Wednesday morning 9 a.m.
The endocrinologist is a clear-eyed, soft-spoken man who feels my thyroid gland almost apologetically. His fingers dance on my neck at the base in the hollow between my collar bones.
“Thyroid feels normal,” he mutters.
I think, “Those are the tendons of my sternocleidomastoid muscle, aren’t they?” but say nothing.
He swivels the computer screen to show me the lab results that my primary care doctor has sent to him. He explains the numbers and says it’s what he would call mild. One number which, if elevated, is bad, is normal. Another number, which, if low, is bad, is low. It’s a tiny amount under the lowest number in the normal range.
The only fact about my thyroid gland I’ve ever been able to remember is the thyroid is a butterfly shaped organ. That description is in everything I have read about the thyroid. So it must be true. Because why would standard Western medicine adopt a poetic description if it weren’t literally true?
I let him feel my butterfly. Not tenderly, but gingerly. I want to say, “Go ahead, feel! It won’t break.” My butterfly is strong.
In fact, that’s part of the problem. The hormones it secretes are coming on a little too strong, and I have hyperthyroidism, something that came on seemingly from out of no where during a very stressful time in my life. Actually, it coincided with menopause, my marriage falling apart, coming out and on the heels of having lost about thirty pounds in Weight Watchers.
I quizzed my then-primary care doctor about the timing, but he insisted, as all Western medical doctors do, that it’s unrelated to any of that.
“Totally coincidental,” I verify.
“Totally unrelated,” he confirms.
“But, everything’s connected!”
About four weeks ago, the thyroxin again began to surge.
My endocrinologist says, “The question is, why did it get worse?”
It’s only later that I realize this was a rhetorical set-up for what he is about to tell me. But before he could say it, I answer, “Well, I have had a lot of stress lately…” and listed my list.
To which he replied, “Sometimes Grave’s disease (named for Robert James Graves, an Irish surgeon, who died in 1853, who also invented the second hand) just gets worse.” Then he continues to say that sometimes it gets better again. But if it keeps getting worse and I need more and more of the medicine to tamp down the thyroxin production, then the options are, as he outlined two years ago, injections of radioactive iodine to “disable” (kill) the thyroid or surgical removal of the thyroid.
I tell him I have done some research into naturopathy and have read that heavy metals can disrupt thyroid function. The naturopathic approach is that all thyroid dysfunction can be treated by eliminating thyroid disruptors and by minimizing the factors that exacerbate an auto-immune response. Graves Disease is an auto-immune disorder. In the naturopathic view, Graves gets better, because eventually the thyroid tires our and fails altogether, leading to its opposite, hypothyroidism. In their view, thyroid disruption is connected to pituitary disfunction, which is connected to adrenal disfunction. Knowing that the entire endocrine system is related by hormonal positive and negative feedback loops, this makes a lot more sense to me than the idea that stuff just happens.
I tell him I am going to pursue naturopathic treatment. I don’t tell him that nothing just happens by itself and that neither of the two drastic solutions will ever be an option for me. I don’t say that, because I don’t think it matters to him what I believe. Maybe I’m selling him short, but I think my beliefs are so far outside his reality that he would consider them, for lack of a better word, wrong.
Which is the place I come to every time I go to a regular doctor. And not surprisingly, it is also the place where I usually leave. But of course, I need the medicine he is prescribing, because uncontrolled hyperthyroidism can be fatal at worst and darned uncomfortable at best.
I’m sure he has no idea what naturopathy is or how it works, but he manages to dismiss it pretty politely by telling me it’s fine to pursue naturopathy, that it won’t hurt. But, he adds, “You will be on the medicine forever.”
Intractable meets impossible in a field of being called, “I will heal this motherfucking illness.”
He asks if I have any other questions.
I say, “What about cancer?”
He says, “Not even on the radar.”
I smile and say thank you, but wonder if it isn’t he who should be thanking me. After all, I’ve forced him to give me some good news: cancer’s not even on the radar. But of course in his mind he hasn’t given me bad news at all. “You will be on the medicine forever” is perfectly acceptable in Western medicine.
He doesn’t realize he has said the magic words that will drive me deeper and farther into understanding and healing this illness than anything supportive or cushy could possibly have helped me do.
How about you? What impossible things are you going to tackle in the New Year?
In the coming year, I’m planning to write a longer piece on my mind-body journey through the lens of my butterfly, as well as finishing all the projects I’ve started. All of them! I hope you’ll stay with me and keep in touch. I love hearing what you’re up to.
Wishing you the strength to persevere in the face of the impossible and the courage to believe in yourself.