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 on the floor. 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.
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, of course, 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.”
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 of ethics. 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.