I am now a member of a club that I would just as soon not have joined. It started with vomiting. I haven’t vomited in so long that my wife and daughter had never seen, or heard, the process. My daughter said I shriek in a scare-the-bats-out-of-a-tree way just before releasing the contents of my stomach. After this vomiting episode, I questioned what I’d eaten, what new allergies I might have developed or what stomach bug or virus I might have picked up. Vomiting, however, was only one of a host of symptoms, including extreme lower abdominal pain that radiated to my back.
I had kidney stones. My taller brothers don’t have kidney stones. Did I hit the genetic jackpot: crooked teeth, nearsightedness, vertically challenged and, gulp, kidney stones? Is it possible — and I’m hoping this is the case — that my diet somehow caused this excruciating experience and, as such, I’ll have some control over my kidney future?
When I said the words “kidney stones” in public, I saw a universal sympathy and support, even from people who are less than thrilled to see or hear from me.
“Oh, man, I gave birth to four kids and none of the deliveries was anything like the pain of having kidney stones,” one woman confided as she offered a reassuring squeeze of my arm.
Of course, after the little, life-altering intruders come out of our kidneys, bladders or anywhere in between, they don’t smile broadly at us, learn to walk and share an unending love — and the occasional sneer — with us. They’re just a hard pebble that uses our nerve endings like tightly wound strings on a violin of pain.
“My brother is a firefighter, built his house with his own hands and catches pitches without a baseball glove. I’ve never seen him as uncomfortable as he was when he had kidney stones. He was crying on the floor of the emergency room,” another woman recalled.
A friend said the pain embraced his abdomen, back and legs. He could barely move until he’d ejected the stones.
Other than the vomiting, the thing that struck me, literally, about my kidney stones was how impossible it was to get comfortable. No position helped: sitting, standing, praying with my head down and backside up. Pacing the room, putting my arms over my head, pulling out the hairs on my leg and curling my toes under my feet as I walked did nothing to distract me from the acute agony.
“One to 10 on a pain scale?” the emergency room nurse asked me on my first hospital visit. “11,” I muttered, as I crouched next to the hospital bed in a catcher’s position.
“Sit here, honey,” she offered.
“I can’t,” I whined.
After glancing at my face, she raced out of the room and jogged back with an IV and painkillers.
Even strangers rallied around me. I called to cancel a hotel reservation within moments of the allowable policy. When I mentioned kidney stones, the operator promised to hold the reservation past the usual time and would allow me to cancel the next day, free of charge, if I couldn’t make it. When I called the following morning after a brutal night, she wished me a quick end to my kidney stone saga.
Eventually, when it was clear my stone wasn’t rolling itself out of my body, I had a procedure to remove it with its own aftercare challenges. My recovery, despite some pain, is considerably more comfortable than the agony of a kidney stone.
I’m hoping some time down the road, a medical miracle worker turns these particular stones to rubble before they bring their unwelcome pain again.