My neighbour and dear friend Dorothy used to joke that every man thinks his cold is the worst cold in the world and would be the death of him. I would laugh but, like Tevye, feel obliged to point out that neither my father nor my husband were like that. 

Tevye, of course, is the lead character in the musical Fiddler on the Roof who faces the many issues in his life with an open mind. He starts off convinced of one thing but soon enough pauses, and says, “On the other hand...” exploring another point of view.

I have been blessed (cursed?) with the Tevye gene. I tend to shy away from sweeping proclamations such as all women are like this and all men are like that. Then I came across an article in the Huffington Post some months ago. 

According to the article, one in 10 women of reproductive age are affected by endometriosis and may wait an average of seven-plus years for an accurate diagnosis. Not for lack of trying. Women report repeated visits to their physicians that ended with their symptoms being “dismissed or misdiagnosed”.  

This is an excerpt from the article: At a macro level, there is ample evidence that the medical community has, for centuries, failed to adequately address women’s pain. Research shows women say they experience pain more frequently and more severely than men, but are treated for it less aggressively. In emergency rooms, women wait longer than men to get pain medicine, and surveys have found that 90 per cent of women who live with chronic pain believe they’ve been discriminated against by physicians. 

This was where my Tevye gene failed me. Anecdotal evidence tells me that women who experience pain more frequently and more severely than men also complain less about it. In some cultures, we are “trained” to ignore personal discomfort. Childbirth is considered so noble that complaining about the pain is seen as letting the side down. One is expected to grin and bear down, so to speak. 

Yes, some women groan and moan over a torn nail and some men are heroic in their tolerance of pain, but by and large, when women do complain, it is generally when the pain is unbearable. And so, I would have thought that physicians would take their female patients seriously. But the sad truth is that last year, the Heart and Stroke Foundation ran a campaign about a gender-based system in which “women are under-researched, under-diagnosed, under-treated and over-dying”. In another series of ads, they talked about how heart disease and stroke affect women and men differently, and yet two-thirds of participants in life-saving research are men. And that women have significantly higher risk of stroke during pregnancy, menopause and old age and not researching the difference is proving fatal for women. One-third more women die of stroke than men each year. 

 If, as we celebrate another International Women’s Day, women have to fight for their physicians’ attention, think of how many other battles remain to be fought. 

Happy Nowroz! Happy Holi!

Shagorika Easwar

Desi News