When life hands you lemons, make lemonade
(Just make sure it’s at least 2 liters per day!)
Caution: The rest of this article is not for the faint of heart, nor for anyone who would be offended by too much information (TMI) about my particular health issues of late.
Caution #2: I thought long and hard about putting this all out there but then thought, Why not? Just like the potty-training book “Everybody Poops,” everybody pees, too. It’s just one of those things we all have in common. And if this resonates with just one person, then it was worth it.
In an effort to explain myself and my scant article submissions for the Coastal Point these past few weeks, I thought I would start with where I have been.
Not that I have that many loyal followers, but I know there are two or three readers out there who wondered if maybe I had quit or something, and since people are still curious about my name change from last November (I got married) I thought I would just jump ahead of this one before the rumors got started.
I have not been on a tropical vacation, or even to a quaint bed-and-breakfast for an end-of-summer retreat. No — that’s much too nice for my taste. Instead, I have been hanging out in all the local emergency rooms, on the medical surgical floors and in the same-day surgery nooks of our area hospitals – all because of my kidneys. Or, to be more precise, my left kidney and one “huge” or “mammoth” kidney stone (as it was described to me by two different doctors).
It all started with indescribable, yet all too familiar back (what I now know as flank) pain three Wednesdays ago. I had been sick, so it wasn’t too much of a stretch to say my little flu was making my back hurt – until I sat up in the middle of trying to get to sleep that night with a feeling as if I was either going to give birth in the near future or a horse was kicking me in my back, or maybe both.
I called my two sisters who are nurses.
The one who knows I try to wear my big-girl panties with anything remotely health-related said to drink plenty of fluids and take a Motrin.
The other one (older, wiser), who got to hear my symptoms amid actual tears of pain, as it had worsened in the 8 seconds it took me to dial her number, saw right through my “Should I take a Motrin?” act and said, “Get to the nearest ER.”
I called my husband, who was at work and, still crying, told him we needed to go. By the time he got home, I had two sleeping children in the car and was trying not to die in the driveway.
Now, anyone who has experienced this pain knows what I am talking about. It’s quite vindicating to actually puke from pain in the ER and to look at the doctor like he is crazy when he asks if you can lie on your back to be examined (um, no).
“How about we get the nurse for some medicine first,” he suggested, when I looked at him like lying on my back was not going to happen anytime in the near future.
“Great,” I thought. “How about it?!”
For these last few weeks, I have gotten nothing but sympathy and compassion, as people know all too well what these stones are capable of. Only mine was not the kind that you “pass” after days of excruciating pain, in one blinding flash of light, as it has been described to me. No, mine had to be coaxed out – blasted even – in not one, but two surgeries.
Regarding the pain – my doctor actually said to me that women who have experienced both have reported that kidney stones are worse than childbirth. Looking at my chart, he knew I have had two C-sections and actually said to me, “Now, you can tell all those moms that had babies without epidurals, they got nothing on you.”
Well, anyone that knows my history at all and knows that I am now an advocate for vaginal birth after cesarean and for preventing unnecessary surgical births in the first place, knows that that was music to my ears. Now I can die happy, knowing I have (in theory) experienced the pain of natural childbirth!
Anyway, the day after the first ER visit, the medicine wasn’t cutting it, and I called to see what I should do. They said I should probably skip Millville and go straight to Lewes to get a CAT scan – which I did, in another very long and not very enjoyable car ride.
It was there I got my diagnosis of a “huge” stone on the left, and of a smaller one on the right that the doctor said he wasn’t concerned with (although I kind of am, considering that, at some point, that one will have to come out too, right?).
The next few days are a blur of surgeries, which included placement of a stent in a place I never even knew could be “stented” (my urethra), more pain and stiffness, doctors’ visits – flanked by my pillow and the blankie I have taken to carrying around with me in case of nausea, or random body aches or pain – and finally the “blasting” of the kidney stone by a laser machine that pulverizes it into sandy particles so it can come out easier.
My days now consist of peeing in a hat, straining it in a tea strainer and saving my little treasures so they can be tested later. Good times.
I never really cared before what color my pee was or how much there was before, but, boy, if I don’t care now!
I have to stay on top of this thing. That pain is brutal! I call my mom and give her updates on my bathroom visits – much like my own children do with me. Little did I know, at 31, I would still be proud to tell my mommy that everything is again in working order!
As I write this, I have yet to have the stent removed, which I have strong anxiety about, but I have a nice supply of pain meds to get me through that day – and my doctor’s word that of all the things I have been though these past few weeks it will be the least of my worries and should take all of 10 seconds (he promised!).
All in all, I have learned some pretty hard lessons these past few weeks.
Your body works, until it doesn’t. And it is under no obligation to give you what you expect, much like life itself (thank you, Margaret Mitchell).
I never thought about my kidneys until that undeniable pain. I always just assumed they would function. And, boy, do they have a big job. Whether you are President Obama, or George Bush or the Queen of England, or Monica Scott, if your kidneys aren’t working, you are not a happy camper.
Also, I have learned that many things can be triggers for stones, such as red meat, too much sodium, too many green leafy vegetables (You hear that, Mom?), as well as beer, coffee and tea, (none of which fit me) and many things help with prevention, like more fiber, more water and drinking enough to make 2 liters of urine a day. (Yes, 2 liters!)
But, it all depends on the individual, and what works for one person may not work for another. Like my doctor put it, some people are just unlucky “stone formers.”
“George Burns smoked ’til he was 100, and he didn’t die of lung cancer, I don’t think,” the doctor said, “and other people die from lung cancer in their 40s.”
Nice. Not medically fulfilling, but I get it. Sometimes it’s just how it goes. And you have to roll with it.
There is a verse that I have on my kitchen table, from Ephesians in the Bible, that says, “I have not stopped giving thanks to you, remembering you in my prayers.” And I am ashamed to admit that I did not think about God very much during my ordeal. Oh, I said my quick prayer before general anesthesia, “Please God, don’t let me die,” but I hadn’t really thought about Him, or prayed the entire time, until just this past week, while sitting at the kitchen table. I was almost feeling normal again, and I looked at the verse in a whole new light.
Gratitude is something that is often hard to express, but, in an instant, has the power to make one feel better about a situation.
For instance, there are two kidneys. If it came down to it, I can live with just one. I hadn’t had a heart attack, or a stroke, or a debilitating permanent injury. Rather, a kidney stone – excruciating, sometimes crippling and certainly not fun, but not the end of the world.
As much as we take for granted our faith, our family or our body, we sometimes have to be knocked down in order to really appreciate getting back up. We sometimes have to be stopped in our tracks to be reminded where we are going. And, sometimes, we have to get really sick to appreciate being well.
Take care of those kidneys, everybody, and anything else that might need a little extra love!