Sexism Can Play A Role In Receiving Proper Care

Meghan O'Rourke

It’s hard enough feeling sick, but it’s even harder to get proper treatment when your doctor suggests that you’re being dramatic.

Unfortunately, that’s what some women face when trying to receive care for symptoms related to their chronic condition. When Meghan O’Rourke went to her doctor for issues including a chronic upper respiratory infection, hives and fatigue, she was at one point asked if she was experiencing boyfriend problems. They also asked if she was suffering from depression or mental illness.

“It’s kind of ridiculous that hundreds of thousands of women would simply make up diseases for attention,” said O’Rourke as part of the Park Street Corporation Speaker Series.

Eventually, O’Rourke discovered that she had an autoimmune disease. Her experience isn’t out of the ordinary. It takes an average of six years and five doctors to receive a correct diagnosis for a chronic illness. And with O’Rourke dealing with issues around her gender at the doctor’s office, she often under-reported her symptoms in the hopes of getting physicians to take her more seriously.

This is particularly troubling since 75% of patients with autoimmune diseases are women. Over 50 million Americans have some form of chronic illness, with autoimmune-related disorders being the most common.

“Pain is always new to the sufferer,” said O’Rourke, quoting Alphonse Daudet, “but it loses its originality to those around them.”