Young? Chest pain? Fat? It’s your weight, it can’t be your gallbladder (even if tests say otherwise).

Tod writes:

I think it would be relevant to note that although I am a guy, I am FtM transgender and at the time the doctor in question considered me a young woman. I don’t think she would have treated me this way if I had been a cis man; the stigma against overweight women seem much worse than overweight men.

Anyways, this happened about a year ago, when I was 19. I had a terrible relationship with my doctor, primarily because she spent most of every checkup questioning me on my eating habits, and clearly did not believe what I told her (I live a pretty healthy lifestyle, and still manage to be 5’5″ and weigh 220lbs). She was convinced I needed to lose weight to help my asthma (still not sure how that one was supposed to work) and my somewhat high blood pressure that I couldn’t seem to mitigate regardless of changes in lifestyle.

I started having fairly severe pain in my upper chest, especially at night. Being as I lived at school at the time, I went to see the campus health center, which is staffed by extremely nice and competent nurses. The woman I saw there told me it sounded like a very bad case of gallstones. She suggested I change my eating habits, come back the next day and see if that helped. It did indeed help; no fats or oils, no pain. I also talked with my mom around this time and found out women in our family have a history of developing pretty severe gallstones around this age. So I called up my doctor and scheduled an appointment for that weekend, when I could get home.

She seemed very skeptical of the nurse’s conclusion when I told her, and insisted I get her notes from when she met with me. The people at the campus health center were also somewhat bewildered by this, but happy to comply after working out what forms I needed to sign.

So I go home, then to the doctor with these notes; she barely glances at them before stuffing them into her file and asking me to describe what was going on. I do so; she cuts me off as I start talking about how eliminating fats from my diet had done a lot to help with the pain (although at this point it was starting to come back if I so much as twisted too suddenly). She asks me if these ‘fatty foods’ were pizza and nachos that I was eating in the middle of the night.

I was rather stunned and told her no, I was talking about salad dressing, some fatty red meats, and the occasional side of french fries. And I don’t eat in the middle of the night.

She insisted, though, basically telling me she thought I was sneaking junk food in the middle of the night and that it was just causing me heartburn. She also insisted I was too young to get gallstones, even though I told her my family has a history of it.

I argued with her about it and finally she consented to schedule me for an ultrasound to have a look, as well as several blood tests to ‘cover all the bases’. I happily complied with the blood tests, went for the ultrasound the next weekend. By this point I am restricted to eating things that contain absolutely no fat or oil, and am in a constant, although somewhat low level of pain; I’m having attacks every night after dinner regardless of what I eat.

The ultrasound tech was very nice, and when I described my symptoms also immediately concluded it was gallstones. It didn’t take him very long to locate them; I could see them on the screen before he even started to point them out to me – there were a lot; my gallbladder was (quite literally) about half full of gallstones. Afterward we discussed the standard treatment (removing the gallbladder) which he said would be the best option in my case, and should be done soon. He sent the results along to my doctor and said she would help me get a surgeon.

So I go back to school, wait for the call from my doctor to schedule an appointment. A week goes by; no call. The technician said she should have gotten the ultrasound results the day after the procedure. I decide to call and find out what’s up.

Turns out yes, she did get them! No, she hadn’t been intending to schedule an appointment with me. Why? She doesn’t think the gallstones are the problem. It’s my weight, she insists.

Apparently at this point she wasn’t even bothering with the sneaking junk food idea any more; I was just in pain because of my weight.

At this point I decided enough was enough. I stopped seeing her and immediately found a new doctor (the one my dad went to, so she was somewhat familiar with our family). She was able to fit me in that weekend when she found out what was going on; she then immediately scheduled me for an appointment with a surgeon, who scheduled me for surgery within the week; he was somewhat alarmed by the fact that I was in constant pain now, implying that the gallbladder was probably becoming infected.

After the surgery, he informed me that if they had waited much longer (as in a matter of days) there was a high likelihood I would have died or, at the very least, had a much longer recovery; my gallbladder had been so swollen it had started to fuse with other neighboring organs. Much more vital ones.

At the next appointment I had with my new doctor (my first proper appointment really, since at the first one she had been mostly concerned with getting me to the surgeon) we started going over medication I was taking and she was shocked to find that old doctor had instructed me to take Albuterol (an inhaler for asthma symptom relief) preventatively, twice a day, every day. Apparently this is not how Albuterol is meant to be taken, and is in fact fairly detrimental, since it causes – wait for it – high blood pressure!

As soon as I started taking my inhalers the way they were meant to be taken, my blood pressure dropped right down into a very healthy range. What a surprise.

Leave a comment


  1. Holy guacamole! Would your new doctor be willing to write a letter to that effect to the licensing agency in your state?

  2. gidget commando

     /  October 14, 2011

    What Liz said. You COULD HAVE DIED because of that doctor’s prejudice and stupidity. That’s hardly an appropriate standard of care. (That phrase is a hot one in medical liability. Love it and scritch it behind the ears often.)

  3. Holy shit.

    Thank you for sharing your story. I sincerely hope your old doctor is no longer practicing.

  4. Clwaller

     /  October 14, 2011

    Wow. As a cis-gendered female, I had exactly the same thing at 22. Only you wised a lot faster than I did. It took me four months to get a new doc, and that was four months of constant pain. Unfortunately, I didn’t have anyone early on tell me it might be gallbladder and to avoid fat in foods. But once I got a new doc, a real diagnosis other than my weight, I had surgery inside of a week. Strange world we live. I was too young for ulcers (must be my weight), too young for gallstones and the pain was in the “wrong” place (?)….

    Glad it all worked out. And I’m very glad you were smarter than me in getting rid of the idiot as soon as you did.

  5. Alexa

     /  October 14, 2011

    If ever there’s been a patient story containing justified grounds for revocation of medical license and a successful malpractice lawsuit, this is certainly it.

    Complain to your insurance at the very least. Active endangerment of a patient’s health via improper medication usage should be a very serious matter to be investigated. And you should certainly get back every cent you ever paid her.

  6. Alexie

     /  October 15, 2011

    This is negligence. At the very least, write your old doctor a letter detailing the missteps. If you’ve got the stomach for it, file a complaint.

  7. People are right. You should take action against that doctor before she kills someone.

  8. It’s something people throw around willy-nilly or jokingly, but I think very seriously that you should sue her for endangering your life. As good as reporting her to the board might be, anymore money is the only thing that really seems to get through to people that their actions were the height of wrong. It’s upsetting and ridiculous, but it’s true.

  9. I agree; contact the state licensing board for medicine in your state (google your state’s name and “office of the professions” or “professional licensing board”, they call them different things in each state; in New York, where I live, it’s the Office of the Professions) and file a complaint. They’ll open an investigation into the matter and she could have her license to practice medicine suspended, or worse. Just amazing. Good luck!

  10. Pencils

     /  October 17, 2011

    Something similar happened to me–my gastroenterologist didn’t send me for an ultrasound checking for gallstones for three months after I developed URQ pain, I had recently lost over 100 pounds, which the doctor knew; apparently losing that much weight very frequently leads to gallstones. After three & a half months, my gallbladder got swollen and almost septic, and worse, some of the gallstones entered my pancreas and ended up giving me chronic pancreatitis, which is a disease where the pancreas basically digests itself (the pancreas secretes digestive enzymes, among other things. I’m in severe daily pain, someday my pancreas will die and I will most likely be a diabetic (unless some very clever surgery is perfected before then.) I also have a highly increased chance of pancreatic cancer. Why didn’t he check me? I don’t know, maybe he didn’t take me seriously as an overweight woman–even though I was no longer obese, I was still overweight. I should have sued the guy, but I didn’t want to see him again. j

  11. Alex Blaze

     /  October 17, 2011

    I had a similar experience. I had the flu, which went away, and a week later I was coughing a lot. Like so much I couldn’t sleep and it would make me throw up every now and then. It was a bad cough.

    The doctor prescribed a cough syrup (I live in France so anything that isn’t diluted needs a script) and antibiotics and a chest X-ray, just to be sure. I did it all and gave the X-ray to the doctor (you carry your own test results in, another French thing) and he said he saw some lines along the bottom. It could have either been, as he said, irritation in the lungs or a coming heart attack and told me to get an MRI.

    I was 26 and somewhat overweight (size large t-shirt in the US, XL in France).

    I’m not a doctor, but I’d think that if I was hesitating between heart disease and lung irritation in a 26-year-old with no family history of heart disease, I might take into consideration that he’d been coughing so hard for a week that he couldn’t sleep. But, oh well. I never did the MRI and I never went back to that doctor.

  12. I agree with Rachel. If it’s in your means, you might want to sue her for discrimination and negligence. What happened to you was incredibly fucked up and I am SO glad you were able to get to another doctor that would treat you like a human being.

  13. sarah

     /  October 17, 2011

    Oh my God, how terrible!

    You definitely should complain to the licensing board and have your new doctor write a letter detailing what happened. That woman’s prejudice and negligence is inexcusable. She could kill someone one day.

  14. There is absolutely NO wiggle room or doubt here; SUE THE *&^%&. The fact you could have died coupled with testimony from the nurses, the ultrasound tech, and your new doctor, plus the surgeon, PLUS your documented family history,. you have an airtight case to not only get her stripped of her medical license, but a very nice compensation for all the harm she caused. Sue her into oblivion before some poor slightly chubby girl DOES die because of her fatphobic negligence.


    • Marielou

       /  January 16, 2012

      Agree with you. If he at least write a letter to her detailing her negligence that could save some other person’s life. jUST FOR THE SAKE OF SAVING LIFE with this crazy doctor.

  15. miss elizabeth

     /  October 18, 2011

    I have to echo what everyone else is saying; please please please sue her, and report her to the licensing board. You are extremely lucky she didn’t kill you; her next patient may not be so lucky. Not to even mention all the people she must see who she shames so badly they stop going to the doctor all together.

    I know how hard something like this can be, and of course it is your decision and you have to do what is right for you, but she is a real menace to society.

  16. That is some scary, dangerous shit. I’m so glad you’re ok. Internal organs are touchy things!!

  17. Gretchen

     /  October 21, 2011

    Thank goodness you were strong enough (both mentally and physically) to make that right decision to get a real doctor instead of that prejudiced woman who is obviously miserable in her own life. Many hugs and congratulations to you. I hope you are doing well now. Thanks for sharing your story!

  18. Could you sue the first doctor for putting you at such risk, or at least get their license removed?

  19. for fuck’s sake… i am so sorry this happened to you, and so angry right now :(… i hope you’re doing alright! i am fat myself, and since i’ve moved from my hometown to “the city” (where it’s difficult to find a decent doctor, apparently), no matter what my symptoms are, it’s because i’m fat. tonsillitis? too fat. sports injury? too fat (oh, and i really should exercise more). bad cold? too fat (…and how could they even poke the anti-flu-shot through my big huge elephant arm?). aaargh… so i completely sympathize with your experiences (although mine are not nearly as horrid as yours were, obviously), and it really is high time to tell some physicians to shove it. sadly, that took me about 15 years. but yay, now i’m able to actually stand up for myself and ask for penicillin in case i have tonsillitis, not come back after another week of barely being able to walk because of the pain (because i’m so fat, of course…). thank you for sharing your story, get well soon and best wishes to you!

  20. Liz

     /  November 28, 2011

    I hope you got plenty in the medical malpractice suit.

  21. Jamie

     /  January 13, 2012

    Yeah, this sounds familiar. I can’t get my GP practice to look beyond my weight, so I’ve stopped going to the doctor. I’m 14 stone (196lb, 89kg) and 5’9″ (1.75m) as I have been since I was 15. Nothing is going to shift it: my thyroid doesn’t work and the rest of my family are all roughly the same BMI.

    But there’s no escape: I present with my asthma, or with my thyroid, or with my arthritis, and they say: ooh, your BMI is bad – that’s the cause of your problems. Really? We’re getting cause and effect mixed up, aren’t we? No, they say, you’re fat. You need to cut down on the junk food.

    I’m a vegetarian. I have been for more than half my life. I don’t eat processed food, let alone junk food. I cook all my own food, from scratch. Yeah, they say, here’s a diet plan: first, give up the junk food. I don’t eat junk food. Yeah, come back in a month after you’ve stopped eating at McDonalds. No, really, I don’t eat such crap.

    How often do you have chips, they ask. 3 or 4 times, I say. 3 or 4 times a week? they exclaim. No, 3 or 4 times a YEAR. Yeah, come back in a month after you’ve followed this diet plan.

    The joy of the diet plan is that it is full of meat, processed food, biscuits, cheese, chips, crisps and other shite I don’t touch. If I ate their diet plan, I’d double in weight. And they’d shout even louder about how badly I’m failing to eat well, when all I want is for them to adjust my thyroxine and maybe offer me some painkillers. Fucking automatons.

  22. Jackie

     /  January 18, 2012

    I’m sorry to hear about your experience with your gall bladder. I had to get my gall bladder removed, after staying up all night in excruciating pain. For some reason, it just decided to start up in the middle of the night for some reason. I hope your recovery wasn’t terrible like mine. I mean, I’m pretty sure recovering from gall bladder surgery is heck for anyone who gets it. The worst part was the drain tube, I still get a strange feeling in the side it was on just thinking about it.

    I have a nice Korean doctor who has never given me trouble about my weight. I wonder if he went to college outside the U.S. To become a doctor, he might not have encountered the pervasive fat prejudice that exsists when learning how to be a doctor in the U.S.

    I remember they wouldn’t let me into the E.R. When I arrived, despite obviously sufferring in pain. I don’t know why, but you’d think someone doubled over in pain practically crying, would take priority.

  23. I had a doctor who refused to acknowledge I had asthma for years because I was overweight. He claimed it was just my weight. I also had dermatitis and allergies which all go hand in hand with asthma.

    No one believed me until I moved out of the USA that I did have asthma. I moved to Switzerland and was finally diagnosed without being told it was all because I was overweight.

  24. I still have my gallbladder – 2+ years after being diagnosed with severe gallstones. I was first diagnosed with them when I called an ambulance THINKING I was having a heart attack (being that I am morbidly obese). Even the ambo’s knew straight away it was gall stones. Every time I had an attack I would end up borderline jaundiced, my liver function was off the charts. I was in almost constant pain, I was having attacks several times a day. It was pure agony, and I had two young children I was supposed to be looking after.
    My gallstones were so bad, and so active that I was referred for emergency surgery. (Emergency being the key word here). When I turned up to the hospital to have my “emergency” surgery the anaesthetist on duty just point blank refused to administer general anaesthetic. EVEN though his superior (the head of Anaesthetics at the hospital) had cleared me the DAY BEFORE. The anaesthetist said I was too fat, and that it was too dangerous to put me under (never mind that I had had GA before) This was emergency surgery; I was shifted from the waiting list that was 8+ months long to the emergency list because of the severity of my condition, and this guy vetoed the surgery.
    I was FURIOUS, and wrote an extremely stern letter to QLD Health (the state government body) and my local member for parliament expressing my absolute dismay at the way I had been treated. Nothing ever came of it – and I still have the stupid thing. Luckily I discovered my main trigger (which happens to be black tea) and was able to avoid it; but I still suffer from extreme pain if I eat something too rich or too fatty.
    I found out, some years later, that my letter was forwarded to the hospital and put in my file. I was horrified at this, and even more upset that even with this letter on file nothing was done about my gallbladder.

  25. Flynn

     /  April 1, 2012

    Wow, I don’t think this is even an example of helathcare prejudice because of being fat, I think it’s purely and simply a case of total incompetence! I;m in Australia, and to get Albuterol you have to have a card stamped so the pharmacist can easily monitor how often you are buying it. (If you don’t have the card, you have to have a short interview with the pharmacist where they ask you about symptoms, how often you use Albuterol, what preventatives you are taking, etc, and some will even make you do a peak flow test.) If you’re using it too often, they insist you make an appointment with your doctor and often give you details for an asthma clinic… BECAUSE FREQUENT USE OF ALBUTEROL IS NOT SAFE. It can cause very serious health problems, including heart disease, heart attack, and hypoalkemia which is an extremely dangerous condition in which the potassium concentration in your blood gets too low.

    You really should report this doctor, if you have not already, to your local health authority. Between letting a patient go for so long that their gallstone condition reached a life-threatening point and prescribing an absolutely inappropriate and extremely dangerous use of Albuterol, they need to be investigated and possibly deregistered.

    They are going to end up killing someone, and you’re bloody lucky it wasn’t you.

  26. ness

     /  July 7, 2012

    I feel terrible for the situation your doctor(s) have put you in. However, I’m also a little concerned that we’re all trying to be doctors at the same time…
    Just a note – Albuterol (Ventolin) has been a standard part of asthma management for decades. Over that time, the protocols for use have changed. It was believed to be dangerous if taken in high doses, but the recommendations have changed over the past few years. The recommended FIRST AID usage of Albuterol is 4 puffs, wait 4 minutes, then 4 puffs (this is more than it used to be). As another aside – I used Albuterol 2x daily for the first few years of my life, until better products came on the market. I still take what might be considered high doses every day. I’m still here, I’m still fine – and better off because my asthma is well controlled.
    My sister lives in the USA now, and we’ve had some scary experiences with the way they’re (mis) treating her over there. There are some great resources online in NSW/AUstralia if you’d like more info…


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