Jean accused me of finding a very committed way to avoid having to take her out or buy her any gifts for Valentine’s Day. But I really didn’t even know it was Valentine’s Day because all week long I’ve been eating painkillers like they were Valentine’s candies.
It started Sunday night when the left side of my body – right around the kidney area – tried violently to twist itself into a double sheet bend knot. The pain was immense and unceasing. All the pains I could remember from my past did not relate to this pain. Every pain I could recall came in waves where the intensity grew and receded, and I was able to find at least a moment during which I could catch my breath before the next wave rolled over me. But not this pain – this one continued unabated, like a car on cruise control on a long, straight highway of pain.
I had just gone to bed. I felt fine. I rolled over and just like that, my left kidney started trying to twist itself into a double sheet bend knot. It was sudden, immense pain, and it did not retreat.
“Are you all right?” Jean asked. Even in the dark, she recognized the signs that something was wrong: the sudden intake of breath, the bulging eyes, and the way my hands plunged deep into my pillow so that I could wring some relief from it.
“I don’t think so,” I said.
I stood up, hoping that I could stretch out whatever was causing this pain. That didn’t work, so I tried walking it off – pacing from the bedroom to the bathroom and back. That didn’t work, so I tried sitting down, but sitting down seemed to make it worse, so I stood back up. Jean peppered me with questions about my symptoms, but the pain was too much to even be able to respond to her.
I threw up from the pain, and with my stomach helpfully reminding me of what I’d had for dinner, I started making deals with God.
We’d had beef stew for dinner, and I swore to God that if the pain would go away I’d never eat any kind of beef again. I’d forego steak, hamburgers, beef tips – you name it. When the pain did not go away, I offered to never eat another vegetable again. No potatoes, no carrots, no okra, no corn. When the pain still did not go away, I swore off Kool Aid, berries and nuts.
After nearly two hours of me swearing off food, sweating, throwing up, sitting down, standing up, pacing, and arguing that we could not afford a hospital bill, Jean could take no more. She handed me clothes and ordered me to put them on and she drove me to the emergency room. By then I was hurting so bad that I just rolled out of the car to the ground and Jean had to drag me by the arm into the emergency room.
They soon were pushing so much morphine through a tube connected to my vein that I swam off to slumber in feel good land, waking only when the morphine wore off.
Periodically people would come into the room and say something to me, and Jean would acknowledge what they said while I just nodded and smiled and drooled and asked if they would bring back some more morphine.
What they said to me was that I had a 7 millimeter kidney stone lodged in my side.
I distinctly remember asking Jean to get a ruler so that I could judge for myself what a 7 millimeter kidney stone would look like. As I suspected, when comparing objects to the 7 millimeter mark on the ruler, I determined that within a couple of millimeters a baseball is roughly 7 millimeters. So for the sake of comparison, I had a baseball in my kidney, and that was why I’d spent so much time throwing up and crying, and that was why I was now asking everyone I saw if they could give me some more morphine.
Then people were coming into the room and looking at me but talking to Jean about surgery. I just nodded and smiled and drooled, assuming that the surgery was intended to remove the baseball-sized stone from my kidney.
It was not.
Next week they’re going to fasten me to a car battery and use electro-shock therapy to blast the kidney stone into something smaller than a baseball and then they expect me to “pass” it. Modern medicine is nothing more than torture dulled by morphine. But I was still gladly accepting more morphine when they wheeled my bed back for the surgery.
The surgery, as noted, was not to exit a kidney stone but to insert a stent to allow me to urinate between then and the date of the electro-shock therapy so that over the course of a week I don’t fill up with pee.
I asked no questions and took no notes. All I knew about anything was that I was doing a lot of nodding and smiling and drooling.
A few hours after the stent was in place, I was able to leave the hospital and go home with prescriptions for morphine pills and other pills I didn’t care about. I was only interested in the morphine pills at that point.
No one was more relieved for us to be leaving the hospital than my wife.
Poor Jean didn’t get any morphine when we got into the emergency room, and while I spent 23 hours smiling and drooling and occasionally asking people if they had some morphine for me, Jean caught sleep in short fits and starts. She listened to what the doctors said while I nodded and smiled. She held my hand when the morphine wore off and I started crying and begging for the nurses to hurry. But Jean is the one who truly suffered, bored as she could be in a hospital room with a husband unconscious most of the time and crying like a baby the other times.
It was terrible for her.
So she was tapping her foot and looking at her watch when I was trying to get dressed.
“I need some help,” I said to her, attempting to pull on my sweatpants.
“Sure,” Jean said. “What do you want me to do?”
“I haven’t looked down,” I confessed. “I don’t know what I have in the way of stitches from where they put the stent in. Can I pull my pants up or should I fold the waistband down a couple of times?”
A terrified look came across her face, and it terrified me.
“Oh, honey,” Jean said, in the most sympathetic tone I’ve ever heard her muster in nearly 22 years of marriage. “There are no stitches.”
“Then how did they get the stent in?” I asked, bewildered because I am not a doctor and I was only smiling and nodding and drooling when the people who are doctors were explaining things to me.
And as I pondered the question, a terrible truth began to dawn on me.
“Morphine!” I shouted, slumping to the ground and crying.
Rob Peecher is author of Four Things My Wife Hates About Mornings and apparently he’s now at an age where things like kidney stones start to happen.