For the first 36 years of my existence on this earth, I was relatively healthy. No major sicknesses. No broken bones other than a nose re-adjustment courtesy of a stray elbow to my nose during a pickup basketball game in college. No overnight stays in a hospital and I had never been put under general anesthesia. The only medical procedures I had that are even worth bragging about were all done as same day procedures. Years ago, I had all 4 wisdom teeth pulled out at one time, in a Naval hospital no less, with local anesthesia, where they literally had to quarter my bottom wisdom teeth with a drill and use a hammer and chisel to pop them out all while I was completely conscious and aware of how much this would hurt later. I was bruised all the way down to my chest for a week. Another time, I had a cyst removed from my tailbone, effectively giving me a second asshole. Us hairy Italian-Americans get ingrown hairs in our ass crack that can cause a world of uncomfortableness if you don’t take care of them. I will say that the epidural they gave me before surgery was quite a treat. They worked so well at numbing everything below my waist that you could have cut my legs off with a rusty hack saw while I watched and I wouldn’t have felt a thing. Finally, I had a vasectomy after my son was born. The only pain there was, when they ripped the tape off that was holding my unit down, it removed a wide strip of hair off my chest. Holla. My personal goal, although I told no one, was to make it to 40 without any significant medical issues. I didn’t make it.
It went down like this: I was at work one day, sitting at my desk, most likely surfing the Internet or doing something else other than work. Around 10 AM, I started to feel a pain in the general vicinity of my left kidney. Initially, it was nothing more than a nuisance, sort of like a pulled muscle in your lower back. But the pain quickly escalated to be damn near excruciating in a matter of minutes. I stood up and tried to stretch it out, again, thinking it was a really bad muscle pull. You know, the sort of muscle pull you only get from sitting at a desk in front of a laptop. Never underestimate the physical rigor one puts the body through by merely typing at a keyboard. Stretching obviously wasn’t helping this situation and I started to get conscious of looking like an ass by stretching at my desk. Just stretching isn’t nearly as bad at drawing attention to oneself as the annoying office guy, who is a fitness and health fanatic, and religiously has to get in a set of 50 push-ups every couple hours, but it’s still annoying and distracting, so I sat back down. That didn’t work well either. I was so uncomfortable at this point that I couldn’t even concentrate while reading the daily Pitchfork.com album reviews or while checking my friend’s new photo albums that were recently posted to their Facebook profiles. You know the pain is bad at that point. I decided to go down to our first aid office, hoping that someone with less medical insight than my dog, could help me understand what was making me stretch at my desk.
Back when I was in the Navy, if I went down to the medical office, regardless of what my symptoms were, they would give me a rectal exam, followed by a couple of Motrins. I could walk in, gingerly holding what was clearly a fractured wrist held together with a splint made of a 12-inch wooden ruler and a couple of tube socks and the conversation would go like this.
Me: Hey doc, I think I broke my wrist.
Doc (looking at my wrist): Hmm, I see. Can you turn around?
Not understanding, I turn around as he looks at my ass.
Doc: Yes, just as I suspected. Go ahead and drop your dungarees and bend over the table.
Me: But I didn’t hurt my butt. It’s my wrist.
Doc: Don’t argue with me. I’m the doctor. Now, bend over.
30 shameful seconds later…
Doc: Well, everything appears to be in order. Go ahead and take a couple Motrins. If you continue to experience more pain, come down and we’ll take another look at your rectum.
Our first aid office at my job now isn’t much better. Granted, I felt confident they weren’t going to shove a fist up my ass, but I was worried nonetheless. I had no need to be concerned, really, because no diagnosis was even made. When I asked what the pain could be, the woman simply didn’t know and suggested I wait a few hours to see if it subsided. Thanks, but no thanks. I went back to my desk and tried to sit and concentrate to no avail. I kept getting up and stretching, still thinking I pulled a muscle, and not wanting to even let the thought that it could be something serious enter my mind. My boss came in at one point to ask me a work-related question and, without even caring, I tried to answer him while doing deep-knee bends and stretching sideways at the waist as if I were warming up for a nice 5K run. I just could not get comfortable no matter what I tried. I barely made it to lunch when I reluctantly sat down with my lunch time boys crew. Our power hour of ball-busting and job complaining was about to commence, but, not only did I not have an appetite to eat, I had no appetite to bust balls. They knew something was up and like any group of insensitive friends, they immediately guessed I had kidney stones and pulled up WebMD to read off the symptoms while giggling at me. “Sudden, severe pain in the kidney?” Check. “Shortness of breath?” Check. “Feeling nauseous?” I’m starting to. More laughter ensued, but my pain continued to get worse. Finally, I rose from my chair, lunch uneaten, and declared that I was heading home. I still didn’t want to go to a doctor, but I couldn’t take being at work anymore. I walked out to my car and finally called my wife to let her know what I thought was going on. I wish I had a tape of that voice mail because it must have been the most painful sounding message ever. As I drove out of the parking lot, I quickly realized that I would never make it 30 minutes in a car back home by myself. Instead, I headed to a small hospital which was just 3 blocks away. Upon entering the ER doors, the nurse behind the counter, who I’m sure is used to seeing these cases all the time, immediately knew something was wrong with me. Not because she can diagnose kidney stones just by a person’s gait, mind you, but by the fact that I immediately threw up at her desk. Most of it got in the garbage can, thankfully. I now realized my goal of reaching 40 years old without a serious medical issue was not to be.
I was immediately put on a stretcher and rolled into an examination room. I was as close to delirious at this point as I’ve ever been. My back was so ungodly painful and, no matter what I tried or what position I contorted myself into, nothing would help ease the pain. Nurses began moving in and out of the room. I heard talk of “kidney stone” and now knew this was serious. People often describe kidney stones as the most excruciating pain you could possibly go through. It’s supposedly more painful than giving birth. All things I was thrilled to have rattling around in my brain. The doctor finally came in about 5 minutes later. He was a light-skinned black guy or a mulatto, I couldn’t quite tell. But, even with as much pain as I was in, I still remember being slightly fascinated by the fact that he had freckles. That always trips me out. At least I had a doctor, though. At least I had a professional, someone who had been through years of schooling and internships and residencies, who could apply that wealth of knowledge to accurately diagnose my symptoms and come up with the most effective course of action to cure my pain. I waited with baited breath and intense anticipation as he approached my hospital bed to assess the situation and to give me reassurance that everything was going to be OK. He looked at me, ever so gently, and spoke these precious words.
Doctor: Do your balls hurt?
Doctor: Do your balls hurt? You know, your nuts?
Doctor: When was the last time you pooped?
Doctor: When was the last time you took a dump?
Me: This morning.
At this point, I would have been perfectly fine if they had hooked me up to Jack Kevorkian’s assisted suicide machine. Are you fucking kidding me with this doctor? I’m lying there, writhing in agony, and he asks me questions about how my balls feel? I should have asked him to kick me in the balls to make them hurt. Anything to divert the pain away from my kidney. I mean, where’s Florence Nightingale when you need her? Where’s the comfort and sympathy one expects at this point? Instead, I get a doctor who lacks the compassion gene, has an obsession with my scrotum, is unusually interested in my bowel movement schedule, and whose freckles are still peeking my curiosity, oddly enough.
Thank God for drugs, though. While in my state of delirium, the nurses shoved an IV in my arm with the care and subtlety of a butcher with a wicked case of disgruntled-postal-worker-syndrome. They pumped me full of some painkiller and an anti-nausea medication that stopped the dry heaves much to my relief. Dr. Balls-n-Poop then told me that I had to go down for a CAT Scan to see if, in fact, I had a kidney stone. Now, I’m no doctor, and when I think of how to be a doctor, by default, I always go to Dan Aykroyd and Chevy Chase pretending to be doctors in Spies Like Us. In my mind, sending me down for a scan to make sure I had a kidney stone was like a doctor saying to someone spewing blood out of an open jugular vein that they want to run a quick sample down to the lab to make sure that it is actually blood coming out of the vein before they stitch it up. I wasn’t really able to argue, much less form a coherent thought, so off I went. My wife also showed up at some point during these proceedings, although I’m not sure when. My time line got very fuzzy. I felt bad for her. She really didn’t have any idea what was going with me. She gets this crazy, frantic voice mail, hears her husband is now in the hospital, has to leave work, and walks in to see him writhing on a hospital bed while a doctor is loudly asking him about his testicles. Nothing quite prepares you for that.
I know this may come as a shock, but the scan revealed I had a kidney stone in my left kidney. I was fairly sedated when I came back to the room and after I spent a couple minutes with my wife, I asked the male nurse to confirm I had a kidney stone, since no one officially told me yet. He looked at me and, very seriously, said, “Oh yeah, you have a monster.” Gee, thanks for softening the blow. Don’t sugarcoat it now; tell me straight up how bad it is. I’m not sure in which institution of higher learning these medical practitioners were schooled, but somewhere along the way, they all skipped the class in bedside manners. Thankfully, the hospital I was in couldn’t keep me. They were an emergency-care facility and had to transfer me to a real hospital where they could work on getting the stone out and, boy, was I looking forward to that. I said bye to Dr. Balls-n-Poop and the rest of the staff, but not before they pumped me full of some more happy juice, shoved me in an ambulance, and drove me 40 miles to the big boy hospital.
Once I arrived, I was carted up to my room to wait for the urologist to review my paperwork and tell me how he planned to proceed. When I entered my room, still feeling nice and loose, I did notice that I had a roommate. I didn’t say anything to him. What do you say? It’s like going to prison and seeing who you’re cellmate is. Both of you could give a damn about the other person and just want to get out of there as quickly as possible. I noticed he was an older guy, late 50’s-early 60’s. He was a big, thick man. I remember the bottoms of his legs were sticking out of the sheets on his bed and you could see from his foot up to the midway point of his calves. He had those massively thick calves, the kind that look like thighs on most people. He had gray hair and a bushy, gray mustache. I guess, in a way, he looked like David Crosby if he had eaten Stills, Nash, and was halfway through Young. His name was Gary.
My wife was able to find me as I got settled in my room to dry heave a couple more times, just for good measure. As I recall now, that ended up being the last of the nausea, and it wasn’t a second too soon. My urologist came up some time later. He was a Korean guy, in his early 40’s, who explained to me what kidney stones were. He said something about a calcium-like buildup in the kidneys, which could be from not drinking enough liquids, that dislodged and was trying to make its way through the tubes into my gall bladder and out of my pee hole. I think the medical term is urethra, but it doesn’t really matter what goddamn term you give it when trying to describe the equivalent of shoving a bowling ball through a garden hose. He then said that I would be going into surgery where they would be performing a procedure to try to break up the stone to allow it pass through my pee hole easier. OK, I thought to myself, sounds fine. Anything that makes passing the stone easier was good with me. I asked what the procedure entailed. In a very matter-of-fact tone as though he were a calm, cool, and collected General Eisenhower briefing the troops on how to storm the beaches of Normandy, he explained that they were going to shove a wire with a laser and a tiny camera up into my John Thomas, through my gall bladder, then make their way to my kidney, where they would fire the laser, break up the stone and declare victory over the enemy. Piece of cake. Can of corn. Nothing to it. When can we get started, I thought to myself. Although they originally had me scheduled for surgery that night, it turned out I was bumped to the next day because they had to fit in a heart bypass surgery. The nerve of this person. You mean to tell me that’s more important than a urologist winding a laser beam through my giggle stick to break up a monster stone because I didn’t drink 8 8oz. glasses of water everyday? And why does one become a urologist, by the way? You’re whole reason for having employment is dependent on people having issues taking a piss. All day long, you’re dealing in a sea of urine, kidney stones, and backed-up genitalia. I guess if you look at it like your a human plumber, it would work. You know, a guy has a nasty Z-kink and a hairball that’s backing up his system and you save the day by giving him some Liquid Drano and by winding a snake in his pipes to remove the clog. But no surgery meant I had to stay the night in the hospital. Oddly enough, the pain in my kidney was now non-existent. I felt like someone was messing with my head. They say I have a kidney stone, but now I don’t feel a thing. What gives? My wife stayed with me for awhile, then left, and it was time for me to try to get some sleep.
Nothing induces sleep more easily for me than curling up in the sheets of my king-size bed at home with my wife by my side. When I stay in hotels, I just don’t sleep as good as I do at home. I think most people are like this. Spending the night in a hospital room doesn’t quite conjure up thoughts of sleeping on little fluffy clouds with an orchestra to serenade you to dreamland. Instead your stuck on your back on a plastic-coated mattress with an IV in your arm to prevent you from rolling over on your stomach. The constant beeping of machines is always audible, it’s never really dark because there’s so many lights around, and the nurses have to make their rounds to make sure everyone is still alive. Just these inconveniences alone would be more than enough to prevent anyone from a good night’s sleep. I wish I only had those nuisances to deal. Add Gary to the mix and you might as well just stay up. To this day, I don’t know what Gary was in the hospital for, but I do know he was in a lot of pain and discomfort. How do I know this, you ask? Because he verbalized it every fucking 5 minutes.
Gary clearly wasn’t a healthy man and it seemed as though he was either a regular at this hospital or had already become a legend to the nurses. They all seemed to know him and I sensed their unwillingness, yet resignation, to treat him. The noise from him was just constant. It was a never ending combination of moaning, talking to himself, and complaining loudly to get the nurses attention. The moaning reminded me of Vincent D’Onofrio as Private Pyle in Full Metal Jacket after the company holds him down in the bed and beats the shit out of him with bars of soap. Remember how he just laid in bed moaning and wailing and no one came to help him? That’s what Gary sounded like. After the moaning, he would start in with incessant gibberish. He kept saying, “Jeepers and cats” in a pained voice. He must have said that a hundred times over the course of the night. I’ve never heard that combination of words uttered from another human being and I’d be willing to bet I never will again for as long as I live. I don’t even know what that means. “Jeepers and cats.” The first time he said it, I thought he just pulled a verbal faux pas. The second time, I thought, he said it again, how strange. After that, it quickly became the equivalent of fingernails on a chalkboard and I couldn’t not hear it. When the nurses would come in to check up on him, he’d take it to a whole other level. Everything hurt and everything was a problem. He sounded like a 4-year-old kid who has too many boo-boos. His feet hurt, his legs hurt, his side hurt, he couldn’t get comfortable. “Roll me over. No, not that side, the other side. No, too far. Ouch, that’s enough. Jeepers and cats.” He also had a catheter. I know this because, at some point in the middle of the night, the following conversation occurred between Gary and the nurses.
Gary: I want to get up and go to the bathroom.
Nurses: No Gary, you have a catheter in.
Gary (moaning): I know, but I have to pee.
Nurses: Again, you have a catheter in. You can’t get up.
Gary (still moaning): I know, but my middle hurts.
Nurses: What do you mean, your “middle”?
Gary (most likely gesturing to his crotch): You know, my middle. It hurts.
Gary: Can you pull up on my middle?
I’d never heard a male’s crotch referred to as the “middle” before. I’ve heard countless terms, from unit to package to junk to tenders, but I’ve never heard it called the “middle”. The best part was, he talked about his middle into the next day. My wife and mom came to spend some time with me before I went into surgery. I still had no pain and felt like maybe all of this was a false alarm, but I knew this surgery needed to be done. As the three of us were sitting and talking, the nurses came in to give Gary a sponge bath. My wife got a call on her cell phone, while my mom and I tried to carry on a conversation. It was difficult for us as Gary was in utter ecstasy in the bed next to me. This was the only time during my visit that Gary actually sounded like he was enjoying himself. Having a couple of female nurses give him a bath was the greatest thing that could happen to him. They started sponging him down and he starts cooing, “Oh yeah, that’s it, harder, HARDER, YEAHHH. Pull up on the middle, YEAHHHH. Get in there, that’s it.” All I could think of was, if a male dog who’s getting his ass scratched real hard where his hind leg starts a-thumping, could verbalize his thoughts, he would sound just like Gary. Here I am, trying to talk to my mother and my hospital roommate is literally 5 feet away from me fulfilling some bizarre porno film fantasy called Hot Nurses Do It in the Middle.
I was operated on around noon that day. The part I looked forward to the most, besides being done with surgery, was how going under general anesthesia felt. They did their prep work on me and rolled me into the OR where I met the my urologist and the anesthesiologist. They pumped something into my IV and put an oxygen mask on my face. The anesthesiologist told me to go ahead and breathe normally. The last thing I remember thinking, “I wonder when I’m going to feel…”. 2 hours later, I groggily came to in the recovery room. There was my urologist standing by my bed. I could tell he was talking to me, but I was only catching bits and pieces. He sounded like Charlie Brown’s teacher. What I did hear was something about “stone” and “couldn’t fire the laser” and “pushed back in”. I wanted to be put back under again. They rolled me back to my room where I found out that they went in, saw the stone, but couldn’t break it with the laser because it was too close to the opening of the kidney, so they pushed it back in so it wouldn’t cause anymore pain. Terrific. My gall bladder felt like one big bruise, I’m pissing blood that feels like fire, and they didn’t even get rid of the stone. The only good news was that I was going home.
After some paperwork and scheduling for the next procedure, I got ready to leave. My wife went down to get the car ready. I was forced by the nurses to do the obligatory wheelchair roll of shame. I wasn’t really in much of a mood to give them a hard time, so I got in the chair without sarcasm or complaint. I couldn’t get out of there quick enough. I would be back in a week, where an ultrasonic procedure would break up the stone and I would pass the “monster” the next day. Luckily, it didn’t hurt all that much. I must have a really big pee hole. As they wheeled me out of the room, I glanced one final time at Gary. He was in almost the identical position he was in when I got there. I felt sort of bad for him. He didn’t look like he was in any hurry to leave and I never did find out what he was there for. But if I could get as much joy and pleasure at getting my “middle” worked over by a few nurses that he did, I might not be in any hurry to leave either.