by Martine Michels
Guest Belgian Patient of www.schildklierinfo.be
Thinking back, the signs were there from my early childhood. I was a quiet and overweight child in Belgium (although looking at the pictures, it didn’t seem too severe) who needed lots of sleep.
During kindergarten, I hardly went to school because I had every childhood disease possible in the same year – several ear infections, throat infections, and it took over a month to recover from the measles. Growing up, I attacked my obesity with numerous diets (all unsuccessful), so my weight went up and down like a yo-yo. I suffered
One of the diets involved pills that apparently combined “thyroid powder” with caffeine. The results were spectacular (I lost over 60 pounds in less than six months), but the pills were so dangerous that some patients lost their life and the GP who prescribed them was put in jail for many years. The result for me (apart from the fact that all the weight returned as soon as I stopped taking the pills) was that I ended up with a goiter.
I got iodine tablets for a while, but there was no real follow up on the problem. Around the same time, I started to suffer from very heavy periods with severe cramps (so I got birth control pills), and repeated strep infections (so I was given stronger and stronger antibiotics).
At the age of 28, I studied to become a nurse. My studies fatigued me more than they should have, and even twelve hours of sleep would still not prevent me from waking up tired. When I graduated and started working, the throat infections continued and I got injections with cortisone and antibiotics because pills did not work anymore. They also gave me pain relief in many forms – none helped as much as could be expected. Sucking ice cubes gave me some relief, though.
In 2002, my father died of multiple myeloma. Was that an emotional trigger? The fact is that I got no less than five strep infections that year. By the end of the year, I was suffering from deep vein thrombosis which really crippled me. A long and painful journey began, taking me from hospital to hospital and from specialist to specialist.
A bone scan revealed inflammations in every possible joint of my body. The list of the most exotic diagnoses grew with every consult:
· Rheumatoid Arthritis
· Psoriatic Arthritis
· Ankylosing spondylitis
· Morbid obesity (according to the doctors, clearly my fault)
· Hypochondria (well, they got the hypo part right …)
· CVS (Cyclic Vomiting Syndrome)
· Arthrosis (sorry, can’t be helped – live with it)
With this list came an impressive list of medications:
· Fraxodi and fraxiparine (anticoagulants)
· Ledertrexate (methotrexate)
· Salazoperine (a kind of strong aspirin)
· Several NSAIDs
· Statins (to reduce my high cholesterol)
· High doses of folic acid
· Muscle relaxants
· Pain relief medication
· Injections with hyaluronic acid
Oh yes, this was also advised:
- Hugging trees
- Psychiatric treatment
- Bach Flower Rescue Remedy
All this made me sicker and sicker, until I decided in 2006 to throw all my medications in the garbage. My husband and I started our own data evaluation of the blood tests, and found a constantly high level of uric acid. My TSH was never tested, let alone T4 or T3. My Belgian GP apologized and said I suffered from gout. I got started on Zyloric (a brand of allopurinol) and some of the symptoms diminished. For the first time in a couple of years, I was able to move around the house without braces and crutches. As the high uric acid levels dropped, my eye sight worsened and I got frequent vasculitis (which was remedied with more antibiotics and anticoagulants). By the way, these are side effects of Zyloric.
I found the product Alka Life on the Internet and was coached by Peter Ernst Ohms, later the CEO of the European branch Alka Vitae. This “non-medication” lowered the uric acid levels in my body enough for me to throw the Zyloric in the garbage too. The vasculitis has not been back since then, and my eyes keep improving with the years, much to the surprise of my ophthalmologist.
While the disease was continuously destroying my body, it did a fine job on my mental and emotional state as well. I had to stop working as a nurse, causing social isolation, desperation, and loss of perspective. I could not read a book anymore, could not focus enough to make lace (a hobby of mine). Being crippled and in pain 24/7, a walk on the beach, a city trip or shopping were out of the question. What should be the prime years in a person’s life were spent indoors in solitude (away from my loving and supportive husband and dog). I hardly recognized myself in the mirror and wondered where the strong woman I was before had gone. I felt guilty towards my loved ones (taken hostage by my illness as well), saddened, angry, disillusioned, and basically saw life in a very dark setting.
One day, at the end of 2012, a friend pharmacist came up with the possibility that the problem might be my thyroid. He wrote down a list of blood tests that I should get done. The blood results came back and my pharmacist said that he was 100% sure that I had a thyroid condition. My GP started a homeopathic treatment with visculosis (yeah, that stuff that tastes like sea water that has rotten fish in it, really helped - not !). In January 2013, I got an appointment with an endocrinologist. I was afraid I was not going to make it there since I was recovering from yet another double ear infection and pneumonia.
I saw light at the end of my tunnel: at last, I would get a sensible diagnosis and get help.
What should have been a hopeful consult turned into a complete humiliation. I was no patient, but a possible source of income. My complaints were not taken seriously – I was not take seriously! The strain of clichés hit me sideways and knocked me out emotionally. What I needed was not a thyroid treatment: I needed a gastric bypass. Next stop according to the endocrinologist: the psychologist, the nutritionist, the surgeon (all conveniently in her team, by the way).
Being naïve sometimes has a high price. I had really thought that she was going to examine me. When the “white coat” saw that she had no grip on me, she started on my husband, attacking him with all the clichés in the book that are so frequently repeated in the media to convince him to steer me in the direction of the operation. No luck there.
But still I got wringed through the mill with all possible tests and lost about half a pint of blood for testing. She gave me a prescription for medication, but was not allowed to take the pills until we heard from her with the results of the blood test that would be available some days later.
I lost it. Had it not been for my husband, my mum and my dogs who needed me, I would probably have ended it then and there.
We were just in when the phone rang. It was the endocrinologist herself (not a good sign in Belgium): I had to start the medication immediately, and she expected me back in two months for a follow-up visit. Yeah, right. I got the final diagnosis from my GP two months later: I had Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and it was at a very advanced stage.
Later that year, we moved back to the coast and I got a new GP. After a couple of consults with him, he started to agree with my strategy to treat Hashimoto’s and does not argue when I ask to try a different dosage of my medication.
The medication is working and the sharpest edges of the illness are subsiding, but there is still a long way to go. On the up side: I can read books again, do research and walk on the beach. I am 51 and my life is starting over.
What does this story tell us about the diagnostic ability of the medical industry in Belgium when it comes to thyroid conditions? That it’s pretty poor. Thyroid conditions and their consequences are constantly minimized, and there is no focus on the problem in the media (as opposed to cholesterol, high blood pressure and other conditions that they have off-the-shelf solutions for in the form of a pill).
On the up side, our social security system lowers the financial impact of medical consults and medication, and there is no long waiting time to see a specialist.
The treatment of any disease focuses on the treatment of the symptoms, not on the underlying cause. Part of this problem comes with the high level of specialization, so that every doctor only sees his own field of expertise, entirely missing the holistic approach that would make a thyroid condition like Hashimoto’s stand out much sooner.
There are only four brands of medication available, two for hypothyroidism and two for hyperthyroidism. All of these are synthetic. Natural thyroid hormone is not available.
The mental shift still needs to happen, as in most countries.
I hope this story may help a bit.