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Thankful Thursdays #66: modern medicine

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My appreciation for modern medicine is surely shared by many.  I’m sure most everyone alive has been thankful for it at some point in their lives, those that have survived cancer and life-threatening injuries probably more than we will ever know.  Personally, I depend on it daily to survive and that constant reminder when I take my pills and my insulin makes me continually thankful.

Without modern medicine, I would have died before my 21st birthday.

I was diagnosed with Graves disease, a thyroid disease, when I was 19.  This is a hyperthyroid disease (which means faster metabolism, faster heartbeat, etc.-my resting heart rate was 140 beats per minute) and has the fun bonus symptoms of a goiter and bulging eyes.  Being young and reckless, I thought I knew better than my doctor and decided that rather than take the pills he gave me or take radioactive iodine to kill my overactive thyroid, I would try natural remedies and cure myself that way.  Unfortunately in my case, I really needed an aggressive treatment to nip the disease in the bud, and while I was able to significantly improve my bulging eyes through chiropracty, bringing them back to the state you see them today, my disease was too progressed to be taken care of quickly enough with natural cures.

I clearly had a goiter on my wedding day, but I wouldn't be diagnosed with Graves Disease for another three months.

I let it go on for a year after my diagnosis.  Then I started getting new symptoms.  I would get strange floaters in my vision that became larger and larger as weeks passed, until I wouldn’t be able to see at all for 30 minutes to an hour after I ate.  I was thirsty all the time and had to pee all the time.  This too progressed until I kept the largest size cup that Quik Trip offered at my desk and drank one filled with water every half hour, and literally peed every five to ten minutes. I became weaker and weaker, and I remember going to buffets and Dennis having to get my plates of food for me because I couldn’t get up.  I made a point never to squat or sit down on the floor because I wouldn’t have the strength to get back up.  Eventually I couldn’t muster enough energy to even leave our apartment and I stopped going to work.  When I did leave, Dennis had to carry me out to the truck.  Despite eating tons of fattening food, I lost 30 pounds in 3 months.

Some people thought I held my eyes unnaturally wide, but this was my relaxed look. My eyes were so distended that when I blinked, one of them didn't fully close. You can also see the goiter on my neck is much more pronounced.

Dennis was worried I had diabetes but I refused to accept this.  I knew it was just my Graves Disease getting worse, so I finally broke down and scheduled my date with the radioactive iodine pill.  I hated the idea of taking a pill to replace my thyroid hormone for the rest of my life, but now that prospect seemed so much better than what I was living through.

By the time this picture was taken, my eyes had gone back into place thanks to months of chiropracty, but you can see how unhealthy I still look. My hair and eyebrows were thinning and I was losing weight. My bathing suit was hanging off me and my arms have never been this thin in my adult life, before or after.

Dennis had to roll me into the hospital in a wheelchair because I didn’t have the strength to walk.  Simply standing and moving from the wheelchair into the doctor’s chair caused me to pant with exertion.  The nurse who was only there to do some preliminary stuff caught a whiff of my breath and said it smelled like acetone, which she was familiar with because her Mom was diabetic.  She checked my blood sugar and it was 697.  I hadn’t eaten anything that morning so that was my fasting blood sugar.  I can’t imagine how high it had been after meals.

I found out later that thyroid disease will eventually affect every organ in your body if left untreated, and that’s why my pancreas shut down.  Because I didn’t want to utilize a cure for it that would leave me taking a pill for the rest of my life, I ended up causing myself another disease which requires four shots a day minimum.

So what was supposed to be just a quick swallowing of a pill turned into a week-long hospital stay while they brought my blood sugar into a normal range, replenished my electrolytes and taught me how to manage my disease, including the hardest part–injecting insulin.  I nearly passed out before I got the gumption to stick that first needle into myself!  Thank God my Mom was there with me, or I never would have been able to do it.  We agreed to do it together on the count of three (hers was filled with saline solution) and that’s the only reason I was able to finally stick the needle in my stomach.  After that, it was much easier.

This photo was taken five years after the last one. Happy and healthy again!

I know the normal reaction to discovering you have a disease is shock, denial, and “why me?” but all I felt was THANKFUL.  While I’d been outraged when Dennis suggested I had diabetes, I had been through such hell before the official diagnosis that all I felt when I got it was relief.  I’d already went through the shock, denial, and “why me?” when I was diagnosed with Graves Disease.  But when I went into the hospital that day, I was at death’s door and a part of me knew it.  When I found out there was an explanation for it, and that it could be managed with modern medicine, I was happy.  Seriously happy.  Overjoyed.  Every day I was in the hospital, I felt better and better, was able to start taking walks, and it was like I was really living again.  I was so thankful for modern medicine because I knew it had saved my life, despite my ignorance that had nearly snuffed it out.  Modern medicine gave my life back.

That same thankfulness that was overflowing in my heart while I was in the hospital is still with me today.  Because of it, I’ve never dealt with the regrets of diabetes.  It has never felt like a burden to me.  Sure, there have been times when I’ve wished I could just go on vacation without having to tote enough medicine to allow me to live through it.  Sure, I’ve wished I could just eat a piece of chocolate cake without calculating how much insulin I’ll need to take to cover it.  Sure, had terrifying experiences with low blood sugar that brought me closer to death than I’m comfortable with.  But those thoughts are few and far between.  Mostly when I think of my diabetes, I still feel that same thankfulness that I have something that can be managed with modern medicine.  This wasn’t always true, and even when insulin finally began to be used, it was a terrible and painful process to administer it (in earlier times, they used reusable huge glass syringes that they boiled after using!!) and there was no way to monitor blood sugar so there was much more room for error.

So now you know why I have such incredible gratitude for modern medicine.  Despite my pancreas not working, which is something required for my survival, I’m still able to live simply because of the time I live in.  Thank God for modern medicine.

In what ways have you been/are you thankful for modern medicine?  How has it impacted you personally?

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