Have you ever looked forward to a doctor’s appointment? Most of us do not, it is not like planning to hit the club up, it’s a chore. You go and wait for a long time, just sitting there with your thoughts. You may get pricked or probed and hopefully you’ll have some questions answered, but a lot of the times you do not. Especially if you are going in with symptoms that you do not understand, it can be a rough time. When all you want is some answers, going to the doctors can be an anxiety inducing time.
Being a sexual assault survivor on top of all of those feelings complicates things. When your body has been disrespected and touched without your consent, it’s hard to trust that your doctor can support you in ways that make you feel seen, supported and actually heard. Trauma-informed care is not something all doctors receive in medical school. I have been to appointments where I was shamed for the amount of partners, or the type of sex I have had, as if that had anything to do with what I was there for. Sometimes even more harm can be done verbally and/or physically by a doctor you seek help from.
I have had a lot of questions and complaints within the last few months of survivors going to the doctors and coming out more traumatized and not helped.
It can be really hard to emotionally prepare for the doctor if you don’t trust them to keep you safe. Many simply come in cold without getting a background on your traumas. But, we need to see them. They have knowledge that we do not.
I wish that I could say that all of us will be held and handled the same in a doctor’s office, but unfortunately that is not the case. I have had a lot of questions and complaints within the last few months of survivors going to the doctors and coming out more traumatized and not helped. Everything from procedures being forced onto them, or being questioned as to why they do not want procedures. People often share that they were unheard after disclosing that they were assaulted, and the doctors questions can turn into victim-blaming. Clearly, there is an abundance of things that can go wrong in a doctor’s office.
Remember that you can opt in or out of sharing specific information about yourself. While it may be hard to share, it is important to give your doctors at least a brief overview of your medical history. It can allow them to better support you and avoid specific things that make you uncomfortable or triggered in that circumstance. If you are nervous about having that conversation, that’s totally understandable. Vulnerability is scary.
Remember that doctors are often seeing many patients in a short time frame. Doctors sometimes come in seeming very cold and disconnected when asking heavy questions, and that may feel invasive. While it is not an excuse for their behavior, it is often something that has to do with them or their overwhelming work day that has them in such a rush, not you.
Remember you are always allowed to use your NO. If the person that is supposed to be supporting your mental or physical health is not making you feel safe you are allowed to say things like: “No”, “I am not comfortable with that question”, “I am not comfortable sharing that information right now,” or “That sounded very aggressive or that made me feel uncomfortable.”
Remember you also have rights when visiting the doctor.
UNDERSTAND YOUR RIGHTS
You have the right to:
- Request the gender of your provider if you’re going to a general medical clinic or the emergency room.
- Have another person that you trust in the room with you at all times.
- Ask your doctor any questions.
- Ask your doctor exactly what will happen both before and during the exam.
- Ask your doctor to slow down and be patient with your exam and extend the exam if necessary.
- If the provider or atmosphere of the clinic is unwelcoming or you simply feel as though you cannot finish your exam, you can end the checkup whenever you want.
Remember you are always allowed to use your NO.
If you are someone that does not feel comfortable vocally advocating for yourself, there are other things and other ways that you can go about getting your voice heard and protecting yourself in a medical setting. Sharing your trauma to different people and not knowing how they are going to handle it can be downright frightening.
It’s okay for the examiner to:
- Explain each part of the exam to you before and while it is happening.
- Use gloves.
- Encourage you to tell them if something feels wrong or uncomfortable.
- Only ask you to undress the part of your body being examined.
It’s NOT okay for the examiner to:
- Refuse to answer your questions or tell you to be quiet.
- Examine private parts without gloves.
- Refuse to tell you what they are doing or why they are doing it.
- Decline to have another person in the room with you.
- Insist that you undress parts of your body they are not examining.
- Ask you questions about your sexual activity that make you uncomfortable.
There are things that you can do to make yourself feel more comfortable. You can create a notecard card with your information such as what type of assault you endured, your boundaries, things that can cause you triggers. Photocopy it so you can provide that to new doctors upon check-in so they will have that information before you go into the medical examination rooms.
If you are someone that feels more comfortable discussing this verbally, advocate for yourself before any of the exams begins. Tell them your boundaries at the very beginning. You can do this with the nurse that checks in with you, the doctor that comes in, or both of them.
Remember, you deserve care that makes you feel safe. You are always allowed to advocate for yourself if you do not feel comfortable.
Doctors’ offices are hard enough to visit. And it can be just as hard as walking down the street, unfortunately. Keeping your toolbox full of skills navigating all of these spaces is a magical thing. Thank you for taking the time to add more tools to your toolbox.