What is a time of joy for many women was my darkest hour.
Roughly 18 months ago, I got diagnosed with Grave’s Disease; a super-fun condition in which my crime-fighting white blood cells decided to attack my un-assuming thyroid gland for absolutely no reason whatsoever. After a year of treatment it became apparent that the cellular bullying wasn’t going to end unless my by-now-hugely-inflamed thyroid gave up and “died” right there in my neck, so surgery became my best bet for a resolution.
Surgery was a good thing, because in order to keep the thyroid war from killing me, I had to take hard-on-my-body anti-thyroid meds three times a day. With the thyroid removed, I would only have to take a good-for-me thyroid supplement once a day.
For the rest of my life.
Which of course means that when the zombie apocalypse happens, I’m only going to last as long as Big Pharma’s stockpile of Levothyroxine does.
That’s some seriously alarming shit, because prior to my diagnosis, I was pretty sure I stood a moderately good chance of surviving the carnage by living on a boat in the middle of the Caribbean while the zombie war raged on land. Now, instead of stress-free sunbathing, I’ll have to stage midnight pharmacy raids in a desperate bid for the pill that keeps my metabolism working.
Nobody really seems to know what causes Grave’s disease. It’s an autoimmune disorder, and while some websites posit that Grave’s can be triggered by extreme stress, most agree that it’s a genetic hiccup handed down through the family tree.
Of course, this doesn’t help me source my bad genes -- every time a doctor asks me if any of my family members have Grave’s, I have tell them “No, my family is German.” My all-too-stoic relatives could have all had parasitic twins living in their abdomens and no one would know.
Health problems are something no one in my family talked about until my parent’s generation realized it’s actually OK to let your kids know the lineage might be at risk for preventable things like heart disease, or alcoholism, or stubbornness. Although there’s probably not much I can do about the stubbornness.
Even though I am an admitted hypochondriac, I waited until the absolute last second to go to the doctor. The reason was quite simple: I thought I was dying and didn’t want the diagnosis confirmed. Makes sense, right?
Of course, when I finally did see someone, I found out I was suffering from each and every symptom on the Grave’s disease checklist:
Thinning of skin or fine, brittle hair?
My sad-hair drama was weird and sneaky and I thought it was just stress. So I cut my hair short and shrugged it off with a ridiculously dismissive “Well, I guess I just can’t have long hair anymore.” Yep. I completely ignored a pretty serious red flag with a trip to the salon and a shrug of the shoulders.
Irritability or nervousness?
Why? What’s it to you? LEAVE ME ALONE! OK, maybe I’m being dramatic (for emphasis), but I was a mess. Now that my thyroid is gone, I’m a right bundle of sunshine, but I wasn’t then. Oh, no, no, no, I was not.
Heat sensitivity and increased sweating?
Everywhere I went, I was hot and sweaty. For someone who is almost always complaining about places being too cold, I should have known something was seriously up based on this fact alone.
I developed a serious case of the shakes that only got worse if I didn’t have at least 17 snacks on hand to get me through the day. Eating became the only thing I cared about. Because an over-active thyroid accelerates your metabolism, I was constantly starving. Friends wondered how I could carb-load while maintaining my unhealthily gaunt physique, but I couldn’t hear them talking above the sound of my stomach demanding I feed it “ALL THE THINGS!”
Rapid, unhealthy, and uncontrollable weight loss?
I couldn’t eat enough, and I couldn’t keep what I ate on my hips. I looked like a walking skeleton and none of my clothes fit. And if you are thinking to yourself “Rough life,” it was. I was miserable, and I looked like shit.
This one was the worst -- I was actually convinced my heart was skipping beats, which it may have been doing. I would lie in bed at night listening to the blood pump through my veins because my blood pressure was so high that I could actually hear my blood pumping, and I would worry that at any moment my heart would stop and the last thought I would have would be “Ahh, finally, it’s quiet.”
Ever try falling asleep to the sound of your own accelerated heart-beat? It’s like having a busted sound-machine broadcasting from inside your soul. Also, I was constantly too hot and I had to get up and pee every few hours, and my rapid metabolism kept feeding my brain which meant I couldn’t get my brain to shut up, and I woke up every day with a very, very, bad attitude about all of it.
Frequent bowel movements? Okay, this one is gross, but -- I’m sorry -- it’s a big one. Healthy poops are so important. When your poop is funky, or you’re making way too much of it, it’s a good indicator something serious is going on. Don’t ignore funky poops, people!
And last but not least:
Goiter (enlarged thyroid)?
This one was hard for me to notice, but once the doctor pointed it out to me (which went a little bit like, “OH! Wow… Your thyroid is, well, to call it ‘swollen’ is an understatement!”) I don’t know how I missed it. You see, your thyroid is normally an unnoticeable butterfly-shaped gland at the base of your throat, but when I looked in the mirror at the doctor’s office I realized that it looked like I had swallowed a small, round pillow.
So, with completed checklist in hand, I was shuttled to a specialist for further testing.
Of course all of this happened pre-Affordable Care Act and I had crappy insurance with an out-of-pocket max that was impossibly unaffordable.
I continued to not-sleep, terrified that my thyroid might be cancerous, while I underwent uncomfortably expensive tests to find out that it (thankfully) wasn’t. Then I lost sleep from panicking that my liver could be permanently damaged by the anti-thyroid meds I would have to take in order to get the Grave’s disease under control. And then I spent a few nights frozen in terror that I might have to take radiation pills to kill my thyroid, which would make me radioactive for a little while and HOLY SHIT, WOULD THAT TURN ME INTO A MUTANT?
But, finally, the anti-thyroid meds kicked in, and the beta-blockers I was taking for my blood pressure kicked in, and I began to get some decent sleep.
So I opted to continue taking the anti-thyroid meds and hoped that I would be one of the fortunate few who responded so well to the drugs that my Grave’s disease would up and go away completely -- an altogether highly unlikely scenario. Even in cases where Grave’s goes into complete remission, it commonly returns later in life to torment you once again.
Turns out, I was not one of those fortunate people. But something else wonderful happened -- I got affordable health insurance in March that allowed me to consider the second best option to remission: surgery.
You see, by this time my husband and I were pretty sure we wanted to get started on making babies, and the radiation treatment carried a one-year moratorium on all things procreational. Not wanting to wait so long (and still afraid of the X-Men possibilities my imagination refused to believe were impossible), I hopped on the surgery train.
The surgeon who removed my thyroid let me know that while a normal thyroid weighs only 10-15 grams, mine weighed in at a whopping 52!
I felt better almost immediately after the operation.
The anti-thyroid meds that had allowed me to (finally!) sleep at night and put some weight back on had let me believe that I was in pretty good shape -- but it was nothing to how much better I feel now that my thyroid is gone. And I’m really, really glad I had the surgery, because even if I had taken the radiation treatment, there remained a chance that my body would continue to attack the then-defunct gland, eventually turning it into a cancerous lump that I’d have to have removed anyway.
But whether I cut it out or took the radiation, a thyroid supplement was a foregone conclusion.
So now when I slip into my post-apocalyptic “What if…” fantasies, I find myself making lists like:
1. Locate husband.
2. Contact family members who aren’t yet zombies and agree on a central meeting point.
3. Gather food and water supplies from apartment. *Don’t forget baseball bat!
4. Pack cats in carriers, scope out parking lot for zombies, and -- when safe -- load up car and get thee to the pharmacy for a Levothyroxine raid.
5. Grab some penicillin and painkillers and vitamins and stuff while I’m there because, you know… zombies.
6. Stuff a few candy bars in the pack as well.
7. Get the hell out of the city, meet up with family, steal a boat, and set sail because zombies can’t swim -- but don’t forget to raid every single zombie-free pharmacy we come across along the way.
Zombie survival may be harder now, but I consider it a small price to pay for finally feeling healthy after 18 months of Grave’s misery. Plus I’ve got a sexy scar.