Romancing the Stone

Two weeks ago, Mike Tyson slugged me in the kidneys. Thankfully, it was just a jab and not a roundhouse. It caught my attention right away. Tremendous pain does that, and I recognized it as kidney stones.

I had my first kidney stone attack three years ago. Then, I had no idea what was going on and managed to call 911 before passing out. This time, I knew exactly what it was and how much time I had to get to the emergency room. I called a friend who lives around the corner, but by the time he got his car, I had already walked to the hospital. It isn’t far, just up the hill. I can see the emergency entrance from my living room.

St Barnabas 1

As I waited, examining my shoes in between contractions, they ran the usual tests. They gave me morphine, which was really wonderful. It’s almost worth getting stones just to have morphine. I think I’ll plant some if I ever get a garden.

It took them half the night to confirm that I had kidney stones, which I already knew. Then they did an ultrasound of my aorta. Not being a biologist but having a basic knowledge of anatomy (this, despite being accused of not knowing my butt from my elbow), I asked why. Apparently, it has to do with age and calcification. All the way from my kidneys to my heart? They assured me it was true. What do I know? I grew suspicious, though, when the guy asked if he could check my testicles. I told him he’d have to buy me dinner first.

I don’t like it when people go on and on about their medical condition. I remember a parishioner describing a problem he was having with his sphincter. Seriously, his sphincter. Afterward, he went up and distributed communion. Of course, I was on his line, and that’s all I could think of when he said, “Body of Christ.”

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Here’s what I learned after embracing my pain–romancing the stone, as it were. People don’t care. They don’t. I don’t say this as a moral judgment but merely as an observation. It confirms what I already knew. People are focused on themselves. This is what makes business schools so successful: self-interest. I understand this not only as a patient but a teacher. Self-interest is a driving force. Do you know what is required to achieve “other-interest”? An enormous amount of faith. This is where the church is right in trying to create saints. Saints are normal people who have become other-interested.

The real evil of suffering, especially physical pain, is that it makes us so wrapped up in ourselves that we can think of nothing else. I find it fascinating that pain has the capacity to absorb us to such a degree that we can go on and on about sphincters. Maybe pain is a magnification of what we are normally. After all, unless you have had kidney stones, you can’t understand the experience. I certainly didn’t. But shouldn’t understanding our own pain make us more sympathetic to others’ pain, not less? Am I wrong here?

Based on the reaction of people to this latest incident, I have decided not to speak about myself anymore; not my job, writing, or family. People don’t want to hear it. What they want is to hear positive feedback about them, which I will gladly give. It actually takes the pressure off. Now, I just have to look interested.

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  1. So, I’m guessing you passed the stone and no laser procedure was needed. Good.

    George has had kidney stone three times (and never had an ultrasound of his aorta). The last episode they flipped the scan and called him to tell him to rush to the ER as there was a stone in the “other” kidney. Oops!

    It was our longest, most expensive and least romantic evening spent together. But it was also our ONLY evening out together this entire year. As for your writing — how I wish I had the wit and the skill you possess to turn the episode into such a great piece of writing.

    1. Thanks for the note, Kim, and compliment. Not that I should be giving relationship advice, but you should probably date more than to the ER, as exciting as I’m sure that was…At least I know I have a healthy aorta…?!?

      1. OK, Rob. So the ER told you that you have a healthy aorta….this does NOT entitle you to dispense advice on the heart to others….however, I will bear your advice in mind when planning future fun and exciting evenings with George. However, I gotta admit, the ER was quite a show.

  2. Robert, you are correct. People really don’t care, except for immediate family members. I tired long ago of making one-way efforts to carry conversations in social and business settings. So I no longer make the effort, and I rather enjoy my more solitary life today.

    On the kidney stones, it seems that we have another shared experience. One of the nurses told me not to believe those who say that childbirth is more painful. She said that she had children as well as kidney stones, and that the stones were many times worse.

    I tried unsuccessfully to paste a Far Side cartoon here, which sums it up well, but a quick Google search on “Far Side and kidney stones” will lead you there.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Vic. As I told someone just tonight, I don’t consider myself a cynic, just skeptical. Most people are not mindful. We live in a distracted society.

      I now drink plenty of H2O….


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