You don’t have to read this post. Just go talk to a fat person. Ok, fine, read this post for a more concise version. Then go talk to a fat person in your life.
Doctors, nurses, midwives and other health professionals can make taking care of myself a real pain in the butt. People of size have to worry about two things when they see a health professional- will they be able to treat me appropriately and will they be willing to treat me appropriately?
Depending on a person’s weight and size, a health professional may not be able to accommodate them. Offices may not have chairs large enough. If your chair is uncomfortable or impossible to sit down in, where should I wait? Their blood pressure cuffs may not be large enough. A too-small cuff will read incorrectly- readings will be higher than that person’s actual blood pressure. I also know from experience that it is also painful. Exam or treatment tables are designed to hold a certain amount of weight- that weight can be 250, 300, 400 pounds or more, but a large person can’t always be certain that the equipment they’re told to sit on will support their weight. For me, this is something I particularly worry about when getting a massage. Exam gowns are uncomfortable for everyone, but I promise they’re more uncomfortable if you can’t fit your arms though, or when the little sheet you’re supposed to cover your legs with doesn’t even cover across your hips. Scales often top out at 350 pounds- how is a larger patient supposed to even know their size? How am I supposed to trust a care provider to care for me, when they can’t acknowledge and care for the physical realities of my body?
After physical concerns, I have to worry about how a care provider will treat me. There are so many personal stories about mistreatment. First, Do No Harm talks about the realities of patients seeking help and how they are treated. But maybe you’re not persuaded by personal stories- let’s talk facts for a moment. How care providers feel about my body impacts how they treat me. Doctors spend less time with fat patients, offer them less options, and offer less education. Doctors assume they are lazy, dishonest, and won’t be compliant with treatment. When asked to rate all patients, doctors acknowledge they just don’t like fat patients! Don’t take my word for it, go read this article published in the American Journal of Public Medicine.
Fat patients sense this distrust and distaste. They remember their mistreatment years afterwards. It means that as a group we seek preventative care less often, including pap smears and mammograms. When we do have health issues, we may wait until they reach emergency status, because as bad as it is feeling poorly, it is worse when you’re treated awfully about it.
This behavior makes it harder for fat patients to access even basic health care needs. Care providers, including doctors, nurses, midwives, massage therapists, psychologists and counselors, nutritionists, physical therapists, social workers as well as others need to embrace some compassion and empathy for their fat patients, and treat us with the human dignity and respect we deserve.