A Rant Revisited

I subscribe to a number of HealthCentral writers and a couple of days ago, got the latest notification that Karen Lee Richards (who writes about fibromyalgia and chronic pain) had written another post. It turns out that it was an alert mentioning that Dr. Oz has a segment about fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome on today's show. The guest in this segment will be Dr. Jacob Teitelbaum who's written a number of books on chronic pain in fibromyalgia, lives with these conditions himself and is, as Karen describes it, is mentioned by Dr. Oz as the person "who first convinced him that these conditions are indeed very real."

And if you've been reading this blog for even a couple of months, you are now imagining me having a total apoplexy, complete with foaming at the mouth, fire shooting out of my eyes and an intense desire to throttle someone.

Isn't that nice? I'm so glad that Dr. Oz - whose expert credentials in addition to having a medical degree appears to be that he's kind of cute in that American boy-next-door kind of way and used to be on Oprah - deigns to believe that this condition is valid only when a fellow physician (who happens to be male) tells him. Because the millions of breasted Americans who have been going to doctors for years trying to get a diagnosis with the same symptoms are apparently not reliable enough sources.

Fibromyalgia affects approximately 5 million people in the US - I haven't looked up the Canadian numbers, but imagine that the rate of 2% of the adult population would transcend borders - and 80-90% of those are women. And aside from the fact that I'm stunned at the 80-90% thing - I wonder what it is about fibromyalgia that it's so closely connected to one particular gender? - I'm also not stunned that it's taken this long to get fibromyalgia even vaguely acknowledged as a real condition because as in many other conditions where doctors tend to claim it's all in your head, fibro mostly hits women.

There might be a few people out there thinking that I've gone ‘round the feminist bend again and being somewhat unreasonable, but you know what? I haven't and I'm not (and when did feminist become a dirty word?). Yes, many of the conditions that occur more in women than in men (rheumatoid arthritis, MS, fibro, etc.) are notoriously vague and mysterious in the beginning and that certainly contributes to the diagnosis of hypochondria - or shall we call it hysteria as they did in the old days when women had problems male doctors didn't understand? - because doctors are not fond of diagnosing something without it showing up on an x-ray or in a blood test, but study after study has shown gender bias in medicine. If a man and a woman report the same symptoms, there's a greater likelihood that the man will be believed and a woman given antidepressants and a suggestion that she try yoga to relieve her stress. Well, maybe I wouldn't be so damn stressed if I could find a doctor who'd bleedin' believe me!

Gender bias is real. Whether it is people interacting differently with a baby based on identified gender (even if it's the same baby that has been given different names and different outfits), calling a man assertive whereas the woman is a bitch if she behaves in the same manner and do I need to go on? I really shouldn't have to, because it's 2009 and unless you've been living under a rock for the last 50 years, you know that gender bias is real.

And whereas I am happy that fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome are now being given more attention, being identified as real conditions and am glad that it's being put out there on national television by the latest medical authority (?), a little statement like Dr. Jacob Teitelbaum being the person who convinced Dr. Oz that fibromyalgia and CFS are real speaks volumes about the battle for it to be recognized, the battle for women’s experiences to be taken seriously and the connection between the two.

I can't be the only one who feels patronized…