Year 2010: Snapshot #2 (kidney stones and stomach pain are not the same)

January 2010.

On the way home from shopping with C on a bright and bitter afternoon a week after Christmas, I felt a very sharp pain rip across the left side of my lower back. It felt like someone had stuck a needle into some internal vein and dragged it for a stretch of 6 inches. I grabbed my back and tried to catch my breath. It was over as soon as it started.

We drove home and I went right to our bed, stretching myself out and wondering what that could have been. My stomach and intestinal pain was now going on 2 and a half solid months. I had lost about 8 pounds, I was hardly eating (or drinking) much of anything except what I made myself during family functions. My doctor had given me pain medication to deal with the chronic ache and burning in my digestive track. I had removed all dairy, coffee, beer/wine, and beans from my diet for close to 7 months and nothing was changing. IBS every day, chronic pain all the time. I was scared I wasn’t going to be able to start the semester in January.

I don’t remember how long I was laying there when the pain in my back hit again. It felt like my insides were being ripped open in sharp stabs. Because I was used to being sick, I thought: maybe this is a whole new level of IBS. Maybe this is horrible gas or I ate something really bad for me…maybe I’m going to get sick. C found me on the bathroom floor, writhing around, sobbing and shaking and rocking my body. I honestly believed it was gas and sent him to the store to get something for me. (This sounds terribly laughable now—as if gas could cause that much pain…) He came back with tablets that are supposed to relieve too much gas in your system. At that point I was on the floor between our bed and my dresser, sobbing and shaking and almost ready to pass out. He called 911.

C was convinced I was having a kidney stone attack. Having had one himself 2 years earlier, he knew what the pain looked like. Only I’m the woman with the world’s lowest pain tolerance (ask anyone who knows me: this is absolute Truth). The ambulance arrived and the two paramedics made their way through our gutted front hall to find me in the bedroom, trying to breath between the sharp stabs of pain. I could hardly answer their questions, the pain was so intense—I couldn’t get anything out in a full sentence. Rather than bring me out on a stretcher, I hobbled between them down the hall and they lifted me onto the stretcher in front of our house. On the way to the hospital, I kept trying to twist onto my side and rock myself while I sobbed, holding my left side, which now hurt significantly more than my stomach did. The straps on the gurney wouldn’t let me move.

C drove behind us the half mile to the hospital.

They set me up in the hallway, in line behind a row of people also waiting to be checked in. All I remember was twisting and sobbing and rocking myself on the gurney. No one paid attention to me—I’m sure you get desensitized to pain when you were in the ER and I was no big emergency.

Check-in was a blur of questions I don’t remember answering. When they finally moved me into my own room, the pain was so intense, I kept telling C I was going to be sick. He kept trying to get the nurse who first checked on me to come back, but he was no where to be found. I finally leaned over the bed and threw up green bile into the salmon colored plastic pan on the bed-side table. I heard someone outside the curtain yell “she’s throwing up, she’s throwing up!” and three nurses were in my room immediately. Note to self: when you want attention in the ER, just start puking.

A very kind nurse finally brought in an IV and told me I needed fluids and pain meds. When he inserted the needle, his eyes got large and he looked up at me and said, “wow, you might be the most dehydrated person I have ever worked on in the ER.” Not knowing what that meant for my body, I decided his comment scared me. Another nurse came in with two vials of morphine, smiled at me and said, “Sweetie, you are going to feel so much better in about 2 minutes, I absolutely promise you.”

There’s the thing about morphine: it’s awesome. It’s beyond awesome. I understand why people get addicted to pain medications—it’s not as if the pain completely went away, but once the morphine hit my system, I suddenly didn’t care about the pain. I watched him empty the drug into my IV and in seconds my mouth filled with a metallic taste and my vein felt icy. And then the world felt slower. And I could breathe normally again.

At some point, my father showed up. I’m pretty certain he had tears in his eyes. C called my parents while I was in the ambulance and my father got right in his car and drove an hour and a half to the hospital. He stayed with me and C for a few hours.

I was in one of the smaller city hospitals, so rather than having an xray, they decided to do an ultrasound to see if I had a kidney stone. I laid in a bed, full of morphine, while a tech rubbed jelly-stuff all over my belly. The process took a full hour. The test wasn’t conclusive: they thought they saw a stone, but told me it was small enough that I could pass it without an operation. I was sent home late that night with a bottle of painkillers.

24 hours later, I was back on the bedroom floor, freaking out in pain. The painkillers weren’t working. I could hardly move or breath the pain was so intense. C called his urologist at Strong, the major university hospital up the road, and told him what had happened. He told C to drive me to the ER at Strong immediately.

At Strong, I was sent directly down for an xray, then put in a bed in the overnight waiting area to wait out the results. This time, my mom drove out and held my hand and tried to look less worried than C did. C’s urologist was now my urologist: he strolled into my curtained-off room and said, “Never go to that other hospital: they don’t know what they are doing.”


He told me that the xray showed that I had not one, not two, but three kidney stones. And they were all too large for me to pass naturally. The other hospital didn’t know this because they had first pumped me full of pain meds and then did a sonogram, which clouded up the results and made it impossible for them to actually see what was going on in my body. I guess morphine does this to you. Had I gone to Strong the previous day, I probably would have already had surgery. Because of the location of the stones, they would not be able to do an extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy—meaning, they would not be able to blast my body with shock waves, breaking up the stones into little pieces, allowing them to pass. C had this done two years prior: you end up with a giant bruise on your side, but it’s less invasive.

Instead, I would have to have a cystoscopy-ureteroscopy—meaning they were going in through my urethra, up my ureter, into my kidney and capturing the stones with a wire and a wee basket and pulling them out. The process looks like this:

More awesome.

The urologist asked me if I had noticed anything other than the pain in the preceding weeks that might have altered me to the kidney stones. I told him about my chronic stomach pain. He told me the stomach pain/kidney stone connection was unheard of and very unlikely, but he wouldn’t completely rule it out. He also told me that given how dehydrated I was, it’s likely that not eating or drinking for almost 2 months caused the stones to move.

I decided it was my bodys way of saying, “F-you Rach—if you’re not going to feed me, I’ll just make it worse.”

He sent in a resident to explain the surgery. All I could think was: So, this really good looking resident is going to see me totally naked tomorrow. When’s the last time I shaved my legs?

I spent the night in the hospital and slept about 3 hours. The nurse was required to come in and take my vitals every hour. The morphine made me hallucinate: I would close my eyes and see scary devil faces laughing at me. Because of the IVs, I’d have to drag myself to the bathroom to pee, pulling my IVs behind me and trying not to trip over my hospital gown.

My surgery was at 6 a.m. C took my glasses and they rolled me into OR. I could hardly see anything without my contacts or glasses. At some point, a blonde petite woman walked over to my bed and said “Rachel! Remember me? Kelly?!”

Dear. God. Why? Now, in addition to an attractive resident and a handful of other urologist, urologists-in-training, nurses, and techs, did the one OR tech have to be a girl I worked with for 2 years at Starbucks? I felt two ways about this: 1. Comforted that I knew someone who was about to help push a wire into my crotch and relieve my pain. 2. Horrified that someone I knew was about to help push a wire into my crotch and relieve my pain.

They lifted me into a flexible bed and a tech started putting what felt like little suction cups all over my body to monitor my heart, etc. I had a tube in my nose. My heart was pounding. It was my first time every going under. I waited for the anesthesiologist to tell me to count backwards, because that’s what everyone said they do. But he didn’t. I heard voices all around me, and then things went dark.

I woke up sitting in a chair, covered in blankets, feeling like 10 trucks had run over me, a long black string hanging out from between my legs. A ureteral stent. It looks like this:

And yes, one end of it literally hooks into your kidney so that your ureter does not swell shut keeping the tiny stones from passing through you system.

Inside, it looks like this:

I didn’t know it looked like that until the nurse pulled it out of me 2 weeks later. I just knew there was a black string between my legs, that it hurt to walk, hurt to pee, and that my pee was bright blood orange. I decided right then and there that I needed to start eating and drinking again. Immediately.

9 Comments on “Year 2010: Snapshot #2 (kidney stones and stomach pain are not the same)”

  1. whitwhit says:

    this post just encouraged me to guzzle down an entire water bottle all at once. and now i’m gonna go drink another. ha 🙂

    oh! and p.s. i bet we had the same hot resident all up in our lady parts.

    • Michelle says:

      Hey!!.. Just wondering, when they pulled the ureteral stent out does it hurt?.. I get to pull mine out tomorrow and I get to do it myself 🙁

      • rachel says:

        i was too scared to pull my own out, so i had a nurse do it. she just pulled it out in one motion so i didn’t feel it. if you do it yourself, do it fast!

        • Lola says:

          pull it out yourself??? i had a stent put in for 30 days, i had cramping right right after the removal but they stuck a scope all the way up to get it out, how do you do it yourself? i would never! the pain of kidney stones is no joke.

  2. Ed says:

    I feel your pain girl! This is kidney stone #5 for me, and the first one that I couldn’t pass. I have stent in currently, (w/o the string) and it reminds me it’s there every time i have to pee with a bit of dull pain. Most people can’t understand how incredibly painfull and kidney stone is.

    • cella says:

      how long does a kidney stone take to come out on its own, I have one in me now and its been there for a week today, its only 3mm big, its been hurting so bad.

  3. Valorie says:

    So, was the stomach pain gone after the kidney stones were removed? I found your post after trying to make sense of the severe upper abdominal pain I’ve been having every evening for a week. After doing a battery of tests including an endoscopy and ultrasound, they finally detected a kidney stone. Hopefully I’ll be going to the urologist on Friday to have it removed. I would love to have hope that, even though the pain seems so unrelated, that it is related somehow and the kidney stone could be the problem. Thanks!!

    • rachel says:

      Valorie: I really wish I could say “yes” but I can’t. It went away temporarily, but I ended up going through way more testing that year b/c I still had chronic pain. Your comment made me realize I haven’t finished the story! I’ll work on that. Good luck!

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