I recently broke my ankle.
It was one of those things where I should have known better than to try to walk up to the toilet block on our camping trip, up a dirt road in the dark after a couple of wines.
I had the dog with me and when I was coming back down the slope; I slipped on some loose gravel, my foot went into a ditch created by the recent heavy rains and I twisted my ankle so badly. As I lay there on the ground with no phone signal and a dog licking my face, I thought to myself, “I guess this is where my story ends. Here is where I die.”
I didn’t. I managed to get to my feet (quite a feat for someone whose other leg is hindered by a knee injury from my teenage years) and I hobbled back to camp and put on a brave face for my campmates whose trip I did not want to spoil.
Luckily for me as someone who carries a joint injury, I also travel with quite an extensive range of taping in the first aid kit so I taped it up and sucked it up for the next couple of days.
When I got back home, I showed a photo of my ankle to my nurse sister who got very cranky with me and ordered me to go and see a GP immediately so they can see whether I’d actually broken anything.
Now I live in regional NSW where getting a GP appointment often means a week or so wait time or even more. It’s especially difficult when you’re dealing with something quite urgent. But it just happened that a brand new GP clinic opened next door to my husband’s workplace on the day I went in to tell him I needed a doctor. So I walked in and was one of their very first patients – lucky me!
Well, maybe not so lucky.
As I sat down and advised my new male GP that I had maybe broken my ankle, his first question was, “Are you on birth control?”
Thinking he might be checking to see if I was a blood clot risk from taking the pill I said “no I wasn’t”.
He then asked me, “Why not?” I told him I didn’t want to be on birth control and he replied, “But you’re married aren’t you? Are you sexually active?”
I confirmed I was indeed married and yes I was sexually active but that I didn’t want to be on birth control. Then trying to make light of what was becoming quite a tense situation, I told him, “I was 43, my ovaries were probably pumping out dust bunnies by now” to which he responded aggressively, “Don’t say that, it might happen and then what?”
I got aggressive back and said, “Well so be it.”
He sat down grumpily and said ok.
Finally, he got down to look at my ankle and after an inspection of the black, blue, purple and now-yellow swollen appendage that didn’t even look like an ankle anymore, he said that yes I really did need an X-ray.
Then, while filling out the referral for the hospital, he turned to me, looked me dead in the eye and said, “Obviously you also need to take a look at your weight.”
He then turned back to his computer, the conversation about my body over.
Listen to this episode of Mamamia Out Loud where I shared more about my GP experience. Story continues after podcast.
Now I know I am not at an ideal weight right now. I am overweight actually, and according to my BMI I’m morbidly obese. But I eat pretty healthily and I get as much exercise as my poor broken skeletal system will allow. I’ve tried every other damn way of losing weight which only ever seems to be a short-term solution.
The one time I lost a substantial amount of weight was when I was in my 20s and the radio station I worked for basically publicly shamed me and my co-host into losing weight through a client’s diet program, where we had weigh-ins at outside broadcasts with people watching.
This was pre The Biggest Loser debuting in Australia so I like to think of myself as quite the trendsetter.
I lost 22 kilos on a very strict controlled diet and exercise program where I couldn’t eat out with friends and couldn’t have a single alcoholic drink ever. I could only eat three times a day and there had to be a minimum five hours between meals.
The meals were tiny, unsatisfying and took a lot of preparation and effort; two things I am not known for when it comes to preparing meals
After the radio stunt ended, I tried to move into a maintenance phase but the diet was so strict that even just eating normally saw the weight come back on fast and now I am back to the original weight and then some.
Something my GPs over the years have been quick to point out.
Yes, this recent GP isn’t the first medical professional who has simply told me to get my weight in hand.
Another GP, this time a woman, asked me when I was in my early 30s if I ever wanted to have children. I said maybe, and she said, “I’d like to see you lose a good 20 kilos before you even consider it.”
I’d gone to see her because I’d gotten shingles.
Another doctor, this time one who specialises in conditions like arthritis, looked at the MRI of my spine, saw a vertebra that was causing me some hip pain and said, “For every 10 kilos you lose, your pain will probably halve.”
Thanks, I guess.
I went and got the X-ray of my ankle and that afternoon my new GP called and advised me I had in fact broken it and to immediately go see the local physio to get a moon boot and a pair of crutches.
So off I hobbled to the physiotherapist who looked at my ankle and my X-ray results and fitted me for the boot.
After that was done, she stopped, looked at me and said, “We also need to look at your weight.”
After hearing it from my GP just hours before, something in me snapped.
I told her she was not the first medical professional to tell me this; she wasn’t even the first medical professional to tell me this today. But none of them had given me any direction as to how I was supposed to do this. I know I need to eat healthily and exercise but none of them had even asked me about my lifestyle.
I told her I was fed up with being told to get my weight under control with no support.
I have tried and failed and tried and failed and now it seems like such an insurmountable effort to do anything about it. I don’t drink alcohol often; I don’t smoke; I don’t even drink coffee but still my weight climbs.
I eat two fruit and three veg every day and I try to buy lean meats and still my weight climbs.
I walk the dog and swim and do ring fit at home and STILL my weight climbs.
I walked out of that appointment and my internal voice – something that I have been trying to be more mindful of as it can interrupt me during times I feel a shocking sense of imposter syndrome – started to tell me how disgusting I am, how ugly I am, how worthless I am.
I am a smart woman, I can look after myself, why can’t I get my weight under control?
Why can’t I even do this basic thing, a thing I know will help? Why can’t I help myself?
Look, I know medical professionals need to talk about weight. It is a factor in many chronic illnesses that cripples our healthcare system each year and they need us to get it in check so they don’t end up treating us for other things… but dropping a weight comment and then backing away will not help me.
Since I mentioned these run-ins with my doctors and healthcare professionals on the podcast Mamamia Outloud, I have been absolutely covered in love from other women who have been dealt the same message with the same support – or lack of.
One told me their doctor refused to treat them unless they lost weight first
One told me that their surgeon told them while they were in recovery from a procedure that this time was ideal for her to lose weight, just eat eggs and lettuce while in hospital and she’ll be good for a few kilos.
There were many stories of diagnoses being missed, things like endometriosis, ovarian cysts and more missed because their GP couldn’t see past their weight,
Many women were told they’d never conceive at their weight only to go on and have beautiful, happy babies.
I heard from people who also struggle with their inner voice and the feeling of disgust you have in yourself when you’re overweight and can’t seem to shift a kilo.
I also heard many different takes on how to best lose weight, to varying degrees of success.
I also heard from GPs.
Some were defensive of their profession, saying they don’t have the time or resources to get into more detail with patients about their options for weight loss in a one-time consultation. They are told to bring it up with their patients and plant the seed in the hopes they will take the action needed.
Some thanked me for reminding them to not be dismissive with their patients, that they hate to think they’ve made someone feel the way my GP made me feel but that they probably had, maybe even did that today and not realised.
One GP told me that my GP was actually a dipsh*t.
I don’t have the answer to all this, obviously. I know it made me feel like crap and I’m still not any lighter for it.
Can I afford weight loss surgery right now? No. Do I want to go down that path? I don’t know that either.
All I know is that the system we have in place isn’t helping any of us lose weight if we want to, or even if we need to. So someone much smarter than me needs to figure out how we do this, and maybe, just one person won’t walk away from their GP feeling like I did.
Feature Image: Instagram @clairemurphyyukich.
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I recently broke my ankle.