Just over a year ago, I was admitted to hospital, on the spot, during a short break from my day job as a civil servant, to receive the results of some tests carried out at the request of my local GP clinic. The advanced nurse practitioner was visibly concerned as she read from the computer screen facing her. I could tell from her tone and body language, the news was far from good. The results were all over the place, and the nurse was unsure how to interpret them. I recall thyroid function being mentioned, though the figures were such that the nurse believed there was likely more to this picture. For some reason, the two things which stick with me were that my blood iron levels were through the roof and my cholesterol was over 11mmol/l (7.8mmol/l is considered ‘extremely high’). Within minutes, I was being driven to hospital by my line manager, having quickly packed a bag for what I was told might be more than an overnight stay. 

Back-tracking two or three days…                                                        

I had recently celebrated my 40th birthday with close family and must confess I was beginning to feel past my prime. Over the space of several years, I had begun to notice changes in my body and mind. I had a myriad of seemingly unrelated ailments, most of which I had attributed to age, stress, parenthood, several years in service of Queen and country, and probably generally not taking the best care of myself. Being the typical proud and stubborn guy I am, I put off checking in with my GP until the pressure from my wife and mother finally defeated my ego. And here’s the thing; I didn’t feel ill, or sick, I just had several things which – in my opinion – were just getting me down, and most of that stuff was being worsened by my incessant exhaustion due to sleep apnoea. I made an appointment at the clinic and the advanced nurse practitioner stopped me after filling nearly two sides of A4 with my health complaints and sent me away for blood and urine tests.

The most noticeable of these symptoms were my puffy face and eyes, though the others included very dry eyes and mouth, being utterly devoid of energy all the time, loss of all body hair on my legs, loss of grip, shooting pains down my forearms and into my hands, fluctuating weight, severe bouts of depression, swelling of my tongue and the soft tissues in my mouth and throat which made my speech slurred and frustrating, coldness and numbing of my extremities, halitosis, scaly skin on my hands and feet and general skin complaints, and feeling muddled and mentally slow – I couldn’t concentrate or focus for any amount of time. My brain felt quite literally full of holes. I would often just zone out mid-sentence, losing my train of thought and lost for words, occasionally unable to form coherent thoughts or make simple decisions.

Puffy eyes and face were one of Dave's many symptoms

By far the most worrying, however, was the sleep apnoea. I snored horrendously, and would regularly wake up choking, frantically gasping for breath, sometimes with vomit in my throat and mouth, regardless of what position I slept in. This was truly terrifying. There were several occasions when I felt sure it was only a matter of time before it happened and I didn’t wake up. 

After some further tests at hospital, I was diagnosed with a severely underactive thyroid, the cause of which was later confirmed as an autoimmune disease named Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Untreated for much longer, I was told I my condition may have led to life-threatening health issues. The specialist who diagnosed my condition said it was one of the most advanced cases he had ever seen.

Before being discharged from hospital, I agreed to allow several junior doctors to witness and examine my condition and symptoms. My heart rate was slow, my reflexes delayed, my mental responses on the ropes – they had a field day on me! I had to laugh!  All the more so as the specialist assured me that in a matter of months I would feel completely different. How true his words were… 

Whilst my condition cannot presently be cured, it can be treated. I started on just 25 mcg of levothyroxine each day, quickly progressing to 50 mcg, 75, 100… It didn’t take long for me to start feeling very different. In little more than a fortnight, my swollen, discoloured, translucent eyelids were looking almost normal. After another fortnight, the swelling and bags around my eyes followed suit. In the days and weeks that followed, I never could have imagined how my life would change – and all for the better. The hair on my legs regrew with a vengeance. The hair on my head thickened. Swellings and scaly skin on my hands and feet reduced and vanished. My snoring, which had troubled me for years even before it had become a genuine health concern, reduced and completely disappeared. This is no small thing. From age 19 to 29 I served in the armed forces. My snoring was the bane of every single roommate I ever had!  

And the sleep – Oh, what sleep! I woke each morning, well-rested and full of energy.

Within a few months, my dosage having stabilised at 125 mcg (briefly 150 mcg), all of the issues I first reported at my local surgery had reversed. I’m sharp, happy, motivated and full of positivity. This last year, despite all the terrible things going on in the world, has been a real awakening for me. I feel so grateful for the care and support I received, even if it was scary at first! I regularly refer to BTF pages to learn more about my condition, and I love to read stories from people with similar tales to tell. 

Never before was I aware of the far-reaching influence of this small gland over the body and mind, and I now feel duty-bound to spread awareness of how seriously it can affect us when it does not function as normal.

My message to anyone out there who experiences similar symptoms, and especially the guys like me who are too proud and stubborn to admit to weakness or discomfort: Don’t be me! Don’t wait for your other half or concerned mother to intervene and march you down to the clinic. If you aren’t feeling right, get yourself checked out!