Miscellany: The Kidney Stone

It was unlike anything I’ve ever felt before.

I had crawled into bed just before midnight when the uneasiness started in my stomach. It felt like a hot air balloon filled with sharp bricks floating around inside me. It was only soup and a salad for dinner that evening, meager by my standards and hardly a cause for a stomach irritation. I tried to shut the queasy feeling out by listening intently to a passerby’s conversation coming from outside my window, but it didn’t work. I begrudgingly got up and went to the bathroom. Maybe a mouthful of water would wash this knotted rut away?

But that’s when my torture began.

Like the flick of a toggle switch, my left flank gave way. My side was throbbing like a dull heartbeat and was accompanied with a twisting sensation. I sank to the floor on hands and knees to try and curb the pain, but nothing was stopping it. I managed to hoist myself up using the bathroom sink as my leverage and made my way back to the bedroom in a panic stricken state. I relayed my symptoms to my girlfriend: cold sweats, intense pain, and nausea.

I was overseas at the time living and working in Ottawa, Canada. I knew nothing of their health care system, how payment worked and what documents I needed . I had a feeling this retched pain could be serious and a hospital visit was in order, but I was in no mood to be rifling through my suitcase to hunt for loose leaf credentials – visa, passport and the like. I was urged to call tele-health before heading to the emergency ward.

The phone nurse sensed my urgency and was quick with her analysis. I moaned and groaned between pauses, as if I was at the dentist getting a root canal treated. By this time my pain had intensified immensely. It felt like a thousand hot knives jabbing intensely at my right lower left side.

After what seemed like an eternity, the nurse had computed my symptoms and urged the following: “ Go to your nearest hospital as soon as you can.”

I had never been to hospital before. When I was eight, I had warts frozen from my hands which required an anesthetic, but that was done in the sanctuary and calm of my local doctor’s office. But this was different. The pain I was feeling had the etchings of something big – bigger than I had ever felt before.

I wasn’t dying, but I was in for a rough night, the nurse said.

I was having a kidney stone.

Of all the things it could have been – appendix, broken bone, a stomach bug – a kidney stone is not what I wanted to hear.

My cousin Peter, married with two kids has had a long-standing battle with kidney stones. So bad, doctors have dubbed it a chronic illness. Each time he labours through a kidney stone episode he’ll collect it and place it in a strawberry jam jar. Over the past 15 years, he’s had more than 30 stones: some ribbed, some spiked, some larger than others. Now, they sit above his fridge and cling together like pebbled trophies, each with their own terrifying story. It’s almost full.

This kidney stone predicament frightened me. For me, there were no warning signs.

Before leaving Australia, I had a clean bill of health. “Fit and strong as a thoroughbred horse,” my doctor told me. I was 24 at the time. I played on sports teams and got regular check-ups – more often than the average person as diabetes runs in my family. Dad was diagnosed with it when he was 30.

My fear of hospitals escalated as soon as I arrived at the emergency ward. The rush of doctors, the silver trays aligned with an array of medical utensils – sharp looking scalpels, heavy clamps and double-edged lancets. They looked more like tools fit for a butcher’s shop.

Moments later, draped in a hospital gown I made my way to a spare bed. I lay down and things seemed to happen rather quickly. A stout nurse brought in a drip and a portable table littered with needles, thermometers and a blood pressure kit. All these household hospital paraphernalia made me nervous. I always get clammy at the sight of these types of instruments and even without looking into a mirror, I could feel I was pale.

In waltzed the doctor.

“So, you might have a kidney stone?” he said with a wry smile.

“Yes,” I replied, not so enthused, still writhing in pain like I was about to give birth.

The nurse drew a syringe worth of blood from my arm, which was more uncomfortable than painful. She could tell I despised needles by my childish squirms. Next, I was hooked up to a drip filled with morphine. The doctor said this would ease the agony.  I was depleted and drained, but then the pain started to dissipate. While I was waiting for the results of blood test, the morphine was brilliantly doing its job.  I could feel the icy cold liquid flowing through my veins. It started at my chest and worked its way down. It was like I was floating on a water bed. For the first time in three hours the intense mind blowing pain had ceased.

A week later I was resting at home. The doctor had confirmed I had a kidney stone attack, and said it was most likely the most common form: a calcium stone. I was sent home to gulp three litres of water per day in the hope I would pass my stone and catch it in a sieve, much like how a fisherman would collect his trout from a lake.

The doctor told me having a kidney stone was equivalent to labor pains. Although I will never endure childbirth in my lifetime, it has certainly given me something to refute my wife’s claims that I could never put up with the physical suffering of childbirth.

I still get petrified even now at the slightest lower backache and worry myself stupid that it is a kidney stone. Sometimes I convince myself so much I go and get an x-ray just to be sure.

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