How Unconscious Bias Almost Killed My Friend

My friend Leesha almost died due to unconscious bias against obese women when her doctors dismissed her extremely high blood pressure as simply nerves for being in the hospital.

Leesha went to see her doctor, complaining of shortness of breath and tachycardia (an abnormally high heart rate). She also has a history of blood clots (due to a genetic disorder) that have almost killed her multiple times. When you’ve had blood clots in your lungs before, you don’t mess around with shortness of breath.

Her doctor took her blood pressure and it was at 189/117. Normal blood pressure is around 120/80 which is what Leesha’s blood pressure generally hovers around. The doctor immediately admitted Leesha to the hospital for treatment. In this hospital, the hospital-based doctors take over care, and Leesha’s doctor would only receive reports.

By the time she arrived, her blood pressure climbed to 205/134.

They ruled out blood clots and came up with a diagnosis? “You must have white coat syndrome. Maybe you should go home.”

She went home and a friend, who happened to be a nurse practitioner came to visit and check up on her. The nurse practitioner friend took her blood pressure and found it to be 223/119.

To keep reading, click here: How Unconscious Bias Almost Killed My Friend

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11 thoughts on “How Unconscious Bias Almost Killed My Friend

  1. Thank you for this article. It’s hard to tell if the unconscious bias was due to her being female or obese, or both, but such biases definitely exist. I went to an Orthopedist who — upon merely looking at me — decided that I was deficient in Vitamin D, and prescribed megadoses. He also told me that if I lived long enough, I would require a hip replacement; I was only 68 years old at the time, almost 20 years away from a normal life expectancy. I believe he misjudged my condition because I was obese, but not morbidly so. Following exhaustive medical tests, it was found that my Vitamin D level was within the normal range — thank God, since Vitamin D overdoses can have serious consequences! — and that I did, in fact, need a hip replacement within 6 months. At his recommendation, I did lose 20 pounds, which I have successfully kept off for 5 years now. I found out — after the fact — that the Dr. was a fitness freak who disdains those whom he regards as out of shape or, at least, not as physically fit as he.

    1. That stinks, I’m sorry you had to deal with such a jackwagon.

      Congrats on keeping the weight off, though, that’s not easy!

  2. What grannybunny said, thanks for sharing this. Unconscious bias is utterly pervasive, and the sooner we acknowledge it exists – and that we ourselves have those biases – the sooner we can work to counteract it.

  3. I agree with Lisa. There is also an age bias! My doctor (who has since redeemed himself) said that my aches, pains, and other issues I was having were due to age (I am only 45). It ended up being two things, 1) a vitamin D deficiency (which is how he ended up redeeming himself by diagnosing that and 2) fibromyalgia.

    I am not very fond of the medical profession.

  4. It is VERY difficult to be a pain patient right now due to the opioid crisis and very difficult to be a female pain patient. I have heard appalling stories about African-American women who have sickle cell anemia, one of the most painful diseases. They lie in ERs for hours before any doctors will take them seriously. I have heard stories of women in extreme pain who have to dress up to go to the pharmacy, or they will be denied pain medicine because they look like an addict. Then they are accused of “acting” (“you don’t look sick”) and not being a legitimate patient. Damed if you do and damed if you don’t. The pendulum has swung very quickly back in the direction of not believing people when they say they are in pain. I hope this and the other biases that you speak of are somehow directly addressed quickly before more people die and suffer needlessly. There’s a great book called “Not Tonight” about the biases against migraine disease, because a large percentage of migraine patients are women. It is written by a sociologist and addresses bias against women in medical treatment.

  5. I am disabled because a doctor kept telling me that I had a blood clot because “All fat people get blood clots.” I had what started out as a minor cellulitis (staff infection of the skin) and she would send me for an ultrasound to “find the clot” instead of giving me antibiotics.

    Eventually the infection ran out of control. I was admitted to the hospital with a 105F fever and a calf that was bigger than my thigh. I left three weeks later but was on heavy duty antibiotics and opioids for five months after.

    I’ve had doctors refuse to look at problems until I agreed to get weight loss surgery. (I lied.) I’ve had medications taken away because “you just have to change your diet” (to what I’m already eating).

    This is what happens when doctors ignore fat people in favor of their own bias.

    Employment bias against those who become disabled is a whole other ball of wax. :-/

    1. There absolutely could be some of that! Men are also less likely to seek out medical care.

  6. Ugh yes. Obesity bias in medicine sucks!

    I went three years with pain in my hil after car accident. The culprit according to three different ODs? My weight. Until finally I saw a chiro who discovered my tail bone was out of alignment. She fixed it and I have been pain frde since!

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