After learning about the disturbing health disparities with Black women in the United States, we asked Black women of the BuzzFeed Community to tell us about a time they felt ignored or mistreated by a healthcare worker. Here are just a few of the shocking submissions:
🚨Warning🚨: The following stories are true accounts from Black women about their experience with medical care.
If you or someone you know has had a traumatizing experience while visiting a nurse or physician, please read with caution.
1. "The GP explained I was wheezing because of my asthma and, 'I should stop eating so much and lose some weight.'"
"I visited a GP because of shortness of breath and sudden weight gain. The GP explained I was wheezing because of my asthma and, 'I should stop eating so much and lose some weight.'" After explaining to the GP that couldn't be the case because it wasn't asthma and I wasn't eating anything because I didn't have an appetite. This doctor that was 2" shorter and 60 pounds heavier than me dismissed me as having obesity.
A day later, I was rushed to the ER. After being admitted to the ICU, it was determined that I had congestive heart failure. The wheezing and weight gain was caused by the fluid building up in my lungs and lower body, because my heart wasn't pumping correctly. Shortly thereafter, the cause of the heart failure was attributed to a serious cardiopulmonary illness that had nothing whatsoever to do with obesity or my 165-pound frame."
2. "Two of my aunts are dead because doctors didn't take them seriously."
"Two of my aunts are dead because doctors didn't take them seriously. They were both sent home after complaining about their symptoms. One died days after going home with those symptoms, while the other fell into a coma and died a week later. Both were treatable."
3. "The doctor insisted that I must have been smoking weed chronically because that is the only time that she'd seen something like this."
"Two years ago I was throwing up all the time, not able to keep anything down, including water. I also had horrible stomach pain. I would go to the ER and they would do the best to treat me and get me hydrated again. The doctor insisted that I must have been smoking weed chronically because that is the only time that she'd seen something like this.
The second time that I saw her, she asked me why I kept coming back to the ER because there was nothing that they could do for me. I explained to her that I was not able to get my vomiting under control. Turns out I had gastroparesis and there was really nothing that I could have done on my own to stop it, but because I am a Black woman in my 30s, I must have been smoking weed and lying about it to get more drugs."
4. "A male, white psychiatrist told me that I was faking my severe side effects to my depression medication."
"A male, white psychiatrist told me that I was faking my severe side effects to my depression medication. It was causing constant tremors and lightheadedness. I ended up at the ER, where the Latina doctor confirmed that it was the medication."
5. "When I went to the doctor, they told me not to worry because it was just a headache."
"I was 23 when I started getting headaches out of nowhere. I lost a ton of weight, was exhausted all the time, and even started having mood swings. When I went to the doctor, they told me not to worry because it was just a headache. I went for a follow-up at the same hospital, the doctor told me that due to my age and seemingly good health, there was no need for a CT scan or MRI. Ultimately, I decided to go to an urgent care center, because the headaches were beginning to blur my vision. This doctor asked if I'd ever had my thyroid checked out, because I had a huge goiter on my neck. Turns out I had hyperthyroidism — specifically Graves' disease. I had to go to 3 doctors to get answers."
6. "The nurse refused to give me any pain medicine and only gave me ice."
"In high school, we had a parkour unit and I badly injured my right hand after trying to save a vault. My index finger hyperextended and I felt a pop. Immediately, my hand starts to swell and turns black and blue. The nurse refused to give me any pain medicine and only gave me ice. Problem was, she wouldn't let me take the ice OUTSIDE the office, but my next class was about to begin. So after 5 minutes of icing my hand, I leave to go to class.
Later that day, my white classmate went to the office for a headache and came back to class with an empty Advil packet and an ice pack for her head. I was in shock! Turns out, I dislocated and fractured my finger and one of the bones in my palm."
7. "The staff told her she was being dramatic about her pain."
"My coworker's mother gave birth in a hospital hallway. The staff told her she was being dramatic about her pain and that she wasn't actually in labor. Never mind that this was her fourth child — surely by then she'd know what labor felt like."
8. "I started crying because it was unbearable. My doctor told me to just lie down."
"In 2017, I kept experiencing random back pain that would quickly come and go. I assumed it was from my period, because my cycles are really heavy and I go through a lot of pain (i.e. I throw up, have body aches, loss of appetite). I let my primary care doctor know and she told me, 'If it keeps happening, drink some hot water because it might help.' During another appointment, my pain was gradually getting worse. I started crying because it was unbearable. My doctor, who just so happened to be a woman and a POC, told me to just lie down. I told my brother-in-law to take me to the ER where we found out my kidneys were failing. 🙃"
9. "The school nurse scolded a Black schoolmate."
"I have a vivid memory of sitting in a school medical room with a sprained ankle and the school nurse scolded a black schoolmate for exaggerating how intense her period cramps were. The schoolmate asked for an aspirin, but the nurse refused and told her to 'walk it off.'
Later, a white classmate came in and complained about her period cramps. The nurse asked if she wanted an aspirin."
10. "Each doctor who checked to see how far I was dilated told me everything was progressing normally, but I kind of felt like something was wrong."
"I had my first child in March 2020. While in the hospital I was told I had high blood pressure but could deliver without issue. Each doctor who checked to see how far I was dilated told me everything was progressing normally, but I kind of felt like something was wrong, so I told my husband. He expressed my concerns to the doctors, they started monitoring my son's heartbeat and it seemed low, like I could barely hear it. The ENTIRE time I was told this was normal and he was just an active baby moving away from the monitor.
I started having contractions and still was barely hearing his heartbeat so I started crying. My husband called my OB-GYN on her cell and she forced doctors to do an ultrasound to check on my son. We found out he was stuck behind my pelvic bone and each time I had a contraction he was basically being squished and his heart rate was dropping putting him in stress. I got prepped for an emergency C-Section and thankfully he is fine — a happy, healthy almost 1-year-old."
11. "The doctor said they could wait to decide what to do next, because they had 12 hours from the time they broke my water."
"I was having my first child during the 2019 polar vortex. They induced me at 9 a.m., gave me an epidural and cervical balloon to dilate me quicker at 3 p.m., and at 10 a.m. the next day, they broke my water. I never progressed past 3 cm. Around 6 p.m. my epidural had completely run out and I was having contractions every minute. The doctor said they could wait to decide what to do next, because they had 12 hours from the time they broke my water. Lucky for me, shift change came at 9 p.m. and the new doctor (a POC) came and took one look at me and said we were going to the OR. I finally had my C-section at 9:20 p.m."
12. "He specifically said, 'Yeah, everyone's got heart palpitations these days, huh?'"
"In early 2020, I started experiencing relentless heart palpitations. I went to my local doctor who told me I was just experiencing anxiety because of the pandemic. He specifically said, 'Yeah, everyone's got heart palpitations these days, huh?' My heart palpitations went on — every day, all day — for months. I continuously went back to my doctor who ran an EKG every time and nothing more. He eventually got annoyed with me and had his nurse tell me not to come in when I scheduled another appointment.
They said there was nothing left they could do for me and that I should go to the emergency room; so I did. The ER doctor also ran an EKG on me and said, 'Nothing is going on that's going to kill you tonight.' The ER doctor referred me to a cardiologist, who detected my arrhythmia at the first visit and verified it was an actual issue with my heart, and NOT anxiety. I cried like a baby, because that feeling of validation was sweet."
13. "The doctors straight-up ignored me every time I would complain about the pain."
"I was 36 weeks pregnant and I was having stomach pains, so I would call my doctor or go to the ER, but they kept sending me home. I had been having complications pretty much my whole pregnancy — I was severely underweight and on top of that, I was at risk for preeclampsia. The doctors straight-up ignored me every time I would complain about the pain. I felt my stomach tighten and I could see my baby’s foot, but because I wasn’t screaming they thought I was fine. I went to the ER with my mom for the last time before my due date and she told me that I should start screaming, because they wouldn't believe my pain otherwise, so I did.
The doctor was actually in the middle of telling me she was sending me home when my water finally broke. Hours later, they finally acknowledged that I had been in labor for three days, but because my water hadn’t broken, they didn’t take me seriously. Ultimately, my nurse wasn’t checking on me like she should have, so I missed out on an epidural and had to have a natural birth."
14. "They kept on telling her that it was just stress and that she should just work less. She ended up having a stroke."
"My mother went to the doctor multiple times for a headache that just wouldn't go away. They kept on telling her that it was just stress and that she should just work less. She ended up having a stroke due to the untreated headaches, leaving her blind in one eye. The doctor she eventually had at the hospital was furious that her previous doctors dismissed her headaches as 'stress-related.'"
15. "The nurse that was checking me in spent 15 minutes trying to convince me that it was all in my head."
"I went to Planned Parenthood to get a copper IUD. The insertion was incredibly painful and I came back a month later due to severe cramping and pain, during and after sex. The nurse that was checking me in spent 15 minutes trying to convince me that it was all in my head and that I was overreacting to normal IUD pain, but I insisted on seeing a doctor. A few minutes after swabbing me, the doctor confirmed I had BV (bacterial vaginosis). She reassured me that vaginal infections weren’t exactly rare after IUD insertion and prescribed me some antibiotics. While I was comforted by the fact that I was ultimately right in listening to my body, I always wonder what would’ve happened (especially fertility-wise) if I’d listened to the nurse."
16. "After multiple appointments and basically 2 years of being this doctor's patient, I found out that she didn't even know my name."
"I went in for a tubal tie. I told her I wanted it all gone. I don't have or want kids. My period was very inconvenient and I was over it. She barely listened, but I didn't have any other options. I repeatedly said I wanted it all gone, but they just did the tubal. A few weeks after, I had a follow-up that I canceled. They called me back and said that I need to come in. Turns out, I am probably cancerous and they want to go in and take everything out. You mean like I asked? I put it off for a year because her schedule sucked and I wanted someone else. After multiple appointments and basically two years of being this doctor's patient, I found out that she didn't even know my name. I still let her do the surgery — I know, stupid —but at least it's done. She called me the wrong name on our post-op phone call too."
17. "I was basically told to toughen up. It got so bad that I dropped down to about 75 lbs."
"I became pregnant with my first child when I was 19. I was engaged to my now-husband, but because of my age my doctor instantly assumed it was an unplanned teen pregnancy. I started experiencing really bad morning sickness to the point where every single thing I ate or drank, I threw up. My doctor basically kept telling me to take Zofran, Reglan, and Phenergan, and when that didn’t work for me, I was basically told to toughen up. It got so bad that I dropped down to about 75 lbs — I was about a solid 325 at the start of my pregnancy. It got so bad that the muscles in my leg completely wasted away and I was in a wheelchair.
I went in and the doctor told me my legs were just numb because of the baby’s size. I found out at 28 weeks that my baby had miscarried at 5 or 6 weeks and that was the reason I was so sick, because my body was fighting off infection. I had muscular atrophy in both of my legs and wasn’t able to walk again until the end of the summer. I had a white friend who went to the same hospital and was having the exact same complications as I was. She was immediately admitted and was under close watch throughout her entire pregnancy, and although he was born prematurely, she is now at home with her baby that was scheduled to be here the same day as my baby."
18. "I went to the doctor a thousand times and they just kept giving me pain killers."
"My period had always been horrible. I thought the pain was normal. I went to the doctor a thousand times and they stated it was regular pain and just kept giving me pain killers. I went to the ER and they just gave me pain killers too. After I hit 32, I finally found a doctor that listened to me. Turns out my ovaries had cysts as big as a grapefruit and they were filled with endometriosis. I had no choice but to have a hysterectomy, which means no children and hot flashes at 32."
19. "At one point the nurse started yelling at her because she wasn’t staying still, which she physically couldn’t, and dismissed her pain."
"My mom is a cancer survivor and a Black woman. In her 50s, she had stage four of an extremely rare cancer only found in children and has had recurring issues because of the years of chemo, radiation, and multiple surgeries. One day, she happened to have excruciating pain and nausea in her abdomen. She was driven to the ER (an hour or longer drive) as she was doubled over screaming in pain. When she got to the ER they made her wait for hours and finally when they saw her she was doubled over puking from the pain and the nurses were asking her all of these questions expecting her to be able to sit up and stay still while they took vitals. At one point the nurse started yelling at her because she wasn’t staying still, which she physically couldn’t, and dismissed her pain. Because she looked so out of control they tried to hold her down which only caused more pain. They treated her like an animal not the intelligent strong loving mother I know."
20. "Just because I'm Black does not mean I'm poor."
"I've had the opposite problem. I get offered appointments with the social worker, or told I can get food stamps every time I go in for a checkup. I know they mean well, but just because I'm Black does not mean I'm poor."
21. "A nurse commented, 'Mom let you drink nasty formula before breastfeeding you, didn't she?'"
"After giving birth to my son, I had a tear in my cervix that would not stop bleeding, so I was taken into surgery. Hours later after recovery, a nurse brought my son to my room and commented that, 'Mom let you drink nasty formula before breastfeeding you, didn't she?' I was so upset, because I obviously couldn't breastfeed while in SURGERY. The worst part was that I was in so much pain. After going home it hurt to walk and I lost so much blood.
For my 2-week checkup, the doctor did nothing but provide more opioids for the pain. During my 4-week checkup and exam, she casually told me that I had cotton packing in my cervix for four weeks causing pain, and delaying any opportunity to heal properly. She removed it and I felt much better, but I later went through withdrawals because of the dependency I developed on the hydrocodone they put me on. My husband and I decided to not have anymore children because the experience was so traumatic."
22. "I wish I would've done more, yelled, or screamed for them to stop."
"I was having my firstborn and I knew that I had to be induced early, due to pre-eclampsia. The male doctor came in to see how dilated I was and ended up being extremely intrusive. I never really discussed getting a C-section, but I ultimately went along with the hospital staff's suggestion. My epidural didn't work — I said I felt the contractions just as hard, but even after they monitored my contractions, they still ignored my pain. Then they ended up cutting me during my C-section. I was traumatized for a few years afterward. I wish I would've done more, yelled, or screamed for them to stop."
23. "I didn’t want to die the day of my daughter’s birth."
"My OB-GYN was a white male. It was my first and only pregnancy and the delivery date was scheduled as casually as ordering a pizza. I was given an epidural and had calcium deposits in my spine. I told them the pain was excruciating and that I felt the needle digging around. I was in labor and ready to push deliver, but the nurses didn't believe me. I was in tears, trying to hold my daughter in. I finally told them I couldn’t wait any longer. When my daughter’s head wouldn’t fit, my labia was aggressively stretched, then cut. I could feel it, so I asked them what was happening, and they said 'They were giving me medicine.' After I gave birth, I was shivering like a dog. I knew this wasn’t normal. They gave me a lead blanket. I was scared to go to sleep though — I was determined to stay alert, because I didn’t want to die the day of my daughter’s birth."
24. "She asked repeatedly for them to take an X-ray of my foot, but they refused."
"I broke my toe at school and my mum took me to the hospital. She asked repeatedly for them to take an X-ray of my foot, but they refused saying, 'If she'd broken a bone she'd be in a lot more pain.' They stitched me up and sent us home. Months later, I found out that I'd been walking around on broken bone which had begun healing wrong. I ended up needing surgery — they had to put pins though my foot to fix it, which left me with a big scar. This scar will always remind me to never allow a doctor to dismiss my concerns or prevent me from getting the care I deserve."
25. "I later overheard the doctor say, 'He was just looking for drugs.'"
"I remember being in an ER and the patient, who was Black, asked for pain medicine due to a toothache. The doctor said, 'No' and wrote him off. I later overheard the doctor say, 'He was just looking for drugs.' It’s so gross that Black patients are stereotyped as being 'difficult.' In my experience, white patients are far more likely to be rude and racist to non-white doctors and caretakers. I’ve seen white people being dropped from practices or banned from seeing specific doctors for racially abusing them."
26. "She stood up, looked me dead in the eyes and said, 'You just need to lose weight.'"
"A few years ago, I went to a new primary doctor and complained of my intense stomach and pelvic pain. She stood up, looked me dead in the eyes and said, 'You just need to lose weight. My stomach would hurt too.' She offered me a liquid diet plan. Needless to say, she didn’t check my history. Regardless of my weight, I’m an avid runner and played sports throughout high school. I never went back. I visited several other doctors where they confirmed I have two autoimmune diseases and multiple football-sized uterine fibroids. I recently had surgery to remove them and I’m so grateful. I finally found doctors who gave a damn, but it shouldn’t have to be that hard!"
Note: Submissions have been edited for length and clarity.