Today’s Kidney Stone – The Gory Details
On Facebook, I already posted about the kidney stone I experienced earlier, and I posted a couple of pictures of my hands when they they had wires in or on them. There’s also a picture of me taken shortly after I’d been given pain medication. I was feeling much better, but I was very, very sleepy.
I want to take a moment to jot down the details. It’s not that I want anyone to go through my pain. I wouldn’t wish the pain of a kidney stone on anyone. However, there are details of the process that I think are interesting, and maybe some other people will think so as well.
Today’s kidney stone was either my 5th or my 6th. It isn’t faulty memory that makes me uncertain on the exact number. The 5th one was not confirmed by the hospital. With the 5th one, I felt the pain coming on close to bed time. I was well hydrated and I had access to Vicodin, so I took a pill and went to bed, hoping for the best. When I woke up the next morning, I was fine.
Unless the stone itself gets to a certain size, negotiating a kidney stone is all about pain management. There isn’t really any pain in “passing it,” in the sense most people think. Once the stone reaches the bladder, I no longer feel it. Maybe it’s different for women. I can only speak from my own experience.
Today started off like any other day. I woke up, went through my morning routine, gathered my equipment, and drove to work. On the way, I stopped and picked up a dozen doughnuts as I do every Monday. The hints of what was ahead of me didn’t start until just before I got to work. At that point, I thought it was hunger, or bad gas.
I dropped off the doughnuts in the break room and made myself a breakfast drink. I started going through my morning routine, hoping the minor discomfort would go away once I had something in my stomach. I went to the bathroom and answered nature’s call, but the pressure continued to escalate. That’s when I knew what was happening.
Again, I don’t want other people to experience the pain of a kidney stone. I will, however, describe it in this paragraph, so skip on if you are prone to sympathy pains. My kidney stone pain isn’t a stabbing pain, like a dagger in the belly. It’s more like a crushing pain. It’s pressure. The first one was so much like severe gas that I thought that’s what it was for hours. I kept trying to burp or fart or anything to make it stop, but it wouldn’t. The pain from a Kidney stone is inescapable. There is no position that offers release. Pacing doesn’t help. It’s a constant, relentless, crushing pressure that starts off slow and builds, until it consumes all thought.
There is a window of opportunity with kidney stones, where the pain hasn’t reached the point of causing nausea. During that time, strong pain relievers, such as Hydrocodone (Vicodin) and Oxycodone (Percocet), are effective, and can help me get ahead of the pain and keep it manageable. I left work in the hopes that I could get home during that window and self medicate. I also left when I did because I knew that at a certain point, I wouldn’t be able to drive.
Luck was not on my side. I hit all of the lights red, and each stop aggravated my condition. I considered going straight to the hospital. In retrospect, that would have been the smarter move. I still hoped that I could self medicate and avoid the hospital.
Chris was home playing on his computer when I arrived, and he was worried as soon as he saw me. It’s difficult for a boy to see his father in pain. I tried to be strong. I grabbed a Vicodin and swallowed it, and I had Chris call Melissa to let her know what was going on.
Fortunately, Melissa knew better than to take chances with this sort of thing. She immediately left work. Unfortunately, it’s about an hour between Melissa’s work and our home. During that time, nausea settled in, and I lost the Vicodin, along with the breakfast drink. I reached the point where the only thing that was going to help me was a shot from the hospital.
Being that this was not my first kidney stone, I knew exactly what I was in for. I knew about the nausea and the severe, escalating discomfort. I also knew what it was going to be like at the hospital, and all of the tests they were going to perform. Knowing what was coming did not bring me any comfort.
When Melissa arrived, I was ready to leave. Chris stayed home, and Melissa took me to Mercy San Juan, where I’d gone for my first kidney stone. Navigating to the emergency room was more complicated than I remembered. There appeared to be one lane, and in front of us, an SUV stopped to drop off a doctor. Melissa and I were both in shock at this, because they were not fast about the drop-off, and they were blocking the only way to the emergency room. I started swearing, but once we got moving again, I calmed down.
We parked and I walked in, leaning heavily on Melissa. Inside, there was a line and a full waiting room. I half expected that. It was 10AM on a Monday morning. I knew that unlike other times we’d gone to the emergency room, the place was going to be well staffed. I was hoping we wouldn’t have to wait long, but I had my suspicions.
Once they took my name, I turned and threw up in the nearest garbage can. There wasn’t anything left in my stomach. As I straightened and wiped my mouth, I became conscious of how I looked. I hadn’t bothered to button up my shirt when we left, and my pants were undone and a little bit baggy on me, from all the weight I’ve lost over the last few months. My hair was messed, and I was pretty sure that I was pale and sorry looking. I thought about all of the people in the waiting room, and how I would feel with someone looking the way I did, vomiting in the trash can. I tried to straighten, compose myself, and take a seat.
I sat next to a tired looking, older black woman that was doing something with her hands. I don’t remember if she was playing with her phone or doing some sort of needlework. I struck up a conversation with her, trying to be polite, and she reciprocated. It was very pleasant. I don’t think she expected someone looking like me to be nice to her, and we had a nice talk.
They called my name much sooner than I expected. They put me in a chair to take my blood. It took the nurse a few minutes to get to it, and I kept curling over in the chair, resting my head on the arm supports. When examined my arms, I sat as still as I could. She had a hard time finding a vein, because I had been throwing up and was dehydrated. I hadn’t really had an opportunity to get many fluids in me. She wound up using a smaller needle and a surface vein, which hurt a little, but was nothing next to the pressure pain in my stomach.
I was taken to one of the tiny rooms in the area and given a gown to change into. I stripped immediately, not even waiting for the curtain to be drawn. Modesty is one of those concepts that is simply abandoned on the road I was traveling. There is no time for it, and it doesn’t do anyone any good. Melissa tied me up in the back, and a very nice orderly wheeled me away on the bed for a CT scan.
There’s not much to talk about with the scan. I got onto the table and they slid me into the doughnut. The sounds of heavy machinery surrounded me, and a recorded voice told me several times to hold my breath, then breathe. The hardest part of the experience was staying still. I managed just fine, though, because the procedure was very brief.
As they wheeled me back to my room, a very nice nurse offered me a blanket. It was fresh from an oven, and they draped it over my exposed legs. It was very nice. I hadn’t realized how cold I felt. It made me feel spoiled, and I thanked them for taking care of me.
Back in the room, I girded myself for the next obstacle: the urine sample. Another nurse had left a cup in a bag with Melissa. She handed me the bag, and I wobbled my way to the bathroom to do my best.
I knew that this was going to be a challenge. I was dehydrated, and I’d peed while I was at work just a couple of hours before. I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to give them a sample, and I was a little bit afraid that I wasn’t going to get pain medication until I gave them some urine. I think the hope of getting pain medication was the right motivator, because I was able to squeeze out enough for them to test in short order.
Let’s get gross for a moment. Since I’ve been doing my meal replacements, I’ve been a little bit fascinated with the color of my urine. I was always told that if you’re well hydrated, it should be clear. The thing is, I’ve been loading so many vitamins and minerals into my system lately that my pee is never clear anymore, no matter how much I’ve had to drink. It’s a super bright, almost neon yellow. I expected the sample to be this bright color, but it wasn’t. It was brown. I held it up and looked at it, and there were a few circles of red in it. I thought, “So that’s what it looks like when there’s blood in your urine.” While I’m sure I’ve experienced this before, I’ve never really looked at it. It was unsettling.
I went back to my room, offered up my sample, and prepared for the part I dreaded the most: the wait. Like I said, this wasn’t my first rodeo. I knew what each of the steps was going to be. The hardest part of the whole process is waiting for the shot of pain reliever. There is nothing to do but wait, and time slows down. Crying doesn’t help. Visualization and breathing exercises don’t seem to help. There’s just time and pain, both in unmerciful quantities.
After an eternity, an angel in a nurse’s uniform appeared, and put something in my IV. The stuff is called dilaudid, and it’s some derivative of morphine. I’d been given it before, and I knew how effective it was. After a few minutes, the pain began to subside, and I started getting sleepy.
The rest of the experience at the hospital was mostly me slipping in and out of consciousness. The pain started to return after a little while, and I thought I was going to need another dose. But then the pain receded again, and I knew that the worst was over. I knew that the stone had made it to my bladder.
This was a smaller stone than others I’ve had. This one was 4mm, where others had been 6 or 7mm. As I said before, the pain from a kidney stone isn’t where it’s physically leaving the body. It’s the passage from the kidney to the bladder, through the ureter. The urethra is massive in comparison to the ureter. Because of this, I’ve never actually seen one of the stones. I’ve tried to strain my pee a few times, but it’s a disgusting process that hasn’t ever yielded results.
I’m home, now. I’m physically comfortable, and I’m emotionally buoyed up, because everyone has been so nice to me. Melissa was there for me the entire time, and cared for me. This is the other side of the experience that no one talks about. Relief from severe pain brings clarity and peace. I feel loved and happy, and thankful to be alive. When people talk about kidney stones, they focus on how much it hurts. No one ever stops to talk about this part, where all of life’s little dramas and obstacles have been stripped away, and all that’s left is what is important: peace and love.
I know that what I’m feeling right now is momentary. When I wake up in the morning, I’ll get back into the grind, and pick up all of the burdens that I didn’t have to carry today. That’s why I wanted to write about this experience now, while all of the details are still fresh.
I don’t wish the pain of a kidney stone on anyone. But, I do hope that everyone feels as cared for and loved as I felt after the pain was over.