Saturday, June 5, 2010

Well, That Was Something

It's been an interesting couple of weeks.

On May 19, I went into the hospital for what was described as a simple procedure, albeit with a fancy name: Extracorporeal Shock Wave Lithotripsy (ESWL). This course of action was decided upon after a visit to the E.R. after weeks of pain in my side and back, and a not-quite-right feeling in my stomach (like a stomach ache that never went away). X-rays showed a healthy, baby, 8mm kidney stone.

I have no actual clue what a millimeter is, but it sounded big.

So, the "surgery" happened May 19. I was pretty much told I'd ache, but that I'd be up and about in day or two. That kind of didn't happen.

For nine days, I had no appetite. I had pretty severe side and back pain that would subside occasionally, but only long enough to make me think I was "healing." I couldn't sit up for more than five minutes. I was dizzy and disoriented. I was restless and couldn't sleep. The meds were pretty much useless.

It was about the most helpless I've felt in my life. With most ailments, you hang in there, and you might suffer, but you get better. I never got better. I lost 10 pounds, living on a cracker or spoonful of soup or two a day.

That period was surreal. My girl and my parents were feeling as helpless as I was. One day blurred into another as I kind of withered away. Or the Western version of it, anyway.

I headed back to the ER on May 28. The x-rays this time showed that while my kidney stone had, in fact, been successfully broken up, the pieces of the stone were busy lining up in a part of me that was exceedingly unhappy to have stones lined up in it.

So, after an overnight stay in the Summerlin Hospital, it was time for another surgery! The specifics of the procedure weren't entirely clear. I asked questions, but there were a lot of broad arm gestures and pointing, none of them even remotely approximated what I believe transpired during that surgery. The surgery was called a "cystoscopy," and it included a stent implant. This pretty much covers it:

"A patient is usually placed under general anesthetic before inserting a ureteric stent. A special telescope called a cystoscope is then passed through the urethra into the bladder. The stents are then placed in the ureter and kidney via the opening of the ureter in the bladder."

Yeah, the doc left out some of those details. It was kind of all the stuff men have nightmares about. Especially that "passed through the urethra" part. Honestly, I thought this was going to involve an incision in my side. Probably because the other option was too much to contemplate.

After the surgery, I experienced the kind of pain you hear about, mostly from comedians. Ironic, because during this post-surgical period, there is nothing more painful than laughing.

One of the weirder aspects of the most recent surgery was this little release, cradled among the myriad other releases you sign and never actually read in a hospital.

I'm consenting to what?!

All I can say is that I think they did bad things to me during this procedure. The good news was that the previous pain was gone overnight. My head began to clear, and I got my appetite back.

The next few days weren't fun. The details aren't pretty. Actually, none of the details about this experience are pretty. It's inside stuff. And bodily function stuff. And pain stuff.

But even with the post-surgical weirdness (among them, the strange, dark fishing line-like string coming out of me), I did feel better. I craved all the foods I hadn't been able to eat. I could sit up and type. A biggy for me.

The doctor told me a few days later I'd have the "stent" removed. I did a lot of research about that process, and could find exactly nothing about it. On the whole Interwebs. There were lots of lines like this, though:

"If a doctor recommends a stent for a patient, the doctor should be able to estimate how long the stent will be left in, and he or she should articulate a plan for the removal of the stent."

"During stent removal, the patient is usually placed under a local anesthetic while the doctor visualizes the area and gently removes the stent."

"Gently"? Now, that's a procedure I can get behind!

Today, I found this:

"Kidney stent removal is a short procedure. The stent is removed using a cystoscope, usually under local anesthesia. Sometimes a stent can be left with a thread attached to its lower end that stays outside the body through the urethra. The doctors can remove such stents by just pulling this thread."


Famous last words.

I guess in some ways I'm happy I didn't know more about what was going to happen before it happened. "Pulling the thread" was one of the scenarios I'd thought about, but I think my brain kind of shut down to that possibility. I mean, it's modern science, right? You don't just leave a string hanging out, then kind of pull on it like a ripcord, right?

Well, yeah, that's pretty much what happened. The doc said, "Go to a happy place." Which kind of took me to a whole new level of freak-out, of course. He asked, "Have you ever been to Hawaii?"

As he asked, he then proceeded to pull the ripcord! It was like having a rubbery worm pulled under your skin, the entire expanse of your upper torso, and out of places you never imagined could permit such abominations. It was, by far, the strangest thing I've ever felt.

You know how sometimes you have something bad or painful happen, and in time, you can kind of laugh about it? Stent removal is, without a doubt, not one of those things. I feel a little haunted by that procedure, and the visual isn't going away anytime soon, I don't think.

Ironic that the doctor asked me about Hawaii just before doing something horrific and emotionally scarring. Kind of my experience of growing up in Hawaii, actually. Except for the rubbery worm thing.

The latest x-ray showed a few straggler stones, but those appear to have exited now, thankfully.

And, so, I have emerged from my medical ordeal, I think. I am feeling better, although I'm still pretty weak for whatever reason. But I can write. And blog. And Facebook. And Tweet. And eat. And eat more.

Fantasies about food kept me going at various times during this experience. And I have a new appreciation for comfort food. Things like Otter Pops and Fudgsicles were lifesavers.

I have, as I've always had, an appreciation for my family and friends, all of whom were very supportive during these trying times.

I appreciate the many, random kindnesses of those who watched over me in the hospital, even those who poked and prodded, and they were many.

We take so many things, and people, for granted. And when we are in good health, we definitely take our health for granted. We take food for granted, of that I am certain. Lately, I've been enjoying every bite. Although "enjoying" is an understatement.

So, that's been what's up with me. I live in a world where I'm always in control. But this experience has involved day after day of feeling like nothing is within my control. I felt lost. I felt a new sense of empathy for those whose conditions are far, far worse. I felt helpless and weak. I felt on the verge of insanity.

And all because of a little stone.


Jonderson said...

I wondered where you had been, but I had no idea your absence had such a hideous cause. That is indeed nightmarish, and I am glad you are feeling better!

8mm is a little bit bigger than 1/4 inch, btw. So it is good that they broke it up into smaller pieces. Despite it not going stellarly, you should still be grateful for that part of it anyway. A hundred years ago you would have had to pass that thing whole, or die trying.

-K- said...

As you know, I've had kidney stones more than once but nothing like what you went through.

And now, let's all take a moment to properly hydrate ourselves.

Sue Flaska said...

Oh yuck. Just yuck. Sorry you had to go through all of that. Those sneaky doctors have a way of trying to distract you before doing something that just is not natural to do to another human. And we pay them for that! Glad you're back!

Brandon Muller said...

Where can I sign one of those sterilization forms?