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ClevelandClinic_NuclearMedicine

I was flat on my back on this machine for half an hour in April for some early diagnostic tests, including a CT-scan, in the Cleveland Clinic’s Department of Nuclear Medicine. This was a piece of cake compared to the three hours I was on my back for the parathyroid venous sampling. To paraphrase Rita Rudner, I don’t even want to do anything that feels good for three hours.

I’ve put off writing this as long as I could, partly because it’s difficult for me to write when I’m worried, partly because I’ve been in a state of limbo, and partly because the primary hyperparathyroid disease that’s wreaking havoc on my body not only exhausts me, it also makes me a little fuzzy-headed at times. (The other day, while driving, I nearly sailed through a red light, so there’s that.) It does help to be able to think clearly when trying to take life’s chaos and shape it into something resembling art—or at least a readable blog post. But if I’ve learned one thing from the 10 operations I’ve had in my 58 years on earth, it’s this: my next operation will have something to teach me, too.

Oh yes. There will be an 11th operation, and soon.

Two weeks ago, I had what is known in the health biz as a parathyroid venous sampling at the Cleveland Clinic. For the uninitiated, it’s like the cardiac catheter given to heart patients, but instead of inserting a wire into the heart, the wire meanders up the vein from the groin to the neck, picking up choice morsels of blood as it goes and testing each sample for readings of PTH (the parathyroid hormone). Although I received the results a few days later, my endocrine surgeon was out of town and it was not until yesterday, when she telephoned me, that I got her analysis, and the benefit of a meeting she had with some other Clinic doctors. I can tell you that the numbers scared me. Each sampling was considerably higher than the limit—some more than twice as high as the outside range. I’ve been in limbo for the last two weeks, not knowing if I was a candidate for surgery, or if I’d have to wait another year for everything to get worse—meaning the numbers to rocket even higher—because the previous diagnostic tests were inconclusive. Accuracy—knowing precisely where to make the incision—is critical because I’ve already had one neck surgery (a thyroidectomy in 2006), and it’s not easy to operate around existing scar tissue.

The doctors are now confident they’ve located the lesion—the culprit is on my lower right parathyroid gland. I expect that once this trouble maker is out, I’ll begin feeling much better. The scheduler will call me today with details, but I think we’re looking at July 2 for the operation, which will take place at the Cleveland Clinic hospital with (barring any complications) one overnight stay.

How bad does a person have to feel to welcome surgery? Let me tell you. Extreme fatigue. Aches and pains. Fuzzy thinking, a compromised attention span, and difficulty concentrating. (The other day I nearly drove through a red light.)* Digestive trouble. Excessive thirst, and consequently, a need to visit the little room countless times a day. Also weakened bones, evidenced by my fracture in November. All of this a result of having too much calcium in the blood.

There is a genetic factor, as well. My mother had surgery for the same problem. And since I did have thyroid cancer, I probably won’t exhale until I get a clear pathology report on the lesion, despite my running joke that thyroid cancer is the hangnail of cancers, since it’s so treatable.

I’ve also joked on occasion that my survival story is one of life by a thousand cuts; I’ve had 10 operations—some major, some minor—since turning 21. Several of them were at the Cleveland Clinic, including my thyroidectomy. I’m confident that I’m in good hands; the Cleveland Clinic’s Endocrinology and Metabolism Institute is ranked second in the country. I’m also confident that I’ve learned something from each surgery, and if I were thinking more clearly right now I’d write a post about those lessons.

So in more ways than one, consider this post as one to be continued …

*Just noticed that I’d already written this in the first paragraph. See what I mean? Fuzzy-headed. Sigh.