Four years ago, I had a kidney stone. I first went to my GP, who immediately knew what it was and sent me to the ER right away. At the ER, my pain was dismissed by the doctors, and it was only after I called my GP, that I was given pain medication and a CT to locate my kidney stone.
I knew I wasn’t alone, almost every woman that I know has had her symptoms dismissed. While this is anecdotal evidence and something that I always have felt to be true, Maya Dusenberry has the data and the research to support women’s experiences. Her book starts out with a history chapter, tracing back the evolution of the medical system in the US. What I found frightening here is the general lack of knowledge about women’s bodies (Even Grey’s Anatomy had an episode about this in 2018).
What I liked best about the book though is Dusenberry’s focus on intersectionality. Intersectionality, now a commonplace concept, was coined by Kimberle Crenshaw to highlight how women of color are facing different types of discrimination at the same time- sex, race, class. With regard to Dusenberry’s analysis, this means that she is not treating women’s health in the US as an isolated issue, but connects it to other, larger issues plaguing us as a society- for example when she tells the story of Jackie, a black woman, who was wrongfully diagnosed, and automatically assumed to be a drug seeker, so much that she avoided going to the hospital. Dusenberry’s method of connecting patient voices to data (there are medical professionals who actually believe that black people experience pain less) makes her overall point- that the health system is failing women- all the more urgent. Another example is chronic pain, and our woefully underprepared medical system- the painkillers we have have been developed to treat symptomatic pain, ignoring that chronic pain is a disease in and of itself. Combine this with failure of politicians to understand that chronic patients aren’t just drug seekers, Dusenberry explains how reducing the opioid crisis to “doctors are overprescribing it the so called “pain acceptance” movement are hurting those who need help.
Prepare to be outraged when you read this, but keep reading. It is an important book and will help you find your voice.
About the author: Maya Dusenberry is a writer and editor at feministing.com. She previously has worked at the National Institute for Reproductive health.
Doing Harm. Harper One, New York, 2017.