If you didn’t know any of that, then congratulations! Now you know and I won’t have to say it all again later on.
Before I really get started on what this blog post is about though I’d like you all to picture something in your minds for me:
- A man goes to the emergency department of his local hospital at night for excruciating lower abdominal pain, non-stomach-bug-related vomiting and inability to walk without aid.
The pain doesn't respond to any of the standard pain relief medication normally given when people present with severe (currently) unexplained pain – paracetamol and ibuprofen doesn’t work, the maximum doses of endone or buprenorphine doesn’t work. Usually when that happens the nurses consult with the on call registrar and stronger pain medications are ordered (morphine, fentanyl etc).
The man gets to stay in the hospital for a couple of days or so days with regular morphine and/or fentanyl and/or every other strong pain relief available to try and get the pain under control while having in depth investigations to find out exactly what is causing the pain (by in depth I don’t just mean the standard urine and blood tests and maybe an ultrasound – I mean the full kit & caboodle testing to rule out everything from appendicitis to cancer to an obstructed bowel). The man walks out of the hospital with his pain under control and either a diagnosis or a referral to a specialist who can diagnose him.
- A woman with a pre-existing incurable and generally painful disease goes to the emergency department of her local hospital at night for excruciating lower abdominal pain, non-stomach-bug-related vomiting and inability to walk without aid.
She is only given one endone every 4 hours and two paracetamol every 6 hours. When she tells the nurse that neither of those pain medications is helping at all she is given a heat pack and told “that will help” (what the nurse hasn’t been told is that the patient spent the previous 6 hours before rocking up at the hospital at home taking the buprenorphine she normally takes for severe pain related to her pre-existing disease with a heat pack so hot that it is burning the skin on her lower abdomen). Only the basic tests (urine, bloods and an ultrasound – a basic one that cannot pick up the disease that she has and has been proven in the past to not show serious things that were happening within her body) – are done and she’s left to suffer and cry alone in her bed on the ward while still in excruciating pain. After about 12-18 hours, and maybe in a rare case after a second overnight stay, she is sent home and told to “wait it out” as it is assumed to just be a 100 times nastier than normal flare up of her incurable condition – no in depth testing has been done, the pain is still not under control and the woman in question can barely walk let alone speak up for herself as she’s pushed out the automatic doors with no real help and told to see her GP in the morning, all so the hospital can make room for someone “who really needs the bed”.
The man received better treatment, his pain with an unknown cause was taken much more seriously and given top priority to find out what was wrong, and he was given adequate pain relief and left the hospital with the pain in control and a plan in place.
The woman wasn’t given adequate treatment, was given inadequate pain relief, was brushed off and mostly ignored, and, potentially even more dangerously, her pain was solely attributed to a pre-existing condition with only minimal investigation done - what if it had been her appendix getting ready to burst? Or what if part of her bowel that wasn’t visible on ultrasound had ruptured? Or what if her fallopian tube and ovary had twisted right behind her uterus where it can’t be seen clearly and had gone into torsion which can result in the loss of an ovary if it isn’t picked up in less than 6 hours of onset and can be deadly if it is left untreated? All of these are valid concerns but sadly a lot of them are brushed off and ignored if there isn’t anything visible on an ultrasound or if the symptoms don’t exactly match what most doctors have been trained to recognise.
If you can’t tell already I’ll explain this now – there is HUGE inequality between how men and women (and this is not even going into how those who don’t associate as either are often treated!) are treated when it comes to the quality of the medical care given to them.
In some ways - and some places - we are still very much in the dark ages with how women experiencing reproductive, lower abdominal and pelvic issues are treated in hospital settings. This is not to say that there aren’t some wonderful care providers out there because there are, I’ve personally met some of them, but they are few and far in between and the chances of one of them being on duty when you end up in hospital are really slim.
You may think that these are just random scenarios created in the fertile darkness of my crazy mind but I must sadly inform you right now that this isn’t the case.
These scenarios are both based on very true stories – the inspiration for the man’s scenario came from a combination of my own husband’s experience and the experiences of random men who have shared their stories online, the woman’s scenario actually happened only this past week, and the woman’s scenario is also, I am very sad to report, the real life outcome that happens to hundreds of women every single day all around Australia.
When I randomly questioned a group of women (some who have children and some who don’t have children, some with a painful health condition and some without any known conditions at all) about the two scenarios above the answers were empathetic towards the woman’s scenario and many shared their own experiences.
- W- “It is like you have written the experiences of myself and my husband”
- Another, Anonymous, responded with – “The world is sexist as if a man says he is in pain he is surrounded by help but a woman has pain she is told to deal with it.”
- P says – “It's BECAUSE pain associated with women's reproductive organs is accepted as "normal".
- From B – “I'm a part of a huge Perth group and I honestly just saw a story like this on there, but it was a mental health thing. They kept the person in overnight but then said they assessed her and she wasn't deemed worthy of a bed and was discharged even though she went in with suicidal tenancies - yet someone else (male) posted their experiences with the same hospital in the same mental health unit and couldn't stop praising the hospital saying how great they were for him and how they must have been leaving something out for them to have kicked her out. Yet, when copious amounts of other women came along and said they experienced the same thing, said male 'joked' that men have it harder anyways which is why they're better looked after.
I know it's not the same thing but in some aspects is because it shows that there are some discrepancies in care.
I have seen this before myself and been a part of it. A few years ago, I presented to the ED with chest pains and numbness down my arm. I got taken in 2 hours later, put on an ECG machine and monitored for an hour maybe 2 before told I could go home. Given pills for the pain and dizziness I was feeling at the time too. Nothing worked and I felt so horrible and tired that while on the ECG machine, I fell asleep. Next morning, woke up and felt horrible and the pain wasn't gone but dulled down.
A couple years later, XH goes to hospital with exactly the same as what I was feeling and ended up staying overnight and having all tests run on him under the sun (Luckily they did cause they found gall stones but still) and I remember just saying to him that he was get preferential treatment cause he was a male - little did I know how true it actually felt.”
What can you do to change this? There are several things and I’ll outline them below.
- Contact your local members for parliament. By sending your local members for parliament letters outlining your anger at how women are treated in the healthcare system you can help to promote more awareness by making them aware. Not all of them will respond or take it seriously, but some will take action on it.
- If you or someone you know has been on the receiving end of this sort of treatment lodge a complaint with your local hospital. While most of the time you’ll only get a generic apology letter it is known that the more times that complaints are made, and the more people who kick up a huge stink about how they have been treated, the more that problems are taken seriously and the better the treatment will be for similar scenarios in the future.
- If you or someone you know are currently being treated inadequately in a hospital setting and located in QLD you can call 13HEALTH and quote “Ryan’s Rule” (you can find the details of Ryan’s Rule here - https://www.health.qld.gov.au/cairns_hinterland/html/ryan-home)
- If a specific doctor has treated you or someone you know like this you can lodge a complaint with the Medical Board (http://www.medicalboard.gov.au/~/link.aspx?_id=60F806737FE14B28AF314FB306B4BFBE&_z=z) and also with the Australian Medical Association (https://ama.com.au/tas/health-complaints)
- Share awareness amongst your friends, family and anyone else who will listen. Many won’t be interested and some may even ridicule you but there will be people who are receptive to what you have to say and will listen and take action themselves.
- Continue to advocate for yourself and those who rely on you for their care. If you don’t advocate for yourself you can’t change how you are treated. As part of advocating for yourself you can ban any practitioner from treating you or being in charge of your care and can request another practitioner if needed. You have the right to receive the best healthcare and treatment possible (and also to refuse any healthcare that you don’t want to have). The more people who advocate for better healthcare for themselves and others the more that Australia’s care providers will see how much people aren’t willing to put up with substandard treatment.
"Your birth. Your body. Your baby. Your choice. Your way. Even when the shit hits the fan and you have to change your original plans."
Do you want 1-on-1, 100% focused on YOU support during your pregnancy and birth? Do you want someone willing to listen who really HEARS YOU? How about a source of unbiased up to date information? Someone who doesn’t have a hidden agenda? Who trusts in, and believes, in you? Who doesn't pretend to be someone that they aren't? Someone who will give their all in supporting you to the best of their ability and beyond?
If your answer is a resounding YES!!! and you live on the North Side of Brisbane send a message TODAY to arrange a no obligation interview.