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When Medical Professionals Dismiss You Based on How You Look.

When Medical Professionals Dismiss You Based on How You Look.

On January 15, 2014 I woke up, slowly got ready, and went to work. I worked at a salon as a nail care specialist and makeup artist so part of my job requirement was wearing makeup, having my hair done nice, and dressing fashionable. About an hour into my shift I was in severe pain and was rushed to the hospital where I ended up having emergency surgery to save my life. My intestine had twisted around the superior mesenteric artery which was cutting off blood and oxygen supply to my bowel. If I hadn’t had surgery when I did then my intestine would have turned necrotic and I would have lost my life.

Did I look sick when I arrived at the hospital? Nope! I looked well put together. But looks mean absolutely nothing.

Doing my job as a makeup artist. I don't look sick do I?

But you don’t look sick!

Most of you have probably heard that before. In fact, if you Google that sentence you’ll find plenty of people living with chronic illnesses talking about the challenge of the outside not matching the inside. A few days ago I was at the hospital with my boyfriend, who also happens to have Crohn’s Disease (though that’s beside the point), for a small bowel series.

Yep, I had to drink barium. Yuk!

Before I drank the barium they took an x-ray of my abdomen as a starting point and then called my boyfriend, Dan back into the room. I looked at the image and noticed right away an area that looked very alarming to me. I always have chronic dilated loops of bowel, so I am used to my images looking abnormal, but I had never seen it look like this.barium I then looked up and noticed the doctor and the technician whispering to each other behind the glass and looking at the image with concerned faces so that frightened me even more. I have had 3 major surgeries that have all been emergency surgeries and I guess because of that my mind jumps to worst case scenarios. Anyway, after awhile the doctor came out and told me that she was worried about how things looked and didn’t know if it would be safe for me to drink the barium or if there was something seriously wrong that needed attention. She decided to call my specialist to ask if he wanted me to proceed with the test. During the time that she was talking with my doctor, Dan and I were sent back to the waiting room to wait.

Drinking barium wearing my cool intestine socks.

Very soon after that she came out and told us that they were going to proceed with the test but then said something that really upset me. She said something like, “I’ve seen sick people before and you look a lot more put together than that.” I could not even believe what I was hearing, though I shouldn’t have been so surprised as this isn’t the first time a medical professional has used my appearance as an assessment of my health. She was pretty much suggesting that I didn’t look sick enough to be having a serious problem even though my x-ray suggested otherwise. As I drank the barium and the test proceeded it only became more apparent how messed up my bowel actually is. I am sick, whether I look like it or not!

Did I look sick when I needed that emergency surgery in 2014? Nope. Did I look sick a few days ago when I was in the hospital for this procedure? Nope. When a medical professional makes decisions based off of appearances then huge mistakes can be made. Not only that, but it can really belittle a patient who is very sick and who wants and deserves help but feels like they are not being taken seriously by someone who should be helping them.

I know that many of you have gone through this too. I posted a little bit about my experience on my website and I received several comments about similar experiences that you have had. I was lucky that I had Dan there with me who was able to advocate for me and tell the doctor that it was not acceptable for her to tell me something like that or to base healthcare decisions off of my appearance. If this happens to you take the time to educate them on why this is not OK or have a loved one there with you who can advocate for you.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • thedancingcrohnie moderator
    1 year ago

    So sorry you went through this. I too have experienced this before and it is awful and always hurtful.

    Wishing you the best.

    Always dancing,
    Elizabeth (team member)

  • pjjcoleman
    2 years ago

    This is so true my wife has Crohn’s and Emergency Room doctors suck. It is unbelievable to me that they treat people who are sick like this. I have had more than one confrontation with doctors while my wife is curled up in a ball on a gurney waiting for help. Find a good GI doctor or be prepared to keep fighting it is disgusting. We use the same hospital and get the some doctor or nurse telling her it is constipation or some other excuse. Her records are in their system why don’t they read IT!!! Until her liver practically failed she lost a kidney and had her gall bladder out. Listen to your body and don’t let them send you home, I did once and it will never happen again. The hospital called me and begged me to bring her back needless to say we went somewhere else. Good Luck and don’t give up even though I know it is very hard sometimes.

  • 4 years ago

    Yup, yup … Only a few around me might have noticed my weight loss, as my pants started to fall off me, but otherwise I looked “healthy”. Until the evening when I started to lose a lot of blood and showed up at the emergency room the next morning. There the intern decided that I was exaggerating, even wondered if I had participated in some kinky sex games or something! Gladly the next day my GI doc (first ever, stayed with her until she retired) scoped me and admitted me immediately. The next morning she dragged said intern to my room along with other students and said, “here is the man who might have died because you sent him home”. As a woman in your experience, you no doubt faced additional skepticism about your presentation. Thank you for your share, and be as well as possible! 🙂

  • Sara Ringer author
    4 years ago

    That’s a crazy thing for the intern in the emergency department to question you about. Glad that your GI was able to come to the rescue and make sure you got good care. I definitely do face some weird things as a female. Doctors tend to think we exaggerate our pain more and are more dramatic but I actually down play my pain.

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