A doctor with her arms crossed faces forward while making a grimacing face

She Said "Ew"

I’ve struggled from my atopic eczema just about all of my life. My family has tried different things to soothe the pain and itching, but unfortunately, not many products have worked. Growing up I saw many different physicians about my skin. Atopic eczema was pretty common, at least that’s what I was told, it was the severity of mine that stood out.

What was my eczema like as a child?

My skin was in a constant flare. Although I am an African American female, my arms were no longer brown. My arms were so severely flared that by the time I hit my preteens, almost my entire forearms were puffy, inflamed and red. It looked much more painful than it was but my family and I really wanted to get it taken care of because I was so worried of what people thought of me.

What did I remember about the new doctor?

I remember it was around the time I started middle school. Although many medications had failed, my family was told this doctor may be able to help. We showed up to the office, I don’t remember much but the odd layout. I remember thinking how strange it was that I had to go around so many corners just to get to the correct room, the building didn’t even look that big from the outside.

Once we got settled a younger blonde physician came in and asked my grandmother to give her the details of why we were there. My grandmother explained to the physician that I was having constant flares and explained how much it bothered me. I remember my grandmother giving great detail about the severity of my condition; I’m sure if that physician would have glanced over my chart she would have gotten a better idea as well, but she didn’t. Instead, she asked me to roll up my sleeves…

How did she react to what she saw?

I rolled up my sleeves as the physician asked and turned my arms facing upwards, everything happened pretty fast but I remember the moment plain as day. She glanced down at my 12-year-old arms, gasped and said “Oh! EW!” The room immediately fell quiet and she began talking fast, adding suggestions and treatments we may be able to try. As if her spitting out a bunch of random ointments and rambling fast would make us forget what she just said.

How did that experience impact me?

Needless to say I never saw that doctor again. It not only hurt my feelings, but it hurt my spirit. I already felt like an outsider, as if everywhere I went people were judging me or afraid of my touch. To come into the office of a trained medical professional and actually shock them, that broke my heart. I felt like a freak who would never be cured. From that day forward anyone in my family can tell you, I wore long sleeves, every season, for years. If a medical professional couldn’t understand my condition, how could I ask anyone else to?

I hope someday that physician sees this. Unfortunately, there is no way to express in words how bad that young woman hurt that little black girl’s feelings that day in her office. Patients deserve to come into an office without feeling judged or belittled. The damage she did to my self-esteem in those 15 minutes took years to rebuild.

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