I wouldn’t be here without the affirming voices of friends and loved ones challenging me when I say, “Black women don’t get to be sick.”
“Black women don’t get to be sick.” so often feels like the song of our land. Today, I declare that as a lie from the pit of hell. And some days this is the work.
This lie is killing Black Women. It killed Dr. Susan Moore, who lost her life to COVID-19 days after posting a video to her timeline from her hospital bed.
Her video details the racist treatment she was experiencing during the course of treatment. Moore recounts being denied pain medicine by her team of providers among other atrocities
Last week, the CEO of the hospital released a statement defending his team and implying that Dr. Moore was “intimidating”.
Dr. Moore’s story shows us that the mistreatment of Black Women has no borders or boundaries. The medical industrial complex doesn’t care where you went to school, what your trade is, or even that you are a medical professional.
It is cruel and inhumane, making a mockery of hippocratic oaths to “do no harm”.
Moore’s death adds a voice to the cacophonic symphony of Black women singing, “We matter. We deserve better.” to an unjust system while it steals their very lives.
Dr. Moore is so many Black Women and She is Me.
I realize that I am in this body experiencing the trauma of being a chronically ill Black Woman. I am blessed to have a therapist, a nutritionist, and a spiritual director. Each day I work to deconstruct the lies and systems that make me feel as if I am less worthy because this is my reality.
I am telling my story because the weight of being silent while Black Women die is too much to bear. I tell my story for my Black Women friends who have their own medical horror tales. Most of all, I tell my story because Black Women’s treatment within medicine is a sin that breaks the heart of God.
My body and I have fought for some time now.
A few years ago, I started to have rough menstruation. At the time, I had an OBGYN who insisted I start a contraceptive. Months later I was a thousand miles from home and very ill. I went cold turkey and a cyst the size of an orange formed on my ovaries. It dissolved but the excruciating pain I felt each month remained.
In September 2019, I decided to seek another practitioner, a Woman of Color OBGYN. From first appearance, she was more patient-centered. That was until she ordered an invasive procedure even after I explicitly expressed my concerns and needs. When I addressed it with her she stated, “You could’ve stopped the procedure…”.
She is right. I could have told the medical professional performing the orders of another medical professional to stop a medical procedure. However, her response disregards the very real implications of power in this situation. Moreover, this mentality evades accountability for her lack of responsiveness to my needs regarding my care.
The sea of mistreatment of Black Women’s bodies in medicine runs deep and wide. J. Marion Sims, who is hoisted as the “father of modern gynecology” performed violent experiences on enslaved women without anesthesia. Unfortunately, the violence doesn’t end with Sims.
In early October, I awakened in the middle of the night in intense pain. Soon thereafter, I summoned or quite honestly screamed for my mother. She proceeded to apply balms to my distressed limbs and a wet towel to my forehead. I had become dehydrated and nauseous. The night went on. The pain worsened as it spread across both my extremities.
Morning came and I knew I deserved and needed more care. I was hurting and sicker than I ever recall being. I called my Primary Care Physician’s (PCP) office, a nurse practitioner, and was refused. I walked into an urgent care and was turned away by a screening official. I called another urgent care and was told’ You know we don’t just go giving out pain meds, right?” after I described what I knew was happening in my body.
Tears filled my eyes as I FaceTimed a dear friend. I, a young Black Woman, very sick with a non-covid related illness was going to the emergency room alone. My mom drove me shakily to the hospital. On the way she begged me not to go because she knew all too well the risk of me walking in those doors, especially unaccompanied.
I stayed in the Emergency Department for 6.5 hours in pain. I was checked in, triaged, and told to weather the intense shocks moving throughout my body, “until the doctor could see me”. So I sat in the cold waiting room under my weighted blanket somewhere between cursing and calling on the God of my ancestors.
As I started to fade more, I decided I would write a note on my phone with my information and symptoms. By the time the doctor came, I could only pull out the note and nod my head to her follow up questions. During the time between a host of resident and doctor examinations the nurse on duty laughed at me and rolled her eyes when I cried from the pain. I will never forget her face or name.
The generalist did not call for the rheumatologist while I was in the ED. So, I was denied a follow up visit for months. “Well, they didn’t call for rheumatology when you were in the ED…”, they said.
Two weeks prior to the ED visit, my PCP finally ordered testing for inflammatory markers after I had been feeling unwell for at least a year. They went as far as saying, “Well you have been saying something wasn’t right for awhile…” I have documentation of the visits, a paper trail of my very valid medical concerns being dismissed, downplayed, or misdiagnosed.
A month ago, I had my first visit with a Black Woman doctor. She listened to me and ordered a chest X-ray, which she was surprised had not been done previously. The X-ray showed bilateral pulmonary infiltrate, which points to pneumonia.
There is no telling how long it has been there. I have a road of specialists ahead in order to continue to assess what is going on with me. Still, I have to acknowledge how affirming it is to have a medical professional listen to you and take your pain seriously.
If I was doing none of these things, I would deserve compassionate care from all medical professionals. It should not matter that I have decent health insurance or a post secondary education nor should I have to be Harriet Tubman to get Tylenol. Either we don’t believe Black Women and girls feel pain or we just don’t give a damn, probably both.
Black Women are master architects and stewards of most things. Our bodies are not the exception to this. Believe us. Take care of us.
And with every breath that my fierce, sick, Black Woman body breathes I will continue to say the name of Dr. Susan Moore and demand better for all of us.