What It’s Like To Have Thyroid Surgery



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I recently had half of my thyroid removed. I had a (believed to be) non-cancerous thyroid nodule that just kept getting bigger.

Only 4 to 5% of thyroid nodules are cancerous. Source

The nodule was discovered by my general physician during a routine exam about 4 years ago.  She knew it had not been noticeable the year before, so she recommended I visit an endocrinologist for more information about it.

I would say my experience with the fine needle biopsy was not as pleasant as the woman in the following video makes it out to be and I never once wanted to utter “awesome” during or after!

 

What The Biopsy Was Like

At the time of my biopsy, my nodule wasn’t as big as the one in the video (but it was close to that size right before my surgery).

They also biopsied a smaller one (that I couldn’t feel or see at all). This is how it went:

  • They numbed my skin before they injected numbing medicine, and then I didn’t feel anything — no pain at all.
  • The needle was inserted 3 times into each nodule, pulling the needle in/out, in/out, in/out several times with each insertion.

Watching this happen just out of my line of vision and feeling the tugging on my throat made me light-headed, and they had to pause and lower my head until I felt OK to continue. So again, no pain, but not entirely pleasant.

Both nodules were identified as benign (whew), so the doctor recommended watching the nodule to see if it got larger.

 

The Thyroid Nodules Continued To Grow

About 3-½ years after this, there was a noticeable (to me) increase in the nodule and I returned to the endocrinologist.  She wanted me to try several months of a thyroid medication to see if it might shrink the nodule.  (I took 25 mcg Levothyroxine, generic for Levoxyl, once a day).

After 4 months I could tell the nodule was even larger, so I went back. Another ultrasound confirmed the growth (final size was 4 cm). She and I had discussed the possibility of surgery already so she referred me to her surgeon.

 

What My Neck Looked Like

If you looked at my neck days before the surgery, it looked like I swallowed a golf ball and it got stuck.

It wasn’t so big that everyone noticed, but if you knew about it and looked at my neck, you’d definitely see it. I was also feeling it more frequently when I swallowed, so I was ready to be rid of it.

There was a thyroid nodule on the left side as well, but it didn’t seem to be growing as quickly (if at all, it’s hard to tell). The surgeon and I agreed to remove only the right half, with the larger nodule (technically called a thyroid lobectomy). By keeping that half of my thyroid, I may not need the hormone replacement drugs.

 

Thyroid Weight Gain?

Perhaps you’ve heard about thyroid weight gain and the extreme fatigue that goes along with some thyroid problems.

Yes, thyroids are often to blame for weight and fatigue problems, but my thyroid levels had always been normal. So my thyroid was functioning properly, it just had this golf ball sized extra part. My winter weight gain is just that — I can’t blame it on my thyroid!

Here’s a little about the tests to determine thyroid gland function and what the numbers mean.

Here are the differences between hypothyroid and hyperthyroid problems, and what to look for if you’re having fatigue, dry skin, or weight gain.

Removing Half Of The Thyroid

There are 2 lobes of the thyroid, and it’s possible to remove either half.

That also means I get to keep the parathyroid glands at the back of that side, which has something to do with calcium absorption. So the chances of not needing the hormone replacement drugs are greater by keeping half of the thyroid.

Others with thyroid level problems that affect their weight take different drugs to help straighten it out — some due to too much hormone and others to not enough.

 

Pre-Surgery Jitters

Prior to surgery, I was pretty prepared for everything. I’ve had small surgeries before, so I was familiar with the surgery preparation and anticipated recovery steps.

I wanted to look online at pictures of scars and how they heal, but pictures of surgery itself frequently popped up. I purposely avoided YouTube videos because I did not want to see surgery videos. I found it hard enough to get the pictures out of my head. (Sometimes the Internet is not our friend!)

That, and the fact that my doctor said he would have to move my vocal cords out of the way, so I would be hoarse. He also prepared me for the (highly unlikely) possibility that my vocal cords could be cut or injured, which would have more serious consequences. I realize the human body is quite durable and can tolerate a lot, but I don’t like the idea of
them yanking things around inside my body like that!

In the end, I was mostly concerned with the recovery times I had read about. But when someone is cutting into your neck muscles, it takes some time to recover from that.

I was hoping for a quick recovery — surgery on Friday, and back to work on Wednesday or Thursday. However, things I’d read online and the friends of people I work with who had this done all say a couple of weeks off work is more likely.

 

My Surgery Details

My surgery was initially scheduled as an out-patient procedure for 12:00 p.m. on Friday (the 13th, yikes!). At 4:30 p.m. the day before, I was told it had been changed to 9:00 a.m., requiring me to arrive at 6:30 a.m.

Thankfully my mom, who would be with me (as required by the doctor and hospital) for at least the first 24 hours, was flexible.

Many of these things regarding surgery prep in the hospital were also true for me.

My surgery was scheduled for an hour or a little more, then 1-½ to 2 hours in the recovery room.  Then back to my pre-surgery room for about 45 minutes to fully wake up, make sure my pain is controlled, make sure I’m not nauseated, receive take-home instructions and ask any questions.

2 things worth noting about my thyroid removal:

  1. I didn’t end up needing a catheter. I had been preparing myself to have a catheter during my surgery (inserted and removed while I was under anesthesia), but the anesthesiologist came to my room and had me go to the bathroom right before wheeling me into surgery. After I moved onto the extremely narrow surgery table, they strapped my legs down. I asked about the catheter, and she said I wouldn’t be having one, which is why they had me go to the bathroom. Believe me, I didn’t miss the catheter, but I thought they were taking a chance with this!
  2. They closely monitored me during surgery. I learned from the anesthesiologist they would be using a “sleep monitor” on my forehead to monitor “how far under” I was during surgery. I had never heard of these before, and was very pleased to hear about it. I’ve heard horror stories of people who say they woke up during their surgery and I did not want to be one of them!

Here’s my post-surgery update… with photos!

 

More About Thyroid Surgery

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Suzie

I've been crafting for many years. I started with cross-stitching, then moved on to wearable art, projects with painted wood, fabric crafts, and paper crafts -- which has transformed primarily into card making. I also do some rubber stamping and scrapbooking, but mostly I enjoy creating handmade, one-of-a-kind cards.

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