In 1903, W. E. B. Du Bois coined the term “Double-Consciousness” in his book The Souls of Black Folk. He states, “It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his own two-ness, an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideas in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.” This has always resonated with me as I posed the question to black women. Does “she” ever feel the sensation of triple-consciousness, her own three-ness; an American, a Negro, a woman; three personalities, three perceptions, three worlds where she is questioned in each? Do you know how it feels to be unheard? You feel invisible, voiceless, and misunderstood. No one is actively listening, your concerns are disregarded, and you’re suffocating in your own pain.
When I was in a senior in high school, I experienced my first anxiety attack. I experienced migraines, dizziness, shortness of breath, diarrhea, increased heart rate, and pain on the left side of my body. At the time I did not know what had been taking place and neither did my mother. I felt as if I would lose consciousness. My mother called for an ambulance and I was taken to Richland Memorial Hospital. I waited all night to be seen by a doctor and explain my symptoms only to be told there was nothing wrong with me. I was given a prescription for pain and sent on my way. I was frustrated and my mother was concerned. After a few occurrences, I had become accustomed to the feeling and learned how to handle them when they came. My symptoms eventually went dormant but resurfaced two years later.
I was now a junior in college and the pressure was at an all-time high. Still unaware of the exact cause I was extremely worrisome which only added to my discomfort. The pain on the left side of my body had grew more intense and had also spread to my arm. I was afraid and felt as if I was on the verge of having a heart attack. Living in Orangeburg, SC with limited choices, I decided to go the nearest Doctor’s Care facility. My experience there was not a positive one, the doctor, same as the first, was not listening to me. I could not fully explain my story without being cut-off mid-sentence. Before I could tell him everything, he concluded that I was having muscular contractions in my chest. Now a student in college and having some understanding of the human body, I expressed that the diagnosis did not make sense for the variety of symptoms I was having. He still disregarded my knowledge and concerns and sent me home with more prescriptions that in return gave me no relief.
After getting the same treatment from two other facilities, months later I was finally able to meet a doctor who listened. She was a black female. She did not interrupt me or belittle me but instead answered every question I had. She then went and discussed with her team and explained to me that there was a possibility that I was having anxiety attacks. She fully explained the disorder and explained my options. I appreciated this because it had been a long time coming and it was a big relief. I had finally been heard and that alone had made a difference with how I felt.
I experienced firsthand of what it was like, not only as a woman but as a black woman to be ignored and dismissed when I really needed help. This experience for me shined importance on the social aspect of being in the medical field. It shaped my perceptions of the healthcare system in America and I could only think of how many people had also experienced this unknowingly or felt as if they had no power to fix it. As a future Physical Therapist, I find it extremely important that you listen when someone tells you something is wrong. No one knows your body better than yourself. Our jobs as healthcare professionals are to not only be there professionally but emotionally as that is a part of any medical journey. I never want to lose my sense of humanity when it comes to the job. I believe it is important to treat each case as uniquely as it is and to never become a robot in your position. Medical journeys are difficult and it is critical that we as the healthcare providers are 100% in the patients corner even if no one else is.
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