Lifestyle editor Katherine Prentice discusses what the new Scottish Women’s Health Plan could have meant for her, had it been around when she needed it most.
When I saw the Scottish Government had announced their Women’s Health Plan, I was a little apprehensive to read it. I have to admit, I have become pretty disillusioned with the healthcare systems in place, and while the NHS is quite literally a lifeline for many, I have been failed by them many times. I, like far too many, waited the average eight years from my symptoms starting to receive an endometriosis and adenomyosis diagnosis. I waited a miserable 11 years for a diagnosis of psoriatic arthritis (PsA), an autoimmune form of inflammatory arthritis, and am still fighting for an official Ehlers Danlos diagnosis (EDS) despite it being confirmed I have it. Of course, this is not down to any one person or reason; budget cuts, outdated education, and yes, sexism, have all been huge factors in my healthcare experience.
"...budget cuts, outdated education, and yes, sexism, have all been huge factors in my healthcare experience..."
So, reading the Plan, the feelings of elation were only quashed by the dredging up of darker memories. Maree Todd, the Minister for Public Health, summarises the Plan's objective far better than I can, which is “to reduce avoidable health inequalities for women and girls across the course of their lives – from puberty to the later years – focusing on those areas that are stigmatised, disregarded or dismissed as 'women's problems'.” This concept of “women’s problems” hit home with all the force of an 18 wheeler truck.
Being both a young and teenage girl, trying to get support was near impossible. I was referred to psychology rather than specialists for years, told I would grow out of it, or that lots of girls my age struggled with their periods and aches and pains. I was even told, at age 14, that my endometriosis symptoms would go away if I got a boyfriend, and instead of surgery, I was referred to a psychologist because the gynaecologist said I was using my symptoms to avoid relationships. 14 years old. Now that my younger sister is this age, these comments make me sick to my stomach. I was a child, and never mind how invasive just discussing my symptoms could feel, responses like this made me feel like I was crazy, and made me turn away from seeking the help I needed.
"I was even told, at age 14, that my endometriosis symptoms would go away if I got a boyfriend..."
I missed out on so much. I couldn't go to school when I had my period because of pain and fainting, and my joints flared up so badly I spent my last summer of school in a wheelchair - still without diagnosis. This health plan reminds me of all these awful memories; the wall I’d built from anger at the healthcare system beginning to tumble down upon me. But if this Plan protects other girls and women from these experiences, I am happy to face up to them.
I only managed to get my diagnoses at 20 years old, with private healthcare and invasive surgery. While I am still young, irreversible damage has been done because I haven't been treated. I went into the diagnostic surgery for endometriosis, and the following biologic treatment, with so many worries. Would I get better? Can I have kids? Is this going to work, or is it all in my head like they said? Even now, with formal diagnoses, the imposter syndrome cripples me as soon as I set foot in hospital - never mind before.
"While I am still young, irreversible damage has been done because I haven't been treated."
This health plan could have made such a difference, had it come sooner. I think of my brother, who, after one rheumatology appointment, got a diagnosis of PsA based on one finger. All the while I was told I was crazy, should get a boyfriend, was eventually hospitalised and put in a wheelchair, and still had to fight for another four years for a diagnosis. Don’t get me wrong, I am so glad he never had to go through what I did, but when it was the same doctor, same family history, same age and condition, it really makes me wonder what the difference was, and I am sure you can guess my suspicions.
I went through most of school before getting a dyspraxia or dyscalculia diagnosis, and most of university before I could get the proper help and treatment for my chronic illnesses. I cannot imagine how different things may have been had this plan been implemented before. How much better my friends, family, doctors, and teachers would have understood me and the help I needed, and more importantly, how much better I would have understood myself. I think this plan is a positive step, and from reading it I am more optimistic than I expected to be. I am trying to look past my personal position where “too little too late” bounces about the echochamber of my head, and look forward to all the women, girls, and AFAB (assigned female at birth) people who will be helped by this legislation, based on the oddly radical notion that women's bodies aren’t atypical.
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