Earlier this year, the conversation about gender bias in the health care field intensified, thanks in part to “Doing Harm,” a book by journalist Maya Dusenbery. In her book, Dusenbery shared the research on gender-biased diagnosing, a trend in which doctors tend to be skeptical of their female patients’ complaints, leaving their true ailments undiagnosed for far too long.
Somewhat related to this is weight discrimination, where a doctor blames a patient’s health woes on their weight, again leaving their true problem undiagnosed. Between these two troubling trends — in which overweight women are not believed by their health care providers — Kayla Rahn didn’t stand a chance.
Rahn, a 30-year-old woman from Alabama, was experiencing abdominal pain and shortness of breath. On top of this discomfort, she also began to gain weight.
“I legit looked like I was a solid nine months pregnant,” Rahn told NBC12. “We went to dinner and someone asked me if I was having twins. It was frustrating and rough.”
Despite attempts to push back against the weight gain, the pounds kept piling on over the course of a year. Rahn suspected something was wrong, but she didn’t know what it might be. And when she went to the doctor to get a diagnosis, the doctor simply told her to lose weight.
But the pain eventually became unbearable, at which point Rahn’s mother took her to the Jackson Hospital emergency room in Montgomery, Alabama. While there, tests revealed that the source of her discomfort was a giant ovarian cyst. And according to Gregory Jones, an OB-GYN at Jackson Hospital — one of the doctors who operated on Rahn — Rahn didn’t seem all that surprised.
“She knew something was wrong,” Jones told The Washington Post. “What was interesting is that she never had the shock and awe; she had this relief, like, ‘Of course there’s a mass.'”
Doctors moved swiftly to remove the 50-pound cyst from her abdomen. “It was the largest that I’ve ever seen or operated on,” Jones told BuzzFeed News.
Rahn came out of the surgery just fine, which was lucky for her, as a cyst of that size had the potential to cause numerous complications.
“Anytime a person develops a large mass they can develop something called abdominal compartment syndrome,” Jones told BuzzFeed.
In such a case, the pressure from the cyst can affect blood flow to the lower extremities, causing swelling, obstructed urine flow, bowel obstruction and making it difficult to breathe. If left untreated for long enough, it can even cause kidney failure.
Since having the cyst removed, Rahn has reportedly lost 75 pounds.
Rahn’s experience is a perfect example of why it’s so important to fight back against gender bias and fat shaming in your doctor’s office. It also highlights why you should always listen to your body, and stand up for your right to comprehensive health care, even when your provider is skeptical and/or dismissive.
“You have to be your own advocate for your medical care. If something’s wrong, keep bringing it up with your physician,” Jones told BuzzFeed News.
Over at The Mighty, writer and health care advocate Angela Hartlin shares some tips on advocating for yourself when you go in for your next doctor’s appointment. These include bringing someone else for emotional support, being assertive and being willing to find another doctor if your present one does not listen to you.
Because, as Rahn learned, if you suspect there’s something fishy going on inside your body, there probably is. And the sooner you get it taken care of, the better.