Our Friend the Parathyroid (and Our Enemy, the Parathyroid Gone Bad)

Some of the joys of parathyroid disease (Nat’l Library of Medicine)

Yesterday, in the more formal, non-Notes precincts of the Atlantic’s site, I did a post occasioned by Garry Shandling’s death. It’s about the disorder Shandling said he had been diagnosed with, shortly before he died from a heart attack at the (relatively) young age of 66. The disorder is hyperparathyroidism, which I had never heard of before I learned I had the same condition ten years ago.

The reason for my post was to emphasize a lesson-of-experience I wish I’d known a decade ago, and that might help others now. The lesson is that “watchful waiting,” generally so wise an approach to life, is a mistake in this case. Once you’ve gotten indications that you have a parathyroid gland problem, mainly through a higher-than-normal calcium level in your blood, waiting is the wrong strategy. The odds are that you’re doing yourself real damage with every week you delay before having the bad parathyroid gland surgically removed.

Some details of how and why are in the main piece. (Including why it was a mistake for me to roam around in China for three years, as this condition got worse.) My point in telling the story was to spare others my predicament of (a) never having heard of a certain disorder, and thus (b) thinking, as I did, Aww, what’s the rush? on the question of surgery.

Here are two of the many reader accounts that have arrived overnight on this theme. First, from a woman in Alaska: