Over the past 9 months or so I’ve been on a bit of a health roller coaster — crashing my bike at Challenge Atlantic City and doing some pretty significant damage to my knee, finally being diagnosed with Poly Cystic Ovarian Syndrome and then having knee surgery to repair some of the damage I did during the bike crash.  This has meant lots of doctors including the emergency room doctors, my general practitioner, two orthopedic surgeons, a gynecologist and two reproductive endocrinologists.

My (hopefully) final doctor’s appointment was scheduled on Tuesday with the orthopedic surgeon who did my knee surgery.  He’s never been the most personable guy with me and I sensed that he viewed my stories about training and racing with suspicion.  As I waited in an exam room on Tuesday morning, I heard him with the patient next door.  The doctor spent over ten minutes discussing the patient’s training and goals and how to achieve them (not so great for patient confidentiality that I could hear everything).  At that point I called Shaun and asked him, “does the doctor ignore my because I’m fat or because I’m female?”  Shaun talked me off the ledge and told me I was imagining things.  At that point the doctor walked into the exam room and things got worse.

Before asking me how I was doing or if I was able to start running or how my training was going, the doctor told me “you know that your weight is likely a contributing factor with your knee. While the surgery I did repaired a lot of the damage, if you don’t control your weight, you will undo all the improvements I’ve made.”  He then went on and explained to me that through diet and exercise I could lose weight and that while “many people don’t know this, when you run 2.5 times your body weight goes through your knee.”  I told him that I did know that; I then asked him if he knew what Poly Cystic Ovarian Syndrome was.  He had no idea.  I asked him if he read my intake questionnaire about how often I exercise.  Nope.  I then told him that I train about 15 hours per week and that I’m currently working with a registered dietician but due to hormonal issues I have an extremely difficult time losing weight.  He stared at me.  After a moment’s silence he told me that walking more might help me lose weight.  Thanks.

After the lecture was over he asked if I had any questions or concerns.  I told him that my right side was significantly weaker than my left side and I was wondering if physical therapy would help.  He told me strength would come back on its own in six months to a year and that I should focus on weight loss.  Awesome.  At that point I was done.  I had just heard him detail a physical therapy plan for a person he considered to be an athlete but because I didn’t look the part, I wasn’t worth the effort.

Now I understand that I’m fat.  I also understand that my weight can adversely impact my knee.  The doctor, however, couldn’t spend thirty seconds talking to me to understand that not only is this something of which I am acutely aware, but also that this is something I am doing everything in my power to control.  If weight loss were as simple as walking and watching what I ate I would not be in my current position.  There is no excuse for not talking to me (or reading my file). No matter what I look like I am still an athlete.

Despite my fat and my knee injury I was still able to finish Florida in November 2014

Despite my fat and my knee injury I was still able to finish Florida in November 2014

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Kelly Burns Gallagher

mccarter english employment litigator / oiselle team runner / coeur sports triathlete / sonic endurance coach & race director / witsup.com writer / dartmouth '02 / emorylaw '05

22 Comments

Kristine · April 23, 2015 at 2:28 pm

Unbelievable! I’ve had similar problems (my husband almost punched a male doctor at a post-op hysterectomy appointment because he refused to believe I was still in considerable pain – turns out I had a huge infection, but no, it was all in my head!).

Is there anyone you can file a complaint with, or does he run his own practice? Because I’d be filing a complaint with the medical ethics board, the head of the clinic, and anyone else I could find!

    Kelly Burns Gallagher · April 24, 2015 at 10:26 am

    I’m going to write a letter to his practice. I was just so pissed when I left the office. Why can’t doctors listen?

Marcy · April 23, 2015 at 2:40 pm

So sorry this happened to you. I want to find this guy myself and make an appointment with him just to tell him off. He can bill my fancy state insurance for the appointment. Also, steer clear of Dr. Ralph Stocker, PhD. Hartford Hospital, Rheumatology.

I had very sore shoulders and other generalized pain, upper body (history of arthritis). He chalked it up to “fibromyalgia”. Um, I’m a runner and my lower half is FINE. Ended up needing SPINAL SURGERY two months later. Swear, that since I also have migraine and am female, he put me into the “female, complainer” category. THIS HAS GOT TO STOP

Maybe if we share the names of these QUACKS it’ll help stop the madness.

Sue · April 23, 2015 at 2:46 pm

Know what I would have added? I would have told the doctor I was diasappointed he didn’t give the same level of care he clearly demonstrated to the patient next door, making it apparent that you heard the conversation. Hopefully you’re right, and done with this doctor!

Sara · April 23, 2015 at 2:48 pm

This sucks. Doctors are just people, but since they have so much influence during important times in our lives, I sure wish more of them seemed able to transcend stupid biases. I have many opinions about what needs to change in medical education, but for now I’ll just say – it sucks and you deserve better.

onecrazypenguin · April 23, 2015 at 2:52 pm

What an asshole. (Sorry if cursing offends you). But seriously. Things like this infuriate me!

Michele · April 23, 2015 at 3:12 pm

I was told by an orthopedic sports doctor that “a lady of my size should not be running.” I told him that the only reason I was a not a lady of a bigger size was because I was running. I WANTED to tell him that a doctor of his intelligence should not be a doctor!

Runner Leana · April 23, 2015 at 3:28 pm

That doctor has a terrible bedside manner and clearly doesn’t know what he’s talking about. It frustrates me that our medical practitioners don’t take the time to understand what is really going on and instead they fall back on the blanket statement of “you should lose weight.” Right…because I sit on the couch and eat potato chips all day…

Thankfully you have a team of great individuals working on your case to help you figure out what is going on. Hopefully a good physio can help you with the weakness issues you are dealing with at the moment.

Dani Kennedy · April 23, 2015 at 4:51 pm

Athletes come in all sizes. It is usually our hearts and our brains that make us true athletes. That’s not something anyone – including this doctor – can see, nor measure.

bonnev659 · April 23, 2015 at 5:36 pm

that doc is an idiot.. as mention above you are an athlete, keep doing what you need to do.

bonnev659 · April 23, 2015 at 5:40 pm

agree with above, just keep doing what you need to do for your training and get back to 100%

Kathy · April 23, 2015 at 7:48 pm

I bet you could kick his sorry a$& in a race too…what a jerk !

Jenn P · April 23, 2015 at 9:14 pm

Bullshit. And the fact that he could be such an ass after being informed of your hormonal condition just makes him worse. I have had some of the worst experiences with male doctors who feel the need to comment on my weight. this encounter makes me unreasonably angry for you. Keep working hard – you look like an ironman to me!

Bella · April 23, 2015 at 10:57 pm

I have had several doctors write me off because I am an triathlete and not give me the proper care I am entitled to. In reality, we(the patients) hire the doctors to work for us. Report him to your state medical board, if he has previously complaints the medical board can/will be take action.

Tara · April 23, 2015 at 11:02 pm

What an asshole. I have no patience for uninformed, prejudiced idiots. I hope your knee is doing well, but if you have any more knee issues I hope you will deal with another doctor, one who is able to treat you with the courtesy and respect that you deserve.

Sue Hayes · April 24, 2015 at 6:23 am

Kelly,
You most certainly are a formidable athlete! I have the same problem. (Not hormonal, more hereditary) My weight fluctuates and I have never been able to keep it down for long. I run 20-25 miles a week and cross train too! I have anxiety about going to my general practitioner and having the “weight” talk! Ugh! Women deserve better health care with out the misinformed opinion of Doctor’s that don’t even read their charts! Thanks for sharing your story.

    Kelly Burns Gallagher · April 24, 2015 at 10:31 am

    There’s a note in my GP file not to weigh me. I don’t need “advice” from practitioners who have no clue.

stephfahs · April 24, 2015 at 12:08 pm

Kelly I ran across your post through a friend who shared it on FB and felt compelled to respond.. First, thank you for posting. It takes courage to share experiences that are negative but I believe that words like yours help others who are more than likely going through the same thing in silence. I know that I have. I have a faulty pituitary after damage from a skull base tumor and I see multiple repro endocrinologists to “recalibrate” everything on an almost monthly basis. It can be hard. And even harder when you go to see a doctor who gets preoccupied with merely one aspect of who you are. When I was 30 I went to see an ob/gyn who specialized in high risk and difficult pregnancies because I wanted to know if I could get pregnant. We spent the entire appointment discussing my irregular periods and the fact that I am a triathlete. He attributed my trouble with fertility to his diagnosis of “obsession with fitness,” and not the fact that on a given day my LH, FSH, and Prolactin levels could be all over the map. He told me that I would need to figure out what was really more important to me, being a mother or being in shape. He never once truly looked at me…I weigh 148 lbs and am 5’8″, my body is a machine that I respect and fuel everyday (especially after almost losing my life to a very large tumor). I love my body, it does so much for me! I knew right away that this guy was not the doc for me. Women have enough pressure from the media about their bodies, we don’t need it in the doctor’s office too. I”m sure you already have, but you need another doctor. One who truly “sees” you. One of the reasons I love the tri community is because it is so supportive. Keep moving forward. Leave anything that’s negative behind. In the words of Samantha Jones of Sex and the City “go find a hot woman doctor who knows what *this* is all about!”

Janice · April 24, 2015 at 12:38 pm

Kelly,
First, I am so sorry to read this post. What a jackass and how ridiculously unprofessional, unkind and just downright rude. You are an incredible athlete. I have seen your race reports and only wish I could be as fast! I am grateful that I have found doctors who understand me and my own need to engage in endurance activities. He did not even bother to have a further conversation with you after you mentioned both your diagnosis AND your intake form. WTF? Why spend the time to fill this stuff out if no one is actually going to read it? I am also surprised he is completely unfamiliar with PCOS since frankly, it is not that uncommon.
I am certain you will but you need to write a very direct letter to the head of the practice and if he is part of a hospital group, whoever is in charge on that end. You may also want to take the time to write a letter to your insurance company. I have written letters on the opposite end – praising very good care – and always receive a note back. A former maternal and fetal medicine specialist was formally acknowledged by the hospital from my comments…perhaps this ass can be formally recognized for being well, an ass.
You are an amazing athlete and NO ONE should be treated like dirt regardless of shape/size/etc. I’d be willing to bet you can kick his ass in any triathlon/10K/1/2 marathon any day of the week.
I hope your weekend is much brighter and I really enjoy your blog.

Kate McShane · May 22, 2015 at 10:40 pm

Nothing that hasn’t been said – but man, this ticked me off. I would have walked out of his office.

One of my favorite jokes ever, and sadly right on the mark (apologies if this offends anyone):
Q: What’s the difference between God and an orthopedist?
A: God doesn’t think he’s an orthopedist.

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