How My Trip to the ER Made Me Realize We Need to Start Taking Period Pain More Seriously

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

Warning: This article contains discussion of sexual assault and rape statistics.

Something doesn’t feel right. I was on my way back to my dorm room and suddenly a dull pain between my legs prevented me from walking any further. I sat down on the closest bench and called my mom. She encouraged me to head to urgent care, and after waiting an hour there, they sent me straight to the ER within five minutes of talking to me. Completely terrified of what could be wrong, I called a friend to meet me there. The pain started to become constant, and any movement resulted in extreme discomfort. On the ride to the ER, I couldn’t help but fear my pain would be dismissed as just period pain. I’ve had my period for almost a decade now and knew this feeling wasn’t normal. I knew this wasn’t right. 

Instead of humoring me, the male doctors in the ER kept refusing an ultrasound — despite that being the very thing the previous doctors I had spoken with in urgent care told me to do. The ER staff told me the pain I was experiencing was just intense period pain and to take Motrin. I couldn’t help but feel more upset and frustrated.

Somehow, they felt the need to do everything else but an ultrasound. This included checking for pregnancy in my blood and urine, swabbing for STIs, jiggling my cervix to check for inflammation, and completely ruling out an ovarian cyst or hernia — something that could have been detected by an ultrasound.

Eventually I did require an ultrasound. And my doctor came into the room with the bittersweet news, that my ultrasound was completely normal. There was nothing wrong. But I couldn’t help but feel more confused, upset and angry. She turned to her medical student and said, "Can you believe they refused her an ultrasound in the ER?"

Looking back, I would have changed a lot about this experience, but I know I can’t. I can’t keep thinking about the “what if’s” and what they would have found had they done an ultrasound in the appropriate moment. What I do know, is how I can move forward.

Historically, when it comes to women’s pain in the medical world their pain is often disregarded or delegitimized — especially for women of color.

Even after that long week of being tossed between the ER, radiology, and the gynecologist, I knew I had more privilege than most women seeking women’s health related issues. Coming out of that week of hell and simultaneously educating myself about the response of medical care providers towards women seeking treatment, I came to an upsetting conclusion: We need to talk about believing women’s pain more.

When it comes to pain in general, women aren’t prescribed equal treatment or believed as easily compared to men. According to a study done by researchers at the University of Maryland, they found that not only were women more likely to have their pain dismissed, but also less likely to have as aggressive treatment.

This discrepancy is not limited to prescriptions, either; in fact it can start as early as diagnosis. In another study done by the University of Pennsylvania, researchers note that “women are more likely to be told their pain is ‘psychosomatic’ or influenced by emotional distress. And in a survey of more than 2,400 women with chronic pain, 83 percent said they felt they had experienced gender discrimination from their healthcare providers.”

Yuris Alhumaydy on UnsplashIt is also extremely evident that women’s emotional pain and trauma tied to their physical pain isn’t taken as seriously either. For some women, their assault or sexual violence committed against them does not feel legitimate to them due to the way society approaches their situation. In Heather R. Hlavka’s Normalizing Sexual Violence: Young Women Account for Harassment and Abuse she writes, “Most [girls] questioned whether anyone would care about their behavior; if it was not ‘rape’ it was not serious enough to warrant others’ involvement. ‘Real’ assault was narrowly defined and contingent on various conditions that were rarely met.” 

This horrifying finding indicates clearly that the current definitions under the laws of assault and harassment are just not adequate to women’s lived experiences. So much so, that women do not even feel the need to come forward with the crimes committed against them. This complete normalization of their experience perpetuates how women’s emotional pain and trauma are not taken seriously in terms of their physical or reproductive wellbeing and health.

After this scary experience, I realized I needed to take more action into my own hands when it came to my health, and more specifically, my reproductive health.

Within days of my trip to the ER, I made an appointment with a gynecologist. This was my first time for an appointment, and I wish the circumstances had been better. As a women’s studies minor, I’ve always known the importance of taking the initiative with my reproductive health, but have never made the time. A major takeaway from my experience is to make the effort to find a gynecologist before something bad happens.

In order to help fix the problems that exist for women within the medical world, we need to educate ourselves and bring these issues to light. After my scary encounter, I knew I wanted to speak out about my experience so other women don’t have to experience the pain and emotional labor I had to go through. There are many healthcare practitioners, especially female ones, who are fighting to improve these issues for other women. We need to continue to break the stigma of talking about our periods, reproductive health, and the lack of equal treatment by advocating for ourselves and others.