Casting the first stone

The plan was for me drop off Dani the morning of her flight and pick her up next week when she returned from visiting her brother.  Even though it was a weeknight and we weren't living together (except on the weekends, practically), I stayed over to to get a bright and early start to the airport.

We didn't have to be up until 7am, but around 3 or 4 that morning, I was out of bed and couldn't sleep.  It wasn't simple insomnia, but I couldn't place just what was wrong.  Not wanting to wake Dani, I went out in the living room and tried to read, but I was too distracted.  I tried watching tv, but that didn't do much for me either; without cable, there was nothing but infomercials, Jesus channels, and Spanish-speaking stations.

Dani sensed something was amiss and got up to check on me about an hour after I had gotten up.

"What's wrong?" she asked.

"I don't know," I said.  I wasn't feeling any pain, neither acute nor generalized.  I just felt bad.  I told her to go back to sleep; I would survive.  I was only taking research hours that semester and I made my own hours at work, so I figured I could catch up on sleep when I got back from the airport.

By the time 5am rolled around, I was actually feeling something more distinct than bad; I hurt.  There was a dull ache on the right side of my abdomen.  It was hard to nail down exactly where though.  Maybe I had eaten something bad?  I didn't know what; I just wanted the pain to go away.

Less than an hour later, the pain was getting to be too much to bear.  I didn't know what to suspect was causing it, but the epicenter seemed to be in the general vicinity of my appendix, and that wasn't good news.  I knew I was going to be heading to the emergency room before it was over.  Extrapolating the feeling forward a couple hours, I realized was beyond unlikely I'd have a role in getting Dani to the airport.  And she couldn't take me to the emergency room either without missing her flight.  I apologized for the inconvenience of making her pay for parking at the airport while she was away, and ducked out for Denton where I was living at the time.  Sure, I could have gone to the hospital in FW, but I really didn't know anyone in town at the time, and I wanted to be close to home since I figured I'd be recovering from surgery shortly, assuming I survived.

Although no one asks for pain or trauma or anything associated with it, you can't argue that it temporarily grants you free pass to do whatever the fuck you want.  In other words, you get to be Jack Bauer.  I'd never gotten my car much over maybe 80 MPH, but I've never had the opportunity to be able to say to a cop, "Too bad.  It's life or death."  I booked it up the interstate like the proverbial bat out of hell.

Normally I'm a polite driver, but on the way up the road I didn't have the time to contend with commuters.  It was around 7am by this point, and the interstate was full of them.  Maybe they thought they were rushing to work, but it was nothing compared to the speeds I wanted to achieve, so I was flashing my headlights and leaning on the horn behind anyone who didn't understand what the left lane was for: Namely, me.

The same pain-conferred egocentrism applied when I finally burst through the doors of the emergency room.  See, I'd been in that same room perhaps a year or so earlier when my ex had an abscessed tooth.  She came down with an intense pain in her jaw in the middle of the night and was trying to hide it, but I heard her crying in the next room.  "We're going to the hospital," I told her.  I didn't know what might be causing it, and neither did the hospital staff until they saw us, but that took more than an hour's wait before she was examined, in spite of her moaning and crying loudly.  Didn't seem to matter to them.

This time I presented my "get in to see a physician immediately" attitude at the door.  "I have appendicitis.  Get me a doctor NOW," I yelled across the waiting room.  The receptionist's desk was on the opposite side from the entrance (which makes absolutely NO sense, I know).  She was the same one as who was on duty the night I was there with my ex, but this time I got results.  She sprang from her seat and disappeared into the triage.

I noted my watch.  It was just under five minutes before I was through those doors speaking with a nurse.  By this time I was in even more intense pain than ever and I was writhing around in a manner that can only be described as an early Jim Carey routine.  I couldn't stop moving.  As I sat across from the nurse, my body and limbs had a life of their own.  In particular, I kept rocking back and forth in the chair while my legs would draw up to my chest and stretch out like I was almost standing.  Every part of me seemed to be following a different rhythm.

The nurse seemed confused but not especially phased.  "How bad is the pain?" she asked.  She read off some items from a rubric.  I couldn't pick the highest of them (yet), but I had a pretty good view from where it had climbed by this point.  "Nine," I told her.

"Where does it hurt exactly?" she asked.

I pointed to the right side of my abdomen and pushed in where it seemed to originate.  She came over and probed the area for herself.  "What about if I push like this," she said.

"That's the right place, but deeper than that."

She figured it out.  She went around and tapped me on my back above my kidney on the same side.  I just about jumped out of the chair.

"I've got good news.  It isn't appendicitis; it's a kidney stone."  Well, relatively speaking, I guess it was good news.

Although I didn't put it together until sometime after the fact, the writhing made sense.  Most abdominal pain is associated with something in your GI tract that you want out ASAP: bad fish, leftovers that have been left well past "over," etc.  In that case, it makes sense to compress your midsection, so you are likely to be doubled-over squeezing yourself into a ball.  On the other hand, this was a rock that had lodged itself into a space.  Squeezing would only jam it there more firmly.  What is needs is to be shaken loose.  Somehow the human body knows this and switches on an automated protocol to facilitate its removal.

I was still wriggling around on a stretcher sometime later until the drip really started to kick in.  I wasn't doing my version of a yoga routine in FFwd anymore, but the pain was still there for a bit.  The attending physician told me he saw a lady a few weeks earlier who was in with a kidney stone.  This was approximately six weeks after she had given birth.  She had seen him on both occasions.  "Which is worse?" he asked her.  "This," she said.

They wheeled me in for a CT scan, but by then I barely knew what was going on.  They had me plenty doped me up in addition to my lack of sleep, so I was dozing off whenever anyone wasn't actively asking me to fill something out.  The pain was still there, but I wasn't always conscious enough to be conscious of it.

At one point, just as I was starting to fall asleep, someone came over and asked if I had a religious denomination.

The last thing I wanted to do was to think about fairy tales.  I said, "No" in a tone that was so filled with disgust at the thought anyone would bother me with this most useless question.  As I answered, I opened my eyes, and it was the chaplain.

I probably would have been more diplomatic about it if I had been more coherent, but you know what?  A profession based on a big lie deserves a helping of the truth every now and again.

For the next couple hours, I continued to doze off with the help of whatever they were putting in the drip.  The doctor came by at one point to discuss treatment options with me.  By the time he started to outline the second option, I had to ask him to repeat the first one.  I had fallen asleep throughout most of his explanation.  He should have figured this out at the start, but he tried a couple more times before completely giving up and leaving.  I honestly don't remember anything of what he said.

I was still groggy when they released me early that afternoon.  I was given a strainer to pee through and some generic advice like "drink lots of fluids."  I was incredibly sore, but at least I wasn't convulsing with pain the way I was on my arrival.  I just went home and took it easy.  Even though I slept quite a bit in the hospital, I had still been up almost the entire night with the initial wave of symptoms.  The second I got home I went right to bed.

As far as I know I never passed the stone (or if I did, the strainer missed it).  It more than likely dissolved over the next few months when I switched to drinking water instead of just about everything else I preferred.  Mine was a relatively mild case in at the very least its duration, but even then my kidney was sore for weeks afterward, though whether from the presence of that or other stones or from the damage inflicted that night/morning, I don't know.

Some research I did on the web explained why I had any in the first place.  See, stones come in different varieties depending on their composition.  Mine was undoubtedly composed of ascorbic acid, a variety of kidney stone that looks like a miniature version of that spiky little ship Superman few to Earth in back in the 1978 version of the movie.  A look at a typical specimen of one these leaves little doubt as to how they get stuck in place.

Where it came from wasn't much of a mystery either.  As it turned out, I had been pursuing an almost ideal recipe for making mine.  Foods rich in ascorbic acid include soy sauce and salmon.  Dani and I had just started dating, and like I said, I was going over to her place most weekends.  We went out for sushi every weekend, sometimes twice even.  I usually had leftovers at the very least regardless.

Additionally, sex was another ubiquitous feature of the weekends, all the more so since we were still in that honeymoon period when once-a-day sex means someone's slacking.  The routine was regular as well: As soon as we were finished, we'd hit the fridge for something to drink, usually cranberry-somethingberry.  There was always some combination of cranberry-blueberry or cranberry-raspberry or cranberry-blackberry or cranberry-whateverberry.

I know you're going to say, "But I though cranberry was supposed to be good for you if you have a bladder infection."  Yes, it is.  It fights infections.  That's got virtually nothing to do with kidney stones (the exception being when they are co-morbid due to opportunistic infections at the site of injury in the case of lodged stones).  No, the berry drinks were very much the culprit here.  They too were full of ascorbic acid and I drank gallons of the stuff.

Since then I cut out berry drinks altogether and cut back on the sushi habit.  And I took to drinking more water instead of soda when I do eat it.  However, the incidence of kidney stones tends to increase with age regardless, so I don't know that preventative measures will be sufficient.  Genetics is also a contributing factor.  My dad has had stones at least four times, so there will likely be a sequel no matter what I do.

You know who really needs them though?  Ninth grade girls.  It'll hold them over until college if you tell them this is what having a baby is like.

Copyright 2008 Alexplorer.
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