Hot Under the Collar - My Journey Dealing with Hyperthyroidism
My yearly girls trip became the catalyst to discovering a dangerous condition that was ravaging my body. It was slowly taking over and I had no idea it even existed.
We walked off the plane, down the steps, onto the tarmac. The sun beamed down directly upon us for what seemed like hours. But, the walk from the plane to inside the Dominican Republic airport terminal was only a few steps. It was definitely much hotter than I thought it would be. I immediately noticed that I was suddenly dripping in sweat. I realized that this was going to be one of those long, hot summers. But wait, it wasn’t summer yet.
It was the Spring of 2017. Two of my best friends and I had decided this year’s girl trip would be to the Caribbean. We were proud of ourselves for going in April so that it wouldn’t be that hot when we arrived. Boy, were we in for a surprise! Just months earlier, we had visited Arizona for a spa getaway and I remember thinking to myself, if I can vacation in the desert, surely a beach vacation would be easy.
The next day we decided to embark on an offsite excursion that took us to ancient caves on the island. I had read the brochure but didn’t realize that this would require climbing up the side of a massive mountain that the cave was embedded in. Halfway up what amounted to several stories, I started gasping for air and couldn’t catch my breath. I had to stop the climb because I was exhausted and scared. It was then I realized that sweat was dripping off me like water! I told my friends to go ahead without me but they refused. A nice couple that was ahead of us, got behind me to make sure that I was okay the rest of the way up.
After resting for about 20 minutes, the rest of the group slowed down so we could catch up with them. I continued climbing up the mountainside. Although, I was slow, I was determined to finish. I later told my friends, “I’m more out of shape than I thought.” It took me forever to cool down.
But, for the remaining excursions, I took care to rest and drank enough water.
Once I returned home, I told my mother what had happened and we both shrugged it off as me being out of shape. Several weeks later, after a much-needed respite, a family member commented that I had lost weight. They asked me what I was doing to keep the pounds off. I was stunned because neither had I changed my eating habits nor had I been dieting. Later that week as I was eating breakfast, I could barely swallow my food.
Soon after, a ear nose and throat doctor referred me to an endocrinologist.
I will never forget that day. If you’ve ever visited South Florida, then you know the tropical weather can sometimes be unbearable. Once I went to the doctor’s office, I noticed the thermostat was on 67. That should have seemed rather cool, but as usual, I was sweating. I told the doctor about my symptoms and she ran a series of tests. Then she asked me, “Are you feeling hot right now?” I told her yes. And that’s when she put her hand on my hand, and her hands were freezing. She said, “I keep my office rather cold, but your body temperature is pretty high.” She left the room for several minutes and when she came back, she revealed to me I had a condition called hyperthyroidism.
She told me that the hot flashes, the choking feeling and the exhaustion were all classic symptoms of the illness.That’s the medical term used to describe an overactive thyroid. The condition is what happens when your thyroid produces too many hormones. It speeds up your metabolism (rapid weight loss), causes an irregular or fast heartbeat, excessive sweating and irritability among other symptoms. This illness can also be called Graves disease. But so far, none of my medical practitioners had used this term in my treatment.
The doctor went on to say this is why all those things are what had happened to me when I could barely breathe at the top of the mountain in the Dominican Republic. I asked my doctor what I had done to cause this. The doctor reassured me that there was nothing I did wrong. She prescribed some medicine to slow down my heart rate and help me start feeling better (not so hot and nervous all the time). She also recommended an iodine treatment and in a worst-case scenario to remove the thyroid altogether. All options were being considered.
Everything about my life these days is the “new normal”. Living with this disorder is difficult, but there are treatments and ways to have a normal life. Now that I know what is wrong with me, I can take the necessary steps to treat the disorder. My weight has picked up and I’m sleeping better. But unfortunately, I still feel hot all the time. When I eventually told my family and colleagues, I found out that more people are living with this disorder than I came to realize. My friend circle has become a support group of sorts to help me cope with this disease.