Action without Thought

by Michelle Lasley

Michelle Lasley is a mother, wife in Pacific Northwest learning to balance green dreams with budget realities.

October 21, 2010


Categories: Family

Mayo Clinic
Image via Wikipedia

This, action without thought, highlights the basic problem of our society. Doing something without taking even a second to think about the consequences.

What, you ask, got you so riled about this on this chilly Thursday-Garbage morning? A little article about Thyroid Cancer has me so riled up this morning.

Apparently, some thyroid-cancer patients, immediately post treatment, have been setting off radiation alarms. There is a concern about exposing people without their knowing it to the harmful affects of radiation. A Massachusetts Representative, Edward Markey (Dem), has got the bull by his horns to make this illegal, calling for a ban on even letting radioactive patients from taking public transportation.

You may recall that I have Grave’s Disease. My awareness of the thyroid exploded three years ago. My ears perk up in new ways when I hear thyroid. It’s an amazing little organ that basically controls the speed of every function of your body. If it works too fast, too hard, your body creates so much heat and energy you could die because your heart is working too fast. If it works too slow, you gain weight, sleep a lot, and suffer from other ill-health throughout your body. If you have cancer in the thyroid… the symptoms and causes differ. It’s such an important gland, though, regulating your heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature and weight (Mayo Clinic Thyroid Cancer & Definition). When things go awry, when it’s figured out, action is necessary.

Generally, there are three ways to treat overactive thyroids. Thyroid cancer expands on two of these options with chemotherapy. For overactive thyroids (hyperthyroidism or Grave’s Disease) the typical treatments are:

  • Anti-thyroid medicine – in my experience doctors in the U.S. don’t think to try this option first, they consider the radioactive iodine approach. This option has a much smaller success rate, and prolonged use of the medication can cause further immune or white blood cell damage, to your body. This option, however, is the preferred option for many European doctors.
  • Radioactive Iodine Treatment (also used for cancer patients, but a different isotope) – this is the most preferred method for U.S. doctors. Generally, it is quick, with a very high success rate and few prolonged complications. All options require life-long monitoring of thyroid hormone levels to ensure the body is operating in a healthful manner. This option has risks with exposing others to the small amounts of radiation secreted through sweat, urine, and saliva.

    The recommendations for safe exposure include sleeping away from your partner for 2-4 nights. Cooking and consuming foods separately from those with whom you live. Washing clothes separately. Flushing multiple times after using the bathroom. If you have small children, infants, babies, you cannot hold them for more than 2 hours a day up to two weeks. If you have toddlers, you must not play with them or have close contact for more than a few hours a day up to 2-4 days.

    Extended hospital stays, a logical conclusion for such strict recommendations, is not covered by insurance. Hospitals don’t want fairly healthy patients taking bed space. And, if they did, the insurance, again, still does not cover it and would cost several thousand dollars for an evening’s stay.

  • Surgery (also used for cancer patients) – is an immediate removal of the entire thyroid gland. This is used in cases where the person must have the thyroid removed immediately because of other health risk factors. For overactive thyroids, I’ve been told both as a swallowing function – that is the person can no longer swallow because of the goiter, and simply risk of thyroid storm. I’m not sure what all reasoning is associated with thyroid cancer, although the aforementioned Mayo Clinic article explains some things.

So, what has got me so riled up about this Massachusetts Representative? He’s suggesting this policy for outlawing staying in hotel rooms and riding public transit when radiation risks are actually quite low. I was very concerned about the idea of radioactive iodine therapy. Something about nuking my thyroid to make me better didn’t (doesn’t) settle well with me. But, in many respects, we live in a primitive society, and that’s how we take care of problems – we kill them.

Imagine you’re the thyroid patient, getting the news that you have to treat your thyroid in some way. The doctor, naturally, suggests the RAI therapy, and you agree. You are told to stay away from your small child and husband for up to a week. What do you do when the hospital won’t cover your stay? You get a hotel room. You ask the doctors if you should explain this to the hotel staff (while you fear risking your stay in light of other’s misunderstandings) and the doctors explain that radiation is everywhere. The recommendations operate on the overly cautious. If you stay in the same room for two days, a simply washing of the sheets will flush away your radiation, which was small to begin with. Make sure, though, they add, to flush twice after you urinate.

Markey’s suggestions are action without solutions. All he is doing is undeserving a rising segment of our population when they are delivered bad news. This, to me, highlights the problems in our society.

  • We’re spending too much money! Cut the budget! Okay, what’s the first to go? Children and seniors! Who needs ’em anyway!
  • That person overseas is bad! What should we do? Kill ’em dead! Eliminate the problem!
  • Our production costs are too high! What should we do? Let’s get rid of these union jobs and have folks make ’em who only need a few cents a day!

Action without solutions – thoughtless, heartless, a disservice to our society. He’s a representative from Massachusetts. Likely, up for reelection (every two years, you know). I wonder if this call is to show he can be stern in the middle of election season. If so, that makes the idea even more thoughtless.

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