Don't Stop Doing Your Part

The thyroid is a small gland about two inches long that weighs less than an ounce. It is shaped like a butterfly, with two lobes separated by the isthmus. It is located in the front of the neck below the Adam’s apple. The thyroid has only one function: manufacturing two hormones; thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). It doesn’t even have to regulate the amount of hormone to make, or know when to make them. That process is controlled by the pituitary gland, which in turn is regulated by the hypothalamus. One gland with one simple task -- the secretion of two hormones that travel to almost every cell in the body and affect the rate at which all of those cells do their work. It is a simple task, but it is a vital task. I know because mine has betrayed me. For whatever reason, the little thyroid gland I have happily housed in my neck has decided to retire from the hormone-manufacturing business. There were no discussions or meetings or even a letter of resignation, just a sudden shutdown of production. I didn’t even realize what had happened. Sure I knew I was tired, and not just a regular tired. And some unwanted pounds had stealthily crept back into my life despite no change in my eating or exercise regimen. I didn’t seem to have the same zest for life and wasn’t sleeping well, but I just assumed that was a natural part of getting older. (Of course I should have noticed that at times I had significantly less energy than several of my over 90-year-old friends.) It had gotten worse, but I had resigned myself to feeling that way. I didn’t even mention it to my doctor when I went in for a physical mandated by my health insurance carrier. Thankfully, she ordered a panel of blood tests following my office visit. When I finally connected with a nurse a few weeks later, I was casually informed my thyroid levels were low and I would need to begin taking a prescription drug, which turned out to be a synthetic hormone, levothyroxine, to compensate for my shiftless thyroid.

Hypothyroidism is a fairly common malady. I am joining a throng of folks who have been abandoned by their thyroid. I have an irrational aversion to medications, but I am admittedly thankful for the pharmaceutical company’s ability to decipher and replicate relatively inexpensively my thyroid’s secret recipe to once again regulate the work of my body’s cells. That one ounce of singularly focused tissue -- when it was working right -- helped me feel like me, saw to it that things went smoothly and allowed me to accomplish things. Once the artificial hormone is regulated, I look forward to those cells falling back into line, and things running smoothly again.

I am reminded of the importance of every part of the body -- no matter how small -- doing its part reliably and well. I had the opportunity to see this in action Tuesday night. Thanks to the collaboration of the local police department and two non-profits, including Connecting Caring Communities for which I have worked the last five years, we were able to have a night of 12 simultaneous neighborhood block parties in celebration of National Night Out. National Night Out is a national initiative to promote camaraderie within neighborhoods and positive relationships between law enforcement officers and neighborhoods, encouraging all to work together to build safer and stronger neighborhoods.

I was in charge of the block party in my neighborhood held in our local city park. I persuaded our up-and-coming community association to help host the event and also called on several other groups interested in the neighborhood to help. Everyone came prepared to either do their part or to jump in wherever they were needed. Some folks from the community association came to assist with the registration table, welcoming neighbors, handing out balloons and goody bags to the young attendees, faithfully registering participants throughout the night. A couple of neighbors hauled their grill to the park and cooked and served 150 hotdogs and the trimmings. Neighborhood teens came and manned carnival games as their younger neighbors fished for prizes and tossed beanbags and basketballs. One neighbor came early and stayed late, stapling information cards to goody bags and hauling chairs and tables. Others from local churches and organizations came and brought games and prizes to share with the neighbors and help create a party atmosphere. Everyone had or found a way to contribute to the celebration. And it ran smoothly.