Every other July I am made to realize once again how time flies because it is in July that I have to see my Aviation Medical Examiner (AME) to get my third class medical. Two years ago I waited until around the 28th of the month to go see my doctor. This time, I decided to get an appointment a little earlier – on July 20th. Next time, I’ll try and go even earlier in the month in case I have to endure what turned out to be a complete surprise to me this time around.
When I arrived at my doctor’s office, the desk lady gave me a clip board and the usual paper work and a copy of my last third class application form from two years ago to go by. I worked my way down the form to the “are you taking any medications?” Ah, there is the one thing different than last time. I am now taking Levothyroxine, a generic of Synthroid for my newly acquired thyroid condition. My family doctor has been working with me over for almost two years, at first working to get the prescription amount correct and then six-month check ups to monitor my condition.
Once my doctor zeroed in on my prescription everything went back to normal for me health wise. The thyroid condition had been causing fatique, slight hair loss, chaffing eyebrows to name a few things. The daily medication has fixed all that. The unfortunate part is that I will be taking this medication everyday for the rest of my life. My doctor finds that I am doing perfectly well now – my follow up checks and blood work reports all indicate such. For me, yep, I feel better and the physical things like hair loss and chaffing eyebrows have ceased – expect some hair loss due to getting older and having four daughters in the house.
Many months ago when I started taking Levothyroxine, the thyroid hormone generic equivalent to Synthroid, to treat my hypothyroidism, I was instantly concerned about how this would effect my ability to keep flying. Hypothyroidism is a condition where the thyroid gland does not produce enough thyroid hormone. Hence the daily supplement. I asked my doctor if this would keep me from flying and he assured me that I need not worry about it. I left his office feeling comfortable that my flying days were not nearly over. Thank goodness!
When I got back home, I immediately visited the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Assoiciation (AOAP) website and searched for “thyroid and synthroid.” The one search result that came up was link to FAA accepted medications. This is a database of medications that are acceptable to the FAA. The table shows a list of acceptable (or not acceptable) medications according to the FAA. The table also tells the class of medication, what it treats, and what acceptable conditions are based on. There is also links for some medications for more information.
I checked for Synthroid and Levothyroxine and, great for me, they were listed as exceptable. I do not remember the conditions listed way back then, but I seem to remember that I was completely in the clear. So I did not think about my thyroid condition or the medication further with regards to flying.
So, at the doctor this time around, filling out the third class medical form, I wrote in “Synthroid for thyroid condition” and what other pertinent information the form asked of me – and past doctor appointment dates to the best of my knowledge.
The assistant called me back and put me through the usually rigors: pee in a cup for the urine test, check my height and weight, check my vision – an now I have reading glasses, so I brought them along. After a good wait in the cool room, the doctor came in and we had a pleasant conversation while he checked me over. He noted the Synthroid use on my form and this is where my world started to unravel a bit. We discussed the condition and he explained to me how the FAA is handling thyroid patients differently that before. Now it is on a case-by-case basis. They just do not shove you through any longer. My eyebrows raised and perhaps my blood pressure too as we talked this thing through.
He was looking out for my best interest when we told me to obtain a copy of my last blood work and an indepth note from my doctor as to my status – a status report. I said, “No problem, I will get that too you asap.” As we walked out of the room to the front desk, he told me that he would just hold my medical certificate until I got him those two documents. I was caught off guard as I fully expected to walk out of his office with my third class medical in hand. Not the case. I was floored. I perhaps showed it, but I reached over to shake my doctor’s hand once again and thanked him for all his help.
Back in my truck heading home, I felt almost devastated. I kept telling myself that my doctor is only looking out for me. See, he explained that if he sent my medical in to the FAA without the proper medical documents from my family doctor, that the FAA would request them with time-dated letters and this could snowball into a really unfortunate series of transactions with the FAA that could prevent me from flying until the case was solved. So, disappointed as I might have been that my doctor held my medical, I assured myself that he was looking out for my best interests – this was the case. He has no reason to do otherwise.
I called my familty doctor and explained to the nurse what documents I needed and she passed the information on to my physician. A few long days went by and I called again on Monday, July 26th – we’re getting awfully close to the end of the month! The nurse told me that my doctor was out of town traveling until the next Monday. Oh my! That pushes this thing past my July 31st deadline. I pleaded with the nurse to try and get in touch with him before then as time is of the essence. No luck, but I did send an email to my doctor that week hoping he would be able to handle this from out of town. I emailed him a link to AOPA’s Introduction To The Airman Medical Certification Process – What Is A Status Report? This contained some information that I thought my doctor might find helpful in preparing my status report.
So, the week dragged on. I thought Monday would never come. But on the Friday prior, my doctor replied to my email that he was sorry that this coincided with him being out of town and promised to have the required documents for me no later than Monday afternoon. And, indeed, when Monday came, my doctor’s assistant called to tell me that the documents were ready for me to pick up. I drove to my doctor’s office, picked them up and raced over to my AME’s office to drop them off. The assistant took my documents, and my AME doctor happened to be standing by and said he would handle this right away, so I stayed put. After about a ten or fifteen minute wait, the assistant came out and handed me my third class medical certificate. When I got back in my truck I kissed the medical certificate and put it safely away in my wallet.
This all turned out okay, but next time I will set my appointment with my AME a good bit earlier in case something like this comes up again. From what I understand, the FAA now looks at thyroid conditions on a case-by-case basis. If they have any concerns, a yearly update may be required. Time will tell whether the FAA will contact me regarding my thyroid condition and medication use, but for now, I’ll just enjoy flying as usual but with the thought always in the back of my mind that things may not be as easy as they once were with regards to obtaining my third class medical certificate.