Home Commentary & Short Stories Parathyroid Surgery: My Throat Got Sliced, But I Feel Great

Parathyroid Surgery: My Throat Got Sliced, But I Feel Great

by Dewan Gibson
patient immediately after parathyroid surgery

I see a doctor once a year and I’m in-and-out within 30 minutes. I answer a few questions, get my blood screened, and hope they compliment my resting heart rate. Hey, I run a lot and want my props. Either way, I leave fulfilled knowing that I’ve completed a formality that will provide a discount on next year’s ever-inflating insurance premium. 

But this year’s annual visit was different. The doctor, whom I selected because he’s Black and had an opening during my lunch break, asked a lot of questions. “Have you felt down recently? Married, right? Any sidechicks? What do you actually do at work? You mentioned that you don’t use drugs, does that include marijuana? Any concerns that we didn’t cover?” 

I told him that my hairline isn’t as strong as it once was. “Looks fine to me. That’s a normal part of aging. I’m balding and fat. Be glad you’re not both.”  

Dr. Barnes opened his laptop and reviewed my medical history. “Your blood calcium levels are high. Have you had that looked at?” Nope. I hadn’t even heard of a blood calcium level. “Really, no one mentioned having that checked out?”

Had edibles ruined my memory? Maybe. “Every doctor I’ve seen said I’m fine.” He ordered another blood calcium screening and two days later referred me to an endocrinologist. 

The specialist was perplexed. “This isn’t something that we see in someone your age and condition.” He asked if I had other medical issues throughout the years. I had a ganglion cyst removed from my hand. Also, my white blood count was dangerously low in graduate school. That was almost 20 years ago. 

He turned all Dr. House on me. “Really? Were you able to take care of that?” I laughed. “Well, the doctor told me to take an HIV test. Freaked me out. I was fine, though.” (I left out the part where the HIV testing counselor suggested I reduce the number of self-care sessions I was having with my loins. Don’t bother…it’s a long story involving a “wait till marriage” ex-girlfriend. Anyway, I don’t know if the counselor’s advice was science-based, but I followed his recommendation and my white blood count increased.

I left the doctor’s office with a big ol’ jug to fill with urine over the coming days–another calcium test. I was also referred to a radiologist for a bone density scan. Apparently, an overactive parathyroid gland can cause calcium to be taken from the bones, causing a reversible form of osteoporosis. But that’s not it. The doc said I’d likely need surgery to remove the defective parathyroid gland (or glands).  

The scan showed osteoporosis in my femur. My older brother called me Mr. Glass from Unbreakable. He texted me something like, “Nigga out here like Mr. Glass.” This is how Black families say “I hope everything goes well.”

I thought of Prince. He broke his lil’ hip after decades of splits and floor humping. Like many Midwestern men of middle-age, he got hooked on painkillers, which led to an overdose. I can’t afford to be an addict. Especially after paying for all these doctor visits.  

My next appointment was with a nuclear medicine nurse. I was injected with a chemical and strapped down for an MRI. I’ve heard horror stories about the coffin-like feel of a closed MRI, but I dozed off within minutes. Easily the best sleep I’ve had since accidentally becoming a father three times over. 

The cost after insurance for just this one scan? $1,484. It was worth it. They were able to pinpoint the problematic parathyroid gland that would need to be removed. 

I met my surgeon three weeks later, a shy and very kind White man who looked like his name should be Brett. He described the procedure and seemed genuinely concerned, which was kind of scary. I thought, “If I’m not worried, why are YOU worried? You’re the expert!” 

Dr. Brett explained that an incision would be made just below my throat. Risks? Accidental damage to my vocal cords, which would leave me speaking in a hushed but possibly sexy tone.  Also, if the doc was having a really bad day, a carotid artery could be severed. 

Still, I looked forward to the operation. Too many doctor visits and doctor bills. The surgery itself was $55,000, though my share would be “only” $4,400 (after a 20 percent cash discount). ‘Merica!

The operating room looked like a small factory. There were machines and bodies and body fixers. Or maybe I was in the prep room? I don’t know. A round Italian guy, the anesthesiologist, rested his hand on my thigh and assured me that he’d take good care. My brain was then paused. 

I woke up a few hours later. I looked drunk, high, and all of my 43 years. My neck and cranium felt as if they’d been in a vice. The inside of my throat was torn, likely due to a breathing tube. I wasn’t aware that I would have one inserted, but my wife told the surgeon I aspirate in my sleep, and they wanted to be cautious. The incision over my larynx was covered with dried blood and glue. We were six weeks away from Halloween and my costume was ready, as was my oxycodone prescription.  

It’s been a month since the surgery and I’m 99 percent recovered. On occasion, I feel like something’s stuck in my throat, but that may be from watching the scene in Stranger Things where Will coughs up a slug. But overall, I have more energy and have seen a general increase in swagger with just three remaining parathyroid glands. Also, you can barely even see my scar.

And yep, I’ll be back to see Dr. Barnes next year. 

incision after parathyroid surgery has healed
Left: Immediately after parathyroid gland surgery Right: A month later the scar has mostly healed.

-Dewan Gibson

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