Monday, June 23, 2014

The Good and the Bad

I mentioned in a previous post that I would share more about my personal journey, so this post is more about what's been going on with me lately.

Graves' Disease: The Quick and Dirty Version

I revealed in Back to Blogging  that I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder, Graves' disease, about 10 years ago. I decided to treat the overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism) caused by Graves' with radioactive iodine (RAI). This damaged my thyroid so that it would stop overproducing thyroid hormone; however, it damaged my thyroid too much, and now the remaining thyroid tissue does not produce enough thyroid hormone (hypothyroidism). This means that I have to take a pill to supplement what my damaged thyroid is producing. This also means that I need to have my blood drawn at regular intervals to make sure that I have just the right amount of thyroid hormones in my body.

There are normally two tests that are performed, I generally call them "my thyroid labs:" free thyroxine (FT4) and thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH).
  • FT4 is produced by my thyroid, and it's basically what I'm taking in pill form every day. This lab result reveals how much of the thyroid hormones are in my body.
  • TSH is produced by the pituitary gland, and it tells the thyroid when to produce hormones.
When my TSH is high, I don't have enough thyroid hormones in my body. This means that my medication needs to be increased to make up for the lack of hormones. When my TSH is low, I have too much of the hormones in my body, and my medication needs to be decreased.

Graves' disease doesn't just affect my thyroid; it affects how my body absorbs calcium, so I have to take steps to ensure that I'm getting enough calcium in my diet. The disorder can cause swelling behind the eyes; which can make the eyes protrude. In severe cases, the swelling can pinch the optic nerve. My case is mild; my eyes usually protrude only when I'm tired, stressed, or having problems with eye allergies. Prolonged hyper- or hypothyroidism can also cause muscle weakness, so I must eat plenty of protein to help build muscle. Finally, since Graves' is an autoimmune disorder, I also run the risk of having a B-12 deficiency which can exacerbate the symptoms of hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism.

The Health News: Good and Bad

I went to the doctor last Monday, and have some good news and bad news to report... The good news is that I have a new primary care doctor who seems to know how to interpret the results of my TSH and free T4 labs. He understands that my funds are limited, so he isn't demanding to see me every time I have labs drawn; which is now on a monthly basis. He seems concerned about my well-being, and acts like he is committed to helping me fight this disorder.

To sum up the bad news; my former primary care doctor, the one that I'd been seeing for the past two years, apparently had none of the qualities that my current primary care doctor has. She misinterpreted my thyroid lab results, she ignored my worsening symptoms, and it was next to impossible to convince her to order labs before my appointments with her.

"caduceusStatue" by Oliver McCloud
CC By-SA 2.0
Mike and I found out from my new doctor that my TSH has been extremely high (my results ranged from 10 - 16 when normal is 0.4 - 4) for the past two years, and that part of my physical and psychological symptoms can be attributed to hypothyroidism. We also found out a couple of other things: first, there is some swelling in my thyroid. This most likely means that the Graves' antibodies are attacking the live portion of my thyroid. If this continues, I will need to undergo further treatment to stop the swelling. Second, my former doctor ordered a metabolic panel two years ago, and what she termed as "normal results" indicated a B-12 deficiency.

On one hand, I'm really upset at my former doctor for ignoring my labs and symptoms. On the other hand, I'm relieved to discover that the fatigue, memory problems, depression, muscle weakness, and aches can be remedied with the correct amount of medication and time. I am still fighting all of these things one day at a time, and I'm glad to have a new doctor on my side in this battle.

At Home: The Bad

Mike and I have been living in the upstairs apartment of his brother's home while his mother, sister-in-law, and brother are living downstairs. The past two years have not been great for us; downstairs is literally trashed. We managed to keep the mice from invading our apartment during the winter, only to have roaches invade us recently. I really hate roaches; they are nasty, ugly, disease-ridden creatures. They are one of the main producers of household allergens, and I happen to suffer from mild to moderate indoor and outdoor allergies; so there's another reason to dislike them. The people downstairs also decided to procure a kitten, in addition to the three unwashed dogs downstairs, so our apartment smells like dirty dog and cat. I also suffer from pet allergies; however, I'm more allergic to the cat than I am the dogs.

Finally, the demands for financial assistance have increased to the point where, if they had it their way, the entirety of my monthly income would be handed over to them. We have been using the space and utilities; we see to our heating and cooling needs, pay out of pocket for any maintenance on the apartment, and pay for our own internet access. Our counter-offer was to pay over half ($100 - $150) of the monthly utility bill ($180 - $200) directly to the utility company online to ensure that we would all benefit from amenities such as electricity and running water since any cash that is given to the folks downstairs is spent on anything but the utility bill.

Oh yeah... Life is just grand here.
Relief version of  "12 Arnold Grove" by Jeffrey CC By-ND 2.0

Anyway, Mike's brother has decided to throw us out; after he found out that Mike will no longer be receiving unemployment benefits.

From an objective point of view, this really isn't one of his brightest moves. The apartment cannot be legally rented out since it violates several city and state codes, and Mike's brother will have to dish out a healthy sum of money to bring the apartment up to code. Mike's mother works, but she has her own bills to pay; Mike's brother is unemployed, with no intentions of finding a job; and Mike's sister-in-law is on Social Security Disability. The family doesn't have the money to bring everything up to code, so they will not be able to replace the income that we have provided for the past three years.

From a subjective point of view, Mike's brother has decided to kick us while we are down, and deserves the consequences of his actions. We have decided against trying to reason with him since the way that Mike's family chooses to live and their actions towards us have a negative impact on our physical and emotional well-being. We are trying desperately to be gracious; however, I have my moments. For instance, when we started paying the utility bills online, I set up an account with the utility company. Since we will not be paying the bills online, I figured that it would be a nice gesture to change the account's password to one that they could easily remember. You know what they say about good intentions, right? Let's just say that the person typing in the password will be stating that s/he is something derogatory.

Just to be clear, it's a slur based upon personality; it is not a slur that is used to demean someone based upon gender, age, disability, financial status, or race. I may be childish and petty, but it's not cool to use slurs to promote discrimination.

Yes... I realize that I'm admitting to a moment of childishness and pettiness for the whole world to see. No... I'm not changing the password again.

At Home: The Good

"12 Arnold Grove" by Jeffrey CC By-ND 2.0
After committing this childish and petty act, I was able to reflect upon our situation. We really dislike where we are living now; the conditions are horrible, I'm tired of waiting for them to come up with a new disaster that they just absolutely need our help to get out of, and the emotional (and financial) strain of having to dish out more money to appease Mike's brother just to keep a roof over our heads is taking its toll. They have not provided any emotional support to me these past two years; they have attempted to undermine my sense of self-worth, and have been nothing short of pitiless and brutal while I have dealt with my health issues.

This doesn't mean that I don't still feel angry, hurt, betrayed, and scared; however, I have come to the conclusion that there are ways to express my feelings without resorting to repeated acts of childish and petty behavior. Things may be tough for us now, but we will recover. The long-term benefits to our health, relationship, and consistency in what we are paying for housing outweigh the short-term benefits of staying. We will eventually be able to save up money for our own disasters, I will be able to keep my appointments with doctors and counselors, and we will no longer feel the need to dish out more money than what we agreed to in order to keep a roof over our heads.

"Dawn Colors - San Francisco" by David Yu CC By-NC-ND 2.0
 I have no real clue about what we're going to do, or where we'll end up; my hope is that we will finally have the chance to focus on our own issues and resolve them, without having to deal with the constant attempts to undermine our relationship and our success.

 Thank you for reading

Title image modified from originals by, Oliver McCloud, and Jeffrey

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