Seriously. I took a radioactive iodine pill earlier this week, and for the last three days, I’ve been in quarantine. Or at least I was supposed to keep three feet away from other people, especially pregnant women and babies. I’m okay to be around now, though.
It’s been a strange experience. You may or may not remember that four years ago, I developed a thyroid problem — hyperthyroidism. I’ve lived with it pretty easily since then, feeling perfectly normal because of my anti-thyroid medication, although I’ve had to get blood work done once a month. But, eventually, it makes sense to get rid of the thyroid entirely instead of taking anti-thyroid medication with its rare but dangerous side effects. Taking thyroid hormone replacement is much safer and easier to regulate.
So, my choices were surgery or radioactive iodine, and although the iodine treatment is not perfect, it’s much better than surgery, or at least I thought so. The thyroid is the only organ that absorbs iodine, the radioactivity kills it, and that’s that. I prefer to keep knives away from my throat if at all possible, so radioactivity it had to be. The treatment itself is very easy: all you have to do is take a pill, although I needed a thyroid scan first, and I had to sign a bunch of documents, which I think mainly said that I understand what I’m doing involves radiation, I’m fully aware of what I’m doing, etc. But the treatment itself was anticlimactic — the doctor simply handed me a plastic cup with a normal-size pill and a cup of water, and that was it. He was careful to make sure I didn’t touch the pill with my fingers, though, which was … well, strange, since why would I want to put such a thing in my mouth? But I just thought about avoiding knives at my throat and swallowed the pill.
Afterward the doctor gave me a card that says, “This patient has received an Isotope for diagnostic imaging or therapy. The amount received is not considered hazardous, however may trigger a sensitive radiation detector.” Cool! Apparently, people sometimes get pulled over when police officers detect radiation, especially at high security sites like bridges and tunnels. And airports, of course; it’s definitely best not to try to fly after one of these treatments. I haven’t gotten pulled over for being a radiation threat, but I’m still hoping it will happen.
The next couple days were anticlimactic, though: I felt nothing. I sat around thinking “my thyroid’s dying right now,” but I couldn’t feel anything as it slowly absorbed the radioactive iodine. I’m not really sure what’s going on now, and I’m curious: is it all dead? partly dead? Shriveling up? Disintegrating? The treatment takes several weeks to take effect, and it can go on happening for months afterward, which is the main downside to this form of treatment. Surgery involves knives, but on the other hand, its effects are immediate. So I’m waiting. I’m slightly hyperthyroid at the moment, which happens because the treatment takes so long to kick in. Eventually, in a few weeks most likely, the process will be finished, and I’ll switch over to hypothyroidism and start my supplements. I’m just hoping we catch the switch-over quickly, so I don’t feel too much fatigue and whatever else might be involved.
My feelings about this are mixed: I’m grateful that there’s a treatment for me, very grateful that modern medicine has allowed me to live a normal life, instead of feeling weak and shaky all the time, which is what hyperthyroidism is like. But it’s also very strange to deliberately kill off an organ of mine, and I don’t like the idea of depending on hormone supplements for the rest of my life. Even though my thyroid has messed me up, I’m kind of sorry to see it go. It tried its best, after all, and since all this is caused by an autoimmune disease, my thyroid is actually a victim — a victim of the rest of my body. A victim of civil war, I guess. I’m looking forward to the end of hostilities.