Sanctuary! Sanctuary!

Okay before I dive into the rest of the fascinating mystery of my health I want to back up a little with a mini human biology lesson.

This is your thyroid gland.


Pretty cute little guy, right? This is where he lives:


Your thyroid gland needs nutrients to do its job. Its primary nutrient is iodide which it converts to iodine. Selenium, zinc, and iron are really important too.


Your pituitary gland (located at the base of your brain) senses when your body needs more thyroid hormones and releases TSH (short for Thyroid Stimulating Hormone). TSH knocks on the thyroid gland’s door to, you guessed it, stimulate the production of more thyroid hormones. Traps for iodide are increased to ‘catch’ the nutrients the gland needs, and the thyroid cells then gets busy converting iodide to iodine and producing H202 (Hydrogen Peroxide). To super, super simplify things, this results in the production of those needed thyroid hormones, commonly referred to as T1, T2, T3, T4 and Free T3.

These are all super important, and when all is well, you feel really great with all those thyroid hormones zooming about doing their job (regulating your metabolism, helping you feel happy, and aiding in proper sexual function.)

Psst: You can make too much of these hormones, and that’s called Hyperthyroidism, but we’re talking about Hypothyroidism today, where your thyroid gland is not making enough (and you therefore feel like crap cake garbage in a poo can).


(You also feel like crap cake garbage in a poo can when you’re “hyper” but that’s another story for another day.)

Okay, there’s a lot more going on in those cells, but that is the basic picture. So when your thyroid is feeling under the weather (or rather, is nutrient deprived) and isn’t producing enough thyroid hormones, the pituitary gland increases the amount of TSH in your system – it’s basically screaming at your thyroid gland to produce MORE STUFF.


Therefore, a high TSH blood test is supposed to alert your doctors to the problem, and they are then supposed to give your pooped thyroid (and pituitary) a break by giving you some kind of thyroid medication to replace those hormones your body isn’t producing. Thyroid medication, in theory, should alert your pituitary gland that all is well, and it should then shut the crap up.

The problem is (and this is what my previous cartoon was poking fun of), that you can present with all the classic hypothyroid symptoms, yet still have a “normal” TSH blood test. If a physician is only going by TSH (and not symptoms or other more revealing blood tests), you can find yourself in a really frustrating position.

Feel like crap? Well I have great news, your labs are 100% normal. You are the picture of health!

Further complicating the matter, the readily available thyroid medications (Synthroid, Levothyroxine) ONLY give your body a synthetic form of T4, which isn’t all that your body needs. Some doctors are willing (or can be coerced) to run the right blood tests (Free T4, Free T3, Reverse T3) and will (with arm twisting) prescribe dessicated thyroid, made from porcine thyroid glands. Dessicated thyroid includes the entire range of hormones your body would normally produce: T1, T2, T3, and T4. Many people do a lot better on dessicated thyroid for this reason. It mimics what your body should be making, and therefore does a much better job of calming your pituitary gland and that TSH production down.


Okay, are you with me so far? A lack of nutrients (remember? iodide, zinc, selenium, iron) leads to a decrease in thyroid hormone production, which leads to an increase of TSH from the pituitary gland hammering on the thyroid to increase production of hydrogen peroxide. An increase of hydrogen peroxide results in the inflammation of the poor little thyroid cells who don’t have the nutrients they need to finish the job.

(There can be a myriad of reasons you aren’t getting enough of the nutrients your thyroid needs. It might be your diet, or you might be eating great but not absorbing well.)



When thyroid cells get inflamed damage can actually occur, the cells can actually burst open and leak their contents into your blood stream in the wrong forms. What happens when you’ve got stuff that belongs INSIDE a cell coursing through your veins? Your white blood cells — the army guys, as my 5 year old likes to call them — start fighting.

I ran out of steam, click picture for drawing credit on this one.

I ran out of steam, click picture for drawing credit on this one, and please add sound effect: “KABLAM, KABLOOEY”.

These warriors, normally responsible for fighting crime like viruses, contaminants, bacteria, and disease, are now forming antibodies against stuff your body not only needs, but needs to be making. This, my friends, is an autoimmune situation. In blunt terms, your body is now incorrectly fighting itself. When you have antibodies in your blood stream called antithyroglobulin antibodies, or thyroid peroxidase (TPO) antibodies, you get a whole new diagnosis: Hashimoto’s. Or “Quasimodo’s Disease” as my father in law likes to call it.



After letting myself get a bit walked over back in June with my family doctor, I ponied up the dough and ordered a big ol’ pile of labs through My Med Lab including the 24 hour saliva cortisol test which I could not arm wrestle any local doctors into ordering for me. Since I left you on a stupid cliffhanger, I’ll wrap this mile-long post up with a quick run down of my blood work and saliva (ew) tests:


Low iron, anemic. Crazy high B12, “normal” TSH (high if you ask me), super low Free T4 (Thyroxine), high Antithyroglobulin / Thyroglobulin Antibodies, a super low Free T3, and a low reverse T3 / Free T3 ratio (more on that here). The cortisol test results showed a low-normal in the morning, normal during mid-day and too high at night.

In short (ha ha ha ha, never believe me when I say I’m giving you a ‘mini’ biology lesson or a ‘quick’ update. I think I am physically incapable of brevity.) I have Hashimoto’s Hypothyroidism with overactive adrenals (little triangular shaped glands that sit on top of your kidneys and secrete the stress hormone cortisol, more on them later this week). Mine are currently a little messed up, not as messed up as they were last time I had this huge rash, but still hyperactive enough to trigger my histamine freak out.

My low iron and hyperactive adrenals are complicating matters quite a bit (stressing out my thyroid gland). There’s a lot that can be fixed by first getting these in line, so that’s what I’m focusing on right now, and I’ll go into that in detail tomorrow. Or the next day. You know the drill, I’m sorry I’m so unreliable. This is why I don’t make the big pennies blogging. Also, lame cartoons and super long explanations of odd ailments. (And market saturation and serial domain hopping, and a serious over-use of parenthetical asides, I’m sure.)


Like I said I’m so bad at this blogging thing. I almost forgot. Our bodies are usually quite adept at getting rid of excess B12, and a high result in the bloodstream is pretty rare. To give you an idea of how high mine is, a normal range is 211-946 pg/mL. My result: 2000. TWO THOUSAND, HOLY CROW.

High levels of B12 can indicate cancer! Isn’t that super fantastic? The list includes: chronic myelogeneous leukemia, promyelocytic leukemia, polycythemia vera and hypereosinophilic syndrome. HIGH FIVES ALL AROUND. Or, if that’s not scary enough, it could also indicate several liver diseases like acute hepatitis, cirrhosis, hepatocellular carcinoma and metastatic liver disease (here is the source for all that terror).

I did find a mention online that a build up of B12 can occur if one has been taking too much B-12 supplement. That is a possibility for sure (and probably a very likely explanation), as whenever I was fatigued (all the time!), I’d double up on my B12 supplement. I have stopped supplementing and we’ll have to retest. If levels are still high I will need further screening to rule out any of those more serious issues. My ‘gut’ tells me there isn’t anything to worry about here, though I will absolutely be responsible and follow up, but I don’t have that panic alarm bell going off telling me that I have a terminal disease. So there’s that.


Finally, good grief.

Why so sad? You’re going to live FOREVER with that blood pressure!

Feel like crap?  Well I have great news, your labs are 100% normal.  You are the picture of health!

(I drew this, and the last comic on my new-to-me-ebay-bedrest-lifesaver iPad Mini with the super fun Sketchbook Pro app. My daughter asks “Why did you draw yourself as a little kid in a tiny dress?” and my son asks, “Where is your gray hair?” Another son says, “Well, at least she’s drawing actual arms and legs now… but mom, your hands, and the doctor’s, um, flesh mitt…” He trails off looking worried that he hurt my feelings. So I need some practice is what they are saying.)

Months ago I went to one of our family doctors. I was feeling really run down and requested some lab work. It’s been ages since I read Hypothyroidism: The Unsuspected Illness by Dr. Broda Barnes, but I knew the gist: testing the TSH alone wasn’t enough for me. I specifically requested my Free T3 and Free T4 be checked. As an afterthought I asked him to check my cortisol levels too, mentioning that I’d had adrenal issues in the past.

You see, most doctors (even endocrinologists) will just run a TSH test, which tests the thyroid stimulating hormone released by the pituitary gland. And often, your result will fall within the normal range. You’ll be sitting there with dry skin and clumps of hair falling out, describing your ridiculous fatigue, hypersensitivity to light, how you jump out of your skin at the smallest surprise, how you’re always freezing and aching, and your blood pressure reading will come out super low, yet your TSH will look fine. So the doctor will gleefully tell you that absolutely nothing is wrong with you and offer to make you the poster child for people in their prime. MUCH VIGOR. VERY FLOURISH.

The nurse called me up a week or so later and cheerfully informed me that my TSH was “slightly elevated,” but the doctor thought it looked fine and didn’t want to change my dose of dessicated thyroid. When I asked about the Free T4 and Free T3 results, she acted confused and I could hear her shuffling through the paperwork. Great, he didn’t even run them. The blood cortisol levels looked “fine.” I’d forgotten that a blood test for cortisol measures both bound and unbound and doesn’t give accurate results.

I am not a confrontational person. I don’t like making a fuss, plus, having spent plenty of years listening to the gossip and griping at a nurse’s station, I have an innate fear of being a high maintenance patient. So while I’d like to tell you that I marched back into his office and got the tests I originally wanted, I hung up and forgot all about it. I became preoccupied with my weakness / fainting episodes and later, the rash.

Then, around a month ago, I’d had a particularly bad day. My mom had come up to help, and my dad, on his way home from elsewhere in Idaho, was able to stop by as well. After going over my laundry list of symptoms with my parents, my dad asked if I’d been taking my morning temperature. I hadn’t been.

My history with hypothyroidism has always been the type to show up via symptoms, including body temperature. In Dr. Barnes’ book, he recommends taking your basal temperature upon waking, before eating or drinking, or even getting up to go to the bathroom. If you’re running a degree or two lower than normal, and you’re showing symptoms for hypothyroidism, that’s a better indicator than measuring a hormone produced by the pituitary gland in diagnosing and treating the disease.

We couldn’t find my thermometer (it is probably languishing in one of a hundred million boxes in the garage) so mom dashed out to buy a digital one and a mercury-type thermometer. The next morning we took my temperature with both. 94 degrees, y’all. That’s quite a bit below the standard normal of 98.6. As in, I did not know it was possible to run that low and not be in a the morgue.

Stop the Thyroid Madness (an extremely excellent site I highly recommend if you have hypothyroid symptoms but aren’t getting anywhere with your TSH-focused doc or T4-only synthetic thyroid meds) recommends taking your temperature 3 – 4 times throughout the day for a week or so, and then averaging out the results. After a week of temperatures, my average was between 94 and 95 degrees, not just in the mornings, but around the clock. That is crazy low, so crazy low that when I phoned my other family doctor to tell him, he suggested my thermometers were broken. I went in to his office for an ‘official reading’ and came up 95.2 with his thermometer. Frustratingly, he was still pretty focused on my TSH even though the entire medical community can’t agree on what the normal range even is.

Feeling fairly certain that underlying thyroid problems could be causing, or at least worsening other issues, it felt important to address this. I was currently taking 2 grains of dessicated thyroid, but knew I needed to raise my dose if my temperatures were that low. Both doctors weren’t listening, so I pushed up my sleeves and prepared for battle.

Okay, I just copied and pasted the rest of this post into a new document because this turned into an epic epistle, and even though I’m mostly writing this all down for me, and probably no one cares (and that is OKAY, I realize my people are all on the geriatric floor or down at the Senior Citizens Community Center), I will break it up into a couple more posts. It’s all written so I’ll schedule them out this week (it’ll look like I’m posting all regular-like).

Tune in next time for the vindicating lab results I ordered myself via My Med Lab. It’s all very exciting; there is even an alarming red flag for a rare type of leukemia! (That is total click bait, I don’t think I have leukemia, but isn’t it sad that if I did it wouldn’t surprise me in the least?)

You can fall down an internet rabbit hole and end up on Wikipedia reading about LITERAL rabbit holes*


Of course, then I get in the shower and realize that the water pelting down on me is one of the most painful and irritating things on the planet, and dragging the razor — even gently — over my limbs feels like I’m exfoliating with a cheese grater, but still! Shaved legs, people. Because scratchy, stubbly hairs poking up and through your roiling sea of burning welts does not help the already hideously itchy situation. Not one little bit.

As pathetic a picture as that must paint — especially paired with the post-shower exhaustion that leaves me damply wrapped in a towel, wet hair sprawling, and lying on the bathroom floor for twenty minutes to recover from the effort — I am actually seeing some pretty major improvement in the rash department. (Say it quietly so we don’t jinx it all with the universe.) (Obscure health issues has made paranoid and superstitious, excuse me while I toss some salt over my shoulder and spit into the wind.)

You’d think that with all this time lying around trying not to let the sheets touch my skin, that I’d be super productive, perhaps writing a novel or at least catching up on email, but no. There is something about endless hours of restless, itchy resting that invites — not active doing of anything worthwhile — an insatiable desire for easy to digest really pointless fake news. My very weak defense is that “news” of the tabloid nature was about the only thing that would get my mind successfully off the desire to essentially claw my skin off with my fingernails.

I am therefore only somewhat ashamed to admit that I’ve done little more than read all the Celebrity pages of Daily Mail (no politics, because that’s meatier and therefore might require brain cells to process), watch all the video shorts at Buzz Feed, and marvel at the naked handstand man at Mashable.

If anyone would like me to summarize a) the style of eyebrows models were wearing at Fashion Week, b) tell you at exactly what time the news of Royal Baby Numeral Dos hit the press, or c) diagram how many selfies Kim Kardashian is capable of posting in a given hour, I am more than happy to oblige. Other areas of expertise include, but are not limited to, the terrifying world of TMZ, various Wikipedia rabbit holes such as the life and times of various wives of The Beatles’ band members, the sad and sorrowful tale of Judy Garland’s rise to fame, and, inexplicably, Patty Hearst and the Symbionese Liberation Army.

I’ll tell you one thing. I am really tired of Miley Cyrus, and I only spent like fifteen minutes reading up on her; she accomplished in a quarter of an hour what even Paris Hilton’s Instagram could not, the feeling that I had physically managed to liquify the contents of my skull and would need to repeat school from the 3rd grade forward. I closed all my tabs and bleached my brain by watching Belle. This is the only thing of value I managed to expose myself to, and I highly recommend viewing the movie yourself if you can take a recommendation from someone who now knows the names and ages of Britney Spears’ children.

Belle, I assure you is safe — even enriching, though I can’t promise you won’t end up on Wikipedia reading about Dido Elizabeth Belle afterward, it at least won’t somehow dump you into an internet wormhole about the rise and fall of Lindsay Lohan. (Won’t someone think of the children? How are child actors even ALLOWED at this point?)

* After spending some hours acquainting myself with all of Elizabeth Taylor’s husbands via the notorious internet encyclopedia, this felt like a revelation, and just about blew my mind. I’m pretty sure I need to get outside and breathe actual outdoor air tomorrow. And maybe read something fairly benign, like a dictionary.

Aunt Marge’s face would have worked, too.


Prior to the night of the dancing furniture and ethereal yet aggressive looking cartoon shapes wafting around on my ceiling (did I mention those?), I had been quite pleased that this round of What’s Wrong With Jessica did not include insomnia. Sadly, after a day of sleeping off the effects of too much antihistamine I was left completely wide awake well into the middle of the night.


This wasn’t insomnia so much as a screwed up circadian rhythm, but that’s all it takes really. One messed up 24 hour period takes me ages to fix (I am on it with Melatonin and an electronics and lightbulb ban after sundown.) I was determined not to give in (the desire to pass time with a movie is very tempting) as I wanted to show my body that even though I’d spent the day sleeping, it was now really night time and time to rest.

I was finally able to take two antihistamines at midnight after 24 hours had passed from when we figured I’d taken too many, and I hoped that they’d keep the itch down and make me sleepy. I was also terrified I’d feel weird again, like maybe other people will burn off an excess of antihistamine in a 24 hour period, but my special-snowflake body was going to hold on to it, and I’d be forever hyper sensitive to Benadryl. Doomed to choose between living in a drunk and hallucinatory state or a miserable itchy rash state. Which one was worse? I decided the rash was definitely worse and swallowed two little pink pills.


My top lip started to swell up. I told myself that heretofore, all facial swelling had been pretty low-key, and that this one would follow suit. Nothing to worry about. Nothing at all. I squeezed my eyes shut and tried to sleep. But my lip kept getting bigger.


And then the bottom lip decided to join in the fun.


I started eyeing the Benadryl. But no. I’d taken too many the night before, I wasn’t about to risk any increase in my regular dose. But my throat was hurting. My voice had disappeared a little earlier that day and I’d thought, “Oh sure, laryngitis. Why not?” But now I realized it was my esophagus swelling. My jaw was swollen, and it ached to open or close my mouth or swallow. My tongue was swelling, but my airway was still clear. So I tried again to sleep. After all, I had my epi-pen… wait. No I didn’t. I hadn’t filled the prescription yet. Great.


I’d begin drifting to sleep, but my swollen throat made it painful to swallow and I’d jerk awake again. Around 3 in the morning I decided trying to sleep was pretty stupid and sat up. I looked like this only worse:

Only worse.

(Some of you won’t get that joke, now that I think of it. That’s Harry Potter all swollen in a scene from the last book, The Deathly Hallows – seemed kinder than using a photo of Jocelyn Wildenstein, which was my first inclination)

I did not want to call 911 again but told myself I would if I felt like my airway was becoming at all restricted. I also did not want to leave fifty five texts and messages for sleeping friends and family, but told myself I would if I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I idly wondered how much time I’d have, really, from the start of a restricted airway to absolutely no air whatsoever. Time to Google.


Well, that was creepy. Both that comic/illustration and what I turned up online. (Didn’t I learn? WebMD must help the entire medical community so much. Ten minutes on their website and you will be 110% convinced you have eighty different terminal diseases.) Still, I persisted (what else was I going to do?) and around 5 in the morning stumbled across a random forum reply (wish I could find it again) where a woman with severe facial swelling and the same kind of rash wrote that mixing 2 teaspoons of sea salt (important! do not use refined table salt) in warm water and drinking it would reduce swelling within twenty minutes if the angioedema was caused by fatigued or stressed adrenals, and p.s. don’t try it if you have high blood pressure.

Well. Taking advice from anonymous strangers in questionable forums on the internet is pretty much always a good idea, right? It was at least something I could try, and I’d repeatedly been told by various medical professionals that I was perpetually dehydrated and needed to add more salt to my diet. (I’ve never eschewed salt, but generally met this advice with frustration and despair. I drank so much water, how could I be dehydrated? And what else could I put salt on? Toothpaste? Calcium tablets? I felt like I already salted everything. Spoiler: I was drinking so much plain water daily I was flushing my system and lab results showed I was deficient in sodium and iodine, despite taking supplements for the later.)


I mixed 2 teaspoons of Real Salt sea salt in 32 ounces of water, mixed it to dissolve, and sucked it down. (It was hard to get my hot dog lips around the straw!) I was braced for nastiness, but it was actually good, it felt like my body really wanted it, and before 20 minutes had passed, it worked. My face was reducing in size faster than you can say “This reminds me of when Bella drinks blood and likes it in Twilight, please don’t let me also be carrying a vampire hybrid baby.”

My throat stopped hurting, and though my lips and jowl remained puffy for the next few days, the sea salt did the trick. I drank the salty concoction repeatedly over the next few days and my doctor breathed a sigh of relief. “Of course it’s fine,” (because of course I had a complete freakout that I was sodium poisoning myself) “…it’s only what I’ve been trying to get you to do for a year.” Seriously, he told me to get around 8 – 10grams of natural salt that included sodium / iodine / electrolytes / trace minerals etc. and I’m ashamed to admit I never let just how much that was sink in. The salt water mixture reduced the misery of my rash as well – it didn’t eradicate it, but it made it so much easier to stay on top of it (and sane) with a regular, normal person’s Benadryl dose.


The puffy face and lips took a few days to dissipate all the way, I also noticed an immediate increase in my overall strength. I haven’t had one single dizzy / weakness / pass out episode since. I still take 1 teaspoon in water each day when I swallow my entire bowlful of supplements, and my sodium levels are finally up in the normal range (low end, but still within the range of normal, woot). I feel like I am improving each day, though at a slower pace than I would like, but I’m trying to be patient. My bloodwork revealed a host of confusing problems, and I will share those with you next.

Until then, I sincerely hope that creeptastic stick figure swollen Harry Potter drawing does not haunt your every waking moment. Cleanse your pallet by clicking my real trout pout picture in the “You might also enjoy” section below. I didn’t get that big on this particular night, but it was on its way.

p.s. I owe my friends a unicorn a piece. They took over again and helped me with my kids the following day so I could sleep.

A policeman, three firemen, and a paramedic walk into a bar

What a week. After my mom left, my rash decided it wasn’t quite itchy enough and turned up the volume all over my body, including my face and scalp which I did not have the pleasure of experiencing last time. I was so incredibly miserable. When you get Urticaria hives on your palms and the bottoms of your feet, they don’t puff up like the welts elsewhere, instead the tighter / thicker skin there just turns red and hot, and the entire palm / sole swells up. I had to prise off my wedding ring before it cut off circulation, and my toes were so red and swollen that they wouldn’t bend properly when I tried to walk.


Anti-histamines weren’t even taking the edge off, and on top of it all, I was weaning off of my beta blocker medication (it was making the dizziness and fainting worse, plus extra itching). So I was experiencing erratic heart activity, plus some weird anxiety and panicked feelings as my body adjusted to regulating blood pressure on its own.

One night I was tossing and turning in fitful rashy / burning sleep and became disoriented and took too much anti-histamine, thinking that each time I’d woken up, four hours had passed and it was time to take more. Finally I woke up more fully and couldn’t figure out where I was. My brain wanted to make the dark shapes in my bedroom be the bedroom of our last house, and everything was spinning. I sat up and the shapes in the room lurched like my desk, mirror, dresser, and closet door were all doing the wave at a football game.


I felt so strange, and the beta blocker withdrawal panic turned my confusion into terror. I made my blurry eyes focus on the swimming clock numbers and realized it was only 2am. My stomach did a flip as I tried to piece together how many times I’d woken up since 11:30 and taken more Benadryl. I googled overdose symptoms which is EXACTLY what you want to do when you are already scared and anxious. Coma! Seizures! Death! I was soon quite convinced I was going to be dead by sunrise. I started frantically calling friends and family, but go-figure, everyone was asleep in the middle of the night. So I called poison control and the nice lady on the end of the line helped me try to figure out how many I might have taken. She was very reassuring and not at all concerned that I now had two closet doors instead of one. She suggested I try to sleep it off.

I couldn’t sleep, I sat wide-eyed and frightened in my bed, calling all my friends again. I felt like if I could just get someone over here to sit with me I wouldn’t feel so scared. I couldn’t get anyone to pick up, and then a wave of… I don’t know, weirdness? Swept over me and I felt like I was falling. I called 911.


I will spare you the play by play, but I passed the rest of the wee small hours with a very jolly cop (who I swear told me he ate left over macaroni in my kitchen with my cats, this made perfect sense at the time, because why not?), three volunteers from the local fire department who took my vitals but forgot to write it down and had to do it all over again, and a very calm, very professional paramedic who, when I started to feel very foolish for dragging them all out here, was nothing but kind and reassuring. They deemed me lightly ‘buzzed’ and ‘worked up’ over Google death sentences via WebMD. The paramedic consulted with a doctor and went over all my meds and what I could best figure as far as my drug-taking timeline, and said he did not think I was in any kind of danger, but could choose to either sleep it off at the hospital under observation, or sleep it off here if we could locate a friend (E was out of town for work, did I mention that?).


The cop was willing to go knock down Tracy’s door (maybe he was hoping for more mac & cheese), but we finally got her to answer the phone. She claims I sounded like a party-going extrovert, all cheerful-like, exuberantly inviting her over for a slumber party. I don’t remember any of that, but I do remember feeling much less frightened when she arrived and all the uniformed people left. I was able to sleep a little after 4am even though my furniture was still dancing around, because I felt safe with her here.

My amazing (and long-suffering) friends took shifts the next day to help with the kids, and made sure I wasn’t disoriented and trying to swallow dog medication or anything. I didn’t take any more antihistamine for a 24 hour period, as per the paramedic’s instructions, so I progressively got itchier and progressively crankier, but at least got caught up on some sleep, which was good so I was rested for the next night’s escapades which maybe also should have involved 911, but didn’t.

Stay tuned for more adventures in the life and times of the dork who now has alarms programmed into her phone instructing her on when to take two more Benadryl.

* I have no punchline for my title, but wouldn’t it be funny if I could think of one?