually a question. She had the same answer and concluded my appointment and I walked out. At that moment I considered that a normal appointment. She said everything was fine. Out of sight out of mind. If it wasn’t for my next appointment in the afternoon, I wouldn’t have noticed how silent my first appointment was. Around 2pm I went to my next appointment for my general check-up. When coming in she asked how I was doing in life and how my boyfriend was then prepared to take my blood for testing. I asked my primary doctor the same question I asked the other doctor this morning.
Black Doctor: Oh? Let’s look at your imaging… I’m going to ask them to look at this again just to make sure everything is normal. They might’ve missed something. Oh! I looked at your zip code. It might be good to double check your immunity to measles. You know about the outbreak right? I just want to make sure.
She asked me questions to gain more information and then asked more questions based on my experience. We worked together. We laughed. We chatted. I left. The stark contrast between the two appointments almost brought me to tears. I started to question why I didn’t push the doctor this morning to actually address my concerns. Then I remembered how easy it is to walk out of most doctor’s offices with less answers and more “facts” that need to be accepted. I couldn’t get certain test done just because it’s not usually done at this time of my life. I’m too young. I was being prescribed medicine because it would “stop the damage.” What about the damage already done? Not addressed. Not important. Apparently, I am used to not being heard and after finally being listened to, I cannot go back to being satisfied with silence. Pregnant Black women are 3 times more likely to die from complications than white women. An alarming statistic but the antidotes and funerals hit different. I’ve heard too many stories (one from an ICU hospital bed) from women of color whose experiences were invalidated in the name of protocol or completely ignored. It becomes a fight every appointment and sometimes we’re just tired of fighting. I encourage women of color to not accept silence as medical care. I encourage you to find a doctor/healer who sees your humanity completely and responds to your demand for quality care. Our livelihood depends on it.