Thinking thyroid, learning history


Here’s something that we should note
For a diagnosis I’ll throw in my vote
When it comes to life’s stress
The immune system’s a mess
Is it really just a sore throat?

Synopsis: I’m a Family Practitioner from Sioux City, Iowa. In 2010 I danced back from the brink of burnout, and honoring a 1 year non-compete clause, travelled and worked in out-of-the-way places in Alaska, Nebraska, Iowa, and New Zealand. After three years working with a Community Health Center, I am back having adventures in temporary positions until they have an Electronic Medical Record System (EMR) I can get along with. I spent the winter in Nome, Alaska, followed by assignments in rural Iowa and suburban Pennsylvania. After my brother-in-law’s funeral and a bicycle tour of northern Michigan, and cherry picking in Sioux City, I’m back in Pennsylvania. Any patient information has been included with permission.
After a week off, I addressed the drama and irony behind the first patient’s very real physical problem from the perspective of my own experience. My mother had borderline personality disorder, my father had narcissistic personality disorder; no medication exists for either of those two problems. I observed that we don’t get to write the script that our parents hand us, but we have the obligation to edit it, and that obligation gives us freedom. Stressed people get sick, and sick people get stressed. Some of the stress that life brings us we cannot avoid and we just have to deal with it, but some of our stress we make for ourselves.
I saw a lot of people sick in the aftermath of a death in the family. For some I mentioned my brother-in-law’s untimely drowning and we had a mini support group. With others I talked about my 11 culture proven strep throats in the 10 months after my mother’s death.
Early in the day I recounted two stories to the PA I worked with. The first had to do with a different clinic in a different century, during the days of paper charts, when I caught myself over-emphasizing the importance of thyroid testing to a med student. “Think thyroid!” I pontificated. “Depression? Think thyroid. Weight gain? Think thyroid. Weight loss? Think thyroid. Diabetes, hypertension, or cholesterol? Think thyroid.” We walked up to the next exam room, and I pulled down the chart so we could read the chief complaint on the routing slip.
“C’mon,” she said, “Sore throat? Think thyroid?”
And with a trifle more certainty than my experience justified, I said, “Think thyroid!” We walked into the room, I said to the patient, “Take one finger and point to where you hurt the worst.” She pointed to her thyroid, and turned out to have Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, with an anti-TPO about 100 times the upper limit of normal. I hope the med student recognized how much luck played into that impressive bit of diagnosis, but still went on to test the thyroid for the least justification.
The second story had to do with a patient in another clinic in another state, who might have come in for one thing but routine exam picked up an irregular heartbeat and EKG showed atrial fibrillation.
All in all, the day went well. The PA stayed till 2:00PM. I ordered delivery Chinese, and inhaled forkfuls of fried rice between patients.
The last patient of the day teaches high school history. We had a marvelous but all too brief conversation about that subject. While some might complain that current history curriculum includes an excess of politically correct material, I remember clearly the Cold War propaganda from my own high school days; we students recognized that material as a pack of lies. Which inspired me to study history on my own, and to find out the truth.

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