My Doctor’s Advice To “Lose Weight” Almost Killed Me

This post was originally published on January 17, 2015.

"Doctor, my skin is breaking out in a rash."
"CeCe, you really should lose weight."

"Doctor, I slipped and broke my arm."
"CeCe, we really need to get your weight under control."

"Doctor, I’m on fire!"
"Well, if you’d lose some weight, maybe that issue would go away."

Doctors regularly and without fail have a hard time seeing past my weight. I don’t have a problem with medical professionals advising me to lose weight in general — obesity is, of course, a legitimate health concern — but I take issue with this practiced response being the cure-all for any ailment I report.
Instead of listening to me describe my symptoms, what I'm experiencing physically and sometimes emotionally, the doctor would rather just sum it all up into one neat, little assessment. I'm not a doctor, but I think there's got to be a better bedside-manner technique when it comes to us overweight folks.
Because they can’t view me as a patient without making my size the biggest consideration, doctors often dismiss things completely unrelated to what the scale reads. It almost feels as though any medical training they received regarding diagnostics flies out the window if the patient in the room is fat.
This is a problem so serious it almost killed me.
Three years ago, I pushed for a same-day appointment with my doctor after a few days of not feeling right. I explained that I'm a very active person who went to the gym three to four times a week. I had been taking vigorous, hour-long classes at the gym and had no problem getting through them. Then, out of the blue, I became winded mid-class and later couldn't even walk up a single flight of stairs without feeling totally drained.
Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
“Mmmmm," the doctor said, not looking up from her clipboard.
I went on to explain that the only time I’d felt like this before had been in college, when I developed a blood clot in my calf because of my birth control. (You know all of those risks they rattle off at the end of prescription drug commercials? Yeah, those things can actually happen.)
My doctor didn’t seem fazed by anything I was saying. She just nodded politely, still not meeting my eyes. “You seem fine…it's probably your thyroid. Let’s see if we can get your weight under control in the new year,” she finally said, jotting down a note.
I had never had a thyroid issue, but I knew this was kind of a token "weight-related health issue.” The doctor didn’t seem to think I was dying, even though the thought had certainly crossed my overactive mind.
I said that I had a flight to California the next day, and since flying is the absolute worst thing to do when you have a blood clot, I wanted to be 100% sure I didn’t have one. She pumped hand sanitizer into her hands and told me to check in after my trip.
Somewhat reluctantly, I flew to California and back. When I landed at JFK, I fainted while exiting the plane. After being rushed to the ER in an ambulance and given multiple tests, it turned out that I had blood clots in my lungs — a pulmonary embolism.
Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
According to the APS foundation, each year, more than 600,000 people in the United States have a pulmonary embolism, and more than 60,000 of them die. Most of those who die do so within 30 to 60 minutes after symptoms start. My symptoms went on for close to two weeks, including two six-hour flights, so I'm not kidding when I say that I'm constantly grateful I survived.
But, the trauma of my health scare was made even more frightening by the fact that I had gone to see a medical professional about my symptoms and had been dismissed because of my weight.
As a plus-size person, I have learned to be my own health advocate. I have to; clearly not every medical professional I visit is going to be one for me. Although I still go for regular check-ups and when I'm not feeling great, I no longer accept the broken-record “lose weight” medical advice.
I am, in fact, on a fitness journey, and I’ve lost 55 pounds. The health improvements have been vast, and I feel better the fitter I get, but that doesn’t mean that weight loss is the general, one-size-fits-all advice for every medical ailment I experience.
If you’re a plus-size person who feels that doctors discriminate against you or don’t listen to you, I understand the temptation to just stop going to the doctor altogether, but that's not the answer, either. You and your body are valuable, and you deserve medical care at any size. Turning the conversation around in the examining room isn't easy, but it can be done, and you can get your doctor to listen to you. It might just save your life.

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