Does Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian look familiar? The left tower was used as the exterior shots on the show Empty Nest. The right tower is new and wasn't there when the following story or the show took place.
Let's bring y'all up to date on my kidney stone saga.
I suspect I've been in process of passing a kidney stone for about a month now. Over the weekend I had some pain in my lower back that I chalked up to carrying bags of top soil but after peeing a fair amount of blood in my urine on Monday morning I know what's in store. If I were a religious man, I'd be praying 24/7 this passes quickly and painlessly. The blood is intermittent at this point and I've started going #1 through a strainer to catch the stone.
Yesterday, I gave you a crash course in what kidney stones are, how they work, some basic anatomy, and what might cause them. Today, dear readers, I'll share my worst kidney stone attack and a description of Extracorporeal Shock Wave Lithotripsy (lithotripsy for short) procedures.
The year is 1990 and I had passed a couple of kidney stones in the years leading up to that point. Severe back pain. And by severe I mean rolling around on the floor writhing in pain from what feels like a knife in my back. I reserve the adjectives "excruciating" and "mind bending" for later in this story. I was scheduled to work an information booth at a pride festival in Laguna Beach, CA on a beautiful summer Saturday afternoon. When I got up that morning, I was peeing a lot of blood and had some discomfort in my back. I canceled the volunteer gig and went to the ER. After taking a urine sample and giving me a cursory examination, it was determined I likely had a urinary tract infection and was sent on my way with a script for Keflex antibiotics.
Fast forward 12 hours to 2 a.m. early Sunday morning. I literally jumped out of bed from a deep sleep with the most excrutiating pain I have ever experienced in my life. There was no questioning of what to do...I put on a shirt and pair of pants with a single-minded immediacy I didn't know I was capable of, said good-bye to my cat, and ran out the door. I drove myself to the hospital which was about 15 minutes away. I simply was in too much pain to call an ambulance let alone wait for one. I needed help, and I needed it yesterday. I went through every red light — which seemed to be all of them, probably 20 in all — down the main drag through Costa Mesa. If the police had tried to stop me I figured at least I'd get an escort with lights and sirens to the emergency room.
I arrived and I was absolutely hysterical in pain. Crying. Hyperventilating. Delusional. I was out of my mind! The chick behind the admitting desk insisted I fill out the paperwork and get signed in. She didn't care what my issues were, she had her own, and that included dealing with the sobbing maniac in front of her. I'm alone so there's no one to help. Her bedside manor included, "If you don't calm down and fill out this paperwork there's nothing I can do." Bitch. I'd have told her as much, too, if I hadn't needed her sorry lot to get me some relief.
I managed to calm down enough to throw my insurance card in her general direction and we got through check in. After I got to a bed, they started me on an IV drip of morphine. Yep, that only took the edge off. I wanted to climb the curtains. Someone knock me out. Somebody help me. Now. Please!?!
Next step in the process was for them to take X-rays which confirmed the stone. Lucky me. And then they started to pump me full of fluids ("Squad 51, administer 250mL IV D5W," for you Emergency! fans). As I mentioned in yesterday's post, the only way to move that puppy is to build up fluid behind the stone and force it out. Hint: more pain to follow.
I ended up being admitted to the hospital when it didn't pass and I spent 2 days laying in a morphine-induced stupor trying to pass it. Didn't get an ocean view room either. Drat. So when I didn't have any luck passing it, then came the first of my "procedures." They got my ass into the operating room wearing an ugly set of white compression stockings so I didn't get a blood clot in my legs, knocked me out, then put a stent in the length of my ureter. The stent was like an 11" bread twist tie. With that in place, the urine was able to sneak by the stone and relieved the pain. What to do with the stone since there's no more pee pressure, you ask? Lithotripsy!
Side note: while I'm in my hospital bed, a police officer entered my room. Hmmmm, a hospital scene and a uniform fetish rolled into one? Nope, someone tore ass into the ER parking lot (similar to me several nights before) and wailed into my car (not similar to me several nights before).
Now that the pain was gone, I'm discharged from the hospital and I went home with the stent in place and had to go back for the lithotripsy procedure a week later "when they have the machine." Lithotripsy is a method by which doctors can use sound waves from outside the body (extracorporeal) to break up the stone. With the stone pulverized into tiny bits, it can pass with no fanfare.
It's a mobile medical unit. Hospitals don't have enough lithotripsy cases to warrant the investment in their own machine so a handful of doctors developed a freaking lithotriptor-equipped Winnebago that trundles from hospital parking lot to hospital parking lot. I got prepped in the out patient facility, they put my ass in a wheel chair, and pushed me through the parking lot, across the street at a light after it changed from red in front of what seemed like hundreds of bulging eyes of people staring at me on their way to work. I was on my way to the Winney in a paper dress!
"Is this going to hurt," I asked the doctor. "It'll feel like a rubber band snapping you in the back. We're going to give you something for the pain, too." Hmmmm, I think, that doesn't sound so bad. They put me on IV Demerol and I got loopy but I wasn't unconscious. I lied on this metal table that has the area where one's back would go removed. In its place, for lack of the correct term, is a bag full of jelly. The sound waves, directed by the surgeon on a video-game like screen, will come from many directions and travel through the jelly bag that will be against my lower back to collide at the point of the stone. Voila! No more kidney stone!
Not so fast, pardner. Okay, so the rubber band analogy. Pretty accurate, except what he didn't tell me is that I was going to be there for 90 minutes and the snapping would take place every second. Snap, snap, snap. Try snapping a rubber band in the same place, oh 5400 times. Not a walk in the park. Not even on drugs. Not even on heavy drugs.
After that and $20,000 worth of medical bills later (covered by insurance), I had a huge black and blue bruise on my back.
Kiddies, don't forget I still have that 11" stent in me that has to come out. Well, that's a procedure that takes place in a doctor's office. Joy. This is perhaps the most traumatizing thing I have ever gone through. I strip and put on a gown and the doctor gets me into stirrups. Ladies, I feel your humiliation. And what's the only way to get the stent out? The same way they put it in, only now there's no general anesthesia. He planned to go up in and get it, of course. Oh, but he'll give me some local anesthetic. Well by now I was wise to his no-pain promises. Bastard.
Up he went with a tube that dispensed something on the order of topical Anbesol, only for your pisser not your gums. He waited a fair amount of time for it to take affect, about a minute I think, and then he came at me with the big guns. Up he went again. This time with a device so terrible, so awful, it must have been invented by the Marquis de Sade himself. See, this handy little (?) thing goes in and then ratchets up in width to dialate the urethra. The urethra has to be opened wide enough so he could go up there with another tool that looked like it had an alligator clamp on the end. In he went and it felt like those teeth were chomping the entire way.
As he passed my prostate he alerted me I'll feel like urinating. Yup, he's there! Interesting, I note, the prostate isn't nearly as pleasurable being stroked from the inside as it is from the outside. But the doctor is not to be deterred. Onward he pressed to the bladder. This is where the end of the stent is...the location where he'll grab it with the roach clip and
yank the damn thing gently pull it down into the bladder and then out of my body.
I had to fly to San Jose for a job interview the next day. I was so sick and in pain. I didn't dare cancel since I'd pushed the interviews out for several weeks. Who knew the doctors visit would be one of the worst experiences of my life? I end up nearly passing out by the end of the day and had to lay down after interview number six in their conference room. I didn't get the job. Shocker.
The next time I went through a lithotripsy, it was more preventative. Since I was now getting X-rayed every 6 months (I think they do CAT scans now), we found some huge stones just waiting to unleash their vengeance upon me. Again, time to ride the Winnebago's stainless steel couch, but this time the machine was stronger so I was rendered unconscious.
I get a large number of hits from Google searches on "Kidney Stone", "Lithotripsy", and other related terms. In an effort to make this subject easier to navigate on this blog, I am adding the following list of posts to every kidney stone entry to make them cross reference accessible.
If you are reading this because you have, or think you have, a kidney stone, I know your pain. Unless you've had one, and I've had some mild incidences and some really bad ones, no one can even imagine the level of pain.
Make an immediate appointment with a urologist. I am not a doctor and these are my experiences only!
You could be experiencing a kidney stone, but it may also be a urinary tract infection, a tumor, or other medical condition. Don't take any chances with your health!
These posts involve my passing of two giant 6mm stones this summer...three days apart! Wrapped in these posts are stories that detail my lifelong battle with them.
In the interest of clarity, these links are in temporal order.
First Signs Of A Stone May 7, 2007I wish you well.
What I Know About Kidney Stones May 8, 2007
A Discussion Of Lithotripsy May 9, 2007
Peeing Blood, No Pain May 11, 2007
Pain Returns May 18, 2007
Pain Again In The Back May 26, 2007
Bloody Urine Is Back July 12, 2007
Passed Kidney Stone #1 July 26, 2007
Passed Kidney Stone #2 July 30, 2007
I'm The Morton's Salt Girl March 26, 2008
Stone On The Move March 28, 2008
Well At Least I'm Not Having A Baby April 4, 2008
Passing Kidney Stones Spring, 2008
I May Finally Have A Solution To My Kidney Stones! March 15, 2010
If I'm Pissy, Blame My Kidney Stones October 11, 2010