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.

3 thoughts on “Today’s Kidney Stone – The Gory Details

  1. Oh Brian!

    I am so sorry this happened to you again!

    I had my first kidney stone in at least 10 years about 5 months ago. You are right about the pain between the ureter and the bladder being the same for men and women. My experience with them is about the same as yours. Except that I have natural child birth for comparison. I would rather have 5 babies with no drugs than a kidney stone with drugs!!

    Sara was with me for my last kidney stone, in fact she took me to the hospital, stayed the whole time and took me home. You are right about how comforting it is to have someone with you. I thanked Sara at least a dozen times but your perspective tells me that perhaps I need to do something else for her. She loves going to the movies so I think movie tickets is the right “thing” as a thanks.

    As you know I have all these strange chronic illnesses some come with pain some don’t. But those are chronic and I know how to navigate them. Kidney stones are acute and shocking and scary!

    Anyway – I probably missed the lead on this post. I think you may have found your answer about the cause of this stone without even realizing it. You are correct in that if your urine runs clear at least twice a day then your kidneys are filtering everything they need to, For example it’s “normal” to have darker urine first thing in the morning because it’s been hours since voiding. The same if you get busy and can’t find time to go for longer than usual, maybe while traveling. Anyway – supplements and vitamins are almost ALL processed through the kidneys. Urine that is “too dark” can mean too much vitamin C or too much magnesium. I’m sure you can google what is in your supplements and find out which ones are excreted through the kidneys and then adjust how much you’re taking OR make sure that you drink even more water to help your kidneys process the extra vitamins. Something for you to consider.

    Brown urine is highly concentrated and in my experience is usually because of dehydration, which you already knew you had, and many times will have visible blood instead of microscopic which is not unusual with a kidney stone.

    I think it’s time to come up with a sticker for you. You know how they always offer you the “I gave blood today” sticker when you donate. I think we need to come up with an “I survived a kidney stone” sticker. We’ll just have a number with it such as “I survived kidney stone number 6, whew!”

    Mostly I am glad the ordeal is over for you. Hugs!

  2. Instead of a bumper sticker, how about a t-shirt?

    As to the cause of this kidney stone, it’s something I’ve given a lot of thought. Before I launch into my lengthy explanation, let me just say that I do my best to avoid being our mother on things like this. She had emphysema and heart problems, yet insisted on smoking, sometimes spitefully. I’m not like that. If I even suspect that something I’m eating or doing is causing me harm, I stop it.

    Let’s look at the history of my kidney stones, and what I gave up after each one:
    First one — We were entering into cold season, and I was powering down Vitamin C in order to avoid getting sick. Vitamin C is water soluble, and you’re not supposed to be able to overdose on it, I was told. Unfortunately, people that are prone to kidney stones can turn excess Vitamin C into stones, which may have been what happened to me. After this stone, I stopped taking Vitamin C supplements, and I also stopped drinking caffeinated, carbonated beverages. I switched from drinking lots o Pepsi to lots of 7up.

    Second one — I was assistant coach for Chris’s little league team, and I had to be carried off the field when this one hit. The previous day, I’d been watching TV with a giant bucket of peanuts next to me. I was shelling and eating them mindlessly while watching a show. I found out after the stone that shelled nuts can be a cause of stones for people that are prone to them. I began avoiding all shelled nuts after that.

    Third one — It came on while I was driving to work. When I got there, David drove me to the hospital, and Melissa met up with me. This one was a bit mysterious, because there wasn’t anything obvious to point at. After this stone, I gave up all soda and all caffeine.

    Fourth one — This one happened after a long weekend of computer gaming. I was foolishly dehydrated. Like the third one, I hadn’t been consuming anything that seemed like it should have caused the creation of stones. After this event, I gave up all beverages. I only drank water, and I kept this up for years.

    Fifth one — This one was minor, as I mentioned in the original post.

    Sixth one — The major one I talked about in the original post.

    You’re pointing a finger at the meal replacement, with all of the vitamins and minerals in it. The thing is, I just don’t know if it matters. I started doing the meal replacement because I looked at what I was eating and saw that it was nutritionally bankrupt. It made my pee super bright, and I was worried initially that it could cause stones.

    I’ve been doing the meal replacement thing for over 2 months, and now I get this stone. I hadn’t even had that much of it. Sunday, I’d only had one cup, and yesterday morning, I hadn’t had a chance to digest the cup I’d had.

    Bottom line: I think my body just produces stones. Between the 4th and 5th stones, I’d been scanned and they found a couple of other stones just chilling in my kidneys. I had kidney stones in my body years before I started this meal replacement drink, just waiting to give me a bad day. The one that hit me yesterday could have been one of them.

    Or, it could have been caused by the meal replacement. I don’t know. Part of what’s so frustrating with this is that there doesn’t appear to be any rhyme or reason to it. I’ve given up lots of things I really enjoyed, trying to avoid getting these painful episodes, and they happen anyway. I don’t want to keep cutting things from my life without knowing that the sacrifice is worth it.

  3. That’s kind of what I’ve been trying to tell you for years. We have a history of kidney stones in our family. Sometimes that is enough. I hear you and can totally relate to the mom issue. For me that is also why I generally don’t give out medical information until well after the event has occurred. I really don’t think this is about her though. She sometimes purposely did unhealthy things because she was not always a sound person.

    As previously stated, I had my first kidney stone in almost 10 years, a few months back. The one consumable item I will will not give up is diet pepsi. I do also drink water and powerade zero. The doctors didn’t have a reason why ten years went by without a stone but also can’t promise me that I won’t have another one someday.

    As always, I hope you NEVER have another kidney stone. Logic and family history however, make that possible. All I can say is moderation is better than deprivation, in my opinion.

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