Part II: The Body.
The headache lasted for about a week.
I could find no apothecary measure, no balm, no salve, no unguent, no elixir, and no soothing syrup to ameliorate my condition. The pain radiated from just beneath my occipital lobe to just behind my eyes. I spent nearly the entire first week of my winter break, from December 19th to 25th, planted on the couch popping ibuprofen and alternating hot and cold packs on the back of my head.
I was watching so much T.V. that, at one point, I found myself watching back-to-back-to-back-to-back episodes of Sons of Guns. That ended when my wife came home from work and expressed concern about my newfound fascination with high-powered weaponry.
All this because I had gone on an outdoor ride on December 18th and woke the next morning with the cranial pain I complained about in the first paragraph.
I couldn’t understand why a single day out on the bike would have put me in such a spot of bother. I began to think that maybe, just maybe, this could have something to do with the fact that I had recently stopped taking my daily thyroid medication. I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism in 2006, but I was asymptomatic. I did not have the low energy and concomitant weight gain emblematic of most people with underactive thyroid. For years, I had been telling everyone that I was asymptomatic. “I am asymptomatic,” I would say.
In November, I told my doctor, “I am asymptomatic.” I suppose he got tired of hearing me say that because he said I could stop taking the medication and “see what happens.”
My headache was so bad then that I reached out to my doctor in desperation and suggested that perhaps I was experiencing such a pernicious headache because I had ceased taking the medication. He said I could resume taking a smaller dose for a week or so and “see what happens.”
My headache subsided enough, and the weather was enticing enough, and my bike pump was new enough, that I decided to take that post-Christmas ride that I wrote about in the previous post.
I did finally crawl up from my basement with the newfound sense that I was, indeed, a bike mechanic. It was about 3 p.m., which meant that I had about an hour and twenty minutes of daylight to illuminate my ride. It was 42 degrees when I lit out and 38 degrees by the time I returned. My toes were frozen but I was otherwise warm and, most importantly, I was thrilled to have ridden outdoors five days before the calendar flipped to 2012: the year of the apocalypse.
I started waking up at 3:30 in the morning every night. I would have vivid, Technicolor dreams involving dragons, damsels in distress and mutual funds and then my eyes would spring open and I’d be unable to fall back to sleep. “Maybe it has something to do with your thyroid,” my wife would ever so delicately suggest. I would remind her that I am asymptomatic. “I am asymptomatic,” I’d say. She’d yawn and, like Cindy Lou Who, fall back into an effortless slumber.
I mostly rode indoors throughout the winter, but I didn’t quite seem to have that extra gear that I had last year. I’d be in spin class and just when the instructor would exhort us to find the next level and sprint to an imagined finish line I’d think, Aw to heck with it, and watch as my classmates would whip themselves into a pedaling frenzy like so many egg beaters.
Then, on January 23rd, I decided to break with tradition and attend a spin class at the Target Center Lifetime Fitness instead of making the rush-hour trek across town to my customary class in Highland Park.
In retrospect, I should have known that the preponderance of twenty-year-olds was a sign that this class was not meant for forty-year-old knees.
There was no warm up. The instructor came whirling in, mounted his bike, and had the class pedaling at an infernal pace for the next hour. It wasn’t so much an indoor cycling class as it was an aerobics class that happened to be on a bike. We spent the better part of an hour with our forearms resting upon the handlebars and our butts hovering above our seats, all the while pedaling furiously. When a cyclist should find him- or herself in such a ludicrous body position I do not know.
I do know that when I awoke the next morning, my right knee, my “good” knee, was aching. At first, I thought it was nothing more than the natural consequence of exercising in an unnatural fashion the night before. But each day, it seemed to get worse. Soon I began favoring my left knee to take the strain off my right knee, and then both knees hurt. I was gimping around like a rodeo cowboy and found myself muttering things like, “Howdy partner,” as I’d limp past neighbors while walking my daughter to school.
I began to think that maybe this sleeplessness and joint stiffness had something to do with my thyroid condition. “Maybe this all has something to do with my thyroid condition,” I’d say to my wife. She’d just roll her eyes, close them, and go back to sleep.
I went to the doctor to have my, ahem, knee examined. He poked at it a little bit and yanked at it in that way doctors have when they’re trying to dislocate it. After all of these diagnostics, the doctor described my injury as “unremarkable.”
While I was there, I figured that I might as well get my blood drawn, you know, to have my thyroid levels checked. It was totally pointless, of course, because I was asymptomatic.
The doctor said, “Besides your knee, how have you been feeling otherwise? How’s your energy level?”
“I feel great,” I lied. “I mean, my energy level has been a little low but that’s because I haven’t been sleeping well.”
“Hmmm,” he hmmmed.
I began to think that maybe, just maybe, I was starting to show symptoms of hypothyroidism. I began checking out on-line forums for hypothyroid sufferers, and one comment, in particular, caught my attention. “So my TSH level was really high, I couldn’t sleep, I found myself watching back to back episodes of Sons of Guns, and then, when I’d go to put my socks on, my knee would cry out in pain.”
That’s me, I thought. I mean, not the stuff about having a high TSH level and not being able to sleep and knees hurting while putting socks on, but the back-to-back episodes of Sons of Guns, that’s me.
The day after I saw the doctor, I began taking a low dose of Levothyroxine. The day after that, I awoke and felt, well, alive again. It was like pouring water on a desiccated plant. Two days after that, my knee, suddenly, felt better—like 80% better.
Shortly thereafter, I received a “MyChart” message from my doctor containing my thyroid lab results. The normal range for a TSH (Thyroid Serum Hormone) Level is between 0.5 and 5. My level as of 2.9.12 was, wait for it, 147! If my thyroid chart were a course profile, it would look like undulating terrain from 2006 to the fall of 2011 and then a beyond category climb on February 9th. I get winded just looking at it.
“See what happens,” my doctor said.
I saw what happened.
My name is Mike C., and I have hypothyroidism.