Friday, October 13, 2006

In Sickness and in Health

My husband didn't know what he was in for when he met me. We met in college; I was a freshman and he was a sophomore. I had skipped a grade in early childhood, so I was 17 when I started college. (And if you do the math, you realize that I've been "with" him for more than half my life.)

Close to the time we met, I started showing seemingly unrelated symptoms. I had manic energy but was tired because I never slept. I was losing weight. My eyes were itchy. And I was feeling, well, a bit crazy. A little part of me thought that I was going crazy.

A few months later I was diagnosed with Graves disease, which is the most common form of hyperthyroidism. The thyroid gland, in a nutshell, controls the metabolism. To use a dated metaphor, if the normal, healthy body's metabolism is a record that is supposed to go 45 RPM, mine was going more like 78. (And the converse disorder, hypothyroidism, would be that record going at 33.) For a few years, I was treated for this (we chose medication rather than more invasive therapies) and went into remission.

We got married. A couple years later, I relapsed and went back on meds. Had a baby and went into remission. Had another baby. A few years later, relapsed again. Back on meds. But the doctor was pressing me to go the "next step". See, being hyperthyroid, even if it's well-managed with meds, is pretty tough on the heart. My resting heart rate was over 100. Often closer to 120. My thyroid doctor pretty much told me that I needed to think about my children not having a mom if I didn't get the radiation that would destroy my thyroid gland (making me dependent for the rest of my life on artificial thyroid hormone). I researched and agonized and finally decided to do it in 2004. Long story was a tough summer, health-wise. But it worked and my resting heart rate at my last two doctor appointments was in the low 80's. A huge milestone.

So my husband has been through all this with me. He's seen me sick. He's seen me well. He's sent me to the doctor to get my levels checked (and was correct in thinking I had relapsed). He held my hand through two cesarean sections (and held my hand through the psychological aftermath of each one). He saw me rage and rail while under the influence of large doses of prednisone. He told me I didn't look fat when I had gained 20 pounds.

And he sat in the doctor's office waiting room yesterday with me. He was grading papers; I was reading magazines. I was there for several hours, with occasional blood draws (once an hour). He hung out when he didn't have to. It's hard to express how important that is. Although we chose non-traditional wedding vows (which didn't contain the "in sickness and in health" phrase), he's lived out the spirit of those old-fashioned vows so well. He's never treated me like someone whose body is broken, defective, flawed. He's just loved me through all of it.

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