Pain & Prejudice

Pain. Excruciating pain. Unending pain. That is what Anushay Hossain felt for thirty-three hours while she was giving birth to her first child in 2011. According to The Washington Post, Hossain had received an epidural, a shot that provides anesthesia that numbs you from the waist down, and yet she could still feel every ounce of pain that her labor was bringing on. She tried to cry out and let the healthcare professionals around her know the agony that she was in, but when she did, she was ignored. They told her that she had received an epidural and that they were giving her the max dose of pain medications. However, as it turned out, she was not receiving any medication at all. The epidural had slipped out and the error was not caught until Hossain was shaking in agony. They then had to rush her to an emergency cesarean section. Fortunately, both Hossain and her child ended up being alright, but the trauma caused from this birth and the duress that she was under will never be forgotten.

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Stories like Hossains are not rare, in fact, they are rather common. There is a gendered bias that exists in the healthcare field when it comes to women and pain. Women are not believed when they speak on their pain or try to get help for it. In fact, they are often told that they are “hysterical” or that their pain is “psychosomatic.” According to Roger Fillingim, the director of Pain Research and Intervention Center of Excellence at the University of Florida “women are more sensitive to pain then men and are more likely to express it, so their pain is often seen as an overreaction rather than a reality.” According to Fillingim these pain differences could be due to “hormones, genetics and even social factors such as gender roles.” Regardless of why these differences exist, they are ever present and effect the way that women live their lives.

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Women are often either ignored, not believed, or gaslit into thinking that their pain is not real. This treatment and disbelief is even more common when it comes to women of color. In an article written for The Washington Post by Bever wrote about a woman named Sharee Turpin, a black woman who suffered from sickle-cell disease. According to the same article, Sickle Cell disease is “an inherited blood disorder that can cause suffering so severe, its attacks are called “pain crises.” She stated that the disease made it feel as if “tiny knives were slicing her open.” However, when Turpin herself experienced one of these “pain crises” she did not immediately go to the hospital. Rather, she took the time to fix her hair, spray on perfume, and put on her “Sunday best.” She did this in order to avoid the healthcare staff from “pegging her as a “drug seeker.” There is much racial discrimination that occurs in the healthcare field as, according to a 2016 report, around “half of white medical students and residents held at least one false belief about biological differences between Black people and White people and were more likely to underestimate Black patients’ pain.” There is a refusal to believe women of color when it comes to the pain that they are in. This harkens back to both racism and sexism and how they often interconnect.

            If you ever believe that you are not being taken seriously by your doctor or are being gaslit, then the best thing to do is to find a new doctor. You know your own body and the pain that it is under, and you deserve to be believed.

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