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I Get Why I Don't Trust Doctors Now

Photograph by Twenty20

As a black woman and parent, I've discovered that I don't trust educators, banks, the police or doctors, nor do I trust those who make and sell pharmaceuticals, because I've seen that black people can be abused and taken advantage of if we are not highly informed.

Having a child with special needs and a current health concern of my own, doctors have been my steady companions over the last decade, and it has been difficult for me.

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I finally realized why I've been so skeptical while researching the newest headline on vaccinations and autism. A few recent articles suggested that the CDC had covered up tests indicating that black boys showed a higher incidence of autism after being exposed to MMR vaccinations than other children. Ultimately, I learned that this rumor was not true. But I was very aware of the part of me that was inclined to believe this story—the part of me that's eternally skeptical of our social institutions.

When I was a new mother with an infant who had been diagnosed with Down syndrome, I asked my doctor to extend my medical leave because I wasn't ready to return to work. I won't even begin to address how absurd it is that we don't have paid parental leave. I will only say that having a child with a diagnosis didn't make it easier to get necessary time off work.

My doctor insisted that I was depressed and needed to stop nursing immediately and begin taking an antidepressant. I insisted that I was not depressed, but I was overwhelmed with the responsibilities of parenting a child with Down. I refused to wean my son in order to take antidepressants, and the doctor refused to extend my leave. Having studied the benefits of nursing babies I knew that breastfeeding my son was important for his health; it can even help strengthen his mouth in a way that would support his speech and eating.

I read about so many institutional problems where race can't be ignored.

More recently, I have been diagnosed with a breast cyst and find that the treatment suggestions seem harsh and extreme for what are considered pre-cancer cells. Again I've done my research, as I am vigilant when it comes to the health of my family. I'm always interested in less invasive healing modalities whenever possible. It astounds me that my allopathic doctors at Kaiser Permanente have never asked me about my diet or lifestyle in connection with this, or any other health issue I've presented. Without fail though, they suggest medication, which I respectfully decline.

After speaking with two girlfriends (separately) who are white, it occurred to me that they both had a confidence regarding information they are given about on medical and pharmaceutical treatments. Why didn't I have the same confidence?

When I step away and look at this issue it feels crazy. All the layers of what's factual and what's fantasy get all knotted up in my head and heart. There are so many moving pieces that paralyze me and even have the potential to harm me and my family. When I speak with most of my black friends, they share my distrust and fear, while conversations with my white friends are the opposite. I can only say that my white friends don't seem to have the thing within them that feels like they need to take extra care for their safety and well-being. It seems like they aren't afraid of being taken advantage of by mortgage brokers, cops or doctors.

To the credit of the conventional medical field, I do know they are trained to give me medicine and not less invasive solutions. I also don't believe this is directly tied to race, but to the industry and how it does business.

On the other hand, I read about so many institutional problems where race can't be ignored. For example, a study published by ABC News Medical Unit in 2012 showed that black and Latino children were less likely to be given pain medication in the ER and that they spend more time there than their white counterparts. To add, black women experience high rates of depression compared to the general population and are least likely to report mental health needs to medical professionals, "thanks in part to a long history of unethical medical testing on black people."

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One of my girlfriends, who is from the other side of the world, suggested that my fears are likely based in some reality and that means being vigilant is required. Honestly, I don't mind being vigilant. I don't mind telling doctors to kiss my ass and doing my homework before I say yes to anything they suggest.

But that's me.

What about the millions of people who simply submit to power because they work long hours or are just too tired to do extra research? It's difficult for me to stand by knowing the next black woman may not know that black women are more likely to die of breast cancer than white women, or that they're not alone in distrusting doctors. A 2009 survey reports that 67 percent of black parents distrusted the medical establishment compared to 50 percent of white parents.

It would be a great comfort to trust that people in power are doing what's in my best interest regardless of my financial access or color. But the truth is, we're just not there right now.

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