I have a new hated and feared term, one that trapped me in medical hell: kidney stones.
I shivered just typing it out.
Through the years, I have heard others’ horror stories about having kidney stones, but I had no frame of reference. And by the time I got to my current age, I assumed — based on zero evidence — that I had a super-efficient body and was immune to them forming. But, apparently, I’m not. No, as of right now, I have the mother of all kidney stones squatting unlawfully in my right ureter — which is the tube that runs from a kidney to the bladder. And when it kicks off, it hurts like a bitch.
When this all began
My right front abdomen had been somewhat tender over the weekend, but I attributed it to constipation from all the horrible food I’d been eating the past couple of weeks. Going out with friends and out of town visitors and being lazy. So I undertook several treatments that did nothing to ease the discomfort. I noticed a slight reddish tinge, barely noticeable when I urinated, but it only happened a couple of times. I figured it to be blood. But strangely, for me, I didn’t worry.
Then Tuesday evening, the pain intensified and got my attention. The Houseguest wasn’t going to be home, so completely uncomfortable, I was free to wander the house moaning in pain like a ghost which I did for a while. There was no way I was sleeping. Around 4:00 a.m. the discomfort and pain were fairly intense — maybe around a 6 on the 0 to 10 pain scale (high being bad). Finally, I decided I had to go to the ER.
Now, I didn’t want to go to the ER because I dislike hospitals, but more importantly, after I became unemployed, I ended signing up for the worst health plan ever. My last ObamaCare plan was good, but the GOP hasn’t been able to kill ObamaCare, so they’ve been undermining the hell out of it. Anyway, I’m responsible for the first $8,000 of medical bills, so naturally, not having a steady income stream yet, I wanted to avoid that scenario. I was just trying to make it to December so I’d have an established income stream and could pick a better plan when it came time to register again.
Another reason I didn’t want to go to the ER near my house is that it’s always packed — even in the wee hours of the morning. When my dad was alive, every time I had to take him up there, we had to wait a ridiculous amount of time. But there was no way I could avoid going. So, I went onto my plan’s website to double-check the in-network hospitals (which is never easy). If you go outside your network, they financially destroy you. Of course, the two closest hospitals (one about a mile away) weren’t on my plan. I had to go to another one about 5 miles away (which I didn’t even know it existed). That’s not far, unless you’re in a lot of discomfort (which I was).
Almost there but then hesitation
Once in the parking lot of this new hospital, I hesitated. If this was just the result of a poor diet, I should just stick it out. Besides, the pain had subsided a bit. I rolled the windows down because it was actually a bit chilly for Arizona. Then I made a video to document my sorry state and the state of our health care and then fell asleep. I woke up with the sun poking up and went home and slept for a while. (I won’t post the video — I was in bad shape. Maybe later).
When I woke up, I felt refreshed and thought about trying to go into one of my client’s offices at some point, and I had every intention, but after I explained my night, the senior copywriter said just to hang out at home and take it easy. Thank God I listened to her. Around 1 p.m., my front right abdomen began to pulse with pain and my lower right back began to hurt under a steady pressure. My discomfort grew. I paced around hoping it would pass, but it seemed intent on staying and only got worse. Finally, at 1:30 p.m. I decided I needed to see if my doctor could get me in. He was gone for the day, but the receptionist could hear my labored breathing and said she’d see if Dr. Reyes was available. She was and the receptionist told me to come right over (it’s about a mile away). The pain clouded my awareness and I totally drove past the medical center in both directions. Finally, I made it and by the time I walked in, I was hunched over like an old man with osteoporosis.
They took one look at me and hustled me into a room and checked my vitals, which were all normal except for my blood pressure, which was still in the good range but higher than my normal pressure. I told the doctor my symptoms but she didn’t know for certain what it was — could be an intestinal blockage, appendicitis, or kidney stones. She recommended I go to the ER. I told her I would and went to get up and leave, but she said she could not let me drive in my state. I told her I was fine.
Then a couple minutes later, it happened.
Apparently, I wasn’t fine
Suddenly the waves of discomfort, which had been washing around me, surged from a 7 on the pain threshold scale. Groaning, I sat down and began breathing raggedly. An unstoppable tsunami, the pain came rolling in, intensifying and going right past 8 to 9. There was nothing in my stomach, but triggered by the pain, I couldn’t stop vomiting bile. My teeth gritted, my hands locked onto the chair, my body began extending rigidly like I was reverse planking as my pain went through the roof to a 10. Gasping, tears running, I began sobbing in agony as my body trembled involuntarily, The doctor began wiping a wet cloth on my head as her staff rushed in. The pain would back off from unbearable to barely sufferable for a second and then roar back to a 10. The minutes turned into an eternity, and I thought I was going to have a heart attack. I could not control myself. I could see the alarm on the medical staff’s faces, which is not something one wants to see, but I was beyond caring at all. I was caught in my own nexus of unspeakable pain. The doctor ordered her staff to call the paramedics. I don’t know how long this went on for but it had started to ease off by the time a bunch of burly paramedics finally walked through the door. Great, they’d missed the main show and now I looked like a sweat-drenched wuss.
Screw the patient’s wishes
The doctor explained the situation to the EMTs and told them I wanted to go to Dignity Health, the hospital in my plan, but the head paramedic refused. He said in an emergency they can’t bypass a perfectly good ER that was only half a mile away even if it wasn’t in my network. (The ER doctor later told me that the guy was wrong, but who knows). The paramedic told me the hospital and network would work with me financially because it was an emergency (Right – color me skeptical). He then told me it probably wasn’t worth it to put me in the ambulance — they wouldn’t give me an IV because my vitals were normal, so it would just be an expensive taxi ride. (I have already experienced that expensive taxi when my night terror put me in the ER). He suggested I drive myself up there. I was hunched over and I could tell Dr. Reyes was getting frustrated. She told him there was no way they could let me drive. He basically ignored her.
“Bud, it’s up to you. I’ll take you if you want.” My pain was back in the tolerable range so I figured I’d take my chances driving. Which I did.
Once in my car, I didn’t go to Banner Baywood, the nearest hospital with the incredibly long waits. I decided to try to make it to Dignity Health, the one that was five miles away and in my network. Man, I made it about 3.5 miles into my trip when the pain started up again with a vengeance. It wasn’t maximum pain, but it was enough that I wouldn’t have minded dying right then to make it stop. That was the longest 1.5-mile drive in my life. Actually, it was longer because I missed the hospital and there was no gap in the median for a U-turn until I was a mile down the road.
In the daytime, I could see the hospital was practically new. The parking lot was almost empty, and I was the only person seeking attention in the ER. The nurses took me back and ran my vitals and had me lay down on a gurney. I was about to be financially plundered, but at least it was going to get taken care of quickly. At some point, I started retching uncontrollably from the pain again. They hooked me to an IV and gave me some groovy pain meds. Everyone was super nice, even the billing jackal who came in and stood next to the gurney asking me questions to determine my ability to pay. Drugged to my gills, I’m not quite sure what I signed, but it probably allows them to put the kidney stone back in if I don’t pay up or they can put a lien on my house. But I didn’t care. I felt all right.
One of the nurses had had a kidney stone and told me I’d gotten a taste of what childbirth is like though obviously nowhere near as protracted. It made me think of what my mom used to say — “If men had to have babies, it would be the end of the human race.” Yeah, I’d want no part of that at all.
By the time the doctor came in to talk to me, the sleepy grooviness had passed, I just felt normal. No pain, no wooziness. Just a glorious normal. That drug was the shit (apparently it thins the blood out, so that’s all I would get of it).
The doctor told me he wasn’t sure what was wrong but suspected I had a kidney stone, so they sent me for a CT scan. He said a kidney stone would stand out like a beacon on the image. And it did. As the machine whirred and did its thing, I kept picturing dollar signs and large totals continually rolling up like an old school register. I won’t know how badly I’m about to be cleaned out till the bill arrives in the mail.
Apparently, I did have a stone and a slight infection. The doctor told me the stone was very large — 5mm in diameter — on the cusp of being too large to pass. And that’s where the real fun starts. Right now, I’m taking this medicine that relaxes the ureter to help this jagged concretion of minerals work its way into the bladder and then along the urethra *shudder* to (hopefully) be expelled in the urine. I’m sure I had a look of horror on my face as he told me this because just working its way into the ureter had caused excruciating pain, which is why I was at the emergency room.
“How long does this take?” I asked.
Five to seven days he replied.
“What happens if that doesn’t work?”
“Well, we’ll run a scope up your urethra and into your bladder and up into the ureter. Now on this scope is a basket that captures the stone and then we attempt to pull it out.”
My wedding tackle involuntarily retracted when he said that. Holy shit, what kind of medieval torture was I going to have to pay an arm and leg for? What about sound waves or lasers to break it up? I’m just guessing, but when you have a shitty health plan and the facility deems you to be a financial risk, you get the scope and basket.
Eventually, they discharged me with a sheaf of prescriptions for opioid painkillers, antibiotics, a ureter and urethra relaxer drug (which I prayed to God worked), and some anti-nausea pills. Walgreens almost closed before I got my meds, which didn’t worry me because I still felt great from the IV. But then I remembered how cavalier I’d been about picking up my pain meds after getting four wisdom teeth pulled out and then getting stuck in traffic as the anesthetic finally wore off.
To be honest, I didn’t want the opioids. I’d never used my last prescription when a specialist performed a useless procedure on my rectum, but I’m glad I did this time. The nurse told me to do myself a favor and take the max dose that night. I listened to her, because I felt bad, and man, I must have been in so much pain, I didn’t feel the slightest bit high. That stuff was strong, but I still felt discomfort and didn’t sleep much. I can only imagine the agony I would have been in if I had not taken it. Now, even if I don’t take my Hydrocodone, I keep it nearby because I’m scared that pain will jump on me quick.
So now I wait and hope I pass this bastard without any more drama. The scary thing is for the next 5 to 7 years, I have a 50% chance of another one forming.
No way am I suffering through this again. The hospital gave me instructions to help cut my odds down, and I am modifying my lifestyle, and that starts with drinking more water (instead of getting all my H2O from soda), cutting back on salt (nooo!), eating less spinach and peanuts (I actually eat a lot of spinach and peanut butter) and a bunch of other foods that also have oxalates. Or eat them with calcium-rich foods that will bind with the oxalates before they reach the kidney (I don’t even know what an oxalate is). I’m supposed to consume more dairy products, which seemed counterintuitive because I probably have a calcium stone. But go figure, it appears consuming calcium helps prevent calcium stones. The very last bullet point got me depressed for a moment when it mentioned cutting down on meat but then I saw that was for uric acid stones (hope mine is not one of those).
So, all in all, it’s been a shitty week. Because of the opioids, I haven’t been able to drive over to one client’s facility for a meeting. Also, it took me longer than it should have to write an email for another client because I was kind of high. Same deal with writing an article. And I had to cancel an interview with Arizona State University. I had applied for a copywriter job back in July and they finally called me. I let them know why I couldn’t make it and we’re rescheduling. I’m kind of happy doing my contracting, but I’m going to talk to ASU. Now that I’m about to get bent over by the insurance company and hospital, it might be time to find a job with a decent health plan.
The last bit in the clip, when the stone comes out, is hilarious but now puts the fear of God in me.
Dr. Reyes just called me to see how I’m doing. She’s such a nice person. Oh, by the way, I still haven’t passed the stone.
*Just went through and corrected a bunch of egregious errors — I shouldn’t blog when I’m on pain meds and have a fever.