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Archive for July 18th, 2012

Today’s post is a very long story (that’s why I broke them up into two parts) but by the time you have finished reading it, you will learn a thing or two that can be very useful.

One day, in late November 1999, I was typing the year-end report for my boss when suddenly, I felt a very sharp pain in my forehead and momentarily, the room became dark.

Later that day, I went to see the company doctor. “I think your migraine has come back,” Dr. Ting said while flipping over my medical record. “Take some medication I’ve prescribed here and have the rest of the day off, then you should be okay by tomorrow,” she said before dismissing me off.

Three days later, the pain was still there. I could not sleep properly and I also lost my appetite to eat. Whatever little food that managed to pass down my throat could not stay long in my stomach. They all went up in the end.

So I went to see the company doctor again. “Yes, the medication I’ve prescribed the other day was rather mild,” she admitted. “Don’t worry, this time I’ll give you stronger ones and another two days off and that will do the trick!” she said, giving me a comforting pat on the shoulder.

Another three days later, I was back at her clinic again. This time, the pain was getting even more intense. It had traveled to the back of my head and heading towards the neck region. “That was the strongest medication for migraine that I could possibly prescribe. I think it is better you go for a brain scan,” she offered. She then wrote a reference letter for me. “Go now, no time to lose,” she advised me.

With letter in hand, I went straight to Tung Shin Hospital (Western Medicine Department) at once and got the scan done. The two hours wait for the result was the longest in my life. I silently prayed for the best. When the nurse called my name, I almost jumped up.

Dr. Ng’s nurse beckoned me into his office. “Don’t worry, there is no growth inside your brain,” he said as he showed me the scan. I gave out a loud sigh of relief.

“Are you working in a very stressful environment?” he asked. “Sometimes, stress can lead to pain in the head and neck,” he said.

“Yes, I’ve been working for fifteen years in an office that at times resembled a war-zone,” I told him. “And I have to take care of two young babies at night for this past one year,” I went on.

“Hmm, that adds up why you’re in this state. Why don’t you consider going for some alternative treatments at Tung Shin Chinese Medicine Department?” he suggested.

That was a good idea but the problem is, my company does not endorse traditional treatments. It won’t stop us from seeking such treatments but it will not pay the medical bills nor recognized the medical certificates issued by such establishments. We have to pay ourselves and take our annual leave to seek such treatments. In my present condition, I really have no other choice but to give it a try.

By then, all my sick and annual leaves were exhausted. I went to see my boss for two weeks of unpaid leave. My workload was piling high on the desk after one week’s absence, the phone ringing non-stop and nobody bothers to pick it up. My desk was a total mess.

How about his face? Well, his face was as black as charcoal and he gave me the “if you don’t come back soon, I’ll take another person to replace you” type of look. In the end, he grudgingly gave me one week instead of the two I asked for. On the way to the lift, a colleague I met at the lobby purposely told me that there was a retrenchment exercise going on. It did not bother me the way she hoped it did; all I ever care was to get this terrible pain out of my head! So, I just gave her a light smile and walked into the lift without a word…….

Mom and Dad locked up their house in Ipoh and came to stay with me. Mom does all the cooking and washing. Every day, my husband sent the babies to a babysitter next door before he went to work. I spend the whole week seeking acupuncture treatments at Tung Shin Hospital. Besides having needles all over my head and neck and electricity current connected to each of these needles, I was given specially brew herbal concoction. The specialist from China who treated me told me to try this treatment for a week or two.

The prickling sensations from the needles did managed to numb my pain but the relief lasted only a few hours each day. By nightfall, the pain came back in full force. It was like having some sharp knives poking hard into the core of the brain. The pain was even sharper when I lie down; so I could only sit until morning came.

My mom was from the older generation. When western medicine could not do a job, she will turn to other methods. She suspected that I had “offended” some spirits lurking somewhere because my condition worsen at night. In the end, out of desperation, she bought piles and piles of hell bank notes and burnt them every night outside the road in front of my house, much to the amusement of my neighbors.

One morning, I looked into the mirror. I was horrified by what I saw. I was no longer the person I knew. I was like a zombie. I was like a walking skeleton. I broke down and cried and cried. I knew something was wrong inside me but I just don’t know what it was. I was determined to find out. I just want this ugly pain to go away, I just want to get back my health, and I just want to take care of my young children again. I just want to live on……there is so much to live for.

That night, when everyone was asleep, I laid awake on the sofa, unable to sleep. I noticed both my hands were trembling and I could feel my heart beating faster than usual. The pain in my head had reached a bursting point and I just can’t hold on anymore. My husband who was sitting beside me asked gently, “Why don’t you go for a medical examination tomorrow? Get a blood test to see what is actually wrong.” We had both ruled out migraine and stress by now. I just nodded my head for I was too weak to think further. I have not slept or eat properly for the last three weeks and I was on the verge of a breakdown.

Seeing the acupuncture treatment is not that effective as I had hope for, I went back to the company doctor and asked her to give me another reference letter for a blood test. She obliged and I went for a blood test at Tung Shin Hospital again since it was the nearest to my house. I was too weak to travel far.

I waited for another two hours before I was taken into the office of Dr. Cheong who was a senior physician at the hospital. He gave me a concerned look and gestured me to sit down.

“Your TSH is extremely low but your T4 and T3 is, on the other hand, sky-high. From your blood test result here, I can conclude very positively that you’re suffering from hyperthyroidism and your extreme heart beats confirmed my suspicion.”

It was like a bomb had just landed on my ears but ironically, I was glad I have finally found the answer to my misery.

“Hyperthyroidism is a condition in which the thyroid glands make too much thyroid hormone. These hormones control your metabolism and too much of them will put your entire system upside down. Everything just went haywire,” he explained to me in layman’s term.

Yes, I got it now.

“Luckily you came today. A few days late and you’ll suffer a major heart attack because your heart is beating as fast as that of a marathon runner who’s running a 24 hour race non-stop,” he said. “You’ve to be admit at once for me to administer the medications to slow down your heart beats and your thyroid gland’s production,” the doctor advised me and I consented immediately. I was in a daze.

I was admitted to the ward at once and given the relevant treatment. That night, for the first time in three weeks, I could sleep and also eat some light porridge. I could feel the hand’s trembling and heart beats lessen substantially. I felt much better and I could see smiles on the faces of my parents and husband for their lives were equally affected by my strange illness.

But my problem was far from over. When I was discharged a few days later, Dr. Cheong told me that I have to be on medication for at least a year or two. He prescribed a medication called “methimazole” and they are rather expensive. As a non-executive, I was not entitled to such medication which had exceeded the amount I was entitled to.

“Is there any other options for me?” I asked him. I had earlier turned down the other two – a surgery to remove the thyroid glands or the radiation treatment which really scared me off.

“I’m afraid no,” the doctor said quietly.

“Okay, I go for a month’s medication first and see how I progress from there,” I told him and got myself discharged.

“Come back for a blood test as soon as you have finished the whole month’s medication,” he reminded me.

Back home, I went straight to the babysitter to visit my children whom I have not seen for days and I missed them terribly.

I told the babysitter about my condition.

“Oh, so it is ‘tai gang pow’ that you’re having all these while, why didn’t you tell me about your symptoms, I used to have it too when I was your age!” Yoke Cheh, the babysitter, exclaimed.

“Oh really, what medication did you take?” I asked excitedly, hoping she will have some secret remedy to share with me.

“Of course I did not seek western treatment like you did – they’re so expensive. A friend told me about a secret remedy, so I tried it out and I was cured!” she shared enthusiastically.

I felt I have come to a full circle. I was searching high and low for a cure and here she is – my children’s babysitter who shared the same suffering years ago and now, held the key to end my pain.

“Get me a very old female duck and I’ll tell you the rest of the secret remedy!” she challenged me.

I knew it is quite difficult to get a female duck in a big metropolitan like Kuala Lumpur and one that is old enough but I still need to try, right?

Watch out for part 2 which will appear tomorrow.

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