24 February 2020

When Your Health Turns On You: #Hypothyroidism –– 1: Symptoms

It’s been a while. A long while. In the past two years no books have been launched, no books have been written; not even a short story. Life turned on me. To be precise, my health turned on me, and I’m writing this series of daily posts because if you don’t recognise the signs yours could turn on you. I don’t recommend it.

If you’ve not called by before, a pointer: I’m British and live in the UK. We have a National Health Service, free at the point of access, paid for via our taxes. Your mileage may differ, even if you live in the UK.

Back in the summer of 2017 (yes, 2017 – it’s horrific to think of it) I was launching Pilgrims of the Pool, the final novel of the Torc of Moonlight trilogy. I was bushed. It had come in later than planned because I was working slower [flag]; couldn’t focus for decent lengths of time [flag]; had to fight for the particular word I needed [flag]; and found myself nodding over my keyboard [big flag]. There were probably other symptoms but these are the ones I recall. Like we do, I rationalised: it’s been a busy year / life’s not been exactly smooth / stress…

The Torc of Moonlight trilogy was subsequently launched as a boxed set, Christmas prep loomed, but I was running on empty. Whereas at one time I could keep ten plates spinning in the air, I recognised that it was difficult to keep three going. My memory was failing me [flag], my short-term memory was full of holes [flag]. A rest over Christmas and New Year would do me good. It didn’t.

At this point should I have visited my General Practitioner? (GP-1 – there ends up being a few.) Yes, but what was I going to say? I’m tired? I’m not functioning properly? I’d only had an appointment in the October for my annual blood tests – I’ve been on high blood pressure medication for years [flag] – and when I asked about the results all I’d been told was the usual They’re fine.

             Note: this does not mean what we lay-people take it to mean; They’re fine means the tests
             are “within range”. As I was to discover, you can be very ill but your blood tests can 
             return “within range”. However, I’m getting ahead of myself…

By the end of January 2018 I had returned to writing, choosing a Western novella to cleanse my brain of the complicated multi-layers and dual time-lines of the Torc trilogy. It’s a straight story of revenge and redemption, something I should have completed, polished and proofed in a couple of months, three at most. It was like wringing blood from a stone.

I had to face facts, there was something seriously wrong with me. With my blood tests coming back fine, I feared it was the early onset of dementia. Both my parents suffered with this disease. I was unofficial carer for my mother in her 80s, but hindsight had shown that she had started in her early 70s. I’m in my late 60s. Shit.

How was I going to convey this to the GP without gaining a dismissal? Despite getting a good night’s sleep I was still wanting to nod off at odd times during the day, but now particularly after I’d eaten [flag], even a single sandwich. It was as if my body was shutting down functions it didn’t consider a priority so it could digest the simplest of foods. I dare not drive far at any time of the day in case I nodded off at the wheel.

Then in early April 2018 I awoke to find a swelling on the right side of my neck the size of a large egg split lengthways. It didn’t hurt, it wasn’t inflamed, it was just there. I visited GP-2 as mine was away. I was given antibiotics for a skin infection, despite my querying this diagnosis. By the time I collected the prescription I had a raging sore throat [flag], within a day my voice had turned husky [flag], and then one evening my husband told me I was slurring my words [huge flag]. I began Googling, settled on the thyroid, but my brain was incapable of registering the information I was attempting to read.

After completing the course of antibiotics I returned to GP-2, this time with written notes because I knew I’d never remember what I needed to ask. Blood was taken and I was sent for an emergency ultrasound scan on my neck as GP-2 feared a lymphoma (not that I was told such). Two days later I was having my neck gelled by a very pleasant operative at one of the city hospitals:  Oh, you’ve a swelling on your thyroid. It’s nothing to worry about. Lots of ladies get them.

Note the dismissal: It’s nothing to worry about. Lots of ladies get them.  
So that makes it okay, does it?

1 in 20 people suffer from a thyroid disorder.
After middle-age that can rise to 1 in 4.
It can ruin your life, no matter your age.

The Thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland sitting across the base of everyone’s throat. It secretes hormones necessary to the balanced function of a person’s metabolism and their immune system.


I returned to GP-2 for my blood results. I could hardly string three words together to make a phrase, never mind a sentence. Your bloods are well within range, but you’re interesting: you have antibodies! You could develop hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism, but it might be in six months, or six years, or sixty years. And if it is, who’s going to care! LOL!

I kid you not. And not once was I prompted for symptoms.

I was told to return in three months for more blood tests to see whether I was moving towards hypothyroidism (underactive metabolism) or hyperthyroidism (overactive metabolism). I was just relieved it wasn’t early onset dementia [flag].

But three months? If I couldn’t function now, what was I going to be like in three months? And what if the blood tests again returned “within range”?  I could see my writing closing down for good. It was an appalling consideration. There had to be something I could do.

And of course, there was. Just about every illness known has either a charity or a support group, or both, dedicated to it. All I had to do was initiate an internet search and find one.

The response was more than I could cope with. Even the simple search request ‘thyroid problems’ pulled up 80.6m results. ‘Thyroid charity’ produced 3.2m results. The most comprehensive for the lay-person I found to be http://www.thyroiduk.org/ and it remains my go-to website, but the state I was in I couldn’t understand its detailed information.

Then while I was following links I hit a piece of luck. A website – I was so mentally out of it I never made a note of its URL and have never re-found it – suggested that eating six Brazil and almond nuts per day might help symptoms. I am not allergic to nuts. Feeling the way I did, what did I have to lose?

August 2018 I walked back into the office of GP-2 a different woman. I certainly wasn’t “cured”, I still fought for words – I still do – but I could now hold a conversation and ask relevant questions. Brazil and almond nuts contain, among others, the mineral Selenium needed for the thyroid to function, and contain it in massive amounts. I also knew something else: I did have Hypothyroidism – I ticked 31 out of the 112 symptoms listed on the Thyroid-UK website – and, as the antibody count illustrated, it was Hashimoto’s Hypothyroidism, an autoimmune disorder.

An autoimmune disorder, however mild it is considered, should never be dismissed.
Once one takes hold the person becomes a magnet for others: 
Type 1 diabetes, coeliac disease, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, 
rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, lupus...

GP-2 stared open-mouthed when confronted. This I came to realise is the normal state of affairs. If blood tests don’t return the necessary result, the patient isn’t suffering from the condition. Dare I say it? Yes, I dare: the attitude, if not the actual words, is that it’s all in the patient’s mind. Grudgingly, GP-2 accepted that six Brazil and almond nuts a day “won’t do you any harm”.

I left on a high, I was making progress!

But it was a false high. The question soon became If my body is missing Selenium, what else is it missing? And why?

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