The worst part for me post surgery wasn’t the pain from surgery, the surgical wound nor was it the slightly hoarse voice (which eventually improved over time). It was the effect of transient hypocalcemia (low calcium), which the surgeon had warned me of before the operation, that was really difficult and terrible.
First of, what does this have to do with my thyroid gland? One of the risks that my surgeon explained prior to surgery is that the tiny parathyroid glands adjacent to the thyroid will be manipulated or possibly taken out in case affected by the tumor. My surgeon explained that usually, the calcium drops post surgery so she’ll make sure to have IV ionized calcium pumped in me immediately after surgery. What I could expect are tingling of finger tips and toes, the pins and needles sensation. Very tolerable, right? Or so I thought…
I was doing alright while still confined in the hospital after the surgery. I was even able to sit up and walk around two days after the surgery when the surgeon took out the drain in my chest and removed my stitches. I did feel the pins and needles on my finger tips that she had warned me of but not so much.
However, on the 4th day post surgery when the ionized calcium was consumed and only the oral calcium supplements remained, I started having muscle spasms on my hands and legs, and the fingers of my right hand folded up like a clam involuntarily until I can barely move them. My face also began to feel numb and my facial muscles twitched. This all happened at 2am. I got really scared so I asked the nurses to call my doctor for clearance to give a new dose of ionized calcium to help stabilize me.
When I went to the toilet to pee that morning, I had leg cramps which built up on one leg until there’s shooting pain. I have a very high tolerance for pain and I rarely cry when in pain, but this one, boy did I scream in pain! My whole leg froze up to my toes and it lasted around 5-10 minutes. It’s all involuntary and there’s nothing I can do but wait for it to subside. Then, the other leg followed. As if my legs had a mind of their own; very, very stubborn. So I just sat there in excruciating pain while holding my dear husband’s hand and endured until the episode was over.
When I got back to my bed, I felt the exhaustion from all the pain plus the lack of sleep. I could barely eat my breakfast. That was the first time I felt really down after the surgery. I cried. I know my husband did too. Then, we remembered our access to strength. My husband brought his guitar with him so he started playing and we just worshipped God in the hospital room in the midst of what we were feeling. You can read more about this access I’m referring to in this post about keeping the faith.
Fortunately, I got cleared to go home the day before my birthday (Yay, an answered prayer!). I looked forward to getting better rest and sounder sleep at home without nurses checking in on me every 2-3 hours round the clock. (I know it’s their job and God bless them for doing their job well, but those who have been confined know exactly what I mean, right?)
Before getting discharged from the hospital, my surgeon reassured me that some patients do experience these things after surgery when the calcium drops, some even worse, but these were all temporary and will eventually improve over time as my remaining parathyroid glands heal. I just needed to keep on taking the calcium supplements until the electrolyte levels go back to normal.
The episodes of leg cramps, muscle spasms, folding fingers and facial muscles twitching were still there since we got home from the hospital. What’s even worse is that sometimes, the leg cramps happen to both legs—at the same time! When I would finally have the energy to stand up and walk, my movements were very, very slow. Even if I wanted to go faster, for some reason, I just can’t. It’s like I’m trapped in the body of a very old person. My speech was also a bit slurred.
I have a touchscreen phone but even that was a challenge because if my fingers stayed in a certain position for prolonged periods, they would fold up like a clam involuntarily.
It was on my birthday when the depression tried to creep up its way in me, when the idea of being temporarily incapacitated hit me.
I was alone for most of the day because my housemates and hubby were out for work and won’t be home until late afternoon. We just moved in to a new house before my hospital confinement so most of our things were still in boxes. The order muppet in me wanted to start fixing things up but I physically can’t in as much as I badly wanted to.
I went from someone who’s very capable, able to drive around, who kept herself busy and productive to suddenly being stuck at home, sitting on the bed waiting for muscle cramps and spasms to subside, can barely use a smartphone for longer than 15 minutes and walking, moving at a “lola pace”. The thoughts of “I’m helpless”, “I’m all alone”, “Kawawa naman ako”, “This is the new normal” were there, swirling around my head as I looked at the pile of boxes that needed to be fixed and sorted out.
BUT I remembered that one operative word from what the doctor said—temporary. I knew that our spoken words are powerful to change our disposition and the atmosphere we’re surrounded with so I said out loud (well, the loudest I can do at that time was still in a soft voice because my neck was still healing)—“This is just temporary.” I talked straight to the depression and told it, “Watch me.” Watch me hold on to Him from whom I draw strength. Watch me as I overcome this. You will NOT get to me. Especially NOT on my birthday!!! “I AM NOT ALONE in this.” After uttering all those words, the feelings that tried to weigh me down and make me sad got lifted off!
That is how I won over depression—caught it the moment it came knocking on my door. And, it didn’t just happen one time. It tried to knock several times throughout the day, throughout that first week post surgery because I can barely move around physically. So I kept on using my words for it to back off.
I also realized that I needed to set aside the order muppet hat for now who instantly wants to organize things. The best thing I can do for myself is to really rest and recuperate and not let myself be bothered by the mess. They are just things anyway; they’ll get fixed and sorted eventually, gradually, once I have my energy back. Again, this was just temporary.
There won’t be a new normal as far as quality of life is concerned; I adamantly refuse it. I am going to live my life as I ought to—capable, useful, purposeful, productive, and most of all, happy.
So here’s the scientific explanation about the horrible episodes I had:
The parathyroid glands have a totally different and unrelated function from the thyroid. They function to regulate the calcium level in our blood. My parathyroid glands were indeed affected during surgery. The ones on the left became part of the tumor so they had to be taken out (bye, bye 😦 ). Only the two tiny ones on the right side remained. But since they were manipulated during surgery a.k.a. they got injured, they needed time to heal. Just like any part of our body that gets injured, you can’t move it while it’s healing, right? Same goes with my injured tiny parathyroids, their function was very limited, close to none. I didn’t know that such tiny things had a huge impact to my entire body! Since they can’t function normally, they can’t secrete normal parathyroid hormone levels, which then leads to low calcium levels. It’s a known fact that our bones need calcium. Apparently, calcium is also needed to conduct electricity in our body. Most of the conduction happens in our nervous system and muscles. Because my calcium level is very low, I was more prone to having muscle stiffness, muscle spasms, pins and needles, mood swings, memory issues, difficulty in speaking and swallowing, fatigue and depression because there’s minimal conduction happening. By the 2nd week post surgery, I was able to move and function normally again—my parathyroids have finally healed and are back in business!
Source for featured image: http://www.iamincontrol.org
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