The top of a traditional doctor's office standing weight scale

Using a Wheelchair Shouldn’t Mean I Have to Play “Guess My Weight” at the Doctor

Most people know not to lie to their doctors. Nobody wants to end up like the person in a medical drama on TV who withheld vital medical information and ends up dying because of something treatable. But what happens when your doctor doesn’t want to put in the effort to get the most accurate medical information? This problem is all too common for disabled people.

When I was younger, I was able to stand without help for brief periods of time. This allowed me access to better medical care, because it meant that I could be easily weighed and my height could be accurately measured. When I was no longer able to stand at the age of 10, medical professionals simply started asking me what my best guess was when it came to my height and weight. For a while, I would simply give them my best guess. I didn’t want to be a bother. I didn’t want to be difficult. Then, while in the process of getting a new wheelchair, I had a life-changing experience: my local wheelchair vendor had a scale that you could sit on.

It was amazing. And it was so easy and safe. I figured if the wheelchair vendor could have something like this then a doctor’s office should probably have it too, but my local doctor’s office didn’t. I chalked it up to living in a neighborhood that wasn’t great and being forced to go to a community clinic with limited resources. Also, my parents were not the type of people who were able to navigate complex federal/state insurance structures. We went where we were told, and to what was closest.

Once I started taking control of my health care, I realized that guessing wasn’t good enough anymore. I wanted to start taking antidepressants and anti-anxiety medication, and I was already taking other medications. Part of being able to take those medications comfortably was knowing that all of my medical information was accurate. But I didn’t realize that it would be such a battle to get accurate medical information in a medical setting.

My primary care physician’s office didn’t have a seated scale, so when I requested an accessible alternative to a standing scale they said I would have to make an appointment with another office and that I might be charged because I already had a physical examination that year. I was flabbergasted. I was angry. I was exhausted.

When I met with my physician, we went over general questions. But despite having made the appointment to talk about antidepressants, my doctor wanted to have a different conversation–one that is common for people like me who are overweight. She told me to lose weight. I snapped and couldn’t suppress my laughter. “How much?,” I asked her. 10 pounds? 20? 100? She couldn’t accurately answer that question because she didn’t know how much I weigh or how tall I am. The doctor had no idea that I had never actually been weighed in the office. Should she even been prescribing me any medication?

Following that, the office got a new roll-on wheelchair scale and the staff received training on how to properly assist people in using it. Despite this, nurses would still periodically ask me to guess my weight even when a long time between visits had occurred. Weight is not an indicator of health, but in certain situations it’s extremely important to know how much you weigh. For example, I’m a person who has a high chance of needing surgery and how much anesthesia to use is determined by weight, so it needs to be very precise. While I don’t like the way medical professionals hyper-focus on my weight it’s equally troubling when they don’t put in the effort to get accurate information.

I shouldn’t have to beg my doctors to do their job. Accessible medical equipment should be the norm for medical facilities. They are not luxuries; they are scientific tools that contribute to overall better well-being for everyone.

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  1. Agreed. My adult son is a BI survivor – and he can never get weighed unless he’s admitted to the hospital, where they have the beds and some guess work with the hoyers. All medical offices should have a way to weigh us and lift us out of our chairs and have a table we can fit on. My son’s spasticity makes it impossible to sit on one of those half tables with slippery white paper.

    Good stuff & thanks for sharing!

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