As you might know, I am fat. I also deserve health care.

As some of you may have noticed, I’m really rather fat. I mention it only because it’s relevant — it has a significant impact on my life; people treat me differently because I am fat.

Or, in some cases, refuse to treat me. Which is what happened recently to Ida Davidson, who was turned away from her new primary care physician. The stated reason? Ida Davidson weighs too much for the doctor’s office to accommodate her.

In fact, Dr. Helen Carter of Shrewsbury, MA (if you were curious and wanted a name to add to the list of Doctors To Avoid) claims that her office has seen three consecutive injuries from trying to provide care for people weighing over 250 pounds.

That’s injuries to patients, by the way. Fat people who go to her office tend to get hurt.

Going to the doctor is already fraught for many fat people. And a lot of fat people just don’t go. As a group, we’re more prone to avoid medical treatment for fear of shaming. People yammer on about how we should lose weight for our health but then create an atmosphere where we really actually are afraid to participate in health care. Because that’s logic, right?

This body deserves healthcare, people. And so does your body, whatever it looks like.

This kind of thing truly does make me livid. Fat shaming in the doctor’s office is so counterproductive. And it’s such a common occurrence. This incident with Ida Davidson is getting a lot of press — but it is far from the first time this has happened.

Studies have found that not only do doctors and nurses tend to regard fat patients as noncompliant regardless of what is actually going on with the fat people in question, but that doctors are themselves complicit in providing fat patients with lower quality care. Many doctors blame their fat patients for being fat and treat them like they don’t deserve good health care. Fat patients are even the targets of painful jokes.

You know that’s disgusting, right? I mean, regardless of how you personally feel about my fatness (or my attitude in general), would you really advocate for me not receiving quality medical care if and/or when I need it?

I’m making this personal because the first comment I read on an article about Ida Davidson was a person saying, “Hey, maybe it’s time for the fatties to be shamed.”

If there were a way for me to sit down, very seriously, across from you right now in a literal instead of metaphorical sense, I would do so. I would look you in the eye and say, “Hey, let me tell you, the fatties are already being shamed.” This is not a new tactic. And the only things shaming fat people accomplishes are broken spirits and dead people.

You can’t die of a broken heart (despite what “Where the Red Fern Grows” teaches us) but you can sure as shit die of never going to the doctor even when you are ill because you have been shamed and told you don’t deserve to be cared for. You can die from emergency responders making jokes at your expense while they tell you that you’re too fat for them to carry to the ambulance.

All of that said, I think people are angry with Carter for some of the wrong reasons. If she’s not furnished her office in such as a way as to deal with fat patients safely, then she should absolutely be turning away fat patients. But I want Carter to be equally absolutely clear on something: She’s turning patients away because of her own lack, her own inability to treat them. Not because they are special cases who need to be sent off to an obesity center.

An obesity center, for those not in on the medical language of fatness, is not going to provide the same services as a primary care physician. An obesity center is not where a fat person goes when they have the flu. No, this primary care physician, who is meant to be treating the whole patient as a general care provider, is saying that patients really ought to go to that diet place down the road.

Obesity centers are focused on weight loss through dieting, supplemented by weight loss surgery.

None of that is going to deal with your hay fever or whatever else you’d go to your primary physician for.

The discussion of medical equipment that will accommodate the extremely fat patient has been going on for a while. I’m used to asking spas if their massage tables are rated for my use. I’m careful at my doctor’s office if the table isn’t bolted to the floor (many are not and I want to bet that’s how Carter’s patients got hurt) — those things can tip. Hell, I’m used to scales not going up high enough to weigh me (which would be an issue if I were the kind of person who weighed myself).

But none of that justifies the larger issue of a medical professional who thinks “Go on a diet” is a suitable response to “Doctor, I have a fever.” Carter says she has patients who are motivated — which is totally code for “going on a diet” — but given the failure rate of dieting, I have to wonder how long she’s going to be so supportive.

Medical equipment is, of course, not cheap. I understand that the small-practice physician might not be able to accommodate all the bodies who come in for a visit. In those cases, I think respect and honesty are both key, which is the part many folks struggle with. Carter seems to have the honesty down, but not the respect part. Again, not surprising in a world where medical staff think it is appropriate to make jokes about sending very fat patients to the zoo for an MRI.

And, yes, that does happen to some people. With about as much fat shaming as you’d imagine. Check out the comments here, if you’ve got the stomach for it, for example.

When situations like Ida Davidson’s happen, which they do with depressing regularity regardless of media coverage, part of me is always glad that someone has been so explicitly fat hating. I don’t have to guess with that person anymore. They have removed themselves from my consideration.

But framing things that way doesn’t actually improve the situation for fat people who need to go to the doctor. Medical professionals are no less subject to cultural construction than the rest of us — and when they go into practice, they carry their biases and prejudices with them. Including the belief that fat people just don’t deserve to be taken care of.

I’m so ANGRY about this. But I am also so tired. People talk about making fatties pay more for treatment that doctors don’t even want to give us in the first place. People ignore our health and well-being and insist we either shouldn’t be bothered by it or we should lose weight. People act like they are so concerned for our health while making it harder — both physically and mentally — to access health care.

Carter has, well within her legal rights, turned away one patient from her own practice. I wish Ida Davidson well in finding a health care provider who actually cares about her health enough to welcome her into the office. I just wish I didn’t believe this story is going to result in other people staying away from the doctor, too.



This post originally appeared on XOJane. Republished with permission. Click here for more Marianne on XOJane! 

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  • About 34 percent of adults in the U.S. are currently obese, which no doubt translates into a lot of expensive, chronic health problems, such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes. About two-thirds of Americans are currently reported as being overweight and could continue to gain weight and move into the obese category. Overall, as much as 64% of the United States adult population is considered either overweight or obese, and this percentage has increased tremendously over the last four decades. So, doctors who adopt this policy of not treating overweight individuals are not only blatantly discriminating against another human being, but they are likely shooting themselves in the foot as our population continues to gain weight and fall into the obese category… that’s the MAJORITY now, of all Americans, not the MINORITY.

    This type of discrimination in the medical profession is not new. There have been several studies done in the past that definitively speak to this prejudice and to be sure, this type of ‘acceptable discrimination’ should be condemned by all of us because again, we are talking about the life and well being of another human… further, being overweight and/or obese is not always the fault of the individual. The overweight and obese are BIG business… Weight Watchers, Nutri-Systems, and Jenny Craig to name just a few are all owned by major multi-billion corporations that make BIG dollars out of our being overweight. Further, restaurants and fast food chains have quadrupled their portion sizes over the years in order to increase revenues… even the size of a chocolate bar has increased over 1200% since the sixties. My thought is that obesity is largely driven by big business and that’s why America is now screaming ‘epidemic’! It’s all driven by the dollar.

    Bottom line here is to all health care providers, stop discriminating against those who need your services ‘and understanding’ more than anyone! To deny healthcare to those that are overweight and/or obese is outrageous and to fail to speak out against that discrimination is just as bad.

  • au napptural

    I have to disagree with the author on this. I do feel no one should be mocked, esp. while sick, but there needs to be more self-examination. Not one, not two, but three people injured their own selves because the equipment in the doctor’s office couldn’t handle them. That should be a sign. Carter has every right to turn away fat patients and not give a long, apology laden explanation either. And the EMTs have every right not to injure themselves trying to lift someone who is too heavy, but they should be reprimanded/ face sanctions for mocking her.

    I’m all for fat acceptance, but to me this is the human equivalent of someone not fitting in the MRI machine. The machine doesn’t have to apologize, explain, try to enlarge itself. The person doesn’t fit, point blank period. These people can’t go to Dr. Carter’s office. Now that makes me think there is an untapped market for doctors, equipment, etc. to treat/fit larger people. But you know what? I’m still put off by the fact there needs to be such a thing.

    Let’s be real, yes there are genetic differences and specific health problems that can cause people to become overweight. As a matter of fact, let’s just say larger because it is a fact the BMI is culturally biased and doesn’t account for athletes with super ripped, if large, bodies. But if you can’t fit in an MRI machine and people are using vet equipment to treat you, obviously poor personal choices are part of the reason. And it’s unfair to the doctor. They might get sued for this “humiliation” or discrimination, but they will also get sued if they treat the person and miss something because they can’t use proper equipment. If you are 100 pounds or more overweight, you are making a choice. And you have to bear the consequences of it, part of which is it will be harder to find health care providers.

  • au napptural

    Also, wanted to add this is seen as discrimantion against fat people, but a healthy woman of 6 feet or more could be over 200 pounds easily. I don’t think it’s discriminatory not to treat these tall people if you don’t have the equipment.

  • sssuperstar

    A doctor can refuse to treat someone for whatever reason they choose. Just like no one can force a morbidly obese person to be normal and maintain a normal body fat percentage, no one can force a doctor to treat them, especially when the majority of that morbidly obese person’s health problems undoubtedly are the result of thier own piggish, self-indulgant, self-destructive behavior. The doctor knows the best thing you can do for your health ailments at that point is LOSE WEIGHT. I’m glad to see this kind of trend amongst our medical professionals. Obese people are treated the way they are by society for very simple reasons; what they have done to themselves is gross and offensive, and no one wants to see it, no one wants to pay for them to live longer, and no one’s going to sit back and say, “oh, its OK that you’ve let yourself get morbidly obese, I’ll help foot the bill by paying more for my own health care and more taxes into medicaid/medicare so you can have a better quality of life in light of the fact that you completely take your own life for granted every day you over-consume and loaf around being lazy and inactive.” You sit and whine about whats FAIR?? How is it fair to people who live responsibly and actually take care of thier bodies?? Looking for fat acceptance?? You’re NEVER going to get it. Society will never tolerate obesity. Lose the fat and you’ll be accepted; keep it and you’ll be loathed and ridiculed for what you’ve done to yourself. Its so simple and yet you have these dilusional, emotionally unstable, morbidly obese women on here fighting a fight they’re absolutely, without a doubt, NEVER going to win. Its pretty clear the character defects go well beyond the excessive body fat – they definitely deserve every bit of discrimination they get. Excessiveness, especially combined with indolance, is disgusting and offensive, and it needs to be met with consequences.