This is just the fourth National Women Physicians Day . The event celebrates Elizabeth Blackwell’s birthday–she was the first female medical doctor in the U.S. It’s a time to honor women doctors across the country, and the progress they’ve made since Blackwell’s time.
Here are stories from the Sweatpants and Coffee staff about the women physicians who have made a difference in their lives.
I’ve been fortunate to work with a lot of female medical professionals over the years. From the wonderful doctors and nurses to midwives and nurse practitioners who kept me, and thus my children and family, physically and mentally sound, I have experienced the highest quality of care at the hands of female medical staff.
In the past few years, I have begun to see a new female physician who is younger than me, and I worried what her opinion would be of my overweight body. Overweight women often don’t see medical professionals, because they frequently get told that any medical issue relates to their weight—even when it clearly doesn’t. It’s hard for us to trust doctors to see what our true ailments and issues are beyond the body fat. I worried that this young and fit woman would think of me at my physical, and tried to ease my nerves by joking that I was grateful that her teachers let her out of 5th period at the high school to come and do my exam.
I shouldn’t have been so concerned. She was grateful that I stopped putting off my physical and came in to see her. She examined me respectfully and gently, telling me all she was doing and asking about my home life and what I needed, genuinely wanting to help. When I brought up, and you’ll have to excuse the expression, the elephant in the room, and talked about my weight she was just as kind. She told me to not pressure myself so strongly about my weight, and to focus on loving my body. She told me to strive for health, but to realize that not everyone is built to be a certain way, and that I shouldn’t be so negative to myself about it. She told me to be proud of this body that carried me, this healthy body that just so happens to carry some extra pounds. She told me she would support me if I wanted to lose weight, but that it shouldn’t be the primary focus of my life, and that she recognized it was no easy task. In short, she was kind and thorough, and she praised and accepted me, taking me seriously and treating me with gentleness. It was just what I needed to reinforce some trust in the medical profession. Thank you, Dr. N, for reminding me to love the body I’m in.
I’ve had many life-altering female doctors over the years. The common denominator has been a willingness to listen, and a willingness to learn from their patients about the conditions they treat.
For years I suffered with random symptoms. Their onset was sudden. My entire cycle was off, my joints hurt, I couldn’t concentrate. Everything pointed to my thyroid, but supposedly my numbers were fine. After years of bloodwork and ultrasounds, suddenly my thyroid numbers fell just barely into an “abnormal” range. So, I started treatment. I felt a little better, but still not perfect. My GP and OBGYN all told me my numbers were fine. I finally went to a female endocrinologist, who specialized in the thyroid. She said that there is no one size fits all for the thyroid numbers and women with my condition needed a different range. My medication was increased and the problem was solved!
Years later my kids’ female pediatrician boldly told me to get evaluated for ADHD if I wanted to help my kids. Having grown up being told that ADHD was the “excuse du jour,” this was a life changer for my family.
And most recently, it has been female doctors and a school nurse, who in the early years of our child’s type one diabetes diagnosis, held our family’s hands. Now I have a kid who can manage on their own and take on the world.
I was in the throes of postpartum anxiety and depression. I felt like I wanted to hand my baby girl off to my husband and parents and commit myself to a psych ward just to make the intrusive thoughts I was having end. I had called my OBGYN that morning and left a message, the hours ticked by, and by 9:00 pm I was sure she wasn’t going to call me. Then, at 9:30 pm my phone rang with a blocked number. I answered, something I wouldn’t normally do, and it was her.
Dr. D asked me all the relevant medical questions, and she just listened as I sobbed every fear I had over the phone to her. How I didn’t trust myself with my own daughter, every moment I was terrified I would accidentally harm her in some way. I was scared by admitting these fears I’d be deemed unfit and lose her forever. Every little choke or sputter Josie had while she drank her bottles would send me into a spiral of her choking to death. Dr. D told me when she had her own kids she struggled with postpartum too, and that I wasn’t alone. That a lot of mothers, especially first-time ones shared my fears. She explained that babies are way more resilient than we give them credit for and that while she understood that my mind was tricking me into expecting the worst-case scenario that the reality was my baby was strong and healthy and the odds of me accidentally harming her were very slim. She told me one thing that helped her when her kids were young was to take them to the beach, that it would stimulant them and fill up the whole day so she could avoid that trapped-at-home feeling.
My wonderful husband took her suggestion to heart and even though that next morning I panicked and thought we shouldn’t go and listed all the excuses why it was a terrible idea, he talked me into it. The day was beautiful, our hearts were full. We were exhausted in the best way. I will never forget that phone call with Dr. D, after she worked all day tending to patients, she took time in her night, time away from her own kids and family, to help soothe me. It’s rare to find a doctor that cares that much, to go that extra mile for their patients and I’m forever grateful to have found her.
I’ve been blessed to have fantastic female doctors throughout so much of my life. Here are a few I’m thinking of on this special day:
She was a doctor I saw consistently during my time in college who helped me get my diagnosis of fibromyalgia.
She was a doctor who noticed a suspicious mole on my back when I wasn’t even thinking about my skin in the midst of other health problems.
She was a doctor who believed me fully and told me I was doing such a good job managing my health.
These days, when I can, I only make appointments with female practitioners. I never regret it.
I’ve always had a preference for women OB/GYN’s. My first gynecologist was a man, and since I was 15 and not having sex he respected my decision to not have a pelvic exam. He was kind, and was actually the one who diagnosed me with PMDD, but once I started needing pelvic exams I switched to a woman. When I moved from Tennessee to Georgia and needed a new OB, I asked my friends for suggestions and one name came up repeatedly – Dr. Natasha Rushing. People went on and on about how well she listens to her patients, how her bedside manner made you just feel relaxed, how she was honest and casual and made you feel more like you were making a care plan with a friend than visiting a cold medical office. I called and made an appointment, but I felt like it surely couldn’t be THAT good.
I was wrong. She was exactly as casual and easygoing as I’d been told. She and I talked about managing my PMDD in the past, what worked and what didn’t, and re-prescribed me my medication since it’d been working for a year. We outlined a plan on what to do and expect when I did want to come off my medication to have kids – something that was of concern since I’d been on the pill since 15. And none of it was intimidating. She listened intently, she explained easily without making it feel like she was talking down to me, and I left feeling relieved and heard.
Fast forward a year. I decided I was ready to have kids, and we went over how it could take a year or more for me to conceive since I’d been on the pill so long. It took 2.5 months – a bit of a shock for us all. We went in for the initial ultrasound thinking I was at most six weeks pregnant, and I was ten. She walked my anxiety-ridden husband through what was happening in my body, and talked us both through what to do in the coming weeks.
And then…my pregnancy got weird. I had all day sickness – morning sickness was a cruel joke. I had cramping & spotting. I had a car accident and influenza type B. She was there every step of the way, giving me several options for management of symptoms and general support. I had a few times where I broke down crying in her room, and she not only sat with me while it happened, she validated my frustrations and let me feel heard. There wasn’t a single moment of my pregnancy where I questioned if she was a good fit.
I had my glucose test at 27 weeks and passed with flying colors. Blood pressure? Phenomenal. Protein in urine? Minimal to nonexistent. Everything was on a roll. 28 weeks and 2 days? Everything changed. Over the course of that week, I had more and more issues with swelling. Not just pregnancy swelling, but swelling to the point where I couldn’t bend my knees. My emotions and temper were all over the place. I had constant heartburn, and a headache that just wouldn’t quit. I’d already been in the hospital once or twice for swelling and everything was fine, and I was pretty much over going in for them to say “yeah, you’re okay, you’re just a bit swollen!” My mom and husband noticed my skin became grey and saw my knees swell to where I couldn’t bend them (the first time either of them had seen it in person) and dragged me kicking and screaming to CVS to get my blood pressure tested. 149/99 – much higher than my normal 120/80. They then had me call the after-hours line, and the on-call doc said I should go to the ER for good measure. I went, rolling my eyes and scoffing, saying everything was FINE, WHY WAS I GOING, I WAS JUST IN MY THIRD TRIMESTER AND IT SUCKED OKAY?!
The nurses – who I was on a first name basis with at that point – all stared wide eyed when I hobbled in. Okay, maybe this is more serious than I thought. I got into the bathroom for a urine test, and what should have been normal pee was thick and brown, like maple syrup, and had so many crystals you could hear clinking in the cup if you swirled it. Okay, maybe this really, really is more serious than I thought. They fought to get an IV in me and draw blood due to the swelling.
After about fifteen minutes of running tests, Dr Rushing comes in in scrubs and says, not kidding “Girl, what the hell?!” I shrugged and said “I know, right?!” The nurses chuckled, my mom visibly relaxed…until we got the next part. “So…I hate to be the person who breaks this to you. But they don’t even need to finish these blood tests. I can pretty much tell you exactly what’s happening from the data they’ve gotten so far. You have preeclampsia. Severe, sudden onset preeclampsia. It’s not gonna be months till you have your baby…it’s gonna be days. And you won’t be leaving until it happens. Aaaand it’ll be an emergency c-section. I know, that’s a lot, but we don’t have a lot of time and we need to get you in a room and get you treatment. I’ll go over what all this means exactly when I come up in a bit, but I need you to be on board with all that.” She had the same look that your genuine friend does when they’re sitting next to you being really honest, telling you that thing you didn’t want to hear but deep down you really knew, and you have that weird sigh of relief because you’re not only thankful they said it, but now that it’s out there it can be dealt with. And I sighed that same sigh, fought back the tears that wanted to come pouring out, and said “Okay, let’s do this. Where do we start?”
We made a plan in a matter of five minutes. Steroid shots to speed up the development of my daughter’s lungs, get me on a magnesium drip, watch my urine output over the next 36 hours and try to get me until Sunday morning at 8 AM, with the understanding that if my urine output went too low, I was to be whisked back for surgery immediately. With a game plan in place, I pointed to the cup. “That’s my urine.” Her eyes got huge and she looked back at me. “Dude, that’s gnarly, man.”
I felt completely at ease even though I was essentially fighting death. My OB had somehow managed to make something absolutely terrifying, something that kills pregnant people daily, into something we could manage and deal with. We had a timetable. We had a clear plan of action. And it worked. Sunday at 8:31 AM, I delivered my daughter (while singing—yes, I sang on the c-section table, and yes I’m still her only patient to have done that.). She was just as vigilant about my care afterwards – going as far as to fighting with my insurance to keep me there an extra day because I needed the monitoring to get my blood pressure medication just right.
I’m having to make an appointment to go and see her again soon – due to a perfect storm type of situation, I ended up riddled with arterial blood clots, and now hormonal birth control simply isn’t an option. The best part? I know that she’ll help me create a solid plan for treating my PMDD and working out family planning. I know she’ll do it in a way where my anxieties and frustrations are heard and taken into consideration. I know she’ll laugh with me, get frustrated with me, and ultimately be as pleased as I am with the plan. She’s just that damn good of a doctor, and I can never thank her enough for it.