Here is one we can all relate to …
In my story, My Long Journey to Diagnosis, I explain just how traumatic my journey to diagnosis was. The medical gaslighting I experienced was horrifying!
Some of the things told to me:
- There is nothing wrong with you (Seriously! I’m so happy but there IS something wrong that you are unable to detect)
- All my test results and scans were fine and there was nothing to be concerned about (Great! But what is wrong?)
- I was told by ER ‘You will not be given any pain medication (while I was in agony) as your Neurologist has recommended you see a Rheumatologist (Never mind that the appointment was weeks away). You are just a drug seeker!
And these statements by Dr Pradeep Rowji, Neurologist, were just the cherry on the top, and a classic example of medical gaslighting:
- Dr Wolberg, Neurologist, diagnosed Restless Legs Syndrome. Pradeep Rowji replied: “I doubt you have Restless Legs Syndrome”
- Dr Wolberg referred me to a Rheumatologist. Pradeep Rowji replied: “There is not enough evidence to substantiate a visit with the Rheumatologist”
Pradeep Rowji told me:
- “All test results are back and there is absolutely nothing wrong with you”
- “Dr Wolberg never suggested you see a Rheumatologist”
- “Stop going around looking for a Neurologist to find a problem with you”
- “Your problem is psychiatric, and a psychiatrist will be coming to see you”
- “Have you been a rugby ball in a previous relationship? The white spots on the Brain MRI were caused by a brain injury”
- “Stop wasting my time and yours”
- Had Dr Wolberg’s referral to Rheumatologist in writing and could give it to him. Pradeep Rowji replied: “You will not be seeing a Rheumatologist in hospital”
- “STOP WASTING MY TIME”
- “Do you want to see a psychiatrist or not?”
Have you ever been told things like that? Perhaps you have been called paranoid, hypochondriac, doctor shopper, attention seeker, drug seeker, mentally unstable?
After going through these experiences, I absolutely dread seeing any new doctors/healthcare professionals. I try to prepare myself for the disbelief that I am about to go through, the laughing at my symptoms, telling me that there is nothing wrong with me, etc. etc. It is so bad that I will only see a new doc or go to the ER if I am dying! I will not subject myself to that treatment any longer.
Okay, So What is Medical Gaslighting?
When a doctor/healthcare professional minimises/downplays or disregards/blows off disabling or dangerous symptoms, refuses to perform lab tests, tries to persuade the patient that ‘it is all in their head’, insists that the symptoms are related to mental health disorders, tells the patient they are imagining that they are ill, this is called ‘Medical Gaslighting’. It is a form of psychological abuse. The patient is often left questioning their own sanity, perception of reality, and even memories! This leads to feelings of confusion, anxiety, and the inability to trust themselves.
Once you have been through this experience, it is exceedingly difficult to place your trust in doctors/healthcare professionals again. I know that from my own experience, this is most definitely the case.
Who is most at risk?
Interestingly, a doctor/healthcare professional takes the complaints of a man more seriously than a woman. Yes, you heard me right! Shocking isn’t it!
Women are often seen as hysterics and are more medically gaslighted than men. A woman complaining of pain is more often than not, considered emotional. There is a high likelihood she will receive a ‘mentally ill’ diagnosis and will be prescribed medication for depression or anxiety.
Due to medical gaslighting, certain conditions like Fibromyalgia, take a lot longer to diagnose. This is proven when you read the numerous stories of Fibromyalgia diagnosis. My own traumatic story included. This is the case for many patients. Made to endure terrible suffering, humiliation, embarrassment, and abuse at the hands of many healthcare professionals.
What can we do?
We no longer have to accept this treatment from doctors/medical professionals! It is completely unacceptable behaviour, and it is time to fight back!! Stand up and be your own advocate!
If your doctor/healthcare professional is medically gaslighting you, is arrogant, rude, unprofessional, condescending, etc. … walk out! They have no right to treat you like this and you do not have to accept this treatment. Report the doctor if you must.
Change doctors! Find a doctor that listens to you, believes you, takes you seriously, wants to help you, and is open and honest with you.
To end off
Medical Gaslighting is completely unacceptable behaviour from doctor/healthcare professionals and it HAS TO END! We have a right to be heard, believed, and taken seriously. We are allowed to be our own advocates and be active in our care. We deserve to be treated with respect.
Below is the modern version of ‘The Hippocratic Oath’ … Doctors need to be reminded of the oath that they signed.
Hippocratic Oath – Modern Version
Written in 1964 by Louis Lasagna, Academic Dean of the School of Medicine at Tufts University and used in many medical schools today.
I swear to fulfill, to the best of my ability and judgment, this covenant:
I will respect the hard-won scientific gains of those physicians in whose steps I walk, and gladly share such knowledge as is mine with those who are to follow.
I will apply, for the benefit of the sick, all measures [that] are required, avoiding those twin traps of overtreatment and therapeutic nihilism.
I will remember that there is art to medicine as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the surgeon’s knife or the chemist’s drug.
I will not be ashamed to say, “I know not,” nor will I fail to call in my colleagues when the skills of another are needed for a patient’s recovery.
I will respect the privacy of my patients, for their problems are not disclosed to me that the world may know. Most especially must I tread with care in matters of life and death. If it is given me to save a life, all thanks. But it may also be within my power to take a life; this awesome responsibility must be faced with great humbleness and awareness of my own frailty. Above all, I must not play at God.
I will remember that I do not treat a fever chart, a cancerous growth, but a sick human being, whose illness may affect the person’s family and economic stability. My responsibility includes these related problems, if I am to care adequately for the sick.
I will prevent disease whenever I can, for prevention is preferable to cure.
I will remember that I remain a member of society, with special obligations to all my fellow human beings, those sound of mind and body as well as the infirm.
If I do not violate this oath, may I enjoy life and art, respected while I live and remembered with affection thereafter. May I always act so as to preserve the finest traditions of my calling and may I long experience the joy of healing those who seek my help.
The Physicians’ Oath
World Medical Association (Geneva, Switz.)
The Physician’s Oath, to be sworn at the time a time a person enters into the medical profession, was added to the Declaration of Geneva and adopted by the General Assembly of the World Medical Association in September 1948, three months before the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which upholds the right to security of person. The Oath was amended by the 22nd World Medical Assembly, in August 1968. This oath was written as a direct response to the atrocities committed by the physicians in Nazi Germany. The second last line reads, “I will maintain the utmost respect for human life; even under threat, I will not use my medical knowledge contrary to the laws of humanity.” The “Physician’s Oath on Retirement” is being proposed “to address the moral, psychological, social, and cultural responsibilities that a physician assumes when voluntarily relinquishing the responsibilities of active medical practice.”
I solemnly pledge myself to consecrate my life to the service of humanity;
I will give to my teachers the respect and gratitude which is their due;
I will practice my profession with conscience and dignity;
The health of my patient will be my first consideration;
I will respect the secrets which are confided in me;
I will maintain by all the means in my power, the honour and the noble traditions of the medical profession;
My colleagues will be my brothers and sisters;
I will not permit considerations of religion, nationality, race, gender, politics, socioeconomic standing, or sexual orientation to intervene between my duty and my patient;
I will maintain the utmost respect for human life; even under threat,
I will not use my medical knowledge contrary to the laws of humanity;
I make these promises solemnly, freely and upon my honour.