Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Even Oprah Needs an Advocate

Oprah Winfrey announced to the world that her weight issues are the result of Thyroid problems. I can't thank her enough for this. I'm not a spiritual person. I'm not a big fan of the show. I've never been a member of the Oprah-cult, that seems to permeate our society. However, I do understand her influence on millions of people, and her ability to get DOCTORS to listen. Oprah changed the world of beef farmers, introduced the world to Dr. Phil, gave Dr. Oz a reputable career on television, and managed to change lives by handing out millions of dollars in gifts, and donations over the last decades. She's a powerhouse, powerful, and probably, the one source of advice for many television watchers. She brought out the issues of child abuse, foster care, adoption, and she let herself be shown crying, with genuine emotion, while others were creating shows around the temper-tantrums of others.

There is no doubt in my mind that medical professionals will now be inundated with women who are finally going to say, "It's not my fork, it's my thyroid you need to test." The first time I walked into an endocrinologist's office, I was expecting him to take one look at me and say, "Oh, hormone issues, that's my specialty!" There were stories of a doctor in Los Angeles who could spot someone with Cushing's syndrome from across a crowded room. If you look up an endo's studies, you'll see thryoid, pancreas, adrenal gland, and hormones listed. If you talk to an endo, you'll hear, "I don't think you have diabetes." They seem to forget that they have more than one organ to study. Unfortunately, the patient has no say in this, and we are pushed out the door faster than you can say Nutrisystem.

In late 2004, I was given prednisone for a sinus infection. I was given enough prednisone to heal a football team before the Superbowl. The doctor I saw claimed she could tell I was going to be better on it because I had a head tilt. I have no idea, to this day, what that means. According to the Heal Your Sinus manual, prednisone is indeed a great option. I believe the way I was given it, and the amount I was given was far too much. I wasn't given the proper antibiotic. I wasn't given any other options. But, at the time, I wasn't a strong advocate for my health, and blindly did what she told me to do. Within weeks, I was gaining 3-5 pounds every THREE days. That means I was a size five woman when I first saw her, and a size 14 when I was off the dosage, less than two months later. My wedding dress, fitted to me at size 4 was now ten sizes too small, and I was unable to wear it for my wedding the following April.

By the end of 2005, I was desperately trying to find out why I was ballooning in weight, why I was dealing with a face that was now wider than my head, why I was having severe fatigue. I started finding other women going through the same issues- a weird hump on the back of the neck; a libido that is simply gone. I looked up the symptoms, and found Cushing's Syndrome was a result of prednisone use. When I saw my GP, (general practitioner), at the Veteran's Clinic, I asked her to refer me to an endo, as I was sure he would see me and offer me the cure for this immediately. He would test my cortisol, see my symptoms, and voila, presto, I'd be cured.

In the real world, an Endo spends a majority of the time seeing those who have Diabetes. When a woman, under 45, walked into his office, complaining of "weight gain" his eyes started to glaze over. His speech became curt. He looked me in the eye and said, "Sure, put the fork down and you'll be thin again." At the time, I ate only one meal a day... less than 700 calories in total. He scared me into not eating even that. For almost two weeks, I had nothing but tea, soup, and a cracker before bed. After he gave me a 24 hour urine test, I was called back to the office and told, "See I told you, the test says normal, so you're eating too much."

The second time I went with a friend, because I needed the support. She heard him suddenly speaking nice to me, when I asked, "I'm eating less than ever, why am I still gaining weight?" He looked at her, and responded, "Well, you're getting older, it may be perimenopausal. See your gynecologist." I was dismissed, you know, for having "woman issues". Had I been a man in my 60's, perhaps he would have taken more time with me, listened to the symptoms, and prevented what turned into YEARS of weight fluctuations, skin issues, sexual dysfunction, hair and nail damage, and oh did I mention severe fatigue and joint pain?

In 2007, for no apparent reason, I suddenly dropped 40 pounds in less than a month. By Christmas, I was down to a reasonable 130 lbs for my frame. In less than three months that would change, and I was suddenly back up again. No changes in diet, no changes in medication. I was experiencing the fatigue, the pain, the skin issues, and certainly the libido issues. In 2008, I was on a nationally recognized diet, delivered to my door, and never once cheated on it for a full five months. I lost two pounds. Two. I drank a single eight ounce soda, and it all came back. The GP looked at my weight over the last few months and determined that I had some issues again. I hadn't lost these issues, she just realized I had them, after I had voiced this for months. She gave me a thyroid panel and we found that my TSH was almost three times the highest normal number. I had finally been given a diagnosis, of "Probably Thyroiditis". For the last two months, that probability was confirmed as Hashimoto's, and I have a dead thyroid, which has nodules on it. Had the FIRST endo even bothered to offer a sonogram as the GP had, he would have learned this in 2005, saving me years of issues. The nodules had started growing after the prednisone was introduced to my system.

I am now on Synthroid. I have a private practitioner who gave me better blood tests to confirm my issues. The VA sent me to yet one more endo, and I was told NOT to take treatment from my private doctor. She was infuriated that I was seeing her after seeing her co-worker years before. I explained that her co-worker missed symptoms and now I'm in the position of taking a synthetic hormone replacement. She said, "We only care about numbers", and then turned to her computer. When my husband asked, "anything else?" She didn't even turn towards us, and just said, "No I'm done with you." After two hours, I was called and told that I had to take even MORE medication than my private doctor placed me on- after I was berated for taking her advice in the first place.

For those women who are told "eat less", I recommend a couple of websites. is terrific for looking at your general symptoms, and determining at least a general direction for you. will give you VERY specific information, based on your own blood tests, your own family history, and your symptoms. You have a choice of paying for a computerized analysis, a doctor's analysis, or an in-depth analysis. The more information YOU give, the more you will have in return.

Today's questions- What do you think Oprah's issue with Thyroid will do for women seeking medical help? How do you feel when a doctor dismisses your symptoms? What do you think will change for your condition in the future?

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