Tag Archives: pain

Passing the Stone: Adventures in Pee

It all started with a rather noticeable, if not earth-shattering, discomfort in my abdomen.  Then the need to pee every twelve seconds even though nothing came out.  Then the realization that hey, I sure have been urinating a whole lot of blood these past couple of weeks.  Then a phone call to my HMO, followed by a course of antibiotics for a urinary tract infection.  Then increasing pain, becoming more localized in the right side of my back.  Then a slow but unmistakable drip.  It was very sad.  Seriously.

Things that are sad:

  1. war
  2. cancer
  3. smelling like pee

One evening, as the pain was turning rather vicious, it occurred to me that maybe I didn’t have a urinary tract infection, maybe I had a kidney stone.  When I spoke the words “kidney stone,” it was as if I had summoned a demon.  My entire urinary tract went into spasms for the whole night that felt like I might give birth out of my pee hole.  It felt very, very wrong.  Not only the intensity of the pain, but also the fact that it was entirely the wrong aperture for this sort of business.  My vagina was like, somebody call the police.

Followed, the next morning, an excursion to my trusty HMO facility.  A doctor gently tapping over my right kidney and asking, “does this hurt?”  Then, once they had peeled me off the ceiling and administered sedatives, a meditative sojourn inside a CAT scan machine, watching it spin up around me like a giant hard drive.  “It is about the size of a pea,” they told me.  “You should be able to pass it.”  Then they sent me home with some really, really good drugs.

Followed a blurry series of days that I spent mostly unconscious, being woken up by peaks in the pain.  The occasional change of pajama bottoms to accommodate the unfortunate drip.  Taking a lot of awkward pees into a strainer.  Somewhere in there, a field trip to a job interview.  (I am teaching humanities at my local community college next semester!)  (Really.)  (Tip for an outstanding job interview: percocet.  It will mellow you right out.)  More pain.  Bizarre opiate dreams.  Then a sad phone call to my urologist to tell her that it has been days of unrelenting ouchiness without progress, that I was fairly convinced it wouldn’t pass, that I might need “The Procedure” she had mentioned earlier.

The urologist described The Procedure.  I would be thankfully anesthetized.  They would put a scope up my pee hole and through my bladder, all the way into my poor galvanized little ureter.  Then they would laser the stone into a bunch of bitty fragments that they would then extract.  This all sounded kind of awesome and Star Trek to me, until she told me about The Shunt.  Because the ureter was likely to swell up at being so invaded, they would have to leave a little shunt in there post procedure to make sure it could drain.  At which point I queried, “so wait, I would wake up with this device still in my body?”  “Yes.”  “And how does said device come out, exactly?”  “Well, we tie it to a little string that we’d leave trailing out of your urethra, and after about three days you would pull it out of there like a tampon.”

Had I not been so extremely sedated when I heard that, I likely would have never stopped throwing up.  Instead I said, “huh, that’s festive,” and proceeded with scheduling The Procedure.  Fortunately, if my upper brain hadn’t quite registered The Shunt and what it would likely feel like, my urinary tract had received the message.  It spasmed with such terror that I had to run to the loo and once again grunt over a strainer pondering the absurdities of the human body.  But lo, when I checked the strainer, I saw that I had indeed been delivered: I had urinated a small mineral accretion that looked like sandy gravel coated with some kind of ichor (kidney juice?).  After all the drama my body underwent extruding this thing, its appearance was somewhat anticlimactic.  Actually, it was even sort of cute.  It looked like a bitty mollusk, gritty from the ocean floor.

Now I get to take my spiky mollusk to a lab and find out what it’s made of.  Meanwhile, I gave my cat the paper bag my pee strainer came in and the glee with which she’s been tearing it to pieces is truly adorable.  I’ve been finding bits of it all over the apartment.  My cat thinks kidney stones are awesome.  She gets me to cuddle her in bed for days on end AND she gets a new toy to shred.  Me, I’m just happy the drip has stopped.

Trust me when I say you would rather not have this object in your life.


reflections from a death bed

One of my favorite fourth of July playthings has to be that bitty hockey-puck-looking firework which, when you put flame to it, twists and writhes into a long, convoluted black snake.  Then when you try to touch said snake, it crumbles into nothing, leaving only smooth, faintly greasy ash on your fingertips.

One of my friends must have set one of those off in my brain when he mentioned the Pandora myth in an e-mail.  My response was probably not what he expected:

Do you remember what was left cringing in the bottom of the box once all the world’s evils had come screeching and roaring out of it?  Hope, I believe it was.  Once upon a time, I used to think it was the last thing in that box because it was the most evil of all.  Every morning I’d wake up from a horrid dream life into a waking nightmare, and wish I had it in me to put myself to sleep for good.  All I would have had to do is grind up my morphine pills to break the time-release coating and eat them all at once.  But it was fucking hope that kept me from doing that, the ridiculous hope that one day it would get better.  Back then I was fifty pounds lighter than I am now (which, contrary to what they show you in beauty magazines, does not look good on my frame).  One day I may tell you the story if you want, or I can let the tidy surgeon cuts on my body tell you if you prefer.

Death is not so bad at all.  Death was actually a rather soothing presence.  When I would wake up in the morning soaked in the sweat of my narcotic nightmares, it would be sitting right there at the foot of my bed reading a magazine.  Waiting.  It would look up at me ever so calmly and ask, “Today?”
“No, not today.”
“Well, if you need me, you know where I am.”
“I know.  Maybe tomorrow.”
I grew to like Death so well that I actually still have a bunch of decade-old morphine in the recesses of my medicine cabinet.  I like having that exit there should I need it–should I need it in case the thing I am really afraid of chooses to come back.  That thing is extreme, sustained, physical suffering.  You can be as clever and as strong as you want, suffering will collapse you in ways that you cannot anticipate.

Well, I’m here now; I guess hope was right after all.  That one time.