Women who have been suffering from prolonged coronavirus symptoms have hit back at doctors who they say fail to recognise their suffering and dismiss it as a psychological condition or stress.
Speaking to NBC News, Ailsa Court of Portland, Oregon, said that she had initially caught the respiratory disease more than four months ago but is still experiencing a number of debilitating symptoms.
She said that doctors have downplayed her complaints of persistent shortness of breath, pain in her lungs, and tingling in her calves, saying the symptoms are all in her head
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“I’m so ill and some people are telling me this is a figment of my imagination. It truly feels like a nightmare,” she said. “‘Gaslighting’ is the word I’ve been using repeatedly.”
Ms Court explained that the lack of sympathy for her conditions has a gendered aspect and felt that a male patient who went to urgent care with the same set of health concerns would have been taken more seriously.
“There are long-standing biases that are omnipresent,” Dr Melissa Simon, a professor of obstetrics and gynaecology and the director of the Centre for Health Equity Transformation at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine told the outlet.
Past research has revealed that women are neglected in healthcare systems and are often inadvertently dismissed due to deeply ingrained unconscious bias of professionals.
A 2012 US study found that paramedics were less likely to take severely injured women to an emergency or other trauma centre (49 per cent of women versus 62 per cent of men).
Women are also less likely to be referred for testing if they complain of cardiac symptoms, and more likely to die after a serious heart attack due to a lack of care, research has found.
People of colour are also disproportionately affected by unconscious medical bias, with data showing that black patients in acute pain are 40 per cent less likely than white patients to receive medication, and Latino patients are 25 per cent less likely than white patients.
Alisa Valdés, 51, an Albuquerque, New Mexico, described a similar situation to Ms Court to NBC News, saying that she had been sick from the virus since mid-march and that doctors had said her problems were a “mental issue.”
She said that she felt doctors have been “minimising [her] as a woman, minimising [her] as a latina.”
She explained how she has experienced severe complications of the illness including emergency surgery to remove her gallbladder, extreme burning in her digestive tract, unbearable pain in her sternum and upper back, and a loss of appetite.
“Nobody is going to come right out and say that they’re discriminating against you for those reasons,” she told the broadcaster.
“So what do I have to go by? Intuition, instinct, past experience. The attitude of certain providers. The way they look at you. The way they don’t look at you. The way they shrug you off.”
Adrienne Crenshaw, 38, of Houston, who is black, contracted the coronavirus in mid-June and said she has been forced to make a number of trips to the emergency in the month since.
She told the broadcaster that she had not witnessed explicit racism or sexism during her treatment but said that doctors have often attributed her ongoing symptoms to stress and grief over the recent death of her father from the virus.
Ms Crenshaw, who has been prescribed anti-anxiety medications for her symptoms, said that on one occasion she heard a doctor say: “the girl’s perfectly normal, there’s nothing wrong with her”.
“In my head, I’m like, ‘I’m not perfectly fine. I don’t just go in the ER to take a room up,” she told the broadcaster.
Increased reports of long-term effects of the virus have been steadily emerging throughout the US as the pandemic continues to rage on, infecting over four million Americans.
Earlier in July, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, Dr Anthony Fauci, recognised the possibility that the disease could cause “a post-viral syndrome” in a news conference.
“If you look anecdotally, there is no question that there are a considerable number of individuals who have a post-viral syndrome that in many respects incapacitates them for weeks and weeks following so-called recovery,” Dr Fauci said.
Dr Jessica Dine, director of the advanced consultative pulmonary section at Penn Medicine and a pulmonologist who has been treating patients with persistent symptoms, told NBC News that “the first step is to recognise that these symptoms are real”.
“The frustrating part for the patient and the clinician is, we don’t know if this is going to get better and when,” she said.