13 Things My Kidney Stone Taught Me
Searching for Lessons While Curled up in a Fetal Position
My first encounter with kidney stones gave me some forced time off and an opportunity to reflect on the situation and record some insights.
- Kidney Stones Hurt
People say the pain is the closest a man can experience to the pain of childbirth. Some women say the pain of their stone was worse. I’ll never be able to make that comparison. I just know it takes a lot of pain to get me to check into an ER at 1:00 in the morning. Kidney stones met that threshold and more.
- Pain Has a Scale from 1 to 10
Doctors and nurses will ask you to define your pain on a scale of 1–10. There is even a Charlie Brown poster on the wall in ER where his expression changes from what looks like mild discomfort (Level1) to shock (Level 10). The pain scale needs a new level that I would call Alien. It’s the pain experienced by the character in the original Alien movie when the beast explodes from his abdomen.
- Pain Management is Tricky
The instructions on your bottle say to take one tablet every six hours. But, sometimes the pain starts up in only two or three hours. What am I supposed to do, die for a few hours? Plus, the onset is tricky. Let’s say I take a tablet and I’m down to a Level 1. Then in a couple of hours, I’m at a Level 2. That doesn’t mean I’ll be at Level 3 in two more hours. I could be at Level 10 in 30 minutes. It’s not predictable. Pain hates being managed.
- Pain is Exhausting
I don’t know if this is caused by the pain itself or how the body tries to accommodate the pain. I suspect the later — how the body is responding to the pain. Either way, the net result of several days of “pain management” is exhaustion.
- I’m Grateful to be Living in 2019
I’m grateful to be living in a modern age where things like kidney stones are understood and treatable. People with this issue that lived a few hundred years ago probably died. Or, maybe they were a heartier stock, not coddled by the priveledges of modern pain killers. If we go back a few thousand years, anyone with a kidney stone was probably assumed to be possessed with demons and thrown off a cliff. I’m just thankful to be living in the modern age.
- Morphine is Still a Go-To Pain Killer
Even though it’s origins in medicine go back to the early 1800s, morphine remains as a preferred pain killer for severe pain. After I was admitted into ER and they determined I didn’t have appendicitis, an alien, or any other issues, I received morphine intravenously. It goes to work fast but doesn’t last more than three hours. Curious, I performed an internet search and learned it’s still produced from the opium poppy plant and is also used to produce hydromorphone, oxymorphone, and heroin. With the good comes the bad.
- The Meaning of Creatinine
Once the doctors determined my stone had passed and I had no other underlying issues, I would have been allowed to go home except for one minor problem. My creatinine level was too high. Creatinine is a waste product that the kidney helps clean out of our bloodstream. If your number is too high, that means the kidney isn’t doing its job and that’s bad news. It took about 36 hours for my level to return to normal.
- Know Your Insurance and ER Before You Need Them
When you wake up in the middle of the night in excruciating pain, the last thing on your mind is logging into your computer to find out if the nearest hospital is on your insurance plan. If you have several hospitals within driving distance, it’s also a good idea to look at their reviews. I chose the closest hospital. But, it’s also a regional Trauma 1 center — which means it gets crazy with truly life-threatening serious stuff. And simple kidney stones aren’t a life and death situation. So you may have to sit and wait, except there isn’t even an empty chair, so you can stand or sit on the floor. Later, I heard that the hospital just a few miles further is rarely busy.
- Friends are Invaluable
When you text a friend with the message: “Are you awake?” and they reply “Yes”, and then you text “Can you drive me to ER?” and they simply reply, “I’m on the way,” that’s an invaluable friend.
- Dogs Have Empathy
After I got home and entered my so-called “pain management” phrase, I would lie in bed and sometimes moan as the pain ramped up between my doses of Tramadol. My 8-year old golden retriever mix would jump on the bed, nuzzle me, and lay quietly.
- Priorities are Easier When You’re in Pain
Like you, I always have a fully-packed schedule and I’m juggling priorities the entire day. But, when you’re in recovery mode, still in lots of pain, and you only have 2 hours of productive time per day — prioritizing is easy. It’s basically asking the question: “If this task isn’t done today, will the world as I know it end?” That list is short. Everything else can wait.
- Health is Fragile
One minute you’re feeling perfect. The next minute you feel like you’re dying. In my case, it was only a feeling. Others aren’t so lucky. Since this incident, I take everything in stride and don’t get as easily frustrated by the routine irritations that occur every day. I’m just happy to be pain-free. How long this will last — who knows.
- Psych Rooms are Boring
Due to a shortage of beds, I was transferred from ER to the only room available, a “Psych Room.” Later, I learned it’s also called the “Suicide Room.” There was no bathroom and very little furniture. The wall behind my bed had the usual built-in ports for medical equipment. But, I also noticed there was a steel curtain that could be drawn to seal off the wall entirely. The only thing remaining would be a bed and a chair. Even the light switches had been removed. How does one harm themselves with a light switch? I don’t know. Before leaving, I asked a nurse about the protocol when they actually have a suicidal person in the room. I learned that they are never left alone. That’s good.
In all situations: good and bad — I try to step back, look at the situation objectively, and find some lesson to be learned that I can pass along.
I’ve found that bad situations are the best teachers.