Good News After A Flawed Rush

Remember that rambling tale I wrote yesterday about what happens when you rush? Well, it turns out all was not for naught after the convoluted list of mishaps I went through to get to my non-appointment appointment. My Endocrinologist, who graciously saw me even though I arrived for my appointment five days early after her office hours had ended; called me first thing this morning to let me know that my blood test results were better than good – I guess that means they’re great (?)!

Nonetheless, there is a backstory on the blood tests and a reason for having an Endocrinologist. It’s because about eight years ago I was diagnosed with Graves’ Disease, which is an immune system disorder that causes an overproduction of thyroid hormones (hyperthyroidism). If you want to learn more about it, clicking on the above highlighted words ‘Graves’ Disease’ will lead you to the Mayo Clinic’s overview. However, what I’m about to tell you isn’t pretty because I probably had the worst convergence of symptoms imaginable and it took quite some time and lots of tests to figure out exactly why my body was working against me.

The least concerning of the symptoms was excessive perspiration, which is as gross as it sounds. It made me feel conspicuous whenever I had to wear heavy jackets, multiple layers of warm clothing, or the temperature in a room or outdoors went above 20 degrees Celsius because I was guaranteed to have rivers running down my back or pools collecting under my armpits, but I could deal with it by changing clothes or taking a shower. I developed an intolerance to extreme heat that still makes it difficult for me to enjoy weather warmer than 25 degrees Celsius, so air conditioning has become a good friend of mine. Then there was the shortness of breath for no reason at all including just lying on my couch. It made me wonder how it had ever been possible for me to be a long-distance runner; and of course, the heart palpitations that started happening at random intervals didn’t help to put that question to rest. They scared the crap out of me each time I experienced the rapid fluttering in my chest.

I also lost a lot of weight. When a person of my physical build loses more than ten pounds it’s noticeable in the way your clothes fit, or stop fitting, and you start to look emaciated. The people in my life noticed it before I did because they could see the changes in my face, which is naturally angular; as it became leaner each time they saw me. I noticed it when the clothes I had altered after purchasing them to fit me properly, started to sag on my disappearing waist and other places. That weight loss caused incredible fatigue, but between my irritability, anxiety, and disrupted sleep patterns, I didn’t get much rest. The weight loss was accompanied by hair loss. I started to shed so much when I combed my hair it looked as though I might be related to some species of longhaired cat – strangely, I have such an abundance of thick hair on my head that the only place the loss was noticed was on the floor or in my brush. Finally, my skin began doing strange things and all those symptoms lumped together prompted a barrage of tests.

The first round of tests indicated that there was something not quite right with my liver. I had to stop taking all medications cold turkey for 30 days to clear my system and then redo all the blood tests. When the results from the second set of blood tests were delivered the one thing that stood out was the high level of thyroid hormones. Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough for a complete diagnosis. I had to have a thyroid biopsy to rule out cancer and a thyroid scan that involved drinking radioactive dye to see if I had enlarged nodules (noncancerous lumps) growing on my thyroid that might have to be surgically removed or might require the complete removal of my thyroid gland. After all those uncomfortable diagnostic procedures, the good news was that I neither had cancer nor required surgery because either one or both would have meant taking thyroid hormone medication for the rest of my life absolutely never missing a dose, on top of whatever other treatment was prescribed.

What I did have to do was take anti-thyroid medication for a while to stop the overproduction of thyroid hormones. Early on, the dose had to be corrected to deal with the unexpected occurrence of side effects that are supposed to be rare: most notably vertigo that still affects me occasionally. However, the anti-thyroid treatment recreated the necessary hormonal balance within about three years and my Endocrinologist declared that I was safely in remission and could stop taking the medication. I got that good news about a month before my current illness showed up almost four years ago. Throughout this illness, I’ve had to continue having regular blood tests to check my thyroid hormone levels, ultrasound scans of my thyroid to monitor the size of the nodules, and check-ups with my Endocrinologist. When I saw her on Wednesday during my non-appointment appointment she told me that if the results of the blood tests looked good I didn’t have to see her again until next year at this time. Then if my blood test results are consistent through to that time it means I will have been in remission for five years and the likelihood of the Graves’ Disease recurring will be slim.

Where I was frustrated with myself on Wednesday for rushing to an appointment I didn’t have, today I’m quite content because of this good news. My hope is that my thyroid hormone levels stay normal until next year so I’ll have more energy freed up from having one less invisible illness to think about.

 

The words of this song don’t match my good news, but the mood of the song certainly does…

Sam Cooke – (Ain’t that) Good News

 

When Haste Really Makes Waste

When one lives in constant pain there is only so much energy available for doing things, so making mistakes with your time can be costly. For example, yesterday, I had to muster all the energy I could to get myself ready for an appointment with my Endocrinologist to make sure there are no hidden threats to my health lurking just below my larynx in my thyroid glands. However, nothing in the hours leading up to my appointment seemed to want to go right. Starting with overloading the circuit breakers while trying to make something to eat and running my stove, electric kettle, and toaster oven at the same time – I’m sure the toaster oven is the culprit because this never happened with my old one –, which resulted in partially toasted bread for my egg and cheddar cheese sandwich.

I’ll skip over showering and getting dressed because that’s an ongoing battle whether I’m rushed or not, and go right to traveling to the appointment. I ordered a ÜberX pick-up to get me to my appointment a few minutes early because my Endocrinologist may be the most efficient doctor I know so she is always on schedule. As I made my way out to the street, I called the driver because the Über app was still showing him as two minutes away, which is what it had said 2 minutes before. When the driver answered my call, he said he was waiting right outside my home. Of course, I couldn’t see him because once again the location-finder GPS in the app sent him about a block away from my home. When I told him this he seemed annoyed but said he would turn around and come get me. Luckily, I hadn’t closed the app and noticed that he canceled my pick-up.

At that point, time was ticking away and there were no available taxi cabs in sight so I ordered another ÜberX. This time I manually entered my address and searched for my destination, which I selected from a list of in-app suggestions. Can anyone see where this is going? The driver arrived within five minutes. I told him I was running late. He assured me he would get me to my appointment on time. He set off driving down a street, where at that time of day, promises slow-moving city traffic, but he was certain he would get me there on time regardless. I tried to let go of my anxiety and started to chat with him about why he chose to become an Über driver, which is a conversation that tends to deliver a wide array of responses: his was simply the convenience of managing his own schedule.

Within a few minutes, he announced that we were arriving at our destination, which for so many reasons wasn’t possible. When I looked up, I saw the wrong hospital in front of me. I looked at the Über app and realized that I had, of course, selected the wrong address for the hospital from the app-generated list when I ordered the second pick-up. Editing the drop-off address only made things worse because who knew that the hospital had so many clinic locations listed under its moniker. This course correction led to what might have been a hilarious sketch out of a sit-com, were it not for the fact that I was anxious about not making it to my Endocrinologist’s office before she shut the door for the day.

I directed the driver to take a back street shortcut where at the end of it we had to choose between joining slow-moving traffic again and trying to find the right one-way street to get us back on course. I opted for finding the one-way street, which all turned out to be designated to go in the direction opposite of where I needed to be and we landed on a main street with streetcar lines that ensured that our travel time would be extended. I called my doctor’s office to let them know I was running late but they were done answering calls for the day so I dropped right into voicemail. I left a message, which I’m sure was met this morning by a furrowed brow from the office administrator.

To get us out of the panic-inducing stop-and-go traffic, the ÜberX driver turned down a one-way street that could get us to a hospital entrance within a few short minutes. But… we missed the turn-off for the next street that would finally lead us there. He decided to take a chance at backing up to save me time, but there was a car coming down the one-way street behind us that made reversing an impossibility. By this point there was nothing to do but laugh. We were both laughing at what might be the most painfully comical Über ride experience for us both. We followed the street to its end then drove down two more streets that finally got us to the rear entrance of the hospital. I thanked him profusely for doing his best to get me there on time and only missing the mark by ten minutes after all the confusing stops, starts, and turns.

Then I walked as quickly as my very sore legs could carry me to the Endocrinology Department offices. To my relief, the doctor’s office door was still open and she was there, talking with two of her students. When she looked up and saw me, she smiled and asked what she could do for me. I apologized for being late for my appointment and she looked thoroughly confused. She told me I wasn’t booked for an appointment and double-checked her patient log for the day that I certainly was not on because my appoint, that I so determinedly tried to get to, was scheduled for June 19th, which was five days away. I had mistakenly entered it into my calendar for the incorrect date.

Thankfully, she’s a patient-focused doctor. Instead of making me return in five days, she sent me to the lab to do my blood tests and stayed after the office should have been closed, to see me. So I guess, as much time as I wasted by rushing to get to my appointment early – I do see the irony in that statement – the day wasn’t completely squandered.

 

Rush – Closer To The Heart

 

Bittersweet: Living With Chronic Pain And Hypoglycemia

I’m hypoglycemic. Hypoglycemia is “a condition characterized by an abnormally low level of blood sugar (glucose),” in your body. Blood sugar/glucose is your body’s main energy source, and low levels can cause some big problems. Think extreme sugar crashes that cause you to get “the shakes” and cold sweats, and in extreme cases pass out. This is not a good thing when you’re a chronic pain sufferer. Being in pain all the time makes it hard to follow a regular schedule for meals because intense pain makes it difficult to move, which means preparing something to eat isn’t always easy. The high doses of pain medication don’t help either. If my appetite isn’t dampened by unbearable pain, I often don’t eat because I’m too groggy to focus or stay awake, or I can’t remember the last time I ate something.

I was diagnosed as hypoglycemic about two decades ago. The doctors, who diagnosed me, were never able to give a specific cause for this condition in my body. I saw multiple endocrinologists who are doctors that specialize in diagnosing diseases related to the glands and treating “people who suffer from hormonal imbalances, typically from glands in the endocrine system.” For an endocrinologist, “the overall goal of treatment is to restore the normal balance of hormones found in a patient’s body.” In my case, not only was my blood sugar dangerously low, but my insulin levels were ridiculously high too. This was significant because insulin is the hormone in the body that keeps your blood sugar level from becoming too high (hyperglycemia) or dropping too low (hypoglycemia). Insulin does this by allowing “your body to use sugar (glucose) from carbohydrates in the food that you eat for energy or to store glucose for future use.”

Unfortunately, I didn’t know that this process hadn’t worked properly in my body for a long time. What I thought was just exhaustion from overwork was actually my body getting close to shutting down. Following my diagnosis, I underwent a barrage of tests to figure out the best treatment(s) for me. Each endocrinologist I met with had different theories about why these imbalances existed in my body. More surprisingly, each one had a vastly different treatment approach he wanted to use to restore my blood sugar/glucose and insulin to normal levels. The most extreme was an endocrinologist who wanted me to undergo surgery so he could manually massage my pancreas on the off chance I might have a microscopic pancreatic tumor. I opted not to do that because the CT scans I had before seeing him showed no sign that any such tumor or other growth(s) existed.

Bittersweet - Blood Glucose Monitor

What finally helped me to re-establish normal blood sugar/glucose and insulin levels wasn’t surgery or medications. It was changing the way I eat. I did not go on a diet. However, I had to eliminate some foods (processed carbohydrates with added sugars) and add more of others (high protein), and I had to eat more often throughout the day – what some people refer to as grazing. I also had to start using a blood glucose monitor to check my blood sugar levels daily. It took a long time to get used to these changes, but I felt a definite improvement in my health and had fewer and fewer low blood sugar episodes, which was a relief because passing out is never fun.

Over the years, whenever I’ve strayed from my proven formula of a specific balance in my meals and eating frequently throughout each day, I feel a change within my body. I start to feel sluggish, weakened, and off balance and I have had episodes of fainting without much warning. I’ve been feeling some of those symptoms more and more over the last three years. Sadly, a few weeks ago I had to start monitoring my blood sugar levels on a daily basis again. It hasn’t reached dangerously low levels, but it’s been low enough on a few occasions that I have to be vigilant about eating more and more often. As I stated before, eating as I should, because of my pain, is not easy now but my experience with hypoglycemia reminds me that the alternative is a lot worse.

 

The Archies – Sugar, Sugar