HEART BELONGS TO DADDY
By Marleen M. Quint
Women’s Health Advocate
They say the heart of a woman is a mystery. Unfortunately,
this is true in medicine as well as in romantic folklore. It seems
the medical system is still getting the two confused. Too often
physicians treat women as underdeveloped men or overdeveloped children
rather than as adult humans who happen to be female. This twisted
view of women in the field of medicine has retarded research in
diseases affecting women and contributed to the overall morbidity
of women. Heart disease ranks number one on the list of such diseases.
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If we examine society’s general view of women it might help us understand the colored lens in which the medical
system views women. This is reflected in our use of language and
the art we create. There’s a very old song written by Cole
Porter called, My Heart Belongs To Daddy. Daddy refers to a lover
or husband, not a biological father. The patriarchal reference is
obvious. Many years later, we still use the phrase, "Whose
your daddy?" in very much the same way.
Male dominant societies have been around for thousands
of years but medicine hasn't always been so patriarchal. Did you
know at one time women were highly empowered as healers in European
communities ? Did you also know between the years 1350 and 1750
there was a female holocaust generated by the Christian church and
influential politicians which systematically murdered around 9 million
women as witches, most of whom were midwives or lay healers? It
was at this point in European, and later in American history, that
affluent, well educated, male physicians (many having little experience
with patients) replaced the hands on tradition of female healers,
thereby, all but wiping out a healing art that had been passed down
from generation to generation. To this very day, it is more important
to be an educated physician than to be a practiced one.
Okay, I admit some of the witch burning numbers
and other specifics are highly controversial, but, at the very least,
most historians do agree that there was a systematic elimination
of women over a four hundred year period in Europe which coincided
with the emergence of male physicians who eventually replaced midwives
and lay healers. Four hundred years is a long time to systematically
torture and murder women just because a few pagan women got a little
uppity. When the dust settled, the only area of medicine left to
women was the subservient role of nursing. All you have to do is
look at today’s healthcare system to see the repercussions
of this takeover.
I present this piece of controversial history as
an aid in understanding the politics affecting the field of medicine
today. It is difficult to overlook the misogynistic takeover of
the healing arts by wealthy university trained men and not make
a direct connection with the constant struggle for power and control
over women and their bodies both in medicine and in politics. This
struggle continues to this very day and is the key reason women
continue to be systematically overlooked and undeserved as citizens
and as medical patients.
The heart of a woman truly is a mystery. To begin
with, most coronary heart disease studies, until very recently,
were performed almost exclusively on men. Profiles on heart disease
patients have been male, surgical instruments calibrated to the
male body and early coronary screenings have been disproportionately
performed on men. These biases still exist today despite the fact
that we now know more women die of heart disease than men.
HEART DISEASE STATISTICS
* Although breast
cancer may be the leading killer of women between the ages of 35
and 55, heart disease is the leading killer of women over 55.
* Nearly 500,000 women in America die each year of heart disease.
* 60,000 more women than men die from heart disease each year.
* A woman has a reduced rate of heart disease before menopause compared
with men her own age. After menopause, a woman’s rate of heart
disease increases. By age 65, her risk equals her male peers.
* Women who undergo heart surgery have a 50% greater risk of dying
than their male counterparts.
* 40% of women do not survive their first heart attack.
* Women’s hearts and arteries are smaller than men’s.
DISPARITY IN SCREENING AND TREATMENT BETWEEN MEN AND WOMEN
* Women’s complaints are more than twice as likely as men’s
to be dismissed as psychosomatic.
* Women are under-represented in health care research.
* Women who have suffered a heart attack may be less likely to be
admitted to the intensive care unit (ICU).
* Female heart attack victims are more apt to have "non-traditional"
symptoms such as back pain, nausea and fainting. Traditional symptoms
such as chest pain are based on male studies.
* Women with signs of heart disease often receive second-rate and
delayed treatment compared to their male counterparts.
* Male heart attack patients tend to be healthier, are significantly
younger, and fewer have a medical history compared with female patients.
* Women are less apt to receive aggressive heart attack care.
* Women who have emergency room visits complaining of chest pain
are much less likely to receive an electrocardiogram.
* Women who have heart attacks are less likely than men to be prescribed
potentially life-saving clot-busting drugs such as aspirin.
* 36.7% of women versus 48.3 % of men received cardiac catheterization
after suffering a heart attack.
* In spite of studies to the contrary, physicians tend to hold onto
outdated images of the older male heart attack victim.
RESEARCH AND PUBLIC POLICY
Research and public policy continues to be filtered through a patriarchal
system, doctors continue to practice biased medicine, and women
continue to die unnecessarily. All the money and technology in the
world will not cure that kind of malignancy.
What are we left with? As is too often the case, we are left to
our own devices. Women have to figure out what works through trial
and error like we did hundreds of years ago. We have to somehow
tap into the healing knowledge locked somewhere in our DNA that
has been suppressed yet not destroyed. We have to acknowledge and
then reverse the black karma of our fore sisters that still haunts
us today. Women also need direction and leadership. Until we learn
to find this leadership within ourselves and within our communities,
females will continue to be victimized as women, minorities, children
and among the ranks of the poor.
Perhaps you think the female holocaust is long past. I happen not
to agree. Half-a-million women die each year not just because of
heart disease alone, but, in part, due to ignorance and the lust
for political power. Sound familiar? This same political steamroller
needlessly takes the lives of millions of men, women and children
each year through other diseases in very much the same way.
But hey, this is just the opinion of an "uppity" woman
on the fringes of the healing arts, challenging the axiom, "Father
knows best."; one of those women who is actively seeking the
empowerment of true healing -- and history has taught us where that
road leads. Maybe this time we can change the outcome; tap into
the power that already exists within each of us. Maybe this time
we can carve a new path and create herstory.
If you have any comments or experiences that you would like to relate
to us regarding this subject, please contact Marleen at MQhealthpge@aol.com
The Coalition for Women with Heart Disease
The Society for Women’s Health Research
Sex Discrimination in the Intensive Care Unit?
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston
Heart Disease: Differences Between Men and Women
By Hope Ricciotti, MD
Gender Differences and Health - Male and Female Differences
The Canadian Women’s Health Network
Menopause and Heart Disease
Eating for Health
Facts About Women and Heart Disease
The Burning Times: The extermination of Witches and other
of Important Women’s Health Issues
Center for Reproductive health Policy Research, IHPS, UCSF,
Witches, Midwives, and Nurses
A History of Women Healers
Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English
The Feminist Press
CLINIC & AYURVEDA SCHOOL - Integrated Medical Clinic &
Ayurveda School is a unique healthcare facility, combining the strengths
and knowledge of both traditional western and alternative medicine
in a holistic manner.
Originally from Hawaii, Marleen was also raised in Japan and Guam.
Her background is extremely eclectic and ranges from working in
the field of cartography to performing as a singer, dancer and actress.
In 1990, Marleen was diagnosed with thyroid
disease followed by breast cancer less than two years later. She
lost both breasts and her thyroid with no family history that would
predispose her to either disease. After much research, Marleen is
convinced that environmental pollution played a significant role
in the development of her life-threatening diseases.
Since 1995, Marleen has dedicated herself as a women's health advocate.
She has served as a consultant for several health organizations
including the National Cancer Institute in Washington, DC and UCSF
Mt. Zion Cancer Center in San Francisco.
Marleen has combined her skills to develop a women's health presentation
which delves into the connections between the politics of gender
bias and the level of morbidity suffered by women. Marleen is an
active speaker in the San Francisco Bay Area.
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