For the last few months, I have been watching as I have developed more and more of the textbook symptoms of hypothyroid disease. The biggest are an incredible fatigue – there have been days when I have slept for 20 hours (thank God that my husband is a stay at home parent too) and awakened unrefreshed – and a pretty debilitating depression. In addition, I’ve had everything else on the basic list from dry skin to swollen legs. It’s been so ridiculously “Yes, I have that!” that I could be a living display at an endocrinology seminar.
I went to see a new doctor for the first time a couple of weeks ago. Since we moved last year, I haven’t been to see a GP, and when I called my GP down in the city, I found out that she moved! I asked around and heard a couple of good reports about a doctor who has an office right here in my neighborhood, and he was covered by my insurance, so I made an appointment and went on in.
When I went in for my exam, I got the usual history and complaint questions from the nurse and enumerated my symptoms to her. She said “Hmm, sounds like the thyroid to me!” I agreed and said that I had fasted for twelve hours in the hopes of having a blood test.
The doctor came in, and looked at my symptoms, did the usual poking and prodding and said “Well, it could be your thyroid, but it’s more likely just postpartum depression. But I guess it can’t hurt if we go ahead and check your thyroid anyway, you’ve got good insurance.”
I was gobsmacked by this on multiple levels. Not only didn’t I appreciate the implications of the insurance comment, the “just” PPD thing was way out of line. There’s nothing about PPD which should ever have it referred to in such a dismissive way, first of all. Second, I don’t have many of the symptoms of PPD. Third, most of my (physical) symptoms aren’t among the diagnostic markers for PPD.
Fourth, my kids aren’t the problem, they’re the solution. Women suffering from PPD tend to feel a lack of interest in their children or that they’re incapable of giving their children proper care. I’ve felt just the opposite; taking care of my babies is the one thing that is fairly guaranteed to bring me some happiness and lately, it feels like the only thing I’m competent in – and I mentioned that to the nurse and I saw her write something along those lines on my chart!
Most importantly, one of the causes of PPD is hypothyroidism! Any woman complaining of symptoms that could be PPD should be screened for thyroid disorders as part of the diagnostic process because of the way that the thyroid can be affected by childbirth – up to 10% of women experience some thyroid problems after giving birth. The fact that the doctor was so dismissive of the idea of testing my thyroid level made me wonder if he was aware of this. (And why I was aware of this when the extent of my education on PPD is a pamphlet I read in my ob/gyn’s waiting room.)
So blood was drawn and 48 hours later, I expected a phone call. When I hadn’t heard by the next morning, I called the doctor’s office.
“Oh, we didn’t call because all of your test results came back normal.” said the nurse.
“Normal?” said I, confused.
“Yes, let’s see, your TSH level was 4.2. Normal is 0.4 to 6.”
“So my TSH is normal, but what about my symptoms. Something is wrong with me, or is it all supposed to be in my head since my blood test results were okay?”
“Uh, I don’t know, I just know that nothing is wrong with your thyroid and the doctor hasn’t ordered any follow-up.”
So I’ve spent the last two weeks noticing every symptom all the more and thinking (remember, I’m depressed here, so forgive the maudlin nature) okay, I’ve got this but my thyroid is okay, so what’s wrong with me? I’ve spent several hours crying in my bed, alternating between believing that I had some dread disease that isn’t diagnosable via blood tests that is going to kill me and feeling like I’d rather be dead than to feel so utterly crappy all the time. I felt hopeless. I felt angry. I felt sad because my babies and my husband have had to deal with me being this way.
Then today when I was at the library, I decided to read a little more on thyroid disease. And I found out something. The normal TSH level never was 0.4 to 6, it was 0.4 to 5. And in November 2002 those guidelines were revised, and TSH levels are only considered to be in normal range when they are 0.3 to 3.04.
So with a TSH level of 4.2, I do have have hypothyroidism within a treatable range. And this doctor, this moron of a doctor (and the people working for him) are nearly two years behind the curve when it comes to knowing how to properly diagnose hypothyroidism, a disease that’s common enough that any GP ought to know the basics like what the numbers on the little test result papers mean.
I spent several months wondering what was wrong with me and not seeking medical care. That’s my fault. But the last two weeks of wondering, fretting and being scared, sad and worried? That’s all on you, Dr. “Just PPD” and your inability to know something that I can find by simply Googling “normal TSH levels.”
I hope that one day you’re sick and scared and someone leaves you spending weeks misdiagnosed and having to wonder what you’re going to do because they couldn’t be bothered to know what the standards were before they “interpreted” your test results. Then you’ll know.
Tomorrow I’m going back to the city to see the partner of my former GP. I’ll stop on the way to pick up my test results from the idiot. From the phone discussion I had with the partner, I expect that I’ll come home with a prescription in hand, which is all I ever wanted (or needed).
It should never have been so hard.