On passing a kidney stone

Sep 15, 2015 at 12:25 pm

I awoke yesterday morning to a little bit of discomfort in my lower right side abdomen. I could hardly have known then that the next several hours would be some of the most painful of my life.

My stomach grew bloated and painful. I was in a cold sweat that beaded and dripped off my face as quickly as I could wipe it away. I tried taking a hot bath to get a bit of relief, but the pain just kept getting more intense. I was starting to get dehydrated so I had a few glasses of cold water. Within ten minutes they were back up. An intense dry heave brought up a few drops of blood as well.

I called the paper to tell them I felt bad and might not be in right away. That would prove to be a major understatement.

By 10 a.m., the pain had grown to a level where I was on the floor whimpering like a sick dog. I looked online at the symptoms of appendicitis and they seemed to dovetail neatly with my own. Fever and sweats. Vomiting. Pain in the lower right abdomen. Actually, pain would have been one thing. It felt like somebody was driving a knife into my body and trying to tickle my spine with it.

Exhausted, dehydrated, and in absolute agony, I agreed to let my girlfriend drive me to the hospital. The drive across town to Beaumont in Grosse Pointe was the worst trip ever. Incoherent with pain, screaming deliriously, vomiting out the window, my antics got more than one double-take as we drove down Cadeiux.

I’ve had a few friends tell me after yesterday’s adventure that some people have said that passing a kidney stone is more painful than having a baby. (My girlfriend waited an appropriate amount of time before joking that driving me across town reminded her of racing a pregnant woman to the obstetric ward.) I had another friend tell me that his buddy had been wounded with bullets and shrapnel in Korea and said the pain didn’t compare to passing a kidney stone.

Have you ever had that experience at the emergency admissions desk where they ask you what’s wrong and try to figure out how long you should wait? I have. And that sure didn’t happen this time. I was put in a wheelchair and trucked to a bed, where I lay jabbering and howling, trying my best not to curse up a storm, while a train of nurses and doctors came in to check on me. It’s strange to be asked multiple questions about your drinking and smoking habits or whether you’ve left the country while you’re squalling like a teething baby, but I did my best.

They asked me to rate the pain I was feeling on a scale of 1 to 10. I tried to imagine a worse pain that what I was feeling and simply couldn’t. Even I felt a twinge of disbelief as I said, “10.” Was this really the worst pain possible? Even my conscience hurt me.

After what felt like hours, but was probably just 20 or 30 minutes, they gave me an IV drip and shot me full of morphine. The pain began to subside, but I was so exhausted from hours of screaming, sweating, and vomiting that I just plain passed out. I was wheeled, semi-conscious, through the hospital to an MRI machine and held my breath. The tech and nurse were super kind to a disoriented, morphine-addled fortysomething trying to clumsily get out of his clothes and put his feet into the right sandals. They wheeled me back to my room.

The doctor came in and had a reassuringly bright disposition. He told me I was a “poster child” for a kidney stone, and that the MRI showed that my stone was almost completely done with its nails-on-blackboard journey down the small ureter between the kidney and the bladder. He also added that it was 4 millimeters in diameter, and that it was just shy of the threshold where they attempt to break it up a bit to ease its passage.

“If it were 5 millimeters,” the doc said, “then we’d have to get a urologist to look up there.”

“Wouldn’t he have to be really, really tiny?” I asked.

The doc froze for a moment, then let out a hearty laugh. “That sense of humor is something you need to keep!” Then joked with the staff about giving me more morphine if this was the result.

I did get more, too. It started to wear off a bit and a nurse named Beverly came by to give ask me about the pain again. I said it was back up to a 6 out of 10. She gave me a watered-down version of that first shot. It came on strong and I passed out again.

About a half-hour later, the staff told me I was good to go. They even gave me a wheelchair to sit in and pushed me down the hall. I saw Beverly up ahead, and she asked, “Are you feeling less pain?” I was so loopy all I could do was smile at her.

“Oh,” she said with a smile, “Looking much happier at least!”

By the time my girlfriend drove me home, the stone must have made it into my bladder. The tube is still extremely sore, but I’ve got a bottle of some prescription narcotics to help me through the day. I’m back at work, still feeling pain and loopiness.

In fact, using a filter they provided, I captured all or a fragment of that damn stone, looking like a tiny and jagged piece of charcoal. Next, it will be analyzed so I know how to better avoid getting stones in the future.

And that’s something I desperately want not to happen again.