8 Ways You Can Feel More Empowered About Your Physical Health
We are almost through July – can you believe it? I don’t know about you but I have been finding small victories in simply not going crazy during this #2020challenge we call life.
Apart from all the rebranding, I have spent most of my time connecting with some of my forgotten hobbies and doing some much needed self care.
I’ve actually been bingeing the show “Married at first sight” but turning off my brain for a bit to reality tv counts as self care right?
But when my brain is switched on and I have been trying to find how I can best use my voice and skills to support the #blacklivesmattermovement.
For me, this means being able to share the systemic challenges women of color specifically have faced that keep us from thriving and being our best Beyoncè selves.
So this month, we’re talking about physical health.
This may feel like a hard 180 from what I have typically written about, but I have always felt that we cannot begin to live our lives to the fullest without first being healthy. I have studied international women’s health with a focus on prenatal and infant nutrition believing the cycle of health begins in the womb. Throughout college I learned there are a wealth of disparities in access to resources to health for women specifically in non-first world countries. What I overlooked was that in my own country there were barriers for women minorities to receive adequate health for women WITH health insurance and access to health care.
Keeping it personal, just about every woman in my family has had challenges seeking adequate care which has led to either late treatment, inadequate treatment or their early passing from ailments that could have easily been treated.
As a patient who has often felt dismissed in the doctor’s office, I think a great place to start would be to offer some tips on how to be your own advocate at a doctors appointment.
Is this a place you are already feeling confident? Great! I encourage you to think of others in your life who may benefit from the suggestions below!
1. Be prepared!
Yes I had Scar’s “Be Prepared” in my head as I typed that. But seriously, having documentation with you is one of the easiest ways to feel confident at a doctor’s visit. With many hospitals and clinics keeping electronic documentation, it is easier than ever to check these documents for accuracy and for your reference. As an added bonus, having a record of your family’s medical history at appointments as well may help determine if you have predispositions to less common diseases. It is also helpful to document your symptoms at least a few days before your visit as a reference including any pain, changes in eating/sleeping habits, other behavioral changes.
2. Research your symptoms
Not suggesting you go down a webmd wormhole to convince yourself of the worst-case scenario (or maybe this is just me as an enneagram 6 😉). There is however power in having a basic understanding of what could be going on so you can ask specific questions and know what tests may be needed in the upcoming doctor’s visit.
For women, and especially black women, physicians tend to show more dominance throughout the visit, limiting time for patients to communicate symptoms and be accurately diagnosed.
3. Ask for specific tests
I am not suggesting anyone storm into the appointment demanding very specific tests for rare or unlikely issues. But oftentimes a simple x-ray, mammogram or even ultrasound will not be offered. For women and women of color, several studies have found that physicians themselves will not always recommend testing for reasons.
If you are turned down for any reasonable testing, ask the physician to document the refusal on your chart. If the test is truly the best course of action most physicians will “reconsider”.
4. Ask all the questions
Have a question? Be that annoying kid in class that had their hand up in class asking all the nit-picky questions. Ask anything and everything that comes to mind. I like to make a list beforehand because sitting in a cold LED-lit room on a recliner chair covered by butcher paper makes me too nervous to think on the spot.
By asking questions you ensure you are getting the most out of your visit and feel confident that you know the next steps to take care of yourself.
Great questions to ask include the following:
What are the guidelines you are using for your diagnosis?
What specifically with this medication treat?
What lifestyle changes do you recommend to manage this long term?
5. Research prescribed medications
I am a big fan of reading labels and instructions for almost all products I use. Board game set up and rules? No thank you. The back story of a new tee shirt I just bought? 100% yes.
Reading the full pamphlet of a newly prescribed medication will help you know what to expect in terms of physical and mental changes in the coming days in the medication. And yes I will say it again – ask all the questions (even the same ones again) to your physician to ensure you know how you may respond to any new medication.
6. Have confidence in the knowledge of your own body
At the end of the day, you know your body better than anyone. It is very common for doctors to dismiss symptoms brought up by female and minority patients. Do not dismiss the very real symptoms you are feeling and speak to EVERYTHING that you feel ails you, no matter how big or small, frequent or infrequent.
7. Get a second opinion
To the point above, if you feel that you are not getting the full story on your physical wellness (and you have the means) you have every right to get a second opinion from another physician. Doctors are used to having patients that sought other opinions in order to get the care they feel they need. And to this point, your aim is not to find a physician that agrees with your suspected diagnosis, but one that listens to your symptoms and concerns and offers the best care.
8. Learn from other patients
These are all general tips that could help anyone feel more confident in the doctor’s office. But there are so many nuances to whatever ailment or symptom you may be feeling. While I do my best to stay off of message boards, health forums are sometimes a good resource to find even more ways to communicate with your doctors. Again speaking personally, I have turned to health forums to read their challenges with fibroids which I was continuously misdiagnosed. By finding comradery in their stories, I was able to find the courage within myself to ask for what I needed in future doctor’s visits.
With this, there are some who are not able to use many of these tips because they do not have the means to visit the doctor’s office. Whether it is lack of health insurance or finances to pay for multiple visits and tests, I want to acknowledge that it is a privilege to even have access to a doctor in which to have confidence to visit.
Below are some great organizations that increase the accessibility of healthcare for all. And yes, I will be sharing more about their work on later posts:
- Black Women’s Health Imperative
- The Foundation for Black Women’s Wellness
- National Healthcare for the Homeless
- Planned Parenthood
Stay safe + Well