Oprah famously once declared, “You get a car! You get a car! Everybody gets a car!” But in the current health-care system, does everybody get care? According to Oprah, not even celebrities like herself always do. She told the Los Angeles Times that earlier in her career, she discovered that she had a thyroid problem and went to see a specialist. “I’m very much on The Oprah Winfrey Show and he knows exactly who I am,” she said. “But he goes, ‘Well, young lady, you are just going to have to embrace hunger, otherwise you’re going to gain a lot a lot of weight.’” Oprah said the experience taught her to never speak to a doctor alone. “Even as a person of note, with a name, I would never go into a hospital by myself,” she said. “I would always have somebody go with me who’s advocating for me.”
In the interview, she acknowledged that being famous does afford her privileges; if she has a health concern, she can make appointments with doctors without having to wait in line or deal with “excess delays that other people have.” Yet she said being a celebrity has still sometimes worked against her. In 2007, she experienced heart palpitations for a full year. According to Oprah, she saw five different doctors who each gave her different medications. Finally, the Cleveland Clinic tested her blood and realized that the issue was actually with her thyroid. When Oprah went back to one doctor who had given her medication but not a blood test, she recalled being told, “What was I gonna do? You’re Oprah Winfrey, and I wasn’t going to have you die on me without having done everything I thought I could do.”
Oprah will delve into other people’s experiences with the health system in The Color of Care, a Smithsonian Channel documentary about how COVID-19 has exposed racial inequity in health care. She served as an executive producer on the documentary, which is out Sunday and will be available to watch on Facebook and YouTube until May 31. It’s not too surprising of a project for Oprah. This is, after all, the woman who explained COVID-19 to us via an Apple TV+ series.