Health

Three reasons not to get kidney stones. You know, in case you were considering it.

By Patrick Vecchio

I visited my local hospital’s emergency room in the middle of the night back in March because a kidney stone had barged into my urinary tract. It woke me from my deep, pharmaceutically induced slumber with a pain best described as being stabbed with a knitting needle — from the inside. The stone is still causing pain, but not of the physical variety. But first, what’s a kidney stone story without a description of the physical pain?

In the wee hours of that March night, the stabbing pain attacked my back midway between my last rib and my hip. Here’s how my sleepy brain figured out what was going on: Man-that-hurts-like-hell-did-I-pull-a-muscle-doing-the-yard-work-today? Let-me-feel-around-back-there-it-doesn’t-feel-like-a-pulled-muscle-OH-FCK-IT’S-A-FCKNG-KIDNEY-STONE.

As I’ve explained to people who ask about the pain, imagine stopping to take your shoe off because it feels like you have a pebble hurting your foot, but when you shake your shoe out, the pebble turns out to be just a small cinder, something a little smaller than a peppercorn. Then imagine trying to piss that cinder. Our bodies are not built to piss cinders. Our bodies rebel against the presence of these sharp-spined mineral nuggets in our urinary tracts by unleashing the Pain That Will Leave You Whimpering on All Fours, Begging the Lord to Smite You Dead.

I’ve thrown kidney stones before and have been able to jettison them by drinking about a gallon of water, which forces the issue: You don’t want to pee because the stone is scraping its way toward the exit, and the last inch or so is really a bitch, but there’s so much water in you that you have to let it flow, so why not just try to blast the stone out? That wasn’t working this time, so my wife kindly offered to drive me to the emergency room, probably because she didn’t want to hear the mix of moaning and “Shit! Shit! Ow! Shit!”

As it turned out, the pain was so bad I was admitted to the hospital shortly after the emergency room nurse gave me a shot of Dilaudid. It left me painless but crosseyed—and this was from a slow push into my IV. The best way I can explain the feeling is that it was like a combination of the worst hangover headache you’ve ever had and the worst case of the spins you’ve ever had after a night of drinking. A nurse told me the next day that some patients time their doses of Dilaudid to the minute and ask the nurses to push it into their IV all at once. How someone could endure that rush and continue living at anything above the mental level of a spare tire is beyond me. The next time I needed something for pain, I insisted on morphine. Then I asked for a Popsicle. Eating that Popsicle in a morphine cloud was the closest I have come to nirvana.

Fortunately, the stone shifted while I was in the hospital, leaving me pain free. It’s still in there, though, hanging out in the ureter (the plumbing between the kidney and the bladder), just south of the right kidney, and my urologist is going in after it at the end of this month because it is hindering my kidney function. He’ll knock me out and then venture in through the out door, as it were, probing his way upstream with surgical instruments to remove the stone. Depending on its size, he may need to use a laser to blast it into smaller pieces. Then he’s going to pull the pieces out. When we discussed the procedure yesterday morning, I kind of zoned out and quit hearing him when he used the phrase “blood in the urine.” But that will be a tale for another time. Guys, you now can uncross your legs and stop sucking air between your teeth.

I said a moment ago that I’m pain free. That’s not quite true. My kidney stone continues to cause pain—as in a pain in the ass from trying navigate the health insurance paperwork maze.

Fortunately, I was a journalist for nearly 23 years, so I know how difficult it can be to get answers. I know the routine of “can I put you on hold?” and “she’s away from her desk” or “I can’t answer that question for you. You’ll have to call so-and-so.” But I can see how someone without my background could be driven to tooth-grinding frustration because of how hard it can be to get simple answers, to say nothing of complicated answers involving tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars and life-or-death situations.

Compared to, say, a cancer patient or someone recovering from a heart attack or stroke, my case is minor, but even with a minor case, I still spent 90 minutes on the telephone yesterday afternoon trying to get answers about a bill I had received. I called my insurance provider and discussed the situation with a customer service rep for close to an hour. She was polite and helpful but unable to answer all of my questions. And every time we did the math, the numbers changed.

She recommended I call my local hospital’s business office. I tried one extension and the phone rang 10 times with no answer or voice mail prompt. I tried a second extension, where someone picked up. Again, the person was polite and helpful—but again, she could not address all of my questions. She referred me to another office in the hospital to talk to the person who is the liaison between the hospital, its business office, insurance providers, and the emergency room physicians, who are medical free agents who do not work for the hospital.  This phone call launched me across the border into the Bizarro World.

No one answered the telephone, but the out-of-office recording told me that messages left at this number would be returned “during normal business hours: 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday.”

Now, if I were a cynic, I’d say having “normal business hours” of 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the Eastern Time Zone is as inconvenient as humanly possible. And God have mercy on your soul if you’re calling that office from the West Coast. If I were a cynic, I’d say these “normal business hours” show a hard-shelled disregard for people needing to deal with this company. I’m not a cynic, though.

But the only business I’m engaged in at 6 a.m. is sleeping. I might make it a point to get up to call these people at 6:01 a.m. Whoever answers the phone will more than earn her or his daily wage dealing with my pre-coffee, snarling werewolf self, believe me.

Categories: Health, Personal Narrative

2 replies »

  1. Mother of God!

    As I recall, I read a Neil Stephenson book once where one of his main characters from 17th century England was tied down and forced to undergo kidney stone surgery. They went in with a 17th century scalpel through the prostate. Without anesthetic. This description was almost as horrifying.

Leave us a reply. All replies are moderated according to our Comment Policy (see "About S&R")

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s