Does a technical writer make for the worst patient?

Photo by Martin Brosy on Unsplash

I was quick to put my technical writing experience and skills to work after I got my Thyroid removed. My goal was to become my #1 patient advocate. My first big culture shock was the differences in how the IT and medical community about how they troubleshoot issues.

Having been on my fair share of failing IT projects, I look for patterns when something wrong occurs. I call this the last plugged in/first unplugged method. The medical profession doesn’t prescribe to this method of troubleshooting. My current Endocrinologist and I communicate well. He understands (and maybe even appreciates) my technical writing background. Prior Endocrinologists were either dismissive of me and my post Thyroidectomy problems or told me not to worry so much.

I remember when I used to attend THYCA meetings. Another attendee brought up the fact that endocrinologists are chemists at heart and that influences how they diagnose patient issues. Until my current endocrinologist, I found that my communications and troubleshooting methods from the IT world didn’t mesh with Endocrinologists.

My information gathering and research skills also have come into play. I made extensive use of Evernote to capture and track information related to thyroid issues and my medical treatment. There were times I wish I did better in science when I was in school, but I am still learning until this day. Staying on top of all this information whether it is my research, insurance company correspondence, billing, and test results became a project unto itself. While I am in a good place with my current Endocrinologist, I still work to refine my research and stay informed. My technical writing experience gave me the tools to compensate for lack of a science degree.

Throughout it all, I came to understand, how some patients might get lost in the Thyroid industrial establishment and never get better. I saw how doctors can be skeptical of the symptoms thyroid patients describe.

Navigating the medical establishment to get the best treatment has been a challenge until my current Doctor. I wouldn’t have gotten to where I am at if I didn’t put the communications, research, and online skills I learned as a technical writer.

Did I mention that I never liked seeing Doctors or getting needles? Both things are old hat now. I continue to adjust my strategy based on everything I learn from my research ever hoping to have a better connection with the medical establishment.

Hey there! My name is Will Kelly. I’m a technical writer and content development manager living and working in the Washington, DC area. After spending years focusing on technical and SDLC documentation, much of my work now focuses on thought leadership content and marketing collateral. My articles have been published by DevOps Agenda, Mobile Business Insights, TechBeacon, CNET TechRepublic, and others. Follow me on Twitter: @willkelly.

5 productivity lessons my thyroid taught me

My Thyroid — actually the subsequent Thyroidectomy I had in October 2010 — has been perhaps the most prolific productivity teacher in my life thus far. The farther I get away from the surgery the more I’ve come to realize the productivity lessons from the whole thing.

I had to bring many things to a cold hard stop and then turn things back on in my life switch by switch like bringing up a server farm or a data center. Ultimately, I am realizing the benefits and seeing how it has been a catalyst for positive change.

Here are the five productivity lessons my Thyroid taught me:

  1. Centralize your information. I had a lot of information to capture and track on all things Thyroid. Evernote played a major role here. It became my central repository for notes and important information for all my major personal and professional projects. I also now keep a folder on each of my personal and freelance projects. Taking a multi-device approach to storing certain information has made me feel on top of things more than once in the past year. I am really enjoying the Clearly plugin for Chrome to capture my online research. In fact, it is becoming a rare occasion when I use the Evernote extension except if I need to capture a web page intact for some reason.
  2. Sometimes two reminders are better than one. I have to take Thyroid medication every morning and I am not a morning person by any means. After my alarm clock sounds, I get a reminder thanks to Google Calendar to take my medication. Just in case I’m locked in a Walking Dead Zombie State, a follow up reminder from NotifyMe chimes up just in case I forget. Although I am happy to report that I have a lot more energy in the mornings now, my two levels of reminders are in place for peace of mind.
  3. Decide on what’s important. Unlike years past, I am making time for personal writing projects and even volunteer work at Church. After using some of the downtime around my surgery and getting adjusted to my Thyroid medication, I took the time to really figure out what I want in My Second Act (What I am calling life after my Thyroid surgery). Now I am working on putting some plans into action
  4. Watch your scheduling and natural rhythms. The late Doug Demars, my college creative writing professor, taught me that there are morning writers and there are night writers. I most definitely fall into the night category. While writing at night isn’t feasible for many projects (and my social life), I factor in some night writing time into my weekly schedule. At a broad level, I live by my Google Calendar and its email and SMS reminders.
  5. Eat smaller meals through the day versus three larger meals. Thyroid issues made me rethink the way I eat during the day. Therefore, I consulted two colleagues and friends who are into long distance running, started going to a nutritionist, and have overhauled the way I eat. It’s helped immensely with my energy that in turn fuels my productivity.

Have you ever learned any productivity lessons from a health issue?

Image credit: by Dream Designs via

Originally published at on March 24, 2012.

Will Kelly is a technical writer and analyst based in the Washington, DC area. His writing experience also includes writing technology articles for CNET TechRepublic and other sites. Will’s technology interests include collaboration platforms, enterprise mobility, Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), project management applications, and big data. Follow him on Twitter: @willkelly.