Almost 25 years ago, the History Department at Enema U had a visiting professor. Keith and his wife were only going to live in New Mexico for a year, but they quickly became good friends with The Doc (my wife) and me. Keith lived fairly close, and the four of us frequently had dinner together. So, I was not surprised one night when Keith called me at home.
“Mark, I feel horrible,” Keith said. “I think I need to go to the hospital. Can you give me a ride?”
By the time I got to his house, Keith had collapsed onto the floor. Waking him, I made my first (and only) diagnosis; Keith had a kidney stone. Now, unlike my wife, I have never been to medical school, so I had the kind of absolute certainty that only comes from total stupidity. Around our house, my wife allows me to put Band-Aids on the children, trusting only that I can remember to put the sticky side down.
Now this is a little unfair, because I have had several decades of semi-alert instruction. You see, The Doc gets a hell of a lot of phone calls in the middle of the night. The doctor at the emergency room calls my wife, who asks questions, makes a tentative diagnosis, and then orders lab tests and x-rays. Over the years, I bet I have heard this done five thousand times. So, when Keith was moaning on the floor, one hand between his legs and the other holding one side of his back, I knew exactly what to do.
As I helped him through the emergency room door, a nurse came over and I very confidently said, “I think he is passing a kidney stone. We need a CBC, a urinalysis, and an IVP. And run a blood chemistry.”
Damn! Even Dr. House couldn’t have done this better. And to my surprise, people actually did what I had ordered. By the time the test results came back, The Doc was in the exam room with Keith and me. To her great amusement, they handed the test results to me, not her. And it was at this point that I discovered the flaw in my unorthodox medical training—I had heard only half of all those phone calls--I had never heard the results. Those lab results were as meaningless to me as listings in a Hong Kong phone book. Neither Keith nor I appreciated The Doc’s laughing.
Keith, at least, had a happy outcome. It turned out that he actually did have a kidney stone, and in time, he passed it. A few years later, the story had a less than happy sequel. This time, it was I who was passing the kidney stone. I would have gladly given the honor back to Keith.
As I went to the emergency room, I was very conscious of the fact that this was a place where my wife worked, and I really did not want to embarrass her. Now a kidney stone hurts like the hammers of Hell are beating you in a place that usually does not stand much…hammering. I know women will disagree, but it must hurt a hell of a lot more than childbirth. After a few years, women will frequently happily decide to have another child, but I have never heard of a man wanting a second kidney stone.
I took a book to the ER, sat as quietly as I could in the exam room, and calmly read a Tom Clancy novel while a rock the size of my pickup truck (trust me--I saw the damn boulder) slowly ground my insides into paper pulp. Well, that’s my memory of it. After ten hours, I passed the misshapen monolith. The ER doctors had not given me even an aspirin.
“You know,” the doctor said, “we didn’t think you actually had a kidney stone. Usually, people who have a kidney stone make a lot more noise than you did.” To this day, I sincerely hope that lightning hits that doctor--in the crotch.
Adding insult to the injury, the insurance company steadfastly refused to pay the hospital--claiming that the entire event was “elective,” as opposed to a real emergency. An elective kidney stone? Evidently, the insurance company believed that I had taken a rock to the emergency room and asked to have it shoved up me. In front.
The years went by, and last week, it started all over again. This time, I went to the university clinic. (I just realized how predictable I am—I didn’t take a book, but I was listening to a Stephen King book on my iPod.) Don’t get me wrong--the clinic was great--they gave me great service, and I really like those people, but the lab tests were inconclusive. The last thing the doctor said to me was, “You don’t act like someone with a kidney stone.” I must really suck as a historian because I missed the obvious connection.
Less than an hour after the clinic closed, I passed the stone in the men’s room down the hall from my office. Before they paint, they will need to use some putty to get rid of the claw marks in the wall above the urinal.
According to The Doc, men who have one kidney stone have a 50% chance of having a second one. After the second stone, you are probably pretty well doomed. Only now do I realize what kind of rock Sisyphus was pushing.
Men, I have a plan, and I encourage you to adopt it as your own. At the first sign of pain from a kidney stone, go to the nearest emergency room. Walk in, look carefully around the room… then punch the smallest person in the room right in the mouth. Scream at the top of your lungs, then drop to the floor, rolling and moaning piteously. At the very least, you will get some aspirin.