Monday, October 17, 2011

A Fair Day

For some reason, I seem to be exhausted by the end of the school week. It’s not like I am over-extending myself. In fact, there are several things that I want and need to do that just haven’t gotten done because I run out of steam by the time I have accomplished all the things that have to be done.
Despite being tired and wishing for a day that didn’t start before 10 am, we decided to go to the Texas State Fair on Saturday. I think I wanted a funnel cake more than I wanted a morning to sleep late! Aside from the funnel cakes, the fair is the epitome of something I loathe - big crowds. I don’t like controlled crowds of well-behaved people; and, I really don’t like huge crowds of rowdy people hyped up on sugar and alcohol. I also don’t like crowds where the number of strollers equals the number of mobile people and those strollers are being pushed by mobile people under three feet tall. In my opinion, the State Fair has great potential for providing a miserable experience. But, it never has.
We rode the DART train, Dallas’ fledgling mass transit system, to the fair. Many other people chose this option as well. It is much cheaper than parking and much less stressful than driving. We got on the train at one of the earliest stops on this particular route and, to my surprise, it was already standing room only. We stood for a few stops. As the train slowed at the next station, we could see that a large crowd was about to board. It was clear that my personal space was about to be no more. At this point we were about half way to the fair; the trip would be another 20-25 minutes. We were standing by a seated family that consisted of grandparents, two of their children and spouses, and four grandchildren. As we scrunched to make room for the onslaught of new riders, the grandmother tapped me on the shoulder and pointed to an empty seat. Her family had doubled up the children so that three of them were sharing a seat intended for two and the fourth was on dad’s lap. This was a welcome but certainly unnecessary gesture on this family’s part. I will gladly admit that we were ever so grateful to arrive at the fair grounds with our legs and feet not already tired from having stood for forty-five minutes.
As the massive crowd disembarked from the train, everyone took their turn. There was no pushing or shoving. This controlled atmosphere continued all the way into the fairgrounds despite the slowdown as we all went through the narrow gates and past the metal detectors.
Next it was on to purchase a ticket. The fair employees did their best to direct people to the shortest lines, keeping everyone’s frustration levels at a minimum. During our brief time in the line, people were sharing extra discount coupons and even a few tickets with others . It was a bright spot for me to see a mass of strangers from all walks of life doing what they could to help others to save a few dollars and enjoy a good day at the fair.
We stood in a few more lines throughout the day in order to get drinks and the coveted funnel cake. Everyone was polite. People were quick to ask if you were in line before they took their place or to point to the fact that there were multiple lines being served. I observed as a patron shared food coupons with someone who had stood in line and was two tickets short for what they wanted. As the day went on, my faith in humanity was refreshed.
And, I was not hit by a single stroller powered by someone who could not see over the handles - or, for that matter, any other strollers.
Our fair day was a fun day. It was a good day.
Spending a day at the Texas State Fair is not an inexpensive outing. Admission tickets are reasonable, but bottles of soda that are 79 cents at a gas station are nearly four dollars at the fair. Funnel cakes are close to $5.00 (but worth every penny!). The rides average around $5.00. It doesn’t take long for these things to add up to a pretty pricy day, especially for a family.
I wonder if people were so pleasant and in such good moods because this year going to the fair was a big treat for themselves and their family. Did a day at the fair represent several weeks or months of saving? Is this a family’s vacation for the year? Are people so worried and stressed about the economic conditions that they vowed to leave that all behind for a day and enjoy themselves whatever the cost.
I don’t really know why all of the fair-goers were on their best behavior last Saturday. I do know, however, that I am grateful that they were. It made for quite an enjoyable day.

In a later post I will share how our memories of the fair will live on. That’s what souvenirs are for, Right?

Sunday, October 2, 2011

That Crazy Little Thing Called . . .

I have written before about how I believe it really is the small things in life that are the most important.   I am not talking necessarily about things that we might take for granted, but more about things we just don’t think about on a daily basis - like your thyroid gland.  How many of you have thought about your thyroid gland today?  This week?  This month? This year? I hadn’t either until about a month or so ago.
When I had my physical last month the doctor said that everything was great but he did notice that I had a goiter on the right side of my thyroid.  Goiter?  An enlargement, swelling, a lump.  In this day and age anything that is described as a lump strikes fear in our hearts and minds.  So I began the journey to get to know this goiter, this enlargement, this lump a little better.  I started by learning about “its relatives” on the Internet.  This is never really a good thing.  There is much conflicting and even more just plain wrong information out there.  I remembered from writing research papers in high school that if you find the same information in three sources it is assumed to be common knowledge.  I went with that.  If I read the same thing on three or more different websites I deemed it reputable.
Then, at the request of my primary care doctor, I sought information from the specialists.
First I had a radioactive scan.  This cut into two of my days.  On day one I had to go swallow a radioactive iodine pill.  It didn’t take long; it was simply an inconvenience.  The good part was that I got to go out for breakfast with a friend afterwards, something I don’t normally get to do during the school week.
The next day I went back for the actual scan.  I wasn’t too worried about the procedure until they had me lay down on a table and then started sliding me into one of those machines whose entire persona is a big, black claustrophobic hole.  Sensing my panic, the tech told me to relax, that it was not entirely closed in.  She also told me not to turn my head.  Well, the part that I could see was closed in.  The part on the sides of my head, where I was instructed not to look was open.  With a few mind games I was able to survive without embarrassing myself or my friend who went with me.  And, for being a pretty good girl, I got to go out for breakfast again on a school day!
A healthy functioning thyroid absorbs iodine.  By swallowing a radioactive iodine pill, the doctor was able to see how my thyroid was functioning.  The scan revealed that I have a “cold nodule” on the right side of my thyroid.  Though my general thyroid hormone levels are normal, this cold nodule means that a portion of my thyroid is not functioning.  A “hot nodule” is one where the thyroid is overactive.  Hot nodules are almost always benign.  Cold nodules can be cancerous.  Armed with my cold nodule in the right side of my thyroid, I went next to see an endocrinologist.
As an aside, I had this procedure done right around the tenth anniversary of 9/11.  We were watching a television special about the various commemorative activities being held in New York City and the security measures surrounding them.  One of the segments talked about how they had technology that could spot radioactivity - including people who had had any time of medical procedure using radioactive materials during the past two weeks.  Fortunately we weren’t going to New York City.
The endocrinologist looked at the scan results and told me that it was great that I had the scan, but that we were still at square one because what we really needed to know was whether or not the nodule was cancerous and there is no way to tell that from a radioactive scan.
He then said that he wanted to do a sonogram to determine the actual size of the nodule, another piece of information that seemingly was not shown by the first scan.  Nodules of one centimeter or less are rarely cancerous and do not require any further attention unless they grow larger.  Those nodules that are larger than a centimeter require more “getting to know you.”  Mine is 3.2 centimeters, which the doctor classified as “kind of big.”  Surprisingly, I hadn’t felt it.  Thyroid nodules can interfere with breathing, swallowing and can cause hoarseness, none of which have I incurred.  I am a visual person so I had to find something that was 3.2 centimeters.  The end joint of my own thumb is about that size.  It is hard for me to believe that I have something the size of almost half of my thumb in my throat and I didn’t even know it was there.  Sometimes now I think I can feel it but that just may be like that tiny spot on your shirt  - once you are made aware of it that is all you can see or, in this case, feel.
After assessing the nodule’s size the doctor said that he would need to do a needle biopsy.  He stuck a needle into the goiter, the enlargement, the lump, the nodule - four samples he took.  It didn’t hurt but it was a very strange sensation.  This was the first time that I actually felt like there was something in my throat.  As the needle penetrated the nodule, it pushed against my trachea and esophagus.   Like I said, this was a very weird sensation.  The entire procedure took only about ten minutes.  He then told me that it would take a week before he had any results.
How is it that nearly everything in this world seems to take only seconds and this was going to take a week?  I can order almost anything I want from and have it tomorrow.  And Amazon seems to have a hand in just about everything.  Can’t they branch out into medical testing?
The doctor told me that though thyroid cancer is out there, only about 5-10% of all nodules are cancerous.  He also said that thyroid cancer is treatable.  (Both of these things I knew from my research on the Internet but it was nice to hear them from a medical professional.)
As it turned out, it took only six days to get the biopsy results and they showed that the nodule is benign.  So for the time being it and I will remain constant companions.  The whole relationship will be re-examined in a few months.  If the nodule becomes too needy with regard to space, he will be surgically evicted: we’ll have to wait and see if such harsh measures are warranted.
In conclusion, in the past month I have learned a lot about that little thing called the thyroid gland.  Here are a few more facts (collected from my conversations with the doctor, not from my own travels on the Internet).

  • About 50% of the adult population has thyroid nodules.  Most people have no idea that they have them.
  • Modules in general are more common in women but cancerous nodules are more common in men.
  • Only 5-10% of all thyroid nodules are malignant.
  • Most thyroid cancer is curable.
  • This little gland has a big job.  Its primary function is to regulate metabolism
This may be more information than you wanted to know about the thyroid, but if you are ever told that you have a goiter, an enlarged thyroid, a lump, or a nodule you will know exactly what that means.