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Is Women’s Pain Taken Less Seriously Than Men’s in an ER?

women's pain is taken less seriously than men's pain in hospitalsWhen pain hits, the only thing that a person wants is for it to stop. The more severe the pain, the more urgently relief for that pain is required.

One likes to think that managing this pain is at the forefront of the minds of the medical professionals tasked with our care. The number of drugs available for pain relief is large – surely there has to be something in their arsenal that can be used with some immediacy in an effort to make the pain more manageable.

Yet, a growing amount of literature suggests that women’s pain and their expression of that pain is not taken as seriously in emergency medicine as men’s pain. As unfathomable as it seems, the speed with which your pain is handled could stem largely from your gender.

In his Atlantic story “How Doctors Take Women’s Pain Less Seriously,” Joe Fassler details the agony his wife endured as she suffered an ovarian torsion at Brooklyn Hospital Center. Barely able to speak and writhing in pain, Fassler’s wife experienced everything from dismissal to condescension while suffering what she indicated was an eleven on a pain scale of one to ten.

Interestingly, this exact idea of condescension is mirrored in Leslie Jamison’s essay “Grand Unified Theory of Female Pain.” In it, she explores how female suffering is routinely discounted and even mocked. It’s hard to believe that such a situation could materialize until one goes back to Fassler’s piece.

“You’re just feeling a little pain, honey.”
“You’ll have to sit still, or we’ll just have to start over.”
“Lot of patients to get to, honey. Don’t cry.”

“Nationwide,” Fassler says, “men wait an average of 49 minutes before receiving an analgesic for acute abdominal pain. Women wait an average of 65 minutes for the same thing.”

We’ve entered a time when patient advocacy is one of the only methods for stirring a medical team to action. It was, in fact, only the Fassler’s constant prodding of the medical staff at Brooklyn Hospital Center that resulted in Rachel Fassler’s eventual diagnosis – a diagnosis that came after one doctor had left for the day and minutes before a radiology tech was heading for the door. A diagnosis of an emergency condition that, left untreated, could have killed her.

Patients should not have to beg for quality health care. They should be secure in the knowledge that all of their needs will be met by those charged with their care – from the treatment of the illness or situation to the pain and discomfort it causes. No one should have to endure pain or be made to feel that their pain is less important than someone else’s; especially when the treatment for that pain is just a few footsteps away.