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The importance of patient choice

A highly respected medical specialist in another state told me I should kill my thyroid by swallowing a radioactive capsule.

Thyroid hormones made me constantly warm, my heart beat fast and my hands shake. The doctor said I would wear a bracelet during treatment to warn paramedics about my radioactivity in case I had a car crash.

As I understood it, my thyroid would absorb radiation and my thyroid would die. As the tissue died, my body would expel the waste and I would no longer be radioactive.

Uncharacteristically, I pointedly asked the doctor what would happen if we delayed treatment. To me, the current symptoms were quite tolerable.

The doctor said the procedure was essential because my overactive thyroid would damage my organs if I didn't get treated. And, he said, I would get lifelong pills to replace my missing thyroid hormones.

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I trusted him.

But he didn't describe how my quality of life would change, or the treatment's after-effects. I signed a consent form, mistakenly believing I was fully informed.

I became unable to bend over far enough to wash my hands at a sink without severe pain. Later, synthroid to prevent the pain wasn't strong enough to make me feel "right" (a common complaint of patients seeking proper doses).

After treatment, I expressed frustration that the doctor hadn't given me more information. His answer? Treatment was essential to prevent heart and other organ damage.

But he failed to understand patients should be given a choice of whether to risk another year or two (or 10) with overactive thyroid and risk of early death in exchange for higher quality of life, rather than post-treatment symptoms, dose juggling and drug dependence.

If I had it to do over again, I would allow my thyroid to die on its own and skip potential long-term health implications of radiation. That's just me. Others would decide differently.

Health problems and treatments both have risks and benefits. Patients have a right to know them all so they can make informed decisions (sometimes including higher quality of life with shorter lifespan).

"In deciding to use a medicine, the risks of taking the medicine must be weighed against the good it will do," according to MayoClinic.com.

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I wish the doctor treating my thyroid had learned that in medical school.

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