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Handle with Care

Without bringing out a pity party, it’s important, for this story, that you know my back is in rough shape. There are days where I can’t turn my head very far. I dread having to get out of bed in the morning because I’m in so much pain - pain that typically doesn’t subside until hours later. Acupuncture helps tremendously, but I can’t go every day.

So, I decided that the pain was so intense that I should see my primary care physician.

You should know that I’m not a fan of Western medicine. I often have to be convinced to take Advil when I have a headache that won’t go away and will try a dozen other cures before I surrender to Pfizer. I prefer to approach pain or illness with Eastern medicine. I mention this to demonstrate how much pain I have to be in to make an appointment with my PCP. I typically see her once a year for my annual physical and, every year, she says, “See you next year!” which delights my unmedicated little heart.

(I’m not judging those who enjoy, need, or rely on Western medicine. I’m just sharing my own personal preference, which is - as you’ll see here - subject to change when it’s convenient for me)

Unfortunately, my PCP didn’t have an open appointment and, if you’ve had it before, you know that back pain can’t wait. So, I agreed to see a new doctor at the practice who was available.

Seeing a new doctor causes stress and anxiety that I haven’t learned how to master yet. Before today’s appointment, I was being short and snarky with CDG. I bit my nails until they were raw. I was having trouble sleeping. We both knew why. I was anxious about seeing a new doctor. This is what happens every time, whether it’s my PCP, dentist, optometrist, or - the worst - gynecologist.

All was going well until the SallyNewDoctor asked me to describe where the pain in my back originated. While pointing to the center of my back and explaining, she asked, “So, is it where your bra strap is?”

And this is why transgender people despise, fear, and often avoid seeing doctors.

I responded with, “I don’t wear a bra,” and she said, “Okay, but is it where your breasts are?”

It’s amazing how invisible someone can make you feel.

I legitimately don’t know how I responded to her, but I know I didn’t say what I wanted to say or should have said. And I’m beating myself up now. At the time, I just wanted to move on with the conversation and get to what is wrong with my back.

Some would have given SallyNewDoctor a piece of their mind and stormed out. Some may have started crying. Some may have said nothing and gone along with her assumptions. In an effort to be kind to myself, I’m telling myself that I’m just so frustrated and exhausted from being in pain for a few weeks that I didn’t have any fight left in me. I don’t always have the bandwidth to educate people and, quite honestly, I often shut down the fastest when I feel it’s someone who should really know better. Maybe it’s because they’re the ones that hurt me the most.

In my experience, many doctors haven’t been trained on how to interact with transgender patients. Society hasn’t come to the realization that before we ask people what they do for work, we should ask them if they have preferred pronouns. We take baby steps, but we have a long way to go.

I try not to live with regrets. Everything happens for a reason and there’s a reason that time machines haven’t been invented yet. I’d like to tell that doctor that while I completely agree with the steps we’re about to take to address my back pain (a plan that includes muscle relaxers), I’m disappointed in her care on a human level.

It’s important to me that you know I’m not sharing this because I want any sort of pity party. That’s completely unnecessary. I’m strong and brave and have been dealing with this for a long time. I’m sharing to get it out of my brain. I can hit “publish” and file it away because that’s what writing does for me. I’m sharing because those who read this often tell me I should continue to, and I agree. I don’t think I should be responsible for educating people, but it’s important that our stories are told and heard.

On days like today, I’m reminded that one of the reasons I struggle to calm my anxieties is because they often sometimes turn out to be right.

Photo by Melissa Schrenker -  missyschrenker.com

Photo by Melissa Schrenker - missyschrenker.com