By Lucy Hodges
Written 18th January 2022
Today is the tenth anniversary of my thyroidectomy. It is ten years since I went under the knife to get the bastarding thyroid out of my neck and myself back to full health.
Quick recap for those of you not around in 2011/12
June/July 2011: horribly anxious and feeling a wee bit crazy, I nipped along to my GP and said, “I feel a tiny bit crazy and very anxious….and by the way. This lump has just appeared in my neck about three weeks ago.”
“Ooh,” says my GP. “Better test you for some things, then! Let’s test for cancer and hyperthyroidism.”
The next day, I come home to an answerphone message, “Hello Ms Hodges, this is the GP, please phone me immediately, your bloods are back and I know what’s wrong with you and it’s URGENT.”
Me: [drives to Surgery at 90 mph] WHATS WRONG WITH ME?!?!?!
GP: you are soooooo thyrotoxic* it’s made you a bit mad! Here, take these drugs and I’ll refer you to the nice endocrinologist. It’ll take about six months.
Me: No. I have *brandishes paperwork* PRIVATE HEALTHCARE (thank you Dad).
GP: Oh! It’ll take ten days!**
Six months later: 18th January 2012: the surgeon takes me down for a ninety minute thyroidectomy, but the thyroid is so manky and stuck to everything in my neck that it takes five hours instead.
Fun times, Gentle Readers, fun times. The long and the short of it is, I have Big Operation, and spend the next nine months working out my medicine doses with the surgeon, until I am well enough to go back to work and my full-time, night-shift job. (Which I promptly quit when my landlady serves me notice, but THAT is another story.)
When I look back now, ten years on, I can objectively see how awful all that recovery was. It was such hard work, and I felt terrible all the time. I kept reading articles about recovery that would tell me it would take as long to recover as I had been ill for – the doctors didn’t really know when I first became ill with my thyroid, because I didn’t have “normal” symptoms, but a rough estimate looked like I’d been ill for about five years.
I felt like a five year recovery period was unbearable, unsurvivable. How could I spend five years recovering from this operation, feeling as appalling as I felt then? Everything hurt, I couldn’t wake up. I couldn’t bring myself to walk downstairs. I felt griefstricken for the thyroid that had been, you know, trying to kill me, and furious with my body that it hadn’t bounced back once free of the murderous interloper.
And that recovery was awful. It was horrible – it took ages and ages to find a combination of medicine that made me feel human again, and I thank my lucky stars to have found a GP who willingly prescribes it. But once it clicked? Once we found that magic combo? I felt fantastic. I *did* things again – things I hadn’t wanted to do for years. I could wake up in the morning and not sleep for fourteen hours. Ten years on, I am recovered from my thyroid problem, and with the help of my little white pills every morning, I get up every morning and face the day.
I haven’t missed it, the thyroid. It’s funny, things that try to kill you aren’t worthy of nostalgia.
I miss other things about the hyperthyroidism. Like, being able to survive on four hours of sleep. That was always nice. And the fact my brain was hyperactive and could answer questions really quickly, and retain loads and loads of information.
Towards the end, I’d even showed some typical symptoms, and started to lose weight. I miss that a bit. But not much. Because #bodybeautiful #bodypositivity #fatisjustaword etc. etc. etc. It was just kind of convenient to eat a McDonalds for breakfast and still drop four pounds in weight. (The first time that happened, I did actually wonder if I had stumbled onto a secret that no-one wanted us to know: McDonalds was actually diet food. It is NOT and the reason for the weight loss was because my thyroid was determined to destroy me from the inside out. I’m still a bit gutted.)
And the sleep thing. Oh! As a life-long insomniac (seriously, I just…didn’t sleep as a child), I’ve grown used to a…disrupted sleep pattern. But what I wouldn’t give for the energy, the verve, the get-up-and-go of the thyrotoxic days. YES, my heartbeat was a resting pattern of 96 beats per minute, and YES, any attempt to move would result in it shooting up to 120bpm, and YES, I was often on the verge of stroking out with rage, but my GOD, I had energy.
Ten years later, I am a little older, a little wiser and a lot more tired in myself. I still don’t sleep, but now I don’t have the mad murder energy to power me through. Maybe that’s just aging, though. Maybe no-one retains the mad murder energy of their twenties into their thirties. I take naps now. I had one in the middle of writing this piece. It was lovely.
And I won’t pretend – I have other health problems now that are just as challenging in some ways. But if I can survive my mad murder thyroid trying to kill me from the inside out with hallucinations, suicidal impulses, heartrate through the roof, sweaty breathlessness and possible exploding eyes (oh I left that risk factor out of my summary above!), I can survive anything.
So I hope you will join me in raising a glass this evening to Mad Murder Thyroid. May she rest in peace – because I have survived.
*thyrotoxic = overactive thyroid
** the NHS now has a policy to ensure everyone is seen within 16 weeks of referral, and you have the right to choose, and you can sometimes choose private doctors anyway. But things were very different ten years ago. Also, no one knew how ill I was until they actually cut my thyroid out, and if they had, I’d have skipped the queue.
You can find more from Lucy at: https://loopsandflicks.substack.com/