Jan 23, 2010

The past 8 months in brief

When I started this blog, I didn't have a vision for what I wanted to say. Which voice would author this blog?
  • The frustrated patient fighting an invisible illness?
  • The PhD student who studies politics and power in the Canadian health system?
  • Or perhaps the voice of the 'former-health-system-administrator' would come through?
As it happened, none of the things I hoped to say were coming out clearly because my brain had turned into pea soup. I suppose when you name your site "brain fog", it should be a tip off that you aren't in a good head-space.

Last spring I quit writing here, thinking 'if I am sick of listening to myself complain about feeling crappy all of the time, everyone else must be too'.

Summer came and I sank lower into the pit of illness. I won't belabour the point, but I was just seriously unwell.

One day my neighbour saw me on my porch (a big outing at the time) and suggested I visit the "private, executive health clinic" in town. HERESY! Private clinics are for Americans and people who don't believe in the Canadian value of Universal Healthcare. It would be an act of treason.

The fact is, I was too sick to care about my values anymore. I had stayed the course with the public system and I was getting worse by the day. So off I went to the private clinic for a health workup complete with smoked salmon and orange juice.

The private clinic picked up something that everyone else seemed to have missed. Hypothyroid & Anemia. I would never, in a million years imagined that these two benign sounding conditions could cause all of the physical misery and cognitive problems I was having.

But the results don't lie. After two months of treatment, I started to feel better. I started to read books again. I started to walk upstairs without having to rest halfway. I went back to school. I took on a volunteer position in clinical social work. And I haven't looked back (very much).

Interestingly, since my thyroid came under control, I have had almost no symptoms of depression. I am grateful for the chance to feel healthy again and I am angry at the internist who told me my problems were "all in my head". I also am perplexed that it took a private clinic to take my complaints seriously.

What does this say about the Canadian system that I believe in so dearly? I believe that it has something to do with the power that being a 'consumer' of health services confers on a patient.

I felt conflicted between my values and my personal experience - and realized that I may have just tapped into a great thesis topic.

In the end, as much as I would like to find one voice to speak from, I realize that, like all of us, I have occupy multiple roles: patient, practitioner, student, researcher, critic & proud Canadian.

So, I'm thinking of blogging again. I'm not sure where it might take me, but hopefully there will be some interesting discussions along the way!


  1. Wow.

    First of all...I'm so glad you're feeling better and that you got the treatment you needed!

    I find it odd, too, that you had to go to a private clinic to get the testing you needed. Every year when I go for a check-up I get routine blood work done, and thyroid and hemoglobin/iron are part of that routine blood work. This is here in BC, mind you. I don't know what is standard where you are in Canada, but even when I lived in Ottawa, once a year I had blood work done, and thyroid & iron were always included because if I complained of being tired and having low mood, that was a pretty obvious place to start.

    I wonder if it wasn't the system that let you down, but an apathetic doctor...

  2. BTW, I don't use I'm Listening any more - LONG story with a big drama behind it - but if you want my personal blog I can send you the link.

  3. Hi WC,
    I think I fell through the cracks - possibly as a result of seeing too many doctors. I have since collected all of the lab reports that each of them ordered over a period of six months and it was clear that my TSH was trending upward. Since it wasn't off the charts (1.9 in January and 8.3 when it was finally noticed in July), I don't think it caught their attention.

    I also think that some physicians just 'tune out' when they get a referral from a psychiatrist. Once you are in the "mental illness" box, it is hard to get out of it.

    There is also some controversy over what a normal range is for TSH (old range was 0.5 - 5.0 and the new one is 0.3 to 3.0). My new (and expensive) private health care doctor treats thyroid aggressively, while my previous family doctor and my psychiatrist were still wed to the 'old range'.

    Also, I suspect I had an early case of H1N1 - possibly contracted when I was in Mexico last April. All together, I was a wreck!

    PS - Yes, please send me your personal blog link (and maybe the Reader's Digest version of what happened to I'm Listening?) The email address is located just underneath my profile.

  4. Good to hear that you got a diagnosis and treatment that works!

  5. Holy cow! I'm glad they finally figured it out! And yes, it does sound like you may have some fodder for a thesis project there.