(who still asks her mom to come to doctors’ appointments)
I am 23 years old. While I still consider this quite young, and do not often feel like an adult, I have been a legal adult for 5 years. I have filed my own taxes, found my own dentist (though with recommendations from adultier adults), and updated my resume so many times I can still see the drafts when I close my eyes. I have traveled abroad, navigated public transportation in a foreign language, and am currently preparing to move across the world in August of next year.
And even with all that, I still ask my mom to come with me to some doctors’ appointments. This is a post about why I do that, and why it is completely okay and normal, especially for spoonies.
Two weeks ago, my sister drove me to urgent care because I was suffering from abdominal pain, dizziness, heart palpitations, and feeling faint. Unfortunately she was not able to stay with me as they wanted me tested for COVID-19 (negative, by the way) so I was moved to the COVID unit and left mostly by myself until the results came back. The nurse I had for the first few hours was nice enough, though I didn’t feel like he was taking my pain very seriously. After my COVID results came back negative and my EKG proved to be relatively normal, he came up to me and asked, “Are you sure you’re not just heartbroken over a boy?”. Oh my gosh you guys. I stared at him for an awkward amount of time trying to process what he had said, and I guess was quiet too long because he followed up with, “Because heartbreak can make you feel like you’re sick when you’re not”. Once I had finished my impression of a goldfish and closed my mouth, I managed to say “No, I’m more focused on work and getting ready to move to South Korea, actually”. Now, some typical responses to this statement would be, ‘where do you work?’, ‘why South Korea?’, or even a simple ‘neat’. But nope. This guy goes for, “Well then maybe you’ll meet a nice Korean guy, hmm?” and pats me on the hand. Again, cue the goldfish impression. I manage to say, “that’s not why I’m going” and he smiles and says “I’m just teasing you”, finishes hooking up my IV, then leaves.
What the actual fuck you guys. If this situation is at all recognizable to you, I’d bet good money that you’re a woman or female presenting person. Despite my initial shock, what followed was a familiar disappointment and bone deep fatigue.
As a woman with a chronic illness I have experienced my fair share of subtle sexism in the medical field, and outright misogynistic comments. When I was 15 and was experiencing chronic knee pain, I went to see a male specialist who said, “women have a lower pain tolerance than men, so you should just push through”. Later that year when I saw my GYN to try and get on the birth control pill to help with the crippling pain I suffered from every month, she told me that “pain is to be expected as a woman” and then recommended I lose weight. So, having this nurse at urgent care write off my pain as ‘just heartbreak’, and minimizing my experiences to something out of an 80’s romcom was not out of the norm. It was just sad.
You could argue that this nurse might have just been covering his bases. It is possible for emotional upheaval to physically manifest itself as stomach pains and racing hearts, so maybe he was just trying to rule this out. Or maybe he was trying to distract me from the pain by making a (poorly executed) joke. And, yeah, maybe. But that’s not what it felt like. The word I hated most in his statement was ‘just’, and the emphasis he placed. Was I sure I was not just heartbroken and nothing else? Was I sure I wasn’t just overreacting? Was I sure I wasn’t just an overemotional woman whose problems were about the only possible thing women can have issues with, (boys), and that I wasn’t just there for attention?
I wish I had called out the sexist statement more fully, but I was in a great deal of pain and was very dizzy, so I was a bit distracted.
Fast forward another week and guess who’s back in urgent care for the exact same problems? Yup. But this time I brought my mom. I wasn’t in the COVID unit so she was allowed to stay with me and ask questions, explain things I couldn’t, and take mental notes.
Turns out, I wasn’t heartbroken over a boy! (Who knew??) I was dealing with GI problems and probable internal bleeding.
So, to the point of this blog post: Yes, I am a grown ass woman. Yes, I am fully capable of going to the doctor on my own. Yes, I go by myself all the time. But sometimes I still ask my mom to come with me.
Being your own advocate as a spoonie is hard work. You’re trying to keep doctors’ appointments straight, new symptoms and questions in your head, and managing the day to day of life with chronic illness. When I bring my mom with me to an appointment, I’m asking for a little help in managing it all. She’s able to question diagnoses or treatment plans, gather more information and detail from doctors, and remember things I just can’t when I’m in pain.
Last week I went in for an MRI of my back (the results will be talked about in a different post). I am very claustrophobic but also super forgetful, so I never asked my doctor for a prescription to help with the anxiety of being in a very small, very loud tube for 45 minutes. My mom came with me to help distract me before going in, and to drive me back home when I was still shaking.
But Alex, what happens when your mom isn’t available? Are you going to rely on her when you’ve moved across the globe?
This isn’t really about just having my mom there (though my mom can bring me comfort and make me laugh like no one else). This is about having an advocate, an ally who helps decipher medical terminology and helps with the bullshit. I’d love to know what would have happened if my mom had been in that urgent care ward the first time.
I have lived away from my parents for 5 years and have only moved back in because the COVID-19 virus has affected our lives so greatly. When away from home I have other advocates. My friends are always willing to come with me to appointments and are pretty well versed on my conditions. I do not always need someone to come with me, but I always need an ally. I am so very grateful to my friends and family who take the time to listen and learn and are there when I need them. And I will be there for them if they ever need me.
So, yes. I’m a grown ass woman. I’m just a grown ass woman who is grown enough to recognize that asking for help is never a shameful thing.