Sunday, October 10, 2004

COLUMN: Kidney Stones

I thought it was gonna be a normal Sunday.

Waking up by the crack of noon, I made myself a hearty breakfast of Coca-Cola and Advil, and limbered up my channel-flipping finger for a solid day of couch idling.

About an hour later was when I first felt it -- a not-so-pleasant pain of the gastro- intestinal persuasion. A definitive sign that I needed more carbonation in my diet, I thought, so I cracked Coke #2 of the afternoon.

"Well, that's funny," I began to think after another hour, "this pain doesn't seem to be going away." At which point I began going through my checklist of bachelor life tummy pain fix-its, which goes somewhat in this order:

(1) Some manly belching. No luck. Ouch. (2) The other proven way to relieve gastric pressure that I can't mention in the confines of a family newspaper. Also no luck, though it was enough to scare the cat running out of the room. Contined ouch. (3) Jumping up and down in my living room. What the heck, I thought, be creative. Yet more ouch. (4) The Hail Mary of gastric problem-solving and a sure sign of desperation: a tasty chocolate treat of the Ex-Lax variety. Still no luck. Still ouch.

By the end of hour two, I'm starting to think that I may have a serious problem. I'm thinking this because I'm now kneeling on the floor, drenched in sweat, clutching my side, chewing through the pen in my mouth that I'm using to write up my last will and testament. THIS is how badly I hate going to the doctor.

Finally, I give in and drive myself to the emergency room. After a leisurely 30 minute wait enjoying the scenic lobby, I'm whisked back for x-rays and evaluation, and am told that I'm officially old and feeble. Well, actually I'm told that I have kidney stones. But that's close enough.

KIDNEY STONES?! That's something great-great-grandfathers get -- not a fine, physically fit specimen of strapping brute machismo such as myself. But the tests do not lie. The doctor explains to me that kidney stones are usually rocky deposits of whatnot that have chosen, for any variety of reasons, to leave their cushy homes in the kidney in search of the New World.

At this point, the doctor turns into a six-foot pink bunny, tips his top hat at me, and hops amiably out of the emergency room. I think. Did I mention they gave me morphine?

Okay, I say to myself, I'm no dummy. I've seen enough episodes of ER. The advancing technologies of today's medical care means that, at any minute, some nice doctor will come into the room with an honest-to-gosh laser gun and painlessly shoot these kidney stones back to Hell, and all will be well.

"No?" What do you MEAN, "no?!"

Instead, I was sent promptly out with my parting gift, "Kidney Stones: The Home Game." I'll spare you the grisly details, but have you ever seen the things prospectors used to pan for gold? Uh-huh.

Their only advice for me? "Drink a lot of water. Take the pain pills. Have fun!"

So I drank. And drank. And waited. All the while, I'm picturing what these things must look like. Surely, based on the pain, they must be the size of a softball, covered in pointy spikes, quite possibly alive, fanged, and hungry. So when the "moment of truth" occurred, and I looked down to see this innocuous little thing about the size of a ball bearing, I almost felt cheated. "Congratulations, Mr. Brown, it's a BB."

Turns out my little friends, like most kidney stones, were calcium deposits. That's right, calcium. The stuff we've been told since birth that we need in order to build strong bones. Calcium is supposed to be our FRIEND. I don't quite remember any disclaimers in the ads, do you? "IT DOES A BODY GOOD! (*Unless, of course, it's causing you indescribable pain as it rips your body apart from the inside out.)" I'm swearing off milk for a good long while.

From what I've read, though, my kidney stones probably had a lot more to do with my uncanny ability to drink gallons of sugary soft drinks per day. But I simply CAN'T swear off my allegiance to the Coca-Cola empire. After all, breakfast IS the most important meal of the day.

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