Thursday, August 24, 2006

Goiter Watch '06: All Clear

About a year ago, on a regular Thursday at home with the baby, I thought maybe I was having a heart attack. The heart palpitations had started at about 9:00 in the morning, and by 3:00 that afternoon were starting to freak me out. I’d become sweaty and nauseated, my hands were tingly and I decided not to wait around for neck and chest pains; I treated myself to a trip to the emergency room.
Weeks earlier, I’d called my regular doctor’s office with a laundry list of symptoms that was beginning to rain on my new-mom parade. I had headaches for the first time in my life, I was enduring 36-hour stretches without a wink of sleep and had become forgetful, confused and disoriented all the time. My eyes had always been predisposed to getting red, especially if I hadn’t slept enough, but they had become so perpetually red, they practically glowed. Move over, Rudolph, for a weirder, creepier kind of sleigh guide. When I told Alex that my heart was fluttering and my arms and legs shaking during and after a leisurely walk to the neighbor’s house down the street, he said, “That’s because you’re not getting enough exercise, of course.” Later, I would smite myself on the forehead for even asking him what he thought; Alex isn’t exactly the king of health sensibilities. I’ll stop there before I call him its village idiot. Too late.
I guess I was irritable, too.
I’ll admit that my fears started getting the best of me then, which didn’t help the insomnia. While I was up so late that MTV was playing music videos, I argued with myself over whether something awful was happening to my body, or if I was just making the whole thing up. Maybe the constant trembling of my extremities was Parkinson’s; the thinning hair and peeling nails impending dermatological catastrophe, and the headaches, complete with aural flashes, was an alien implant that had instigated the growth of a giant brain tumor. Screw you, aliens!
If there's an upside to every situation, and I'm not saying there is, the upside to the changes I noticed in my insides and outsides included the way my voice changed. Although I had to work to make myself heard, my voice took on a smoky, hoarse quality akin to Stevie Nicks'. I had also unintentionally adopted Warren Zevon’s philosophy on life and mortality. “He said ‘enjoy every sandwich,’ not enjoy every sandwich in existence,” Alex said as I was polishing off the rest of the lunchmeat in the fridge. And, in a decision to take Warren’s sage advice a step further, I was also regularly enjoying every French fry, every gallon of chocolate ice cream and every meatloaf. I didn’t care what anyone said, including my mother-in-law, who commented while watching me open a frozen lasagna that said, “Family-sized,” “You’re not going to be able to eat like that forever, you know.”
“That’s too bad,” I said, considering that I had just gone to the trouble of memorizing Wendy’s entire value meal menu. But I was certain that I was losing weight at the speed of light despite eating lunch three times a day and dinner twice because I was awesome. “I’m awesome!” I’d say to myself mid-casserole, and then I would collapse into a pile of mood-swinging, wailing woman. I'd become profoundly depressed most of the time, without being able to identify a reason. “Maybe I’m Goth and never knew it,” I told my friend Lisa after she’d asked me how I’d been. Lisa looked me up and down and said she’d never met a Goth who wore a size 2.
"I know," I told Lisa. "I'm awesome. Are you going to eat that?"
I’d started eating, but I had stopped making my bed. I’d stopped showering and getting dressed in the morning. I’d stopped writing. I couldn’t keep up with the MomsTown Guide to Getting it All; there was simply too much. And then one day I was in the middle of a silent monologue about how I was a slacker, when a novel thought jumped to the fore: Maybe I should see a doctor. I began making my list of symptoms and complaints, then shoved it into the drawer and promptly put off making an appointment for two weeks. “We can see you in four weeks,” the receptionist said. I’d put on my tinfoil hat to prevent the aliens from listening in. That’s all I needed was for one of them to disguise himself as a nurse and probe me during my physical. I said fine, I’d wait.
Two weeks later, I was hooked to an EKG machine and an IV at the Boulder Community Hospital Emergency Room. I was the only patient there. While I waited for the test results, I prepared myself for the worst by imagining the ER doc flinging the curtain back and saying, “I’m afraid it’s extremely serious.”
“What is it?”
“Your visible panty line, it just killed our receptionist, Belinda.” In fact, the daytime staff of Boulder Community Hospital hadn’t seen a deadly case of VPL like mine since Isaac and Gopher dared Charo to replace the Solid Gold Dancers’ g-strings with Wonder Woman Underoos just before show time. “I’m writing you a prescription immediately.” I heard him say. “There’s a thong-a-thon going on right now at Target. I beg you, if you want to save lives, including your own, spend everything you’ve got—stat!”
What he said instead was, “It’s your thyroid.” I could tell from the way he practically yawned when he said it that he couldn’t have been more bored with the whole thing. He’d been sitting around all afternoon, in the loneliest ER in three counties, and his big case for the day was a woman with a baby and a goiter. Forget gun shot wounds, I hadn’t even paper cut myself. “I’ll refer you to a good endocrinologist here in town, give you some medication and send you home.”
The good news is that I had Grave’s disease, a serious-ish but totally treatable condition that, with medication and good vibes, virtually disappears into remission within a year for twenty to thirty percent of patients. The better news was that I had an official disease that I could use as an excuse for any thing at any moment. Was I going to nap all day? Yes, as a matter of fact, I was. I have Grave’s disease. Did I have to watch “I Love the ‘80s” on TV again? Dude, come on, I have Grave’s disease. Had I been driving with the emergency break on all day? For heaven’s sake, give me a break already. I have Grave’s disease.
And now, after about a year of monthly visits to the endocrinologist who checks my throat, my eyes, my heart and blood, it looks like the aliens have lost. My Grave’s disease is in remission; my goiter is, to quote my doctor, much less “generous” than it was a year ago. Remission from Grave’s doesn’t last forever, but I’ll take what I can get. I am making my bed again, I’m writing again; I’m more cheerful and less hungry, but I still don’t always shower. It’s OK; I’m also trying to be nicer to myself. Hey, I have Grave's disease. It’s been a good year and a hard year, because, while Grave’s is a fantastic excuse for my behavior, it cost me about a year of sleep. And not only did I stop dreaming for that year, I stopped dreaming, which, as I’ve decided, is worth a trip to the ER in itself, in whatever kind of underpants I happen to be wearing at the time.
To a large extent, it seems we are chemical beings, and a good portion of our physical and mental health depends on good chemistry. In fact, it’s hard to put into words how strange it was to become someone I didn’t know, and then return to the person I used to be because of one pill in the morning and one at night. So, I’ll just tell you that I’m going to be ever vigilant to take care of my chemistry, and every other little component of this thing that constitutes Me.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Surrender, Dorothy

The evidence is stacking up and it’s becoming clearer and clearer that I’m not just tense. I’m past tense. I’ve been in denial about this until today, as you would have noticed if you’ve recently seen me and made the common mistake of asking me how I am. “Oh God, I’m great,” I would have said. “Look at me! Don’t I seem great?” And if there seemed to be any doubt lurking in your mind that I was anything but great, I would have mounted a production of Jody Reale’s Great: The Musical! right there on the spot that was so perky that it makes Up With People look like The Cure.
But today I saw my dentist—voluntarily, which I give myself extra credit for. I went for my six-month checkup after only six months, instead of the two years I usually wait in between six-month checkups. The findings were that my teeth are stained from the perpetual infusion of coffee and iced tea entering my body, and apparently, I’ve been clenching my jaws—and maybe even gnashing my teeth—with enough force that I’m damaging my poor choppers. “Remember,” the good dentist said, “when you’re not eating, your teeth should be apart.”
This is the third time in a few months that a member of the medical community has pointed out that I could use a few deep breaths, or a heroin habit. The last time I saw my endocrinologist, I had to ask him to palpate my thyroid gland one more time, just to make sure it was still normal. I put my hands over my throat and told him, “It feels like there’s a pair of hands choking me until my eyes bug out and my head inflates like a balloon.” He indulged me with a second look, and remarked that the back of my neck and shoulders felt like they were made of cement. “You don’t need a doctor,” he said, “you need a massage therapist.” When I said I would try to find one preferably next to a methadone clinic, he patted my knee and told me I was precious.
In order to solve a problem, one must acknowledge that there is one, and for me, the problem is two-fold: I’m smack in the middle of a personal growth spurt at a time when my living situation is in flux.
In February, we sold our house all lickety split-like, and moved into a tiny rental in downtown Boulder’s swankiest neighborhood while we looked for the next place for us to hang our hats and hearts. We thought such a move would be novel, fun for summertime strolls to where the action is, and above all, temporary. While it has been novel, and maybe even a little fun, it’s turned out to be not all that temporary, as we still haven’t managed to buy a new house to live in on a not-so-temporary basis. And, being a non-millionaire renter in a multi-million-dollar neighborhood that kind of has a stick up its ass has been a little weird.
My parents still live in the same house they bought when they married in 1968. It’s in a barrio now, but it’s theirs, free and clear, and the first time I ever had the pleasure of schlepping all my crap to some place new was when I went away to college. “Well, this moving thing sucks,” I remember saying to my roommate the day I moved into my dorm room for the year. I’ve moved only four times since graduating in 1991, and when we move out of this little bungalow in Boulder that belongs to someone else, it’s going to stick for a while, like it or not. You can call it keeping my world very, very small, but it’s that kind of simplicity and intimacy with my roots that helps me keep my eye on the ball that’s most important. It keeps me focused and grounded, and prevents me from becoming one of those people who is, in a Texan’s parlance, all hat and no cattle.
It sounds pedestrian, and it is, but I find comfort in knowing exactly what mechanic I would use if my car were to need service. I want to know exactly where the dry cleaner is, even if I haven’t worn anything needing dry cleaning in half a decade. I need to know every square inch of my local grocery store, so that I can go directly to the Pop Tarts aisle the second I start having one of the “Oh my God! What am I doing with my life?” crises that have been wearing out their welcomes as of late.
If you believe that women have all kinds of cycles, cycles that transcend the menstrual kind, I would tell you that it’s true for me. I have cleaning cycles and emotional cycles, health and fitness cycles and even intelligence cycles. But the cycles that are the most painful and fickle of all are what I call my self actualization cycles. Every few years, I stop dead in my tracks, look at my watch and say, “Holy shit! I’m going to be DEAD someday. I’d better become all the things I ever wanted to be—now!” I then try and become a millionaire cowgirl midwife horticulturist overnight.
These are binges in which I obsess over my own personal manifest destiny, the two-steps-forward-one-step-back approach to life that’s gotten me this far, which is probably plenty far, but still. And then I remember: Oh yeah, we’ve got no place to live come October. This is no hurricane; we’ve brought these “problems” on ourselves, but the tension is no less real. I still have teeth starting to buckle under the weight of my thoughts; I still have bouts of what’s called esophageal spasm, a condition that is every bit as sexy as it sounds.
Alex and I are two crazy people who can’t seem to get our act together enough to choose a house in one of the nicest places in the US to live. Maybe we should stop rearranging the Titanic’s deck chairs and just have a seat. Look, honey, the band’s still playing. At the time of this writing, two real estate agents have fired us, an event that I didn’t even think was possible. I’m starting to envy the Wicked Witch of the East, who actually had a house fall right on top of her. Looks like it was a brick three bedroom ranch, too. Some people have all the luck.