Several months after I returned to the United States, when no amount of rest or food or stasis seemed to make me feel any better, I decided to revisit the thyroid theory. I had a goiter, after all – this seemed to my lay mind to be a strong indication that my thyroid was in distress. I also had several thyroid symptoms. Like most thyroid symptoms, they were minor and ambiguous. I was constipated. I had gained weight.
Then there were the energy problems, which were even more subtle:
I had trouble sleeping. I didn’t feel alert when I was awake. I had trouble concentrating on anything. I felt dull. I felt oddly unhappy, dismayed, distressed.
So I got my thyroid tested again, and my blood levels were still within normal range. I was fine: nothing was the matter, I was the matter.
Then my period went wonky. I had been trying to get an IUD, since I tended to change carriers even more often than I changed countries. The process was a pain in the ass: I had to go in on a certain day of my period each month. Of course, my doctor wouldn’t offer a tentative appointment during a range of three or four days. What I had to do was call on the first day of my period to see if they could fit me in within three to five days. For three straight months, as it happened, I started bleeding on a Thursday. I noticed that my cycle didn’t last as long as it had used to, and that it didn’t seem as…full.
(This is a problem I’ve had throughout: thyroid symptoms tend to be symptoms of any number of things, and minor symptoms at that. It seems like a trope amongst the other thyroid sufferers I’ve met: they usually cycle through years of misdiagnosis or no diagnosis at all. Basically, you go to your doctor and say, “I’m a little bit fat and a little bit sad, doc, what can you for me?” My period was rusty. I had menstrual dwindling. My cycle was slightly less regular than it used to be, and this had gone on for five whole months. Still, I had been as regular as a switch watch since age twelve, so much so that I never bothered to keep track, and now it was suddenly sluggish. Just like me.)
My doctor wasn’t being very receptive, so I got my friend’s doctor dad to order a blood test, so I could at least check my levels. That test showed that I was within normal range but that my numbers were a bit worse than they had been just a few months before. I mentioned the test to my doctor, and they refused to recognize it, because it had not been ordered by them, even though it had been performed at the lab across the hall from their office. They told me that I would have to get another blood test, on their orders, and then I would be welcome to come in and discuss it, but if the results were similar to the one they refused to recognize, well, I would be officially subclinical and I would officially have no thyroid problem.
I called the family friend to explain the situation, and he agreed to meet with me at his clinic. I went and listed my middling symptoms (less energy, less drive, less happiness, less blood each month…) and he agreed to start me on a low dose of thyroid hormone. I explained that I had felt lousy for several months – at that point, more than a year. I explained that I seemed to be getting a bit worse instead of better. He wrote me a prescription for two months’ worth: one month and one more month, pills to be taken once a day in the morning.
I went off to Korea just a few weeks later.