I started this intending to talk a little about my most recent bout with kidney stones. The most frustrating thing (for me, anyway) about kidney stones is that they are mostly preventable. Even though they are noted as a potential side effect of bariatric surgery, avoidance is simple: adequate hydration. Every time this happens to me, as I moan and groan and wait for things to start flowing again, a single thought occurs to me: “Did I hydrate enough today?”
And the answer, invariably, is “NO.”
But, as I told the story, it kept growing. And growing. And growing some more.
Thus, the tale that was supposed to be produced last Friday spent 3 days being written instead. It is now longer than some short stories I have created.
So, get yourself comfortable, and check your squeamishness about bodily functions at the door.
A Painful Burning Sensation
Our tale begins back on July 6 of 2018. On our way home from a family visit in Santa Fe, I noticed a mild pain in my back. I didn’t worry too much about it – I had just spent the last 4 days in the car, courtesy of the 4th of July holiday.
As it turns out, I should have worried about it.
All day long, the pain increased, and no amount of stretching would alleviate it. As the pain worsened that evening, it occurred to me that I might have a bigger problem. I hadn’t urinated once, all day.
This continued for the next 48 hours.
Finally, during a visit to the dentist’s office, the real pain struck. That oh so familiar sensation, like an ice pick being shoved through the abdomen. I had developed another kidney stone. (Though, in hindsight, not going to the bathroom for two days probably should have been a clue.)
The visit to urgent care that evening wasn’t great. The PA on duty asked me to identify where my kidneys were. After I was able to do so correctly, he chewed me out for not coming in sooner. “Are you trying to rupture a kidney?” he asked. I hadn’t even been aware that this was a thing I should be worried about.
You can bet I was worried now, though.
He injected me with a mild muscle relaxer and told me that if the no-flow problem hadn’t corrected itself overnight that I was to report to the Emergency Room.
At 7 AM the next day, I was among the first in line.
The Hospital House of Horrors
In one sense, I feel bad for the folks that work the local emergency room. They have to work insanely long shifts dealing with the dregs of humanity.
On the other hand, this can leave them with a certain, shall we say, “casual” approach to tending to legitimate patients like myself.
I will admit that reporting that I hadn’t urinated in three days got me through the initial triage stage pretty quickly. But, after being placed on a bed in the back…nothing happened. For hours. A nurse came by and told me that someone would be by shortly to administer some pain meds. This became a familiar refrain as a parade of nurses, nurse’s aides, and even a couple of EMTs all promised to produce medication to deal with the agonizing waves of pain that were now emanating from every point of my body south of my chest.
After several hours of this, I finally pounced (metaphorically) on the next nurse that happened by, and I asked for a catheter. This might have been the point where they started taking me seriously. Probably not too many requests for one of those in the average day.
For those that don’t know, a catheter involves taking a flexible hose, about half the size of a normal drinking straw, and inserting it into your body. Yup, right through the aperture that your urine normally flows through. I can feel you wincing from here. I can assure you, it feels even worse than you are thinking it does.
Unfortunately, even this drastic remedy provided no relief. I could tell the nurse was deeply suspicious when she got it implanted and almost nothing flowed out the other end. I could hear her thinking: “Have I just inherited one of those people who enjoy being in pain?” She promised me drugs (again) and then vanished.
A few more hours went by. During this time, I was now in pain both internally (from the kidney stones), and externally (from the catheter, which I remain convinced was a veterinary version designed to be put into livestock, and not designed for the human body.) Lor literally had to talk me out of removing the thing myself.
At last, someone showed up to haul me off to the Imaging department. They were going to MRI me to find out just what the heck was going on internally. I thought this would bring relief.
I was wrong. So very, very wrong.
Under The Microscope
I could tell that things weren’t going to go well when I got parked outside the door to Imaging. The person pushing my hospital bed was bitterly complaining to someone on the phone about what an asshole her boyfriend/spouse/SO was while we waited. When my turn came, she rolled me into the room, being sure to hit every single bump and corner in the hallway. Considering even breathing was painful at this point, this did nothing for my mental state.
But the coup de grace came as I was transferred from my bed to the MRI slab. Undoubtedly frustrated with all things male, my technician tried to “help” me move faster from bed to machine. In doing so, she managed to pinch the hose of my catheter between the rolling bed and the immobile MRI machine. She then yanked me across from one platform to the other.
I moved, the catheter hose did not.
By the time she sorted out what had occurred, I was literally lying on the MRI weeping in pain. She rolled the bed away, readjusted the hose, and walked out of the room, her vengeance upon the male half of the species accomplished. No apology was forthcoming.
By the time I got back to the emergency room, I was ready to just die and get it over with. I did finally get an assigned nurse, who also promised me drugs. She agreed to remove the catheter from my bruised and battered equipment, wincing when I told her the story about my experience in Imaging.
More hours passed.
That evening, a full 11 hours after I checked myself in, a Doctor appeared.
“Guess you’re not feeling too good, eh?” he asked jovially. I agreed that, indeed, I was not. “Well, there’s a reason! You’ve got a big ol’ kidney stone. 10 centimeters. We’re going to try to schedule you for emergency surgery tonight. In the meantime, I’ve approved you for all the pain meds you want. You must be miserable.”
With that, he left. I was so deliriously happy at the potential application of endless morphine that it took me several minutes before I processed what he had said.
I was pretty sure I was remembering my metric conversion correctly but wasn’t an inch equivalent to 2.5 centimeters?
Did I really have a kidney stone FOUR INCHES in diameter stuck in my piping somewhere?
I asked Lor for my phone. Puzzled, she handed it over to me. I called the only person who I knew would assist me.
“Dad,” I said when he answered the phone, “they’ve just told me I have a 10 cm kidney stone. If they tell me that they want me to PASS this thing, I need you to take me out behind the barn and shoot me.”
My father solemnly agreed to do so and added that he and my mother were on their way to the hospital now.
While my hospital room began filling with family members, I was visited by my nurse and a nurse’s aide. They were astonished by my doctor’s diagnosis. They rummaged around on the computer system and returned with a couple of pieces of news.
The good news: my doctor misspoke. The “stone” was 10 MILLIMETERS, not centimeters.
The bad news: 10 millimeters is still the size of a bullet for a good sized handgun. There was no way it was going to pass on its own. I would, indeed, have to have surgery.
More bad news: my doctor had sort of buried the lead while raving over the size of the kidney stone. Turns out I had STONES (multiple), not a single one. I had a 10mm one blocking the ureter on one side. Then, there was a 4mm stone actually stuck in the ureter on the other side.
No wonder I hadn’t been able to move any fluids for nearly three days.
Since I now had free access to all the drugs I wanted, I will admit that the rest of the evening is a bit of a blur for me. I was finally taken back for surgery about 11 PM. After admitting myself to the ER at 7 AM, mind you. Later on, in recovery, I was convinced that my Urologist said they had only removed one stone. Must’ve been the drugs, right?
Wrong. They really had only removed one of the two stones – the smaller one. I would have to set up an appointment to have the other one taken care of.
The Gift That Kept On Giving
In the meantime, they had left me with a special present…a device called a “stent”. This involves jamming latex tubing up through your ureters in order to keep them open and to assist in passing any smaller particulate that might be trying to come through.
It also leaves you with a (no shit) length of fishing line emerging from the same aperture your urine flows through. The end of the line is then taped around your gear, so you don’t “accidentally” remove it.
The problem? The tape had been applied inexpertly. I had what looked like half a roll of scotch tape wrapped around me half a dozen times, pinning the fishing line in place. Unfortunately, they had not given me enough slack in the line. Every time I shifted position, it yanked my equipment this way and that. I’ve heard of men being led around by their penises, but this was ridiculous.
I asked my long-suffering wife to fix this after we finally made it home. She took one look at the situation and went looking for scissors. After she calmed me down and reassured me that she was not preparing to amputate, she told me what had happened. Apparently, the surgical staff had not bothered, umm, “cleaning up” the area before they applied the rolls of tape. Consequently, I had bunches of pubic hair all gathered up in the rolls of tape along with the fishing line.
10 minutes and a trim later, I was finally no longer being yanked to and fro. I put myself back together, and we headed off to the pharmacy to get the supply of pain meds that would have to tide me over until my next surgery. Which had not even been scheduled yet, by the way.
You Can’t Haz No Drugs
Because the surgical gods were still not smiling upon me, there was another issue. A big one. The pharmacy would not fill my prescription.
It seems that the urologist who performed my emergency stone-ectomy, (OK, fine, it is referred to as a “lithotripsy.”) was NOT licensed in the state of New Mexico. He was a recent transplant from Arizona and had not completed his licensure requirements here.
The upshot of this was that they would not fill my prescription whatsoever. I was going to have to suffer in stoic silence through the next several weeks until my second lithotripsy.
I considered suffering in silence beautiful. For about 30 seconds. Then I busted out my medical marijuana card and had Lor drive me to the closest dispensary.
Thank God for medical marijuana is all I have to say. The same substance that assists me with seizure control was about to keep me from being in unending pain for the next three weeks. After trying (and failing) to keep straight faces after I told them the whole story, the budtenders at R. Greenleaf had mercy on me. They set me up with a vaporizer loaded with a strain designed for folks suffering from intractable pain and sent me home.
The Stone and The Stent
And there I sat, for the next three weeks. Completely baked, on my couch, craving Cheetos and Oreos. Every time I could feel the pain emanating from either my stone or my stent I would self-medicate again.
It is entirely possible that I smoked more weed in that three-week period than I had consumed in my entire adult life leading up to that point.
My doctors had informed me that I would get used to the stent in a day or so. My doctors lied. I never stopped being in pain from the installation of miles of latex tubing shoved into my urinary tract. When combined with the irregular pulses of pain from the over-large kidney stone, I was not sure I would make it to the procedure to have them both removed.
As it turns out, I only got to have one removed. The second lithotripsy went smoothly, but I was dismayed to discover that I would be leaving with the thrice-damned stent STILL INSTALLED.
Turns out I would have to wait another week before I could remove that horrible, horrible stent.
Before, I removed, you ask? Oh, yes. After your recovery period, you are told to grab that nasty line emerging from your equipment and yank it out yourself.
I thought that the day could not come fast enough. When it finally arrived, I self-medicated, covered Lor’s massage table with old ruined sheets, and assumed the position. Lor, as fascinated as always with anything involving human physiology, offered to assist. I declined. She settled in to observe instead.
The Never-Ending Latex
Thus, my journey toward freedom from the stent began. I pulled. It hurt. I pulled some more. It hurt even more. I kept on yanking, tears streaming down my face. I went through my entire vocabulary of curse words and began inventing new ones. And still, the thing wouldn’t come out.
I had started to wonder if another error had been made. Did the surgical team leave behind a spool of fishing line inside my kidney? But, finally, a piece of latex tubing emerged. This, then, was the stent, apparently. I was maybe halfway there. I kept crying and pulling. The pile of fishing line and latex just kept growing.
Meanwhile, Lor was so fascinated by the process that she kept leaning closer and closer to watch this never-ending stream of plastic emerging from my body. When I finally reached the end of the procedure she was probably only a foot from where the extraction was taking place.
At last, with a final exhausting tug, I pulled the last of the 24 inches of stent out of my body. (No exaggeration – we measured it. See the photo above if you want proof.) As it emerged, however, a back wave of urine that had been clogging the pipes behind it emerged in a manner not unlike a fire hose.
I did mention that Lor was only about a foot away at this point, yes?
As I sat there panting from the effort, Lor stood there dripping and blinking. “I suppose I should have anticipated that,” she said, and she wandered off to the bathroom to clean up.
TL;DR (Too Long, Didn’t Read)
I had multiple kidney stones. It hurt. I cried. Multiple surgeries were performed. I got stoned. Lor got wet. The end.
But, seriously, if you take nothing else away from this, take this piece of wisdom:
Catch you all tomorrow,