Relationships

Thank God for Women of Color

Kim Rhodes

Kim in the hospital, visited by her friends and boyfriend, in 2019.

It was Christmas morning 2019, and I wasn’t feeling well. I was spending the holiday with my parents in Oklahoma and had been complaining of shortness of breath and slight chest pain all week. I chalked it up to anxiety. But by the time I got to the airport four days later, I knew something was terribly wrong…

My shortness of breath turned into heaving gasps after walking just a few feet through the airport; I shuffled the rest of the way to my gate. I landed in New York that night and immediately went to the ER. I was still convinced it was just anxiety, adding it to the list of bizarre symptoms I’d collected over the years. I’d never stayed in the hospital for anything. Even my parents had no hospital visits, so the idea of something being wrong with my body was unthinkable. I was finally seen by someone around 1 a.m. The nurse was stern but very caring. “Right, so we did a blood test and you’re either having a heart attack or you have blood clots.” My mind went blank. WHAT?? I don’t have a blood clot! I just need a Xanax, I thought. But after another test, it was confirmed that I had a blood clot in one of my lungs, which explained the heavy breathing.

The nurse started asking questions that might indicate the cause:
“Have you flown on a plane recently?”
“Yes.”
“Are you on the pill?”
“Yes.”
“Ok. You’re gonna have to stop taking the pill, immediately. You’re really young, and since you don’t smoke, I’m going to take a wild guess and say it’s either the plane or the pill.”

I was in disbelief. How could this be? I needed a CT scan to see the size of the clots, and as I followed the doctor past rows of hospital beds into the next room, I doubled over again, unable to breathe. She put her hand on my back and said, “This is worse than I thought.” With tears rolling down my face, I lay on the hard plastic tray as warm dye filled my veins, illuminating the clots in my lungs.

An hour later, the warm and cheerful CT tech walked in and announced, “Wow, you’re an overachiever! You actually have two clots — one in each lung. We call that a bilateral pulmonary embolism.” The clots were huge and putting strain on my heart. An EKG tech would come by in the morning to look at the blood flow. My mind was reeling, and as they placed me in the critical section of the ER with a Heparin drip, I tearfully called my parents and texted my best friend Leslie, a nurse who made sure I advocated for myself. I drifted off to sleep at around 7 a.m. This wasn’t supposed to happen.  

The next five days were a blur, as I was transferred to another hospital, more well equipped to handle my case. A team of three young doctors came to visit me every day to update me on my progress. “And you don’t smoke?” the first doctor asked, scribbling a note. “Nope,” I answered for the billionth time. “But you’re so young. It’s weird that you’d have blood clots at this age. Anyway, you should be out of here by New Year’s Eve!” The smiling doctor left the room, giving me a wink while the other two doctors fell back. “Actually…” they started as soon as the first doctor left the room, “your numbers are still very high, and you probably won’t get out by New Year’s Eve. We want to keep you as long as we can to make sure you’re absolutely safe.”

At the time, I was frustrated. All I wanted to do was forget these traumatic last few days and celebrate the new year with my boyfriend. But I should have realized that the two doctors who stayed in the room were looking out for me. The peppy doctor who’d given me a sunny diagnosis was a white man, and the other two doctors were women of color. My doctor and nurses at the first hospital were Black women and an Asian woman. They all had my back and at the time I hadn’t realized how lucky I was. It made me think of advocate and model Mama Cax, who had just died of a pulmonary embolism, not one week before I went to the ER, and Serena Williams who had to demand — more than once — that she get a CT scan for a pulmonary embolism after nurses refused to listen to her.

I took going to the doctor and assuming whoever was assigned to me would treat me fairly for granted.

According to a 2016 study, 50 percent of medical students and residents believed Black people couldn’t feel pain the same way white people do, because they had thicker skin or their nerves didn’t work the same way. Black people also have a 30 to 60 percent higher chance of developing a pulmonary embolism than white people. I left the hospital later that week knowing that because of those two doctors, I had been checked ten times over before I was cleared to leave.

Fifteen months later, I’m almost on the other side. After a year of taking blood thinners, I have no more blood clots, and I’m seeing doctors to confirm the cause. I’m still dealing with a few who wave off my concerns, and at first I thought, Well, they’re the experts. Maybe I should just listen to them. But no one knows my own body the way I do, and I’ll keep going until I find the right doctors who hear me. I never forget how lucky I am just to be alive, even when dealing with doctors who might’ve believed I was suffering less than I was or that I was making it up. I do it for the long healthy life I’ll have, and the lives cut short because they were ignored.

P.S. How I feel right now as a Black woman and becoming anti-racist.

(Photo from Kim Rhodes/Instagram.)

  1. Julia says...

    Thanks for sharing your story. I am so glad you are feeling better and hope you are able to get the answers you need! The medical system has a lot of work to do with how they treat BIPOC individuals and hopefully it will it continue to improve with more diversity in the staff, education, and people sharing their stories.

  2. Mindy says...

    I’m a white woman and my pulmonary embolism was also dismissed by medical professionals. I was 24 years old and suffered the same symptoms as Kim – shortness of breath, chest pain. I couldn’t breathe. The first doctor I saw in the ER (an older white male), dismissed my complaint and told me I had heartburn and sent me home to buy a bottle of Zantac. I could have died if I didn’t decide to seek a second opinion after a day of writhing in pain in bed. I’m convinced my youth and gender allowed him to be so callous in my diagnosis. Racism, sexism and, yes, agism are real in medicine. Seek second, third, opinions, always.

  3. Anna Parker says...

    I find this article deeply concerning. I am moved to comment after mulling it over for several days. As I understand it, the article is calling out racism in a white doctor and by extension the healthcare system in general. The only ‘evidence’ given for her experience of racism seems to be that a white male doctor gave her a more optimistic prognosis.

    To extrapolate from this a claim of not being listened to because she was a woman of colour is a serious extrapolation.

    That such racism and sexism undoubtedly occur, are indeed rife in American society, must not make it okay to make an accusation towards an individual without reasonable evidence. A prognosis is a medical opinion; a more optimistic prognosis does not equate to a lack of taking someone seriously.

    • Jenna says...

      There is an unbelievable abundance of concrete evidence about racism in healthcare. Black women experience the worst outcomes of any minority. Last time I checked the data black babies die at three times the rate of white babies and black mom’s die at twice the rate of white moms and we aren’t exactly sure why (racism obviously is a factor, but specifically WHAT). This is just one example, here’s another statement from the AAFP regarding institutional racism https://www.aafp.org/about/policies/all/institutional-racism.html. Discounting Kim’s experience as one “without reasonable evidence” is part of the problem. People don’t listen to black women.

    • Eva says...

      Thank you for posting this, I completely agree. And I wanted to voice my agreement as an Asian female because i would not at all be surprised if your comment got called out as another white woman being in denial and gaslighting.

      Yes, we have a long way to go on the racism front as a society, but do we now automatically assume that the actions and intents of EVERY white male (& female) is unequivocally fueled by covert racism/bias in every single scenario? Isn’t the extrapolation that a white person’s actions always stem from a racist perspective *similar* (in theory) to the development of generalizations and stereotypes of colored people that leads to racism in the first place? Does no one see the hypocrisy of that? I am genuinely curious.

      Sure, black people have had it bad in this country for way too long, but if we always see the worst in someone, and believe ourselves the victim, how will that ever get us anywhere as a society? It’s just this self-sabotaging spiral. Seriously some times I feel like I am living in the twilight zone these days.

    • Stephanie R says...

      Anna, the type of comment you made is well researched and documented: “‘Most of the time, it’s privileged people questioning marginalized people’s accounts of oppression,’ Weiss writes. ‘This serves to tell disadvantaged people that privileged people know what they’ve experienced better than they do — and that their perspective is not important.’ It’s called racial gaslighting. https://www.unh.edu/unhtoday/2021/02/gaslighting-silencing-weapon

  4. Catherine says...

    Yes it does exist in Europe, why Europe should be immune to racism in the medical system? It is not as documented in the US but it is

  5. Kate says...

    I don’t doubt there is racial bias in the medical system… but I don’t really understand the outrage to Kim’s story. Are there any physicians who read this and made any sense out of it? If you experienced large pulmonary embolisms, and your lab values were not within normal range to be discharged, then a physician wouldn’t have let you go home. There’s really no argument against that. That peppy physician was probably just being optimistic, but I’ve underestimated and overestimated many times when lab values would normalize or when certain conditions would get better. In the end, it’s based on a number and his optimism for a discharge date really has no impact on the care you receive – if your labs arent in a normal range, you don’t go home, period. I don’t understand why THREE physicians were in the same room to discuss this matter with you – this part of the story doesn’t make sense. There is usually one physician that is your primary physician and then there are residents, and physicians from other consulting specialty teams… is the peppy one perhaps not the physician that specializes in PEs , while the two physicians who stayed behind are? Were they residents?

    … there’s a lot to this story that doesn’t make sense. I also think that saying that you were diagnosed with PEs because your nurses were black and asian and not white also shows a huge lack of understanding in the medical system. You were hypoxic and short of breath and just came off a plane ride… it would be horrific given your classic PE symptoms at this point if you weren’t worked up for a PE… but you were… anyone with an ounce of medical experience would and should have worked you up. And instead, you’re attributing it to the fact that it was because the nurses who initially saw you were black and asian…

    I agree that racial bias in the medical field is incredibly important and present. I would have loved to read a well-written post addressing it. But this story was a stretch. I don’t understand the people in the comments saying “I’m so angry at the medical staff for not treating you equally”…. did that happen in this case? I honestly don’t see it. I think you did a disservice to a very important topic by presenting a story that seems to be filled with more of your own personal bias, rather than the medical field’s. And that’s a shame.

    • Clare says...

      Hi Kate!
      Not a physician yet, but I’m a medical student finishing up my clinical year. Patients absolutely get discharged with abnormal lab values, or are encouraged to stay with normal lab values. Labs are super important, but they aren’t the only deciding factor when a physician is discussing next steps with a patient.
      You’re so right that anyone sensible would have worked Kim up for pulmonary embolism symptoms! Unfortunately, it is really shocking how many healthcare workers in all positions discount Black women’s symptoms as hysteria, being needy, seeking pain meds, you name it.
      CoJ has never claimed to be anything other than a blog of personal essays and posts; Jo, Kim and other writers draw attention to news but do not report it themselves. Kim’s story is one of thousands of similar experiences. You might find studies on this topic interesting. You can search for those via the NIH’s PubMed database.
      Be well.

    • laura says...

      Agree.

    • Anna says...

      completely agree. Thank you for addressing this from a medically informed standpoint.

  6. Rosalie says...

    This is a powerful and enraging story, and such a strong example of the horrific effects of white supremacy in this country.

  7. K says...

    It’s so frustrating to have doctors wave off your concerns. I don’t think i’ve ever been to a good one whether it was in Europe, Asia, or the US. I don’t know if I would have been taken seriously if I looked differently because I don’t know what that’s like and my SO is a POC too, but I feel like a lot of doctors just aren’t skilled enough, idk if it’s the poor education system or what.
    At best they’re nice enough when I go see them, but as soon as I start asking questions they throw prescriptions at me, and beyond that they are at a loss for what to do. I’ve even had one say “I’m sorry, I don’t see anything, you’re just going to have to live with it.” They just don’t know the human body well enough. And then in modern medicine, a lot of them are overworked so they seem grumpy, impatient, and insecure when they can’t correctly diagnose. Not all doctors, just way too many.

    I have family friends that are doctors, nurses, and even though they’re all great people to their loved ones, the way a lot of them talk about patients, eek, it’s like the profession has made them jaded and they think that humans are idiots. I only trust about one of them when it comes to medical advice.

    Sending you healing vibes, Kim. I hope you truly figure out what’s going on. Have you/would you consider going to a mixture of functional medicine doctors in addition to “modern medicine” doctors?

    • Neda says...

      Hi K,

      I’m so sorry about your experience with doctors. I’m a GP and I would be devastated if a patient did not feel that I was addressing their concerns seriously. I think with many professions that have clients, finding a doctor you vibe with and trust takes time and it’s sadly a trial and error method. This post really disturbed me because it’s something I saw during my training where there is such a divide between white doctors and POC doctors and don’t even get me started on male v female.

      Kim, I hope you’re recovering from your bilateral PEs, and I’m glad they were caught! Take care! x

  8. diana k. says...

    Biased medical care is a tragedy, it makes me furious to think about and I really felt this article. If you can, please consider making a donation to:

    http://www.whitecoatsblackdoctors.org/

  9. Yes! I also just learned that about half of dermatologists don’t feel adequately trained to treat brown and black skin. This site can help you find doctors of color! https://huedco.com/

  10. Ange says...

    I am a white woman and also part of the health care system. A question of others in the profession: did your cultural sensitivity/bias/training make mention of white supremacy, white power or white privilege? Many people were surprised by Kim’s story. Her story does not surprise me. Does it enrage me? Yes. Is it appalling? Yes. But this information is not shocking anymore. People of colour know the fatal impacts of racism (including medical racism) all too well, and they’ve been trying to get us to listen for years. Much like Black people being murdered by police, Asian people being verbally and physically attacked, and Indigenous women who go missing and barely make headlines, this is not surprising anymore. Our country and our systems are founded on white supremacy. White supremacy isn’t only the overt racism we read about in our history textbooks, it is centuries of laws and policies created to oppress Black people, Indigenous people, and people of colour. The system is working exactly as it was designed to, and until the system is dismantled, racism will remain.
    Everyone in the medical profession undergoes some form of cultural sensitivity training. It is clearly not working. An actionable step is to chat with the folks who offer the training at your institutions and see about making changes to the curriculum to include white supremacy, power and privilege.

  11. Victoria says...

    This seems to be posited as a white vs. POC issue, where POC encompasses all non-white people (Black, Asian, Latino etc.).

    However, about 25% of medical graduates in the US are Asian – I imagine they would number amongst those believing the statistic quoted.

    Is there evidence that Asian doctors (for example) exhibit significantly less prejudicial bias towards Black patients than white doctors?

    Minority groups can be and often are prejudicial to other minority groups. It seems rather naive to posit that this isn’t the case, and put the substandard care given to Black patients squarely at the feet of non-POC (ie, white doctors).

    • Flora says...

      I’ve been trying to find the words to respond to this comment all day and the best I can do is put this quote here: “Interracial conflicts between people of color allow the machinery of white supremacy to continue to whirr while we fight each other.

      We all have work to do. Indigenous issues must be included in our national conversation, and anti-Blackness must be ferreted out of non-Black communities of color. We as people of color must do the work within our own communities, but not at the expense of our solidarity.”

      https://www.newsweek.com/bipoc-isnt-doing-what-you-think-its-doing-opinion-1582494?fbclid=IwAR0LtAv4yhMxnFxzf979GW4CDkWR56ReOK34hSLsp02a3cHdN5qeDWvQuC8

      I don’t think this piece was about attributing blame to white doctors. To me, Kim was sharing her experience with systemic racism in the US health care industry. It genuinely pains me when I see comments that seek to pit marginalized communities against one another because it just goes to show how much we have all been pained by white supremacy.

    • K says...

      It frustrates me why you are focusing on Asian American doctors out of POC’s as having prejudicial bias . If you are saying minority groups are prejudice toward other minority groups, why not focus on the other minority groups too? Is there any evidence you have experienced that would make you think Asian American doctors would exhibit the same level of prejudicial bias as white doctors, or are you just guessing? Kim includes an Asian doctor as one who she thought treated her well. Also, as of 2018, the AAMC says that 17.1% of active physicians identify as Asian, not about 25%:
      https://www.aamc.org/data-reports/workforce/interactive-data/figure-18-percentage-all-active-physicians-race/ethnicity-2018
      (I can’t imagine it changing that much since 2018)
      It is frustrating that you are questioning it based on no evidence and instead of focusing on just white supremacy existing, you are trying to point blame that Asian American doctors may be prejudice too. Why? Why not just believe Kim’s experience? I have heard this kind of experience not just from Kim but other Black women too.

  12. nora says...

    It’s so disappointing to hear your story Kim, but unfortunately not surprising. So glad you are on the other side!

    Not the same thing, but I had an upsetting experience when I gave birth to my second child. I knew it was happening fast. On the drive over I thought I was going to give birth in the car. When we arrived at the hospital, I was in insane pain and screaming my head off, “I am having this baby right now!” At first, I appreciated the calm of my (white) nurse. I kept saying I wanted an epidural (learned my lesson from my first to ask for / accept it right away). Another nurse (brown woman – and btw, I am brown – Latina) says we need to move her into the delivery room right away. I am then in the delivery room with my husband (white) and white nurse. She keeps talking to him instead of me (I’m used to that kind of situation). I notice she is taking her time with my vitals and measuring and whatever, I keep asking if my doctor has been called. “Don’t worry! Relax! By the way, where are you from?” I looked at my husband, who knows how much I despise that question and what it actually means. HOW could she be asking me this right now?! “QUEENS,” I say in between howls. “No, I mean, where are you REALLY from? I mean, um… because you’re so beautiful?” My husband was then about to lose it, “Her parents are from Colombia. Where is Dr. ___?”
    Anyway, it was then too late for an epidural. My doctor did not arrive on time (it did happen really fast, and the on-call doctor was truly amazing). Other than that, it was a great (very painful!) experience. I pushed that baby out of me while I let primal screams out. I can still remember the feeling of her shoulders making her way through. It’s just upsetting that I will always have a memory of that ignorant comment, and we’re lucky her inaction didn’t end up in something tragic.

  13. RD says...

    This was such a great article. I’m glad you are doing well!

  14. Scarlett says...

    50% of medical students actually believed that black people couldn’t feel pain the same way that white people do?? That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. Please tell me that 50% failed medical school.

    • silka says...

      And that’s only one example of the AMA’s general backwardsness. Many more where that one came from sadly.

    • Cheryl says...

      Yeah what year is it? 1821 or 2021? Bizarre!

  15. OM says...

    Thank you for sharing this Kim. Our stories need to be told.

    • amberlyn says...

      They do and not least because I’m pretty sure most white people do not know this happens and now we can stand up for you. It is ridiculous and shocking.

  16. Jane says...

    Kim!! It’s actually the first time I’m reading a story similar to mine and I’m weirdly excited to see I’m not alone.
    – Bilateral pulmonary embolism
    – Pill + plane combo
    – Wasn’t smoking
    – Young when it happened

    Doctors dismissed it as me being “stressed” first (spoiler alert : I wasn’t ! or maybe I was b/c I couldn’t climb the stairs in my 3 story walk up!). It’s been a few years but it marked my life ; for a while, somehow all my experiences almost revolved around this one accident. It was very different circumstances – a different country even, but if you want to chat do email me!

  17. Hannah Wagner says...

    Thank you for sharing, Kim! What a terrifying experience that must have been! I’m glad that you’re doing better.
    Thank you for sharing those study results, too. I wonder if this is a problem in other countries, too (I live in Europe). Very likely, there’ll be a bias elsewhere as well. It’s something I will keep in mind and watch out for. When you then add the fact that there are a lot of doctors that will discount a woman’s descriptions of pain (marking it off as ‘hysterics’ or drama), it’s really scary to think about.

  18. Alex says...

    Thank you for sharing. This is horrifying, but sadly not surprising. I learned years ago about the significantly higher rate of adverse outcomes for pregnant Black women and higher Black infant mortality rates, and I was equally horrified. Patients, especially those in marginalized groups, need to advocate for themselves, and when they can’t, they need a loved one with them who can. I’ll also note that my mom had three PEs in three years in her early 50s. She has a vena cava filter now, so that’s an option. But hopefully you never reach that point. Best wishes for good health!

  19. A says...

    So glad you are on the mend, Kim! And like many people have already said, it’s so true that you are always your best advocate. I too have felt dismissed by healthcare providers, most recently when multiple lactation consultants told me this past spring that pain while breastfeeding was typical for red heads, instead of trying to help me and my daughter find a better latch. All I can say is that it’s so important to have a strong team with you to help advocate for your needs when working with the medical community, and that you can always ask to work with a different person, something I’ve felt guilty about in the moment but never regretted in the long term. It’s a ton of work, but it’s sadly what we must do until we all can figure out how to have a more personal, and representative, health care community in this country. Sending healing thoughts!

  20. Rachael says...

    My first thought with pulmonary embolism and birth control: have you been tested for Factor V Leiden? My dad and I are asymptomatic carriers, but my sister had a pulmonary embolism 2 weeks after starting birth control. Get a blood test for it if you haven’t already ruled it out!

  21. Abesha1 says...

    Commenters… I’m having a kind of opposite problem regarding bias in healthcare. My highly educated and director-level African husband (in the States) is having a hard time admitting to, and getting real treatment for, severe depression. Because people think Black men don’t get depressed, I guess? Any suggestions other than just pushing hard with all involved?

    • alisha says...

      Find a black doctor/psychologist? Hope you find the best possible outcome.

  22. Kate Donaho says...

    1) Paying attention: the big stuff and the small! 2) Advocacy: you shouldn’t have had to work so hard, AGAINST the system nominally in place to care for you. 3) Bias. Eff it. Thank God, you are okay, Kim.

  23. Savannah says...

    Thank you so much for sharing your experience. I am so glad to hear that you are doing better and advocating for yourself – it’s inspiring as I work through some of my own health issues.
    Also, I know this is not the point but your friends look so coordinated in that photo that it looks like you’re being visited by a cool girl band.

  24. CS says...

    Kim, I’m so glad you’re ok…that must have absolutely the scariest experience. As a Black woman, I will never forget when I was in labor with my first child and an older white male doctor showed up. I’d never met him and my doctor wasn’t there yet. He was incredibly rude and condescending to me…he barely looked at me but when he did, it was with pure distain and disgust. I was terrified and found the strength to tell my husband that I could not have him as my doctor for even a minute. The hospital found another doctor, a resident, who filled in until my doctor arrived. I think it’s important to trust your instinct. In my situation, I felt like he would not have put my interests over his own. Beyond that, I’m thankful it’s still only a gut feeling 20 years later.

    • alisha says...

      I really hope you reported him to his director.

  25. Missy says...

    I love this SO much. Not that you experienced this, Kim, but that you are shedding light on the often (always) overlooked topic. Kudos to you for advocating for yourself. It’s hard to remember that dr’s DO NOT know everything, and our biggest advocates should always be ourselves.

  26. Nadine Hughey says...

    My mother is in a nursing home with dementia & the majority of staff there are women of color, so I am also very grateful!

  27. AE says...

    As a black/female/disabled doctor, I can confirm that our training is just… filled and led by a lot of people who are racist (whether practicing with unconscious biases or very conscious ones). I had an attending refer to black patients (exclusively) as “crackheads”. Not only is this a problematic, judgmental, unhelpful, and a non-clinical term BUT 90% of the patients we saw who *were actually addicted to substance and drug- seeking* were white men and women. Of course, I paid dearly for pointing this out to him. People were hesitant to offer the same treatments and options to POC, especially black patients. And there was absolutely a general lack of empathy and cultural competency. So, yeah, I too am glad that you were cared for by people who saw you as a whole person and who were committed to their oaths of trying to keep you alive. As a person with a chronic illness, when I’m on the patient side of things, I’m acutely aware of the poor treatment but it’s terribly hard to advocate for yourself when you are ill. Title dropping helps but not enough to combat the biases and racism coursing freely through medicine. The struggle is real out here…

  28. Susan says...

    So glad you caught it and are okay! A friend of mine also had a clot in her lung (in her 30s). She went off birth control as well.

  29. Amanda says...

    Kim! I’m so glad to hear you are on the mend. In February 2020, I found myself in the hospital with blood clots too – DVT in my right leg and multiple PE in my lungs, include a saddle embolism. I had the same shortness of breath and also a bad cough due to the irritation in my lungs. I just brushed it off because I “never get sick” until it finally became too hard to breathe. I finally caved and called my mom (aren’t moms great??) and she took me to urgent care, who sent me to the emergency room. In my case, it turns out I have an anti lupus antibody that means I’ll be on Warfarin the rest of my life (or until they find a better way of managing it) and while that sucks, it’s quite comforting to at least know what caused it since I hadn’t been on a plane and haven’t been on the pill in 15 years. My doctor assures me that as long as I keep taking the medication, the likelihood of another clot happening is incredibly low and that has helped me from spending every day worrying “is this the day it comes back?” I hope your doctor is able to identify a root cause so you can have a similar sense of understanding and, in a way, peace with the situation. Wishing you a smooth continued recovery and thank goodness for your support team who took your concerns seriously!!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      thank you, CL!

  30. Meg says...

    I completely agree that you are totally correct- only you know your body and must advocate for yourself.

    Also, though, the folks in the industry have to step up and do the hard work of addressing implicit and overt bias.

    I am a white woman who works in the healthcare industry at a tech vendor. We have a wonderful Diversity and Inclusion Officer and we have workgroups (anyone can participate) in which we read and learn about this very issue, discuss systemic racism in healthcare in a diverse group, how we can be aware of it in our work, how we can address it when we see it, and how we can influence the industry for the better. We have some incredibly smart people dedicated specifically to how to avoid bias in AI. We also have healthcare system client leadership working on how they can evaluate this kind of bias through electronic medical record data and patient survey data, and determine how to address on a more specific basis beyond just general education/implicit bias training.

    While I know this isn’t any comfort (and that wasn’t the purpose of this comment- I am horrified when I hear how suffering has been compounded and extended by ignorant providers), it isn’t just med schools and legislative bodies and healthcare systems trying to find ways to address- it’s their vendors, too. I was really happy to see that my conservative midwest employer wants to be a part of the solution.

  31. Bethan says...

    That must have been such a terrifying experience! Kim, I’m so glad to hear you’re doing a lot better now and thank you for sharing your experience. For me as a student nurse, this is such a powerful reminder of how far healthcare has to go in terms of dealing with misinformation about people of colour, and the importance of tackling privilege and wrong assumptions in myself and others. Thank you

  32. Borshi says...

    “50 percent of medical students and residents believed Black people couldn’t feel pain the same way white people do”

    This blows my mind in the worts way. I am so sorry! I am a white woman and having learnt how mistreated Brown and Black people are by the medical community this past year during conversations regarding covid was a very sad revelation to me.
    However I am so so happy that women of color saved your life!

  33. Maja says...

    Kim, have you been tested for antiphospholipid antibody syndrome (APS)?
    Sending you lots of love!

  34. Juliette says...

    When I hear about health stories in the USA my first thought is, ‘ no free health care”. How do they cope?? Given the fact that most developed nations have universal health care, it astounds me that the USA doesn’t and why people aren’t marching in the streets for it. (Not now of course). Health care is a human right and not being able to access it I’m sure is a race issue as well. I’m glad Kim, you were able to get the health care you need and hope you didn’t get a huge bill.

  35. JI says...

    As a young black woman, I’ve experienced my fair share of discrimination in the hospital system. I know many older black folk who are so skeptical of the COVID vaccine because they are convinced it’s another unethical medical experiment, and I don’t blame them – especially when communities of color are portrayed as being disproportionally affected by the virus because they are more likely to be front line workers.

    Now, before you go calling anyone ignorant anti-vaxxers, know that black people have notoriously been subject to unethical medical experiments in this country. You can start by researching the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment or Henrietta Lacks. While you’re at it, research maternal mortality rates for African American women. There is absolutely no damn reason why anyone should question the intentions of a doctor or nurse whose job it is to save your life. There should be bias training for medical workers in all areas – from pharmacists to radiologists.

    For those who are shocked or saddened by Kim’s story, remember that black lives still matter. Black bodies STILL matter.

    • Brenna says...

      Thank you for posting this. Frankly I wish that even people who were anti-vaxxers for zero good reasons had their feelings respected. Surely we’ve all experienced having our concerns dismissed, like when people insist that sexism doesn’t exist any more. It does NOT help make us receptive to whatever else that person has to say! Even just for purely practical reasons, I wish we could make a point of respecting people’s feelings more. If a person is too fed up or tired to be polite it’s one thing, but surely it’s at least a good thing to aim for.

    • Monica says...

      Thank you for sharing this perspective and thank you CoJ for not censoring this perspective.

      I would humbly add that anyone interested look into the world of Medical Racism toward Black persons with regard to the current vaccine program, Black persons in the US and African continent. Many Black experts and parent’s voices have been silenced and their reputations slandered for asking questions.

      And I also humbly ask that my friends here refrain from judging people who make differing decisions regarding vaccines and refrain from perpetuating the narrative that they have “zero” reasons, it’s disrespectful and intolerant.

    • K says...

      Oh boy I’m skeptical about the vaccine too and I don’t consider myself an anti-vaxxer. As if pharmaceutical companies don’t have a corrupt track record. You can’t just tell me to trust the science when literally the data is months old. And the FDA has so far only approved the vaccine for emergency use.

      I’m super careful wearing masks when near other people, and social distancing and hanging out outdoors. I want a vaccine that has been thoroughly approved.

      I post these podcasts so often but they’re basically more articulate than me.
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4ru5LEP74b8&t=1s

  36. Brooke says...

    Thank you so much for writing this Kim! So powerful, and so disturbing how common this is. My local paper shared statistics this year about how the healthcare system in my American city overwhelmingly ignores or misdiagnoses Black patients, while being one of the top-ranked providers for white patients. I’m glad you’re doing better and grateful those two doctors were there.

    • Brooke says...

      Also I’m super squeamish about blood and the words “blood clot” make me want to barf, I’m so glad you’re almost on the other side of this so you (hopefully) don’t have to think about them as much.

  37. L says...

    This is astounding and yet at the same time horribly not that surprising. I’m so glad that during such a scary experience you lucked into having good doctors who actually listened and looked out for you. I’m not a part of the medical field and very luckily haven’t had to interact with it that much as a patient but it is really disturbing how pervasive the problem of bias seems to be as well as some of the incentives at play in a system that so many like to claim is one of the best in the world. I know there are a lot of talented and compassionate medical professionals but there are far, far too many stories of people being dismissed and disbelieved with terrible consequences. It makes me wish that everyone could be treated by WOC doctors but that’s not a viable solution. But seriously, THANK GOD FOR WOC! In our political system, in our medical system and everywhere we need to empower them! Thanks for sharing your story, Kim, and I hope you are feeling all the way better soon xo.

  38. Jas says...

    Kim, the PE may have been caused by Covid. Covid was in circulation already in 2019 and it is now known that Covid can cause abnormalities in blood clotting. Anyhow, glad all is well!

    • M says...

      Yes, I thought this too. Sending healing energy your way…

  39. Angela says...

    I think the pill is so commonly prescribed that the risks of blood clots are often overlooked.
    As a midwife, I’m surprised at the number of women taking blood thinners in pregnancy due to a previous history of clots linked to the contraceptive pill. Not drastic numbers, but enough to surprise me.

    • Jules says...

      My doctors office prescribes low dose blood thinners to all patients whether a history of blood clots or not. Just a thought

  40. Claire says...

    “But no one knows my own body the way I do”

    Yes yes YES! after. dealing with unexplained chronic illness for years, that’s the biggest takeaway. You know what’s going on with your body-what’s right, what’s wrong, what works for you. Nobody knows better- not doctors, not professionals in their field, and especially not white men who don’t know a damn thing about your wonderful female body. Women just know. I am so glad that you got the care you need and deserve!

  41. Tabitha says...

    Kim, I’m so sorry to read about this, but so glad you’re finally starting to feel better! And I’m SO glad that you had Black and Asian doctors and nurses there to advocate for you and make sure you got the care you needed, instead of rushing you out the door! I was just thinking about how my quality of care went up exponentially when I started seeing doctors who are POC. White male doctors have almost always been dismissive of my pain and lived experience as a white woman, and it is horrible to know it is even worse for Black women. I remember reading about Serena Williams’ story, and being horrified that she was treated so poorly, and worrying for Black women who aren’t professional athletes or celebrities who would be forced to advocate for themselves.

    Thank you for sharing your experience! I really hope that the more we talk about medical inequality in the US, the more informed we all will be and the more change will happen. Sending you all the love and good, healing thoughts!!

  42. Irina says...

    In addition to appalling instances of discrimination in healthcare based on race, I also wanted to point out other forms of discrimination that my husband and I have come across when accessing healthcare, those that are based on first language and mental health diagnoses.

    Both my husband and I speak a first language other than English. However, while I have lived in the US since age 12 and am a fairly fluent English speaker, my husband moved here as an adult with very limited English. Today, his English comprehension is nearly 100% but speaking is more challenging. He can usually express what he wants to say but may not always use proper grammar, and it can take him a while to find the right words. My husband also has several mental health diagnoses. He generally asks me to accompany him to medical appointments to help interpret if needed, and to help him remember what is being said.

    We have found repeatedly, with most of the medical providers he has seen, whether for physical or for mental health issues, that the provider tends to talk to me and ignore him. They don’t look him in the eye; they keep looking at me instead. Thank God they don’t usually talk about him in third person, even though that, too, has happened on a few occasions. This despite the fact that I always make sure to explain at the very start why I’m there, i.e. just to assist if needed. I’m not there because my husband is incompetent. Yet because of his somewhat limited English and his diagnoses, he is often treated as such.

    This is so frustrating, and similarly to racism in healthcare, I’m not sure to address this in the moment when it happens. I suppose I could work up the nerve to say to the clinician, “Please address and look at my husband when you speak, he is perfectly capable of understanding what you are saying and he will ask me for help if ne needs it.” Or he could say something similar for himself. But I worry that we will then just be labeled as “difficult patients” and get treated even worse. So far our strategy has been to change providers if we get fed up with their attitude.

  43. Anon says...

    Thank you for sharing your story. As a young woman of colour, I’ve had many doctors and nurses dismiss health concerns because they’ve assumed I must have an STD, or my pain comes from anxiety. Despite sharing with them I’ve only had two partners, and have now been tested several times to prove I’m telling the truth, without fail, I’ve always been told that any pain or discomfort I experience is likely because of an STD or are phantom symptoms from anxiety.

    I ended up in the hospital over Christmas due to a bladder infection that was not taken seriously (root cause still unknown, no thanks to the several weeks it took to get a diagnosis), and I ended up with sepsis (received appropriate treatment and am in good health now). I truly hope our health care system will evolve to take the concerns of young people, women/NBP, and BIPOC seriously (I’m in Canada, but I know the U.S. also has the same issues).

  44. Lesley says...

    Thank you for you sharing your story, I’m so glad that you made it through this experience okay. This is another example of institutional and individual racism and it is completely unacceptable. Black lives matter.

  45. hali says...

    Astonishing and believable. Thank you for sharing.

  46. Ailsa says...

    Genuinely do not understand the surprise at this story and the stats – look at inequality in our world today and what it is based on. Take access to healthcare in Africa- brought into stark relief by the Covid vaccination scarcity on the continent. But it is ok – because Africans feel less pain, love, their relationships are less important. We can overlook the inequality by “othering” people and it happens at global and devastating scale.

  47. Megan M Kongaika says...

    Hi Kim,
    Thanks for this thoughtful post and I am glad to hear you are on the mend. I really appreciate this insight and information. Good grief we’ve just got to do better. Thank you for highlighting another specific way we can move the dial.

  48. Laura Schultz says...

    Oh my god these kinds of stories are so scary and horrifying. White people we need to do SO MUCH DAMN BETTER. Horrible and wrong.

  49. Amanda Millstein says...

    I am a pediatrician and a white woman. Kim, I am so grateful for your post. Thank you for sharing your experience, which is all too common. Medicine, myself very much included, has so far to go in terms of understanding our own explicit and implicit biases and the ways in which structural racism impacts the care we provide, both individually and as a system.

  50. Kelly Newsom says...

    I am so glad your on the road to recovery. I’m very thankful you had advocates. I suffered from DVT – blood clots in my leg. I had hundreds from my knee to my hip. The hormones in the pill caused the clots. I had to fight tooth and nail to get answers and understand it better and was finally sent to a hematologist who ran blood tests. He said I am Protein C deficient, which means I naturally am at risk for blood clots. The pill pushed the condition into overdrive. I’m on blood thinners (xeralto) for life and no hormones in my future…ever.

    I share this TMI info because it’s good to be aware that our bodies might actually be the reason clots are produced. And I figured there’s some nuggets in there for you to ask your dr about. I know you don’t know me, but if you have any questions I am available. this was devastating to me and I’m still recovering 10 years later.

    • Kim Rhodes says...

      Kelly,
      Thank you so much for sharing this! I was tested and found I’m not genetically prone, but this is something I’ll ask the hematologist about soon. I also don’t think doctors realize how many women are affected and have blood clots from the pill! Thank you, again! xoxoxo

  51. Sara says...

    I have thought this same thing many times. As a white woman, I have not had to deal with the systemic racism others face in health care, but in my personal experience I have had two health crises in my life – and both times the doctors that came through for me and were the most compassionate, really listened to me, and offered the best advice were black women.

    I’m aware this is totally anecdotal, but that, combined with reading about how much higher maternal mortality is in black women vs white really made me aware of how important it is to have a diverse medical care team. I am so endlessly appreciative of the perspective these women brought to my health.

    I would love to see more young, black women attending medical school not only because they are a vital voice for the black community, but also because I truly believe they will improve health care outcomes for all of us.

  52. florence says...

    I’m so sorry this happened to you and glad you are ok now! Thank you for bringing awareness to this issue that most people would never even think about. When a friend in med school (she’s Asian American) mentioned that statistic to me just last year: “50 percent of medical students and residents believed Black people couldn’t feel pain the same way white people do,” I was flabbergasted. It sounds like something from the 18th century… and in medical school which is based on science! I’m so glad there are WOC in medicine to advocate until actual doctors change their biases.

    • Ange says...

      So true Florence. It’s important to remember that science and studies are largely produced and edited by white scholars. It is important to be critical of research, too.

    • AE says...

      Ange, that’s not how bias in research works. If you’re positing people like yourself in a poor light, you are likely to try to skew the data to make everyone look better. In this case, that means the %s here are likely even higher than 50%.

    • Ange says...

      @AE I am not debating the 50% statistic at all, I agree it is likely much higher. I was commenting on the statement about medical school being based on science. Most science that medicine is founded on is written and edited by white scholars. This highlights the systemic network of academics who base treatment (and nursing/medical education) on institutionalized racism and stereotypes. We need to be critical of the evidence and research used when developing curriculums.

  53. Lane says...

    AMEN! The best medical care I have ever received is always, ALWAYS from women of color. If given the choice, I would never go to another white man for healthcare again.

    You stay healthy, dear, and keep advocating for yourself!

  54. Grace Farris says...

    Thank you for sharing this Kim. It’s such a powerful reminder of how much racism is still baked into medicine and medical culture.

    Even though there are have been many, many studies (including the one you cited) that describe the myriad ways racism is at play in medicine, as recently as last month one of the editors at one of the major medical journals (JAMA) said in a podcast that he didn’t understand structural racism and didn’t believe physicians could be racist (https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/25/health/jama-bauchner-race-medicine.html).

    As a member of the medical community, we have so much work to do. Narratives like this help bring more weight to the findings in studies and are so important.

  55. Ramona says...

    Wow! Those are startling statistics! On everything you said! Everyone is their own individual case. We have to advocate for ourselves. I am glad to hear you are feeling much better.

  56. Alison says...

    This is really very upsetting. I am so glad you are, as you say, almost on the other side of this crisis. The inequality you highlight is outrageous and inexcusable. Have we made no progress from Tuskegee? What are they teaching in med school these days?

  57. Jane says...

    Kim,
    I’m sorry and glad you are on the road to recovery.

  58. Heather says...

    I am so sorry this happened to you, but thankful you had a team of people that really saw you and were looking out for you. It reminded me of this article noting Black newborns are less likely to die if their doctor is Black as well –

    https://www.sciencenews.org/article/black-newborn-baby-survival-doctor-race-mortality-rate-disparity

    Thank you for sharing and providing yet another glimpse into the reality of how our systems do not adequately support people of color.

    • Sal says...

      Yes. This is so indefensible and heartbreaking. The stat that rocks me (from the UK where I am- don’t know the Us data) is that Black women are FIVE TIMES more likely to die in pregnancy or childbirth than white. Check out the #fivexmore movement.

  59. Emily says...

    Thank you so much for sharing your experience. This post was actually the final push I needed to finally make a doctor’s appointment as a new patient after weeks of putting it off and downplaying discomfort.
    Thank you again for sharing your experience and highlighting the incredibly important subject of medical inequities, especially those faced by Black women! Everyone deserves attentive, compassionate medical care when we are at our most vulnerable. I hope that you are soon entirely on the other side of this experience.

  60. Amanda says...

    I wish I could say this is totally unbelievable and actually mean it. But as a black female doctor (who trained in Texas and Oklahoma) I know this is totally true and terribly sad. So sorry this happened to you and so glad you had the fortune of others with more insight to care for you.

    Absolutely let this be testimony that you must advocate for yourself as patients. Trust yourself – studies have shown patient’s perceptions of their own health status are quite accurate.

  61. Brittny says...

    Kim,

    I am so sorry this happened to you, and tearfully I am not surprised. Racism in healthcare is a huge issue that more of us need to be aware of and angry over. The US has extremely high motherhood mortality rates, compared to other nations of our “standard,” and the reasons are that Black women are 3-4 times more likely to die in childbirth than white women. This article, among many like it, explains that the issue is purely race-related, and has the same affects no matter your economic and education status.

    From the article:
    A 2016 analysis of five years of data found that black, college-educated mothers who gave birth in local hospitals were more likely to suffer severe complications of pregnancy or childbirth than white women who never graduated from high school….”It tells you that you can’t educate your way out of this problem. You can’t health care-access your way out of this problem. There’s something inherently wrong with the system that’s not valuing the lives of black women equally to white women.

    https://www.npr.org/2017/12/07/568948782/black-mothers-keep-dying-after-giving-birth-shalon-irvings-story-explains-why

    For me personally, I am half-Asian and half-White, but I am “white passing.” When I gave birth to my son last year, I recognized my privilege first hand when I was offered a c-section due to my sons heart rate dropping a couple times, and it was just that: an option, not an ultimatum. I have reflected back on labor and have wondered if I was Black, would I have been given the choice? Would my wishes have been respected, let alone even heard?

    It’s time for us as allies to be aware that our privilege exists in all areas of our lives. Let’s ask our doctors how many Black and minority patients they see, and if that number is low, ask questions. If you live in a diverse area, press your provider to do more for the community.

  62. Lisa says...

    Being an advocate for your health is so important. I learned this after a hard couple of years’ worth of fighting for a diagnosis. I was told my sudden, uncontrollable HBP was anxiety and I should rethink continuing as a law student because the one test she had run had ruled out an adrenal problem. As an adult who had already had a job, I knew law school wasn’t particularly stressful for me. I continued to see the same doctor, hit google, and eventually to side step the doctor and ask the nurse to add a specific hormone panel to the lab test. When those results came back, I got a much needed referral to an endocrinologist who took me back to step up and confirmed that I had a textbook case of an adrenal tumor. After a successful surgery, I was “healed” and back to perfect health. I had sat back and trusted my first doctor when my gut said there was something much worse wrong with my body, I can’t imagine that I would have had two healthy pregnancies or good health now.

    I think a lot about the fact that I had a team of family and friends pushing me to advocate for myself, I had the confidence to do so (eventually), and that I am white. I think how much harder it might be for a woman of color in those same circumstances.

  63. Wink says...

    Nina, I can’t begin to thank you for taking the time to share your expertise. I am astonished to say that I think I absolutely fit this bill, from debilitating allergies, to anaphylactic responses to several medications, to struggling with depression and anxiety. I just got my appointment for the Pfizer vaccine and am incredibly nervous about it, given the fact that I have had uncomfortable to life-threatening responses to drugs in the past. (I am definitely taking the risk!) In the meantime, I am going to study up on MCAS and ask my GP if I can possibly be tested for it. I think it might explain a lot!

    And Kim, my hat is off to you for this very important article. It is so important that women learn to self-advocate for themselves in medical situations (I say this as a young breast cancer survivor who had to learn the ropes as I went) and your story brings home how much more crucial this is for BPIOC. Best wishes for a full recovery.

  64. Alex says...

    That medical student statistic – jaw on the ground. It’s absolutely horrifying.

    After moving to a new state (Florida) recently I just had my first check up with my new PCP – a black woman doctor, in a practice with three other BIPOC and one white doctors – all women. All the staff I saw – NPs, nurses, techs and receptionists are all BIPOC women. It is the best doctor’s office I’ve ever been too. I am so so happy to have found this place! Thank God for Women of Color indeed.

  65. Andrea says...

    Sorry that you had PE. It’s terrible. Unfortunately with COVID, many people are having clots. My husband had PE 14 years ago and also could have died because medical personnel overlooked his symptoms.

  66. Pie says...

    For anyone who is reading these comments – I know this is NOT the purpose of this article – but please consider IUDs as a form of birth control. They are more reliable than the pill, they have far less dangers and side effects than the pill. Living in the US, I have never understood why the pill is the primary mode of birth control for most women. The IUD takes a bit of coordination to insert, it is slightly painful during insertion, and there are side effects of heavier bleeding for the copper version (the hormonal version does not have those issues by the way). But after the inconvenience and small pain of insertion, it is a dream. At the very least educate yourself, and look up statistics on the form of birth control used by women outside the US in developed nations.

    • Sage says...

      And if you’re in a committed relationship with a dude and done having babies – have him get a vasectomy. I don’t use any birth control myself now (vasectomies are just under abstinence in terms of effectiveness) and it’s heavenly.

    • Anon says...

      Please also be aware though that an IUD, for a minority of women, can have terrible effects. Some of these can be on your personality and are very insidious because you don’t realize what is happening, you simply experience the moods and feelings as legitimate and normal. It happened to me. I finally realized what was happening and had the IUD removed. (Although my doctor encouraged me to keep it in and discounted what was happening). Within a week I started to feel like myself again. It was the strangest experience. It you have an IUD and are experiencing anger, irritability, depression or anything like that… it could seriously be the IUD.

    • Nicole says...

      Sage – my husband is getting a vasectomy in literally 2 hours! After three pregnancies and taking the pill for about half my life, I’m ecstatic about no longer needing to be in charge of the family planning. I’m also grateful that my husband is just as excited about getting a vasectomy, because I know there is a silly stigma about it for men.

    • Rachel says...

      There are way more non-hormonal birth control options than are commonly discussed with traditional doctors. I have a fabulous team of midwives that do my care, but I had to schedule an appointment with a specific one of them in order to talk about getting a diaphragm (which I highly recommend, btw!).

      COJ team, I would love to hear more on this subject– the research on how HBC negatively affects almost ALL people who take it is just staggering!

      Kim, thank you again for sharing your experience. It is so helpful as a privileged white woman to read and learn about the experiences of others and how I can look for opportunities to affect change in my community.

    • Claire says...

      I had a TERRIBLE experience with the copper IUD. My periods became hellish, and I developed a whole host of health issues from it. I feel like it stole three years of my life from me. It was truly the worst experience and I would not recommend it to anyone.

    • Pie says...

      Agreed on all of these comments, I think education and experimentation is key. Every woman’s body is different, I have many friends who to their knowledge have had no issues with hormonal birth control, in fact for some it helped with issues they faced (acne comes to mind). Knowledge is everything! For what it’s worth, the hormonal version of the IUD has significantly less hormones than the pill (it is closer to where the site), which is why it has less side hormonal side effects, but it does still use hormones. For the person who used copper and had a terrible experience, I am so sorry to hear that I hope you found a good solution!

  67. Maywyn says...

    I am glad your are doing all right, and bringing this very important issue to the public. I’ve seen on medical TV shows the subject of racial differences where medical issues are concerned highlighted as well.
    I understand why you feel fortunate. However, you had a medical Team. I read nothing to indicate the white doctor doesn’t know how to treat patients of all races.
    Prayers for your good health

    • LP says...

      Did you miss the part where the white doctor breezed was going to discharge her early even though her numbers still looked bad? Or were you willfully ignoring that detail because it didn’t fit in with your worldview?

    • AE says...

      Ah willful ignorance, spiritual bypassing, and dismissing a black woman’s lived experience (which is supported by global research). Did you read the piece?

  68. MyHanh says...

    Kim, so very glad you trusted yourself and got the care you needed. And bless the kindness of strangers. Unfortunately, those students and residents who believe black people are more pain tolerant go on to become docs themselves… like right now!! Even some who I know and love and are incredibly bright and empathetic doctors still believe this! When we talk about systemic racism, this is what it looks like.
    Sending you hugs and always grateful for your writing and contributions.

  69. Ari says...

    That is so scary and I am so glad you’re okay. We are the only experts on our own bodies. No one else!

  70. This is such an important post in so many ways! First, as you point out, healthcare still has a long way to go to address disparities in care. Articles like yours are so helpful in making sure the conversation continues and that our healthcare system address this critically important problem.

    Second, blood clots kill more people each year than breast cancer, prostate cancer, AIDS, and car accidents combined. Yet there is such little awareness around them. Being on birth control is a known risk factor for blood clots, yet is rarely addressed with women at the time it is prescribed. Every woman taking or considering taking estrogen based birth control should talk to her doctor about her risk for blood clots.

    And this is where I make a plug for the nonprofit I am the proud ED of: The North American Thrombosis Forum (www.NATFonline.org). We were founded in 2006 with the mission to educate patients AND healthcare providers about blood clots and related cardiovascular diseases. We have tons of great (reputable!!) information on our website and I encourage anyone looking to learn more about preventing and treating blood clots to give it a visit!

  71. Etta says...

    I’m so sorry this happened to you and I can’t imagine how terrifying it must have been! I actually went back and read the entire essay again because I don’t quite see where the difference in quality of care lies within this story… I absolutely believe your lived experiences and take on things but as someone who is trying to understand the nuances here, nothing pops out to me aside from a slightly optimistic doctor? I hope I’m not offending anyone by posting this and appreciate you sharing your experience. It’s definitely important for women to trust what our bodies and instincts are telling us!

    • I am not intending to speak for Kim, but I want to answer your question. You’re right–this story is not about an obvious, in-your-face racism, but the most insidious racism rarely is; it’s the nuance that’ll get you.

      First, there’s the question of whether Kim would have received the same quality of care from the start, had her doctors at the initial hospital not been a Black and an an Asian woman.

      If she’d had a white, male doctor, her pain may not have been taken seriously (something that is well-documented in the literature for both women of all races and Black people more broadly), or she may have had a physician who was not aware that Black people have a 30 to 60 percent higher chance of developing a pulmonary embolism than white people and dismissed it as an option because she is a young, non-smoker. If that had been the case, she might have been sent home without adequate testing and experienced a catastrophic health event or even death.

      Once she was in care, it’s possible that her overly optimistic doctor would have sent her home prematurely, again because of a mistaken understanding of the risks that doing so could have posed to Kim.

      Equity-informed medical practice has a LONG way to go, and stories like these are a stark reminder of the importance of diversity in the medical field, and of cultivating strong self-advocacy skills in women and girls, especially those who have bodies that are too often dismissed and ignored by the medical system.

      That’s my take on this story! Hope that is useful :)

    • joy says...

      @Etta, Kim wrote, “I’m still dealing with a few who wave off my concerns.” There is an increasingly well-documented phenomenon of doctors being particularly dismissive of the concerns of Black patients. So, if Kim has already had the experience in the hospital of a white doctor taking her condition less seriously than the doctors of color, and then has follow-up experiences with doctors who brush aside her concerns, it starts to look like more of a pattern. Part of what’s so pernicious is that on the level of an individual interaction, none of the doctors’ actions seem particularly egregious. It’s at the aggregate level that the difference in quality of care becomes more pronounced.

    • Teresa says...

      Etta – The difference of care she’s illuminating has to do with who was caring for her, “My doctor and nurses at the first hospital were Black women and an Asian woman. They all had my back and at the time I hadn’t realized how lucky I was. ” She then draws our attention to two other black women who either died or had to demand the care she had received simply because her care providers believed her, and took her pain and symptoms seriously. Her diagnosis was made by women of colo, thank god for women of color.

    • Carly says...

      I’m right there with you. I saw an optimistic doctor… Not one who was overlooking anything or disbeliving or malpracticing… Did I miss something?

    • Lilly says...

      Hey Etta, that ‘slightly optimistic doctor’ going unchecked would have meant fewer tests, taking it less seriously, and just generally being dismissive. So the attitude changes the level of care – these are split second decisions on the doctors part and more influenced by racism and cultural assumptions than a lot of people care to acknowledge.

      For another example of how dismissive attitudes towards POC can cause massive care differences, my father had some horrific differences in ER treatments coming in wearing a suit vs in his gardening clothes: we’re native and the white ER doctor & nurses assumed his seizure was just him ‘being a drunk Indian’ and had him wait for hours. He (generally incommunicative but he tried) and my 12 year old sister kept telling him about the ongoing seizures and probable brain cancer. Didn’t believe her, as “this guys girlfriend” (she’s 12, remember, and looks it) she was obviously “just” hysterical and didn’t know what she was talking about. It took the head of the cancer ward dad had been at, who’d taken an interest in dad’s case and was a Black man, crossing town and yelling at the intake doctor for him to take the seizures seriously.

      My POV has obviously been shaped by this kind of treatment over the years, but yeah, those snap judgements doctors make have a huge, huge impact on who gets tests, who gets treatment.

    • Shanti says...

      Hi Etta, I hear you in not seeing anything overt. Implicit bias in healthcare is an insidious and important area of study that is beginning to gain quite of bit of traction (and by traction, I mean grant funding to study the effects of such implicit bias as well as ways to intervene to reduce such bias among providers, staff, trainees, etc).

    • Caucus says...

      @etta indeed there is nothing overt. She is speculating based on her other experiences and the stats (which would indicate her speculation to be true). But note, rather than being an accusation against the white doctor the article is really framed in gratitude for the WOC who were cautious, and gave her the treatment she required. She is illustrating a wider point.

    • Lydia says...

      Dear Etta,

      Implicit bias is often hard to recognize, both in ourselves and in others. Because you seem genuinely respectful and interested in learning, I’d encourage you to learn more about implicit bias in general and about your own biases. Without faulting you, it is telling that your instinctive takeaway was that the doctor was not at fault—whether you consciously thought this or not, it means that this white man’s intentions and credibility held greater weight to you than a Black woman’s assertion of his dereliction. I hope you’ll take my feedback constructively and not personally. It’s great that you asked the question and I see that you’ve received a number of thoughtful responses. We can do this.

    • Etta says...

      Thank you everyone for your incredibly thoughtful, insightful responses. I truly appreciate it and moments like these are part of the reason I love this community.

    • AE says...

      The thing about implicit bias, and really, most racism, is that if you aren’t on the receiving end of it (or are privileged or “the majority”, you never see it because it isn’t targeting you). Optimism in medicine is, “most people recover from this in few weeks”. Sending someone who has dual embolisms earlier (ostensibly to celebrate a holiday?) isn’t optimism. Neither is a cheeky-wink. Part of the issue here too is the hubris of young, white male physicians who have buoyed and rewarded by the system versus what it takes to be a woman of color in med— always thinking, always evaluating all angles, being super thorough, being practical and realistic even when optimism sounds fun, spending additional time with patients and setting expectations, listening carefully, lest you be deemed stupid/careless/uncaring/unfit. I feel like every time a POC communicates a story about bias and racism, non-POC swoop in with, “I don’t think this is racism” or “i don’t see it.” You don’t have to see it, you just have to believe it. I mean, why (and how?) would millions of people of one race coordinate efforts to come up with lies and delusions about racism? It’s like saying you don’t believe rape victims because there is no video evidence. There are things you won’t ever be able to fully get due to your lived experiences. It doesn’t mean you should/can challenge the experiences of those you don’t live.

    • Nancy says...

      Or maybe the White doctor was not so great and the others were more competent, regardless of their skin color. I am a Black/Brown Latina and have experienced very competent/empathetic White doctors (male and female) as well as incompetent/dismissive Black/Asian/Latino doctors, AND vice-versa.
      My most recent medical team: an amazing White Jewish OB, a very competent yet dismissive Asian OB, and a somewhat competent AND heartless Latina OB. It’s not always about race. In fact, my experience as an adult has been that it usually isn’t (and I’m over 45).

  72. Ali says...

    “According to a 2016 study, 50 percent of medical students and residents believed Black people couldn’t feel pain the same way white people do, because they had thicker skin or their nerves didn’t work the same way. ”

    This level of ignorance in people our society often views as the best and the brightest is a crisis of epic proportions. Medical education must spend more time addressing these biases. Bias seems too gentle; the word should be racism. And make it easier for people of color to see BIPOC doctors.
    I can tell you as someone who spent most of her life in the healthy weight/thin category and gained weight later in life, it is pretty clear that many doctors assume that my weight (high, not obese) is the cause of pretty much any health problem. I had to find an overweight GI doc to address my intestinal problems.

    • Jenny says...

      As a trauma nurse of 25 years, I find that fat phobia is a huge issue in healthcare. It has become socially acceptable in hospitals to speak ill of patients who are obese. Nothing grates on my nerves more than this.
      I believe obese women getting subpar care. I can only assume also being a woman of color from what I am hearing and reading here, only compounds issues. It pains me to type those words.
      Thank you Kim for sharing your heart and experience.
      We can and must do better.

    • Claire says...

      fatphobia is an enormous issue in medicine.

  73. Kate says...

    I am so sorry you went through this Kim and thank you for sharing your story. I found the book Medical Apartheid by Harriet Washington to be really educational (and infuriating) about the history of mistreatment of Black people in medical contexts. So glad you got through the worst of it and had providers on your side.

  74. To whoever needs to read this… Whenever I hear “list of bizarre symptoms I’d collected over the years”, my ears prick up. I work with a very newly recognized disorder that not many doctors have on their radar yet. While science is clear on its existence, but not yet clear on the diagnostic criteria (since it’s still so new), doctors often have no idea.

    I am a scientist studying this disorder, and I am also part of a patient advocacy group for this particular disease. It is called “mast cell activation disorder”, in short MCAS. It involves chronic or episodic or waxing-and-waning symptoms (that are often unspecific) of an allergic or inflammatory theme.

    Mast cells are sentinel cells of our immune system and have a wide range of functions and influence all over the body. They reside everywhere in the body, but mostly at the interfaces between the body and the environment (skin, airways, gastrointestinal tract…), where they watch out for danger coming in. In some people, these cells have become overreactive and started to react to many innocuous stimuli, producing a wide array of symptoms and intolerances, mostly unspecific.

    The clinical picture is characteristic: The disease escalates some time in adulthood, but looking back, “weird” or “odd” symptoms of an allergic and/or inflammatory nature have often been present through childhood or at the latest adolescence. MCAS can be tested with particular tests in urine and blood and tissue samples, but does not show up in regular blood work. So many ailments are called “idiopathic”, meaning no one knows why they exist.

    I am *not* saying everyone with unspecific symptoms definitely has mast cell activation, but I am saying if it sounds like the shoe might fit (and with estimated prevalence of around 15%, it might fit many feet), have a look into that. It is not presently curable, but in many people, simple antihistamines (histamine is a major mast cell mediator) and lifestyle changes can turn their health around.

    By the way, many localized disorders like allergies, asthma, atopic eczema etc. are mast-cell dependent. One very important requirement of MCAS is that the issues have turned systemic and are present in at least two organs or systems. Mast cell diseases can also directly, as a symptom, cause anxiety and/or depression.

    I have been working in this field in university research for several years now, and it never ceases to amaze me what mast cells can do. A recent study also showed that mice without mast cells cannot form blood clots (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5623089/), and more studies on mast cells and coagulation are under way, so this might have direct relevance to this topic.

    Of course, with the infrastructure so thin on the ground, and women primarily affected (as far as we currently know), all the issues about being believed in the doctor’s office ring very familiar. Cases vary from very mild occasional “spells” to life-threatening, with the mild cases being the majority. Among the more severe, anaphylactic shock is a mast-cell dependent symptom.

    If you ever read a news story saying “I cannot leave the house, I react to my environment” or “I am allergic to everything”, that is likely a mast cell disease patient.

    Now, that was only the very short version, but if you have a lifetime supply of “bizarre” or “colorful” symptoms of an allergic/inflammatory nature, and maybe have other family members with similar issues (it has a familiar aggregation), maybe look into that if you are looking for answers everywhere but finding none – which is characteristic for the patients I work with, sometimes over decades of suffering.

    • JC says...

      Thank you for posting about this, Nina. I have MCAS and I was SO lucky to have access to a functional MD through my insurance at my old job that recognized it. Now I don’t have that insurance anymore and none of my “traditional” doctors will diagnose or treat me for it so I’ve had to seek out my own treatment and pay for it out of pocket. I’m so glad university researchers are studying this and that it’s becoming more widely recognized.

    • Sage says...

      Thank you for sharing this. I don’t think I have MCAS but I have run into a brick wall trying to figure out why I consistently feel bad. My doctors just tell me to “monitor” things, and it’s like $150 here for an appt, $500 here for a scan, $40 here for a follow up. It’s to the point that I’ve given up, I cannot afford it and I feel like my doctors are just writing me off as a young hypochondriac. But I know my body – I was in great shape, got a bad cold in February 2020, and have been feeling run-down ever since – tinnitus, swollen lymph nodes that come and go, jaw pain, sometimes difficulty swallowing, anxiety, palpitations, headaches, etc. I have a toddler to take care of. I hope to God everything IS in my head, or just “one of those things.” And not that I’m putting off treating something serious. My friend died when she was 25 because doctors wouldn’t even entertain the idea of cancer until it had progressed too far.

      I hope someone sees your comment and that MCAS “clicks” with them as the issue. Not knowing is the worst.

    • Jo says...

      @Sage Just read your comment and wanted to state the obvious in case it wasn’t so obvious. The timing of your cold aligns with Covid and your symptoms match up with a lot of long-haulers… could that be what happened? Regardless, sending a virtual hug from a stranger.

    • Funghi says...

      V informative. Can long term skin fungal infections be a symptom?

    • Briana says...

      Sage, do you have any dental amalgam (metal) fillings?
      I have been dealing with very similar symptoms as you, and finally dove deep enough and found that the mercury in the fillings has a lot to do with my ailments. It is straight up poison and no one will acknowledge that (when putting it into your mouth!)
      I just had mine removed a few weeks ago and I feel a HUGE weight lifted, and have seen many many symptoms lessen or downright disappear. Just a thought as something for you to look into.

    • Meredith says...

      Thank you Nina–MCAS awareness is SO important. I was recently confirmed to have MCAS after looking for an answer for serious symptoms (including anaphylaxis) for over a decade. A little Claritin and cutting a few foods out of my diet and I am pretty much good. Truly astounding.

      While we’re on the subject of “bizarre symptoms,” let me put in a plug for awareness of the other disorder I have, Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. Connective tissue disorders are similar in that they can cause a wide variety of symptoms and doctors often have little awareness of the need to explore these diagnoses. Musculoskeletal and skin issues are the obvious starting point that most people consider as far as connective tissue, but in reality, connective tissue is found throughout the body and EDS and related diseases can cause symptoms in the GI, cardiovascular, nervous, reproductive, endocrine, and many other systems. As the saying goes…”if you can’t connect the issues, think connective tissues.”

    • Sage says...

      @Jo – I took an antibodies test and tested negative – this was in the first few months of the pandemic, so I’m not sure if that means I truly didn’t have it, or if I tested after those antibodies had gone away, etc…
      @Briana – Intriguing possibility… I do have metal fillings. I’ll talk to my dentist about getting them replaced with porcelain – I’m already getting my permanent retainer removed in the next few weeks.

      Thank you both very much. Wishing you health & happiness! <3

  75. Rusty says...

    Oh. My. Goodness!!
    Kim, that’s so scary. Those doctors are gold!
    Yes, please follow through and be your own advocate until you get to the cause of the clots. Too many times, symptoms are treated instead of digging to find the cause and then deal with that.
    I’m wishing you completely well from Australia. xx

    I’m booked to get my Covid jab next Saturday (Astrazeneca) and now I’m anxious because of the risk of blood clots, especially in women.😳 Yikes!
    Maybe this is my sign to be hypervigilant about any side effects I might experience??

    • Jenny by the sea says...

      Rusty, if it helps, in the UK we’re being told that one in 250,000, or 0.0004% risk blood clots from the AZ vaccine, compare that with one in 2,000 or 0.05% who have blood clots as a result of taking the contraceptive pill. I can’t help but wonder why there isn’t as much concern about the risk of blood clots with the pill, but how many men take the pill?

      Cynically, there does seem to be a lot of negative publicity about the AZ vaccine, which is the main no-profit vaccine. Could these two facts possibly be related?

      Kim, I am so sorry that you had such a terrifying experience, and wish you health and caring medical professionals in your future.

    • Rusty says...

      Thank you Jenny.
      Yes, I know the statistics are low, but I’ve recently had chemo, so I’m a but paranoid something else might hit me.
      I’m seeking my specialist’s opinion before I have it bc mh siater had a brain aneurysm in 2019 as well, and it’s familial, so??? 😳
      Thank you again. xx

  76. Andrea says...

    I had a bizarre acute episode of sepsis at 23, and even as a white girl, my pain was minimized to the point that to change bandages, doctors ripped gauze out of my healing abdominal wound without wetting the gauze first — basically yanking apart the flesh — and then were surprised when I screamed. The basic lack of empathy can be just shocking, and I know it’s infinitely worse for women of color. I’m so glad you’re stronger and better now.

  77. Emily says...

    That is so scary Kim! Thank you for sharing your story.

  78. M says...

    Thank you for your post. I am an ICU nurse practitioner at a large academic medical center, so I see a wide variety of patients who are the sickest of the sick. I have to constantly check in with myself to make sure I am providing culturally competent care. In the medical world, there has been a big push towards recognizing racial disparities of healthcare but your post reminds me we have such a long way to go. I’m thankful you had such great advocates for your care.

    • gm says...

      Totally agree, as a white family medicine doc at a community clinic serving mostly BIPOC (Latinx) patients. I try to check in with myself regularly to make sure that I am using race/ethnicity for purposes of more treatment, not less, e.g. ordering colonoscopies for my African-American/Black patients at a younger age. And I keep at the front of my mind that while I know my thoughts and my heart, to a new patient I’m another member of the medical system that came up with the Tuskegee experiments, etc., and that I have to work to earn their trust.

    • Laura Schultz says...

      Having been with a few patients in the ICU over the past few years, including my Dad, I know from experience that you are a total bad-ass. Thank you for what you do.

  79. Tnelly says...

    Facepalm. I know the sunny Doctor was just trying to be upbeat, but sigh. So many mental notes for myself a WOC.

  80. Lauren says...

    Thank you, THANK YOU for finally bringing this up on COJ. So many issues of race and prejudice are unbelievably (?) pervasive in the medical system (and pretty much every other system). I can’t describe the pain and confusion and anger I felt after losing a friend in our early 20’s, so I won’t. I just want this to change, and I want people to talk about it. I’m glad you were ok, Kim.

  81. Beth says...

    What a huge shock to discover you were actually so close to being in real danger. Women, and especially women of color, are taught from the beginning to minimize their concerns. I am so glad you were cared for by that wonderful group of strong and capable women of color.

    Thank you so much for sharing this difficult experience with us! Sending you Loveland healing even so many months after this all happened!!!

  82. celeste says...

    So glad you are doing better and surrounding yourself with great people. That must have been very scary.

  83. JJ says...

    So so so powerful. My mind is blown that half of med students and residents think black people experience pain differently. I’m a doctor and that makes zero physiologic sense to me, but sadly I know it must be true. Now famous medical studies showed black children in ERs received far less treatment for their pain. No matter how aware we are of our own biases, implicit (and explicit!) bias is REAL and it carries real consequences in the medical field.

    I also myself believe that women of color make the best medical professionals, and I see this time and time again in my mentors and role models. It’s the *questioning* mindset that’s been baked into us our entire lives. We’ve never been reassured that we are blindly right all the time, instead, the best doctors understand nuances of grey.

  84. Cynthia says...

    I am so sorry for what happened to you! I don’t think many doctors really listen to women because they think our problems are all in our heads. My youngest daughter has an autoimmune disorder and she has had to fight with doctors to get what she needs.

  85. S says...

    Thank you for sharing, I knew (from personal experience & stats) that women weren’t listened to or treated the same as men, but I never knew women of colour had it even worse. I wish you all the best

  86. Catherine says...

    Hi Kim,
    Thank you for sharing your experience and I am glad that thing turned out ok for you, and your story is unfortunately not an exception.
    In Europe(I don’t know in the US) it is called the “Mediterranean Syndrome “, non-white people are believe indeed to be less sensitive to the pain and may more suffered from ill diagnosed sickness.
    Also nonwhite women and especially black women have more chance to go through C-section.
    Some people are appalled by the fact that in some places there are lists of physicians, psychologists… or any specialist who are known to have amongst their patients a real diversity on one hand and to be definitely non racists on the other hand.
    Because this choice may have a very heavy impact on your health.
    I remember when my daughter was three years old she had a skin problem (I live in the north of Europe), I went to see a physician, and he meant well I guess , he sent us to a dermatologist. The woman was really rude and after maybe a 5 minutes check she sent us home with a prescription. The medication did not work and the situation went worst for my daughter, so on the advice of an acquaintance I went to an Institute were they treat and run research on tropical disease and i got the contact of another dermatologist.
    It happened that it was a common skin sickness amongst black and mixed race kids and we got the appropriate treatment.
    So really i feel you.

  87. Andrea says...

    WOW. Kim!!! I have an interview for a job later today, and to open up Cup of Jo and see this title screaming at me is… there are no words. What an incredibly validating way to start my day! Thank you for advocating for the care we so rightly deserve as Black and Brown women. I’m so happy you’re on the mend and sharing your story.

  88. Suz says...

    I am a midwife and I am so grateful for this post. It is important for people to know that they are always allowed to ask questions, do research, ask for rationale, and expect informed consent. If their provider is dismissive or upset, they are probably not the right provider. Racism and fat-phobia are both pillars in American medicine, and until we reckon with that ditching providers that dismiss your concerns is essential to your health and safety. P.S. We have good data to support that the best way to get people of color better treatment is to get them providers that look like them, as this post suggests! If you’re looking for a place to put your dollars to make healthcare more equitable and safe for all, help fund a black providers education!

  89. Christina says...

    Oh dear, I am at loss for words. I am so sorry that happened to you and I am awfully angry at medical staff not treating everyone equal!