IT HAPPENED TO ME: My Doctor Mansplained My Medical History to Me

He hadn’t seen my symptoms, examined me, or even been present at all. But now some male doctor at an urgent care center was telling me what had really happened in my body nine years ago.
Publish date:
November 6, 2015
doctors, healthy, bad doctors, Mansplaining, EPIGLOTTITIS, Misdiagnosis

Mansplaining happens all the time. Pretty much daily, some man explains something I already know to a me in a condescending tone, or patronizingly insists that I'm wrong about something I know I'm right about.

Lately, I’ve noticed this happening more and more in situations where I’m paying for a service. Little things like "You did NOT say soy milk" when seriously, yes, I did say soy milk. Or when I tell a male hair stylist exactly what my colorist at home uses in my hair (because I called and asked) and he tells me that’s impossible.

I'm not sure when that old saying "The customer is always right," became "If you disagree with your customer, tell them they are a liar." And yes, it always seems to be men who do this.

These small instances, while rude, are not a huge deal. But when it involves my health, I take serious issue with being told I'm lying.

Let me take you back nine years.

When I was a freshman in college, I got sick. And I mean seriously sick. I had a sore throat wouldn’t go away, and I was misdiagnosed at my student health center (surprise) with an ear infection — despite having hugely swollen glands, a high fever, and being unable to swallow or speak.

It got worse and worse to the point that I sounded like I had a mouthful of piping hot mashed potatoes in my mouth whenever I spoke. My glands became so swollen that there was no distinction between my jaw and my neck.

Through a favor from a family friend, I was able to get in to see a doctor who is one of the best in New York. Even though I just wanted to curl up in my bed and sleep for a year, I dragged myself over to her office where, after an extensive throat exam, she told me that if I had I waited another 24 hours to see her, she would have admitted me to the hospital with full blown epiglottitis.

Epiglottitis is a potentially life-threatening infection that causes your epiglottis (the little flap that covers to wind pipe) to swell so much that it blocks your airways and makes it impossible to breath. Side effects include dying in your sleep — I can only imagine how horrifying that would have been for my brand-new college roommate.

But, my new favorite doctor explained to me, because my health center had put me on a low dose of antibiotic for my fake ear infection, the epiglottis inflammation had slowed just long enough for the doctor to catch it in time.

Not wanting to subject me to a hospital stay, she decided to treat me as an out-patient for as long as she could. So I began an aggressive regimen of what felt like a hundred horse-sized pills a day and trekked to the Upper East Side daily for check-ins with her.

I barely passed my midterms and was out of dance practice for weeks. It was an extremely serious and scary experience for 18-year-old me, especially since I was 3,000 miles from home for the first time.

Fast forward to present day.

A couple of weeks ago, I suspected I had strep throat, so I went to an urgent care. As I always do with a doctor when I have a sore throat and swollen glands, I told him about the antibiotic I'm allergic to, and I also mentioned my brush with epiglottitis. This time however, when I mentioned it, the doctor stopped his exam and looked at me, incredulous.

"Were you hospitalized? Were you intubated? Did they do an X-ray?"

I answered as best I could with swollen glands/saliva filling my mouth. He pressed on, though, questioning me at length until he finally sat down, smirked and said, " I really don't think you ever had that. That is a VERY serious medical condition, and it's VERY rare, so I really don't believe that's what you had."

Excuse me? It's in my medical records, and I have emails from the doctor to my parents explaining what was going on with me. (My mother immediately bought a plane ticket to NYC in case the doctor decided to admit me to the hospital.)

Also, the doctor who diagnosed it nine years ago is one of the most respected internists around, regularly named in the Top 100 doctors in New York City.

But now some male doctor at an urgent care center was telling me what had really happened in my body nine years ago. He hadn’t seen my symptoms, examined me, or even been present at all. Yet here he was, chiding me for "claiming" I had a brush with epiglottitis, as if I didn't understand just how serious it was.

I understand there are some patient answers that need to be taken with a grain of salt. "I only have a drink or two a week," sometimes means "I drink a glass of wine every other night." And it's one thing to tell a patient they are wrong if they come in with a stomachache and proclaim that WebMD says they have an ulcer.

But that wasn't the case. I hadn't come in to the urgent care after having looked at WebMD and screamed "I HAVE EPIGLOTTITIS." I was there because I thought I had strep throat, and I was merely explaining something in my past medical history so the doctor at the urgent care could have all necessary information when considering the best course of treatment for the issue at hand. Yet I was basically scolded for "lying."

Completely dismissing a major medical event in my life because you assume I'm wrong about it is entirely unprofessional.

And what could I do? I wasn’t going to sit there and argue with some random doctor about an event that happened almost a decade ago when my glands were so swollen it hurt to talk. I just wanted to get a prescription and get the hell out of there so I could go sleep. So I just sat there and nodded while the doctor smugly wrote me a prescription for some strep antibiotics.

Because I was right about that. It was strep.