Healthcare Gaslighting: The System That Abandoned Me

“Healthcare gaslighting” is a new term that has emerged into many dictionaries. I am sure we have all heard of doctors undermining their patients’ pain and worries by brushing them aside. Many women have come forward to share their experiences with doctors not believing their pain. Nonetheless, I am sure this happens with men too. Healthcare gaslighting can be defined as the following:

“Healthcare gaslighting (also referred to as medical gaslighting) is the manipulation of a person by healthcare professionals forcing them to question their thoughts, memories, and the events associated with how they physically or mentally feel.”

Initially not knowing what healthcare gaslighting was, I experienced it firsthand with my own family doctor. I reached out to him nearly half a year ago to get a referral for a specialist. A few months passed by and he managed to lose the papers and then blame another centre for it. When we finally got back on track and the papers were found, he later complained about filling them out for me. I was expected to wait three months and was told that I should consider myself lucky for getting such an early appointment, since many have to wait up to a year. A doctor who complains about filling papers out for his patients has already proved his unprofessionalism to me.

Being told that “I look fine” or to “hang in there a little bit longer” while expressing the pain I have endured to end up in the doctors office in the first place is not what I expected. The next three months were really difficult, with the constant anger of why this was taking so long. I thought to myself, and shared with others around me, that there needs to be change. On top of that, there was a lot of healthcare funding being cut in Ontario, and still is, which was only adding to my issue.

Basic necessities like healthcare funding being cut are making waitlist times longer than usual and many individuals are ending up in emergency rooms, like myself.

Three months passed, and I received a call that my appointment was cancelled. The feeling of neglect by our healthcare system — the feeling of being forgotten about — crossed my mind while I ended the call. Not long after, I found myself in the emergency room, trying to understand why our healthcare system had let me slip through the cracks. I should not have been there, but I wouldn’t have had to be if my doctor had believed me when I told him that my medication was not working anymore a few visits back.

To see several different doctors on different occasions and having to explain everything again to each one can get tiring — I personally don’t mind for the most part, because each doctor picks up on something new. It was not until I got assigned to a woman of colour doctor who made it her priority to see me every two weeks for a check-up that my health care journey took a drastic turn. To finally have someone to understand my pain and to validate it cannot be compared to anything else.

While I somehow managed to get lucky, many others have experienced what I did and continue to do so. Linked below are other stories about those who have experienced healthcare gaslighting: