I was diagnosed with epilepsy at the age of 21. Though I took anti-convulsant medication for the first several years after my diagnosis, I stopped just a little under two years ago, when it seemed as though my condition had stabilized. I started a PhD program in August, however, and the stress and sleep deprivation that comes with such an undertaking seems to have triggered my seizures again. So I made an appointment with the local neurologist this week in order to get back on my old meds.
As a fat woman, I generally feel the need to psych myself up every time I have to go visit a general practitioner. But it doesn’t occur to me that I may need to do the same for a neurologist. Why would I have to bother? My seizure disorder has exactly nothing to do with my weight, and I assume that sort of thing is completely outside my neurologist’s jurisdiction. Apparently, I assumed wrong.
The neurologist begins by asking the standard questions: how long I’ve been having seizures, when I was diagnosed with epilepsy, what kind of seizures I have, tests I’ve been subjected to, prescriptions I’ve used, and so on. All in all, the questions, plus a cursory test of my reflexes, take him about 10 minutes. Then, once he’s done, he gives me this appraising look that makes me extremely uncomfortable.
“How much do you weigh?” he asks, and I’m completely taken aback. First of all, his nurse weighed me on my way in, so it’s not like he can’t consult his own chart. Secondly, my weight has exactly what to do with my epilepsy? But I give him the benefit of the doubt and tell him, assuming that there may be a good reason for him to ask. Maybe my medication dosage depends on my weight, or something.
He gives me another one of his appraising looks, and tells me, “I’m going to put you on a new medication. One of its side effects is weight loss. You’ll like that.”
And for a few seconds, I am just speechless with rage. I’m not sure what to attack first: the assumption that weight loss is something I want, or his obviously cavalier attitude toward my health. I came to him because I’m having seizures, not because I’m fat. I want him to prescribe a medication because it is the most effective available medication for stopping seizures, not because it’ll make me thinner– and hey, maybe if I’m lucky, I’ll stop having seizures, too. I want the medication I used to take– the one that worked, and didn’t give me any side effects. I don’t want the shiny new medication with its unknown barrage of side effects, which may or may not work for me. I don’t want to play Russian Roulette with my health just because I might get thinner in the process.
It’s too early, and I’m too enraged to really express myself, but I manage to choke out: “Actually, I’m happy with my body. I’m not trying to lose weight. I want the medication that works.” And he prescribes the new medication anyway, because that other medication? The one that worked? It’s a little old and out of date. Apparently, I should be more concerned with whether or not my meds are new and trendy (and by extension, whether the neurologist will get a bonus from some pharmaceutical company) than with whether or not they will, you know, keep me from having seizures.
I did finally call him back later that day, tell him I was not comfortable trying the new medication, and that it made more sense to me to stay on the old one unless it stopped working, rather than try new meds just for fun and possible weight loss. And he ultimately relented. But the whole thing just completely ruined my day. Until today, I never even thought I’d have to talk about my weight to a neurologist, and now every time I visit one, I’ll worry that they’ll decide coaxing me to lose weight is more important than making sure my brain is in full working order.