Saturday, October 21, 2006

Entry 3280 Knocking on Heaven's Door

So, I ask you…

“Have you ever danced with the Devil in the pale moonlight?”

Well, it wasn’t the Devil, exactly. But this much is certain….

I almost died. Came very close, actually…perhaps too close.

To digress a bit…recently I’ve written several entries for this here Journal. One included a link to photos, images I’ve captured in the last few months in my travels…but I couldn’t get the link to work. It’s one of those “store your online photos here” sites…and short of giving everyone a password to it, I can’t get it to work the way I think it should.

I started a few topics…but they still await completion. None moved me the way that I like, the way that causes me to want to publish something here. So I kept writing, and working on what I already had written.

On Wednesday October 4, 2006 I was traveling, as I’ve been doing every other week. I had just finished a great meal at one of my favorite Mexican restaurants and was returning to my hotel room about 10 pm when I became painfully aware that I had a kidney stone, which would be my seventh occurrence. No, I don’t know what causes them…yes, I’m taking precautions to prevent return visits, so to speak. I don’t drink unfiltered water or any kind of soft drink (except Gatorade Rain). I try to be sure and drink a lot of fluids. I don’t eat rolls of Rolaids or Tums (like I used to do to fix my recurring heartburn and acid reflux…Prilosec changed all that—thankfully.)

As for the pain…I’ve been told that my maternal grandfather would cry when he got them, and this was a man who raised sixteen children pretty much on his own—he was not one of weak character. It’s been said that it’s the closest pain a man can feel to childbirth. I’m not saying that there’s a similarity—I’m sure childbirth is way more painful, but it’s also a natural development, one that occurs and proceeds pretty much the way it’s supposed to. Kidney stones are not. Try and imagine a cramping, clenching, spastic kind of pain…sharp but undulating. When you get the first stone you’ll do just about anything to make it stop. When the next occurrence arrives (years, months or weeks later) you’ll recognize the sharp spasms as they first appear and prepare for what will likely be hours of suffering.

That night, after about six hours had elapsed--which included two hours of pacing, various attempts to sit/lie down and be moderately comfortable, and about four hot baths--I gave up and had the front desk where I was staying (in Sierra Vista, AZ) call for an ambulance. I didn’t know where the hospital was there…didn’t frankly care at that point either.

I was released about eight hours later…I was given a prescription for pain medication and told to go home (which in my case was back to the hotel room) and pass the stone. In the times before I’ve had kidney stones, it usually ends the same way. The pain center changes, follows a path down into your groin (your urethra)…and ends in your bladder, where you wait for the strange feeling of passing the stone through the end of your urethra. It doesn’t hurt as much as it is a curious and somewhat uncomfortable sensation, as guys aren’t used to feeling something hard coming out of where it comes out.

After a few days I was able to drive back to Tucson, respectful as I was of the pain medication and my weakened condition. And things did not get better…the next day the pain was plastered all along my right side…and it was terrible. I was pretty sure I had felt the stone pass through my urethra on its way to my bladder, but I did not have evidence that I had actually passed it.

There had been an occurrence prior to this—Stone Number Three--when I felt a sharp pain not only as it exited the kidney and started down the urethra, but also the pain within the kidney remained. I panicked at this, visiting an ER in Phoenix (also early in the morning), thinking there could be two stones. I was later told that it was damage to the interior of the kidney that was the cause of that pain…I passed that stone during a bathroom visit while being administered to by the triage nurse. See, there are two schools of thought…one, wait out the passing of the stone; two, drink copious amounts of water and force the stone out, which is much quicker but also much more painful. I had drunk a couple of gallons of water, and could not urinate…so the urge to pee usually means the stone is on its way out.

This is what I thought had happened that Sunday night…that the stone had passed and it was just small damage to the kidney that was the cause of the pain. But meantime I was running a fever and felt out of it…taking the pain pills caused my temperature to rise at least another 3-5 degrees, and I would begin to sweat profusely.

I won’t at this time go into more detail…about the ER that examined me a day or so later, did NOT xray me or use any kind of scan, and abruptly declared, “we know you probably have an infection, but we don’t know where it is or how to treat it, so here’s some pain medication…go home and call your doctor.” Or about the nitwit receptionist who was filling in at my doctor’s office and who kept asking me the most idiotic questions about things over and over, often asking the same questions hours after I had already given her my answers.

Let’s just say that I found myself in another ER several days later, after several hours facing a doctor who told me they were going to have to admit me, as my white blood cell count was “over 20,000” (the normal count is between 4500-10,000); I had a fever, marking an infection; my kidney was torn up inside by several stones, one of which had lodged in the urethra and caused my kidney to essentially burst and rupture, flooding the interior of my abdomen with urine. That was the source of the awful pain…and had the previous ER that had sent me home made an xray or any kind of scan, they would have seen that too.

I got an injection loaded with painkillers…within an hour I was again overheated by it. My hospital gown, the sheet on the bed, my hair, etc. was soaked with sweat. Later that night I tried to sleep…I saw stuff. I mean, STUFF.  I can’t talk about most of it…don’t want people to think I’m nuts. It could’ve been the result of all that was wrong with me, causing me to hallucinate. That’s not what I think, though. I was SUPPOSED to see the stuff…but not necessarily to understand it…at least, right now.

They put a stent inside me…a hollow tube inside my kidney and down through my urethra. This was to promote healing and to help catch the other stones. And gradually I recovered.

So here we are today. The stent will be removed soon. I’m not sure why or how this all happened or how to prevent it again. I will be back at work in a few days, and I suppose all will be back to normal. Or as normal as things can be after you’ve knocked on the door to the Afterlife and have been welcomed inside…if only for a little while.