Cures worse than the disease and other modern miracles

I’m one of these people who not only has gotten kidney stones, but continually makes them. They’re calling me a “stone maker”, which sounds vaguely cool if the anvil for making them wasn’t a tender little organ inside my body.

I’ve had like 4 or 5 documented and captured kidney stones over the last 10 years or so, and probably a couple before then that I didn’t catch and just chalked up to either dying or bad pizza or something.

This latest stone came on unexpectedly, as they always seem to do. Each time one hits, the pain presents in a completely different way. For some reason, my brain never thinks kidney stone, despite the clear track record.

So after hours and hours of pain I do the deja vu thing of bolting house at 2 a.m. and heading to ER, basically crawling up to the sign-in desk a shamble of a human being.

“I’ve had kidney stones but it’s feels like something else!” I offer my useless feedback to the night shift medical workers, God love them.

Roll me in, put on the ever-flattering johnnie thing, IV, level 10 pain slowly dialing down to a very manageable 7. Scans. Waiting. Wondering about COVID floating through the air. Then, results: Kidney stone.

The stats: a 5mm, right where you don’t want it in the critical junction between kidney and essential outbound plumbing.

So there’s follow-ups with the kidney specialists. 50-50 shot at passing the sucker. A week of hopeful dreams and chugging water and Flomax, hoping for the plink of relief. Christmas Day, alas, does not arrive.

With the clock run down and organ failure on the horizon, it’s time for surgery. Blood work, urine work, COVID tests, check in at the hospital at 6:30 a.m., my wife driving and our 1 year-old smiling. I think he was amused that for once we woke him up early instead of the other way around.

Surgery sucks. I just went through it for a tumor in my hand last September, an ordeal that ran from Nov 2019 all the way through Nov 2020. I broke my hand a comic convention (my last before the pandemic), left it to heal, healing never happened, got it checked – a tumor, thankfully benign. So then it’s a long, long healing process, then surgery which rebreaks everything again, bone graft, and long, long healing process part 2. A year. With a newborn in my arms. And a pandemic. Snow to shovel. Words to type. Life to live.

Fast forward to this year and same deal, hospital bed, the onset of anesthesia, the weird awaking out the blue some time later. The worst part about it all is that it’s not like a normal sleep, it’s a hard-edit sleep. It’s a segment of your life snipped and removed by chemicals. It’s a trick to make you forget something that happened. It’s weird as hell.

So my kidney stone is gone, reduced to dust by a laser. In its place is a stent which remains in until March 25. For 80% of people, the stent is no big deal. For 20%, it’s the most excruciating and unbearably painful thing imaginable. I fall in that 20%.

I write this blog from the fog of post-surgery and long tail recovery as a kind of time capsule to myself. A digital note to enjoy those days when you have both hands or both kidneys or not a coat hanger curled up inside your innards. Enjoy the days free of pain, real pain, inescapable untreatable pain. Enjoy them all.

Time beats on us like ocean wind battering a little cottage. Eventually shingles start flying off and leaks come off the rafters during downpours and then next thing you know the ceiling is collapsing. Some of us withstand longer than others, but the house always wins. Take it from me, enjoying being up for as long as you can.

This stent sucks. It hurts worse than the stone, which seems impossible. But it’s necessary to heal correctly and prevent scar tissue and to let all the blood from my laser-torn insides get out. Being in pain sucks. It sucks so much.

But it brings into sharp focus the alternative. Pain is an output of being alive, and it’s perhaps the most primal aspect of life. Pain is an alarm bell telling you to not touch the fire, go seek shelter, or just curl up in a ball and try to survive. I’m in that survival mode now, gritted teeth and pin-point eyes. But I can feel the warmth of summer in my mind, the collapse of God-forsaken COVID, the healing of my stupid stone-making kidney, and the glorious stepping out of the pain cave into the sunshine of living free once again…until the next thing.

100 years ago, I’d likely be dead. The modern medical routine can almost be comically brutal. “We’re gonna saw this out and tie it up and you’ll probably not get infected, but let’s see.” We’re a far way off from Star Trek. But here I am, blogging, where my ancestors would be chanting last rites and seeking the nearest cliff. I’m grateful for the pain, for the push to survive, for the battering the winds of time thrust upon me. I’m still here.