A couple of days after my second Covid vaccine, I started to suffer from severe abdominal pain, fatigue, dizziness, low blood pressure, and breathlessness. I had trouble staying upright for any length of time. I had expected this might happen, as I had had exactly the same sort of reaction to a flu vaccine 15 years previously. Still, I had decided I would rather run the risk of another vaccine reaction than a potentially nasty case of Covid. Although most of us are very grateful vaccines exist, I think it’s dishonest, and actually quite counter-productive, to pretend they’re without, what are sometimes long-lasting, side-effects.
When I was still in a lot of pain two months later, I made an appointment with my gastroenterologist. My husband has always accompanied me in the past when I visited this particular doctor; perhaps I had sensed the need for a male presence in the face of latent misogyny? For this appointment though, I was alone. I had hardly had time to speak before the doctor started to fire off his absolute certainties: the problems I had been having did not come from my stomach, the implication being that they came from my head. When I finally managed to squeeze in a few words between his increasingly incoherent rants, I asked how, in that case, had the cortisone/omeprazole/paracetamol cocktail I had been taking helped with the pain. ‘Placebo effect!’ was his categorical and loudly shouted reply. He then yelled that the endoscopy I had had three years previously had not shown a problem, therefore I must be mistaken, making it up, or perhaps in need of a psychiatrist.
I managed to escape after about twenty minutes, feeling very shaken. It was only afterwards, from the sanctuary of my car, did I realise that it’s neither normal, nor OK, to feel the need to repeat to a doctor: ‘calm down, there’s no need to be so aggressive’. Also, I am absolutely certain that the scenario would have been different, had my husband been present. But why, in 2021, should I have to be ‘escorted’ to the doctor in order to be treated decently?
I’m pretty resilient, and managed to bounce back fairly quickly after this horrible encounter. But what about someone with no emotional support, or in a precarious psychological state? How would they fare after being verbally aggressed, repeatedly questioned, shouted at, and generally humiliated by someone they had trusted to take care of them?
When my son, Léo, was 15, he had a massive growth spurt, which led to very low blood pressure and dizziness. Our doctor gave him a letter for school, which allowed for him to work from home, until the problem sorted itself out. A girl in his class, with almost identical symptoms, was not so lucky; her fainting fits were dismissed as ‘hysterical’, the lazy blanket diagnosis much used and loved by misogynists.
I am certainly not alone. Googling ‘female medical gaslighting’ brings up millions of hits. I came across a study that found that women going to the Emergency Room with severe stomach pain had to wait almost 33% longer than men with exactly the same symptoms. The Journal of Law, Medicine and Ethics cited research in 2001 showing that women are prescribed less pain medication than men after identical procedures, and are less likely to be admitted to hospital when complaining of chest pain. What’s more, experts say that women are underrepresented in clinical trials for new medications and vaccines, and are therefore at greater risk for adverse side effects, and less likely to be heard when suffering them.
Despite the fact that some doctors still seem to bandy the the term around, hysteria is actually no longer recognised as a medical condition today. Unfortunately though, the mentality that made it an acceptable diagnosis in the past is still very much alive and kicking…
One good thing to come out of the past couple of months was this bread. I wanted a yeast-free bread, as yeast had become difficult for me to digest, what with my imaginary stomach problems and all. The unique texture is the result of a reaction between the yoghurt and bicarbonate of soda that results in the formation of small bubbles of carbon dioxide within the dough. Kneading bread is very therapeutic. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
180g plain flour
180g einkorn flour
1 scant teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1 scant teaspoon cream of tartare
1/2 teaspoon salt
300ml natural yoghurt
Preheat the oven to 200°C. Put the flour, bicarbonate of soda, cream of tartare, and salt into a bowl and mix well. Making a well in the centre, add the yoghurt, little by little, kneading with the hands to form a ball of dough. Continue kneading until soft and ‘stretchy’. Place the ball of dough on a baking tray, flattening slightly and cutting a cross in the centre. Sprinkle a little flour over the top, and bake for 30-35 minutes; the bread should sound hollow when tapped.