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The frightening symptoms began in early March, when Ailsa Court of Portland, Oregon, suspects she caught the coronavirus from someone at work. More than four months later, she still has shortness of breath, achiness in her lungs, and a strange tingling in her calves.
But doctors have downplayed Court’s concerns as her health problems have dragged on. At one point, her primary care doctor suggested that perhaps she was just “stressed because of the economy,” she said.
And during a visit to an urgent care center in May — when she feared she might be having a stroke or other neurological problem because she was having memory loss and a crippling migraine, in addition to chest tightness and numbness in her legs — a physician rolled his eyes at her, Court, 35, said. Her issues were nothing more than acid reflux, he told her in a dismissive tone, plus maybe a vitamin deficiency.
The doctor’s diagnosis infuriated Court, a commercial makeup artist, who felt a male patient who went to urgent care with the same set of health concerns would have been taken more seriously.
“‘Gaslighting’ is the word I’ve been using repeatedly,” she said, referring to the psychological tactic of making a person second-guess whether something they know to be true is real. “I’m so ill and some people are telling me this is a figment of my imagination. It truly feels like a nightmare.”
Court is not alone. Across the country, many coronavirus survivors with long-lasting symptoms, particularly women, are dealing with dual frustrations: debilitating health conditions that won’t go away, and doctors who tell them the issue might be all in their heads.
Despite their oath to do no harm, medical professionals’ judgment can be inadvertently altered by deeply ingrained unconscious biases, experts say, and the “hysterical female” patient has long been a dangerous stereotype in medicine.
While there are no studies on how female coronavirus patients are treated compared to male ones, past research reveals a disturbing pattern. Women who are in pain are more likely than men to receive sedatives instead of pain medication; women with the same type of pain as men who go to an emergency department have to wait longer to be seen; and women are up to three times more likely to die after a heart attack than men as a result of unequal care.
In addition to gender, race and ethnicity are major contributors in the type of medical care people receive: Data show that Black patients in acute pain are 40 percent less likely than white patients to receive medication, and Latino patients are 25 percent less likely than white patients.
And while income, education and other socioeconomic factors explain some differences in health outcomes for minorities, experts believe those alone don’t account for all disparities — including the significantly higher rate of maternal mortality among Black women in the United States. They point to implicit biases on the part of health…