Saturday 17 March 2018

Kidney Stoned

It's 4 AM. I'm on all fours dry-wretching into the toilet, praying to gods I've only heard of in Disney movies. I'm giving birth to a kidney stone.

Of course, I don't know this. I think that I am probably dying, but I want to do it quietly because tomorrow is my daughter's tenth birthday party and my wife has worked very hard all week to bring it together, including redecorating the house and backyard, and a cake with whipped cream, mango and marshmallow decorations custom made to look like exotic flowers. She baked two trial cakes, earlier this week, and the backyard is full of contests and games to rival the summer Olympics. There's even a  small podium. I'm worried that she's fantasizing about our daughter's wedding day.

Test cake #2

Everyone needs their sleep. I'll cope.

Finally, at about 5am, I take a couple of Tylenol. Normally, I resist doing this, because I don't want to mask any important symptoms. But, at this point, all I can think is "Mask the symptoms! Mask the symptoms, quickly!"

I manage a fitful sleep and am awoken at 7 by my excited daughter who instantly notes the deep circles under my eyes and that I am shaking, pale and clammy and asks, worriedly, "Even if you're sick, I still get to have my birthday party, right?"

I answer, "Of course, baby." and am filled with warm fuzzies as she dances up and down, clapping her hands and laughing. Then she says, "And dad..."

"Yes, darling."

"Please don't embarrass me by having a seizure or something in front of my friends."

"I won't, my angel."

Shortly afterward, my wife arises. The pills have already worn off and the pain is back, full force. I put on my most Clint Eastwood face and declare that I will power through, but she insists we head to the hospital, as I was hoping she would. If we are lucky, we can be home well before the party starts.

We are lucky.

It's not a busy day in the ER, but waiting with us are a number of people who make me feel very lucky that, though I may be dying, I am doing it slowly and with a small degree of dignity.

A woman is brought in, in a wheelchair. She has a huge gash across her face and a black eye. She is pretty—if you discount the injuries—well dressed, and looks intelligent and sophisticated. She's quietly sniffing back the blood leaking from her nose and holding an ice pack against a swollen cheek even as her husband, the one who apparently inflicted the damage, loudly berates the staff for not attending to her fast enough. Eventually, he is removed by security. After that, she seems to relax a bit and tries to make small talk with me in an effort to distract me from my pain. Her situation seems completely incongruous, but she's obviously been here before and is inured to her own suffering and humiliation.

Now, I feel like a three-year-old complaining about hurt feelings.

I feel guilty when I am taken for a CAT scan ahead of her. Twenty minutes after my scan a young intern comes to tell me that I do, indeed, have a kidney stone. They can see from the CAT that it has almost passed. I deduce, from the pain, that it's the size of a tennis ball but he corrects me, saying that it's about .1cm across—so small that they missed it the first time they examined the scans. He says it should pass naturally, without any issues. He's seen people pass 2cm stones! What the hell-on-earth kind of people are these? I'd need an epidural for that! And afterward, I'd want a birth certificate.

A pretty nurse escorts me out of the ward and hands me a small envelope containing four Tylenol 3's which she says I can use if I am unable to handle the last few minutes of the pain. I want to play it cool and refuse them, but instead, I grab them out of her hand and rip open the package to make sure there are at least four, as she promised. I resist the urge to ask for more, maintaining some semblance of pride.  She smiles, patronizingly, and I hobble away, leaning heavily against my five-foot-two inch, 98-pound wife.

Halfway home, the pain vanishes.

My girl-child celebrates her tenth year without further incident and I am filled with thankfulness and appreciation: Surrounded by family, the sound of my beautiful daughter's laughter, the shining sun, the six surviving flowers in my garden and the two hundred dandelions in my lawn that are all blooming, the fresh air, and the fact that I am breathing it.

After saying goodbye to eight perpetually chatty and giggly preteens, I sit in the silence with a cup of tea, a good book close at hand, appreciating the lack of chaos and ruminating on the contrasts of the last 24 hours; the brush with mortality so close before a celebration of life.

As I open my book, I feel lucky to have survived. And, I feel a certain invulnerability, having just cheated death—or at least the feeling of death. I now understand true pain, and, in the process, have surely become inured to agony... or, at least, 16 hours of it. I briefly consider a career as a spy. From here on out, I will no longer be impressed by the mundane bumps and scrapes of everyday life...

"Argh! Papercut! Ssssssss. Ouch!"

"Honey, where do we keep the bandaids? And where did you put those Tylenol 3's?"


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