Everybody Must Get Stones

William Shatner: I was recently at a celebrity auction where I sold one of my kidney stones for $75,000. Oh, yeah. And do you understand what I have done? I synthesized uric acid and calcium inside my bladder and turned it into a house for Habitat for Humanity! Who’s the Warlock now, bitch?

—The Comedy Central Roast of Charlie Sheen (9/19/11)

Warning: graphic, T. M. I.-type stuff ahead. At this rate something like this is going to be my featured post every February.

As many of you know, a short while ago we had a pretty big snowstorm around here in Baltimore. There were the usual stories in the news, with the usual headlines about Snowmageddon and such. I was campaigning them to use Snowtorious B.I.G. but that didn’t pan out. Wife and I shoveled the walk on Saturday, while the snow was still falling, in a misguided attempt to make it easier to clear the walk when it actually did stop. What with all the wind blowing the snow everywhere, it didn’t make much difference. When the snow stopped, you’d never know that we’d shoveled. So, we took to it again and cleared out most of the sidewalk, then we dug out the one vehicle we had with the four-wheel drive…so we could drive it to Sears and buy a snowblower. That was on Tuesday.

Wee One was disappointed by all the snow, largely because she’s been in rehearsals for a play (her first starring role in Amateur Theater, folks) down in Greenbelt, and the snowstorm postponed the show’s opening weekend. So when the roads started to clear, the director called one last rehearsal before the delayed debut. That was on Thursday. On the way down, I started getting a pain in my lower back. It was a little weird because it was on my right side and when these things happen to me, it’s usually on the left. Also, this was a pretty sharp pain for a muscle ache—plus, it was a pretty delayed response to all the shoveling we’d done two days earlier. But…I’m staring another birthday in the face; it’s probably just one of those “getting older” things.

It hurt me so bad that you could actually see the cartoon lightning bolts. On Friday night, Wee One’s new opening night, Wife and I took Wife’s mom to see the show’s opening. My back was hurting again and Wife offered to drive, but I turned her down, thinking I’d still be sore and maybe the drive would distract me a little bit. However, I was wrong: despite taking some over-the-counter pain medicine, it was like having a knife in there. The pain subsided some and I was able to enjoy the show, but it never quite went away. The next night, the same thing happened: huge pains during the drive to Greenbelt. It was especially intense in the back on the right, but it ran through me all the way to my groin, to the point where my right testicle was actually kind of sore. We’re still thinking muscle pain, so Wife gave me one of her muscle relaxers and about nine Ibuprofen tablets. For the third night in a row, I slept quite poorly.

When the pain hadn’t subsided by Sunday, I started to think maybe it was something else, and I started to do some research on the internet. Here’s a word of advice for you: when it comes to symptoms, The Internet Is Not Your Friend. It will scare the hell out of you. Within minutes you’re convinced you have Fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva (and for god’s sake, don’t look it up).

On Monday I went to work, still hurting. This was the first day back after all the snow, so I spent the day trying to get cancelled meetings re-scheduled. On Tuesday, the Motrin and Naproxen I’d been taking just wasn’t getting the job done. I finally left work early and headed for the local express clinic, where I described my symptoms. After some examination, they said, “We think you have a kidney stone, but we don’t really have the equipment to tell you for sure.” They gave me a prescription for some high-octane Tylenol and directions to hit the Emergency Room if it got worse. Later on, it occurred to me: I haven’t moved my bowels in a couple of days. For me, this is unusual: many people classify me as kind of weird, but in this respect I’m definitely a Regular Guy. Could this be the problem? I’m just constipated? While I was getting my prescription filled, I also picked up a bottle of Miralax. Wouldn’t be the first time I’ve had to take a laxative right before the Super Bowl. The bottle said that a typical dose takes about a day or so to work. OK, I can live with that.

By Thursday, I’d had a bowel movement,but it wasn’t exactly what one would expect from someone who hadn’t gone much at all in several days. Now I’m thinking it’s some higher-level form of constipation, like a bowel obstruction or such. (Again, let me stress: The Internet is NOT YOUR FRIEND.) But I wasn’t especially uncomfortable, so I let it go for the time being.

Or…maybe this is the New Normal for me and I’m just getting used to being uncomfortable? Working for Baltimore City Schools has taught me that I can get used to anything, after all.

On the way home from school I stopped at a pharmacy and talked to the pharmacist about what a next-level laxative might be. She offered some suggestions, and at that point the least scary (or, perhaps more accurately, least harsh-sounding) of them is the suppository. I bought a small package of them and used one that night.

For what it’s worth, these things aren’t so bad; it’s just that we have this whole “up yer butt” association with them so we get squicked out. I think the way the ones I bought work is that they draw water from the surrounding body tissue, which softens the stool and encourages increased bowel action. They’re supposed to work in about 15 minutes, so OK: away we go. And again, the result wasn’t quite what I expected. I tried again the next night with the same result. Now I’m thinking: well, if I’m blocked, it’s gonna be way up in there. Something’s getting through, but not much.

So on Saturday I picked up a disposable enema bottle and tried that. Again, relatively quick and not as bad as I thought it would be. And again, still not quite the result I’d hoped for.

Flash-forward to today. I got a bunch of stuff done at work, but I was again in pain and general discomfort, so I went to the Principal and told her, “I can’t take anymore, I’m going to the E. R.”

She said to me, “You shoulda gone last week. Go. And don’t come back till they tell you what’s wrong with you. BYE!”

I have a cool Principal.

So I drove myself up to the Greater Baltimore Medical Center, at Wife’s suggestion. As it turns out, GBMC—like most metropolitan hospitals—is especially busy on Mondays, so there were lots of people in the waiting room when I arrived. At this point I’d convinced myself that the problem was some form of constipation, so that’s what I told them was going on when I arrived. I told them I was having pain, and they took all my pertinent information and sent me into the waiting area, where I sat among the Ill Folk of North Baltimore. After maybe 45 minutes a nurse came out calling my name. She’d come out to give me Motrin for the pain I’d reported. I was puzzled but took the Motrin anyway. She also gave me a packet of graham crackers in case my stomach was empty (in fact, it was). About 15-20 minutes after that, another nurse came out and led me inside.

I was met right away by a doctor who listened to my whole story, including the visit to the express clinic and their kidney
stone theory and all of my laxative adventures (there were another couple I didn’t tell here because nothing cmae of those, either). He said he’d like to do a CT scan to rule out any blockages and such, and we’d take it from there.

Then a nurse named James came in and set me up with an IV of basic saline, I guess, and gave me a huge cup of liquid. “It’s Go Time,” he said. Then he explained that the liquid was part of prep for the CT scan. I was to have two types of scans: a Oral Contrast and an IV Contrast. This drink was for the Oral Contrast: I drink it down and then as it works its way through my intestine, it shows up on the CT scan. This means that I have to knock this stuff down within an hour, then they wait a while longer before doing the scan, to give it a chance to work its way down. I said, “I guess I should call home and let them know I’ll be awhile, since this will take a few hours.” That’s when I discovered that my phone had no signal in the exam room. So James said, that’s OK, we can bring a phone in here for you to use. And away goes James, reminding me to drink my contrast drink. The drink, by the way, was probably just some stuff mixed with water, since it pretty much tasted like room-temperature water and appeared to be clear. (Sometimes they give you barium, which is thick like a shake and usually minty.) Someone else came in with a low-end phone for me to use, and plugged it into the wall, then established that it had a dial tone and left. Belatedly, I realized that the phone still didn’t quite work: the “4” button was inoperative. And let me tell you, my friend: when you live in an area with ten-digit dialing and that area’s codes are 410 and 443, you’re not going to get far with a phone that doesn’t do “4”. Fortunately, my phone had a wi-fi signal so I used Facebook Messenger to let Wee One know what was up. Then I used Twitter to bitch out GBMC for giving me a defective phone.

Well over an hour later, I was getting antsy, partly because I had to use the bathroom (32 ounces of contrast fluid, plus the IV, plus the bottle of water I’d had in the waiting room, plus a prostate that just turned 53 last week = a good reason to be antsy, thanks) and I was still connected to the now-empty IV bag. The nurse who’d brought me the phone came in and I told her I needed to use the bathroom, “and your phone doesn’t work.” She got James to come back in to disconnect the IV bag and set me free to go pee. When I came back, James decided to find out whether they were ever going to take me down to the CT. He made a couple of calls, then decided that if this was going to happen, he’d have to bring me there himself. So, off we went to the CT room. CT Scan of the Future.

I was greeted by a tech named Jamie, who told me the basics of how all this was going to work and asked a few questions about allergies, etc. A few minutes later, I was brought into the room with the CT machine. Most people have this image of a big tunnel and lots of banging noises, but that’s an MRI. a CT is more like a big donut, and it’s relatively quiet. Picture the Guardian of Forever, only in a perfect circle. So Jamie and her assistant lay me on the bed and arranged me just so. She told me that the machine was going to tell me to hold my breath, and when to resume breathing, and if I couldn’t hold my breath that long, just breathe REALLY SLOWLY. Sure enough, when they started up, a voice came from the CT machine (again, just like the Guardian): “TAKE AND HOLD YOUR BREATH.” and, a few seconds later, “YOU CAN BREATHE AGAIN NOW”. Sadly, I did not time-travel as I passed through, although I did have a flashback to the time I had the MRI taken of my head. Jamie then came in and they did the IV Contrast portion of the test. She took a syringe of iodine and injected it into my IV. Iodine in your veins doesn’t usually hurt, but it does give you a weird, warm feeling through your body, almost like you peed yourself. You also briefly get a taste of copper in your mouth. This all settles down pretty quickly, though. And again, the CT told me when to breathe and when not to. The total elapsed time in the CT room: about ten minutes.

So the Oral contrast would be used to determine if there were any blockages in my intestines, and the IV contrast w
ould be used to look for blockages in some of my blood vessels and other organs.

Jamie told me that it’d be about an hour before the results came back, but in fact, my doctor came in the room right after I’d returned. He told me that I do, in fact, have a kidney stone, about 3 millimeters in size. I asked him, “Is that big?” He said, no, not really. but the weird thing about kidney stones is that sometimes the really small ones are the ones that hurt the most, because they can bounce around and do more damage. Anyway, it should pass pretty easily, especially once I start taking a few days’ worth of Flomax. So here are some prescriptions, and you’re good to go.

Wait a minute, says I. What about the constipation?

“Well,” he said, “there are no blockages and, for that matter, there isn’t a lot going on in there. Let me ask you this: since you started having pain, have your eating habits changed?”

In fact, they had—the pain had affected my appetite to the point where I ate maybe once a day, and that was usually soup. So I haven’t been pooping because I haven’t been eating enough stuff to generate much poop. So I need to drink lots more fluids and get extra fiber in my diet and in the long run I’ll have a happy ending (you should excuse the expression).