This (kidney stone) Too Shall Pass

So last week I passed a kidney stone! MAYBE! At this point it’s all very unclear. Here’s what happened:

I’d been feeling crummy for a few days- nauseous and crampy, but I figured it was just normal Crohn’s stuff. Then, early Wednesday morning I woke up to a strange pain underneath my ribs on my right side. I tried to go back to sleep, but the pain got worse. I took out my heating pad to see if I could hold that to my side and fall back asleep, but it made no difference. After a restless few hours, around 7am I decided to go to the emergency clinic. The pain spread as I drove, and by the time I arrived I was beside myself. I staggered in to the waiting room and breathlessly asked to see the doctor. They put me in a nice room with its own television that was playing reruns of The Crocodile Hunter on loop. After the routine check-in procedures (taking of temperature and blood pressure, update of medical history, peeing in a cup) I was informed that the doctor would be by in about twenty minutes.

By this time the pain had encompassed my entire right side and I could barely move. On the TV, Steve and his wife wound their way through a shoreline full of beached whales. They cried. I cried. When the doctor finally came into my room the pain in my right side was at its peak, and I was at my most dramatic. I slowly uncurled myself from the couch and stretched out across the examining table. He asked me a series of questions and poked around until I yelled out- he then looked at me with a very concerned face (never something you want to see on your doctor) and told me he was afraid I may have appendicitis and that I should head straight to the emergency room. Also, he waived my copay.

As I grabbed my belongings and staggered to the front door the doctor stopped and asked me if I had someone who could take me to the hospital because he didn’t think I should be driving. I told him I was fine to drive and then promptly backed into another car in the parking lot. At this point the pain was unbearable, so I wrote some sort of frenzied message on the back of a sonic receipt and left it under the other car’s windshield. I got back in my car and cried a little, and then I called Jon.

He answered several rings in, his voice still heavy from sleeping.  “I need you to get dressed,” I whispered into the phone, which I now understand is one of the creepier things to lead with when calling someone very early in the morning.

“Okay…”

“And take me to the hospital.” I finished. This got his attention. I told him I was on my way to his house, and for some reason we left it at that and hung up. I drove to his building which wasn’t far from the clinic and then cried a while more as I waited for him to come down. I angled myself strangely in my car so I could keep an eye on the elevator and noticed that my pain was starting to subside. It was happening so slowly that I couldn’t tell if I was imagining it or not. By the time Jon came down (with his backpack and a pillow) the sensation had retreated back into the central location just under my ribs.

I explained about the possible appendicitis to Jon, and then we rode to the hospital in silence. On the way my phone rang and despite it being an unknown number, I answered it anyway. After I hung up Jon asked who it was. “Just this guy whose car I hit,” I told him, “but he was very nice.”

Right before we got to the Emergency Room I stopped Jon and told him that I was feeling much better and maybe we should just go home. He looked at me incredulously and started in on a talk that we’ve had several times before: the Don’t Feel Guilty For Going To The Doctor Even For Little Things Because You Are A Very Sick Person And You Need To Be Precautionary talk. I relented and he turned into the parking garage.

Neither Jon nor I had ever been to an ER before, so we sort of aimlessly wandered around the hospital grounds trying to look for anything red or imposing. The pain would flare up every time I took a step, so it was slow goings. When we finally spotted the Emergency Room sign he tried to break the tension by raising his hand the way you would to flag down a waiter and saying “Yes, one emergency please!” I remember thinking it was funny but saying absolutely nothing at the time (good one, Jon! Thanks for trying.)

The waiting room was pretty calm when we arrived. Jon checked me in and gave me some paperwork to fill out, and then for the first (and not last) time that morning he leaned his head back on the wall and, in a fully sitting position, immediately fell asleep. A nurse came by and gave me a wristband which all felt a little too hospital-y for how much better I was feeling, and then I was called into the back.

The nurse led us into a little room with its own bed, a tiny old TV, and a conjoining bathroom. It was also the coldest place on earth. I was given a scratchy heated blanket and a hospital gown to change into. Without hesitation Jon took my discarded jacket and put it on over his own. We huddled down for another wait.

After about twenty minutes a nurse who honestly seemed a little too attractive/peppy for the kind of day I was having bopped in with the doctor and they both poked around. The doctor seemed confused that my pain level went down so much- normally with appendicitis the pain only worsens. They hooked me up to a huge IV and decided to run some tests.

I was given another cup to pee in. This time it was much tricker as I was hooked up to a large IV. I tried to walk into the bathroom but my IV line wasn’t long enough- Jon had to get up and move some furniture out of the way so I could pull it along with me, like any grandparent in a any medical drama you have ever watched. Even then, I wasn’t able to shut the bathroom door without pinching the IV, so Jon and I shared a nice moment where he got to hear me peeing. We’ll be friends forever now.

When I finished it was another long journey across the room to wash my hands, and then I looked over at the desk where my nurse, Darren, had instructed me to leave the urine. I couldn’t quite reach it from around the bed, but Jon was only sitting a few feet away. I glanced at the cup of pee, then back at Jon. He slowly shook his head “no.” That was fair. I climbed around and deposited the cup, then curled back up in bed.

After a while Jon had to leave for class. He had a bit of an internal struggle over the matter- too guilty to skip class, but also too guilty to leave me alone in a hospital. I assured him that I would be fine on my own and, if need be, I could find another ride home. He promised to come back after his class if I hadn’t been discharged yet, and then stood at the door with his back to me for a few moments. He turned back around, frowning, and told me he felt badly leaving me.

“I’m fiiiiiine,” I said, and I really believed it. Until the door swung shut behind him. Then I realized that I was alone in a hospital. ALONE! And my side hurt! And no one knew what was wrong! How could the people who love me have let this happen?! Didn’t they know I was only a little baby? What was I doing with this IV in my arm and this wristband stating I was 21 years old? Why did my mom have to retire and go on vacation in Florida??? I was so upset that I fell asleep very hard.

I woke up to a different nurse wheeling my entire bed out of the room while I was still on it. I blearily asked her where we were going, and she told me that I was getting a CT scan. I felt very naked and helpless, so I sent Jon a text to illicit pity and then hinted to some of my friends that I needed them to come be with me asap. My friend Tiernee, always good in an emergency situation, responded right away that she was heading over. She didn’t need directions. It was great.

After weaving me through the halls, the nurse parked my bed in a dimly lit room next to a large circular machine. She explained that I was supposed to insert myself into the circle and then breathe when instructed. When I got up to move the plain flashed in my side again. Right before the machine started up, the nurse told me they would be feeding a new type of medication into my IV. She was acting kind of weird about it. “It’ll make you feel warm,” she explained, and then there was a long hesitation, “and…. with some patients, it’s common to- the medicine… it can make you feel like you are wetting yourself.” Okay.

I know what you all are wondering, and yes. It did.

When we got back to the room the nurse told me they would have the results of my scan soon, and that hopefully after that I would be discharged. A few minutes later someone came in with my dismissal paperwork, and when I tried to ask what was wrong with me they rattled off a couple things: nothing on the scan, traces of blood in my urine that would require further testing, come back if it gets worse. I was befuddled and sleep deprived, but thankfully Tiernee swooped in at the exact moment, placing her bag down and jumping right in to dialogue about my medications and further course of treatment.

I watched their back-and-forth for a while, and then meekly asked “So… we don’t know what’s wrong with me?” The nurse shook her head, and despite myself I started to tear up. She obviously felt really bad, and started offering up some possible causes in a strangely hopeful manner- one that was meant to comfort rather than frighten. Maybe it was a kidney infection? Possibly a kidney stone that had passed by the time I was brought to the CT scan? Tiernee took hold of my arm and brought me to her car, then drove me to Walgreens to drop off my prescriptions. She was very kind and I was very grouchy. She dropped me off at my house and I went to sleep.

Later that night I had a rehearsal, and I noticed the discomfort in my right side coming back. By the time my rehearsal ended the pain was pretty bad again, and I asked Jon to take me to pick up the prescriptions that Tiernee and I had filled earlier in the day. One of the bottles was for pain- the instructions said to take up to two tablets every four to six hours as needed. I took one and only felt drowsiness and no relief. This is where the mistake was made: About thirty minutes later, in a state of sleepiness and discomfort, I took a second pill. Then I fell deeply asleep.

Now, patients with Crohn’s Disease have to be particularly careful when it comes to taking medications. We have sensitive guts. If a medicine lists possible side effects, it’s a pretty good bet that I will experience all of them. My mother always forbade me from taking the prescribed pain pills after any surgeries because she said they would only make me feel worse. But of course I had to grow up and move away and get almost-appendicits and ignore her advice, like any young person leaving the nest. It’s a rite of passage, really.

After I took the second pill, things get jumbled. Here’s what I remember from the twenty-four hours that followed:

  • Waking up to get ready for class and thinking I was incredibly drunk
  • I think I told Jon at some point that I was dying
  • Being unable to even look at my phone screen without wanting to hurl
  • Jon calling to tell me that he was bringing me a snowcone, and then me standing up to put my pants on and vomiting
  • Waiting twenty minutes and then eating the snowcone anyway
  • A blessed half-hour of feeling okayish and watching Survivor
  • Violently throwing up the snowcone
  • Falling asleep on the floor of the bathroom in front of the toilet (I do not know how long I slept there. It was maybe an hour or two before Jon found me.)
  • Lots of drool
  • Wanting to cry/actually crying every time Jon had to leave for class
  • More vomiting
  • Eventually watching the last half of the fourth Harry Potter movie and eating a dry piece of bread

The next day I felt like a human again. A human who was exhausted and empty and maybe had to pee out a calcified stone in  the near future, but a human nonetheless. I ate real food. I took a shower. I called my mother and told her the whole story, and she bought Jon a thank-you gift from Florida which she described as sounding really weird but actually being very cool (we’ll see.) The horrors were over.

WE THINK. See, that’s the fun part of this. No one actually told me what caused my crazy pain (which Jon and I now refer to as “A Steve Irwin,” aptly named after the man who was crying about beached whales on the emergency clinic’s TV at the same time I was crying over the pain in my side.) I’ve felt pretty okay since then. A little sore, a little grumpy. Very indebted to Jon and Tiernee, and all of my professors and scene partners who were so understanding about my little vacation from classes. But I am afraid waking up in the middle of the night and having another Steve Irwin. With Crohn’s, you never really know.

I guess from here on out it’s a waiting game.

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