Stigma as a Patient with Hepatitis C: One Women's Story
Last updated: March 2022
Recently, a woman from the Midwest contacted me about issues she was having with her care provider. She was very upset and in tears, for experiencing stigma from a doctor as a patient with hepatitis C. I will share a bit of background history: She is in her mid- sixties and from a middle-class family. She grew up in the rock and roll era of the 1960’s. She described herself as a clean-cut gal that never did drugs or hung around people that did. It was in her late 20’s, while giving birth and when she almost died from complications, that she was given a blood transfusion. Life went on as normal for the next 40 years. It was during one of her granddaughter’s school functions that had a health testing for her community, one one which was a test for the hepatitis C virus.
She began to choke up again, sharing how she got the news she had hep C: “My whole world stopped at that very moment. Literally stopped. My husband of almost 44 years decided to leave me- Not because I had hep C, but the timing was so horrible. My children began to limit my contact with my grandkids, fearing I would spread the virus to them, I suppose”.
A doctor's unbelievable response
“That leads me to my doctor”, she said. “Upon going in for an exam and discussion of this potentially fatal disease, I sat in a chair, looking up towards the doctor as he spoke. He proceeded to say., 'People in your era of life are more likely to have contracted this disease from all the parties and drugs shared back then'. UM, excuse me, doctor, but I did no such thing. I was NOT your typical teenager as you proclaim”. With a knot in her throat and feeling stigma, she asked, "How are the other ways you can contract hepatitis c?". The doctor mumbled off several and once he shared blood transfusion, she lit up. “That’s it”, she said. “That is how I contracted hep C... Has to be", she shared with me. I assured her that her assumptions were mostly accurate.
Experiencing stigma from doctors
She shared that this doctor then gave her a feeling of disgrace and utter disgust as she sat there listening to him a talk about hep C. She said, “He made me feel so worthless and that I don’t deserve anything good in life, basically. I left the office that day in tears. I drove all the way home sobbing. How could this professional be so judgmental and biased? Are doctors supposed to be this way? They are in their field to help others not ridicule and shame them, right?".
We all deserve better
I agreed whole heartedly. I apologized for her having to deal with such rudeness. I did say that she might want to report this doctor to the board. This is so unprofessional, and I shared that she needs to find a new doctor.
If you or someone you know faced with a similar medical professional, please speak up whether to the board of medical doctors or a local newspaper. Stigma directed at patients with hepatitis C–this kind of problem needs accountability. No more feeling shamed, stand proud, and stand in unison with others fighting hep C and getting cured. Together, we are strong. It does not matter how one contracted this disease. We all deserve a cure!
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