Over 25 years ago, I was introduced to the outer limits of pain and the first of over 35 kidney stones, emergency rooms visits, and all manner of treatments.
I was at home in downtown Chicago when I felt the first pain, drenching sweats, cramps, nausea and vomiting. My wife came home after I called her in a panic and drove me to a hospital where my urologist practiced.
After arriving at the emergency room, my wife found a nurse to help get me out of the car and inside, where a whole new, unwanted world awaited me with carnivorous intentions.
I don’t recall much of what happened in the emergency room other than receiving my first ever dose of morphine, which quickly removed the slobbering panther of pain from my chest and moved it across the room where it couldn’t devour me.
I remember x-rays and a much needed introduction of a bladder catheter. I protested the appearance of the damn thing — not being able to imagine anything of that size jammed up inside me to relieve my badly abused bladder and kidneys. But with an extra dose of morphine, the nurse could have slipped a tree branch up my penis and I would have laughed.
Morphine almost made me believe in a merciful God.
But that was before Dr. X entered the picture with his dark designs and even darker instruments.
After much poking and prodding, my urologist decided that I did indeed possess a rather large stone that he would extract from my right ureter. This was easily accomplished, he purred with medical detachment. Under the tender mercies of anesthesia, he’d slip a thin flexible instrument up my penis, through my various reservoirs and canals, where with a little “basket” he’d skillfully grasp the offending stone and extract it with the finest precision.
I agreed and it was off to the operating room where I was rendered unconscious and Dr. X went to work. When I bobbed up from the anesthetic darkness, my first lucid moment was a brightly burning pain in my gut. Was this some sort of medical joke?
My eyes swam through unimaginable pain to Judie’s pale face wobbling up and down through my narcotized vision.
“What the f–k happened to me?” I asked.
She quickly explained that Dr. X was unable to remove the boulder with his usual technique; the rock resisted all. In retreat, he placed a stent, a small gauge wire, into my ureter to block the stone from any unwanted movement.
In 10 days or so, after I healed from this torture, he’d blast the stone with a new procedure, a lithotripsy — the first in Chicago — with sound waves to break up that primeval invader. Soon after the procedure, the smashed stone would drain out of me in small, tamed gravel.
Over the next 45 minutes I asked, demanded, begged, wheedled and swore at the nurse for more morphine. Judie tried to get me help, but more rationally. Eventually it came, but I needed 12 milligrams to get the panther to back off.
Unfortunately, I kept falling back into the grasp of gasping pain sooner than the doctor and nurses thought was legitimate. Judie and I had to raise hell with them to drop their time schedule and give me the damn drug when I needed it.
I was remanded to a hell not of my making. I was terrified of the panther returning again and again without the backstop of morphine that left me enraged and, even worse, helpless. My struggle with the pain went through the day and into the evening, and only let up the following afternoon. I was exhausted fighting off the pain and was happy to escape the hospital.
I spent the next ten days lying around home moving as little as possible. Every time I did move, the stent would dig into my plumbing, reminding me of its alien presence.
Finally I was introduced to the lithotripsy machine. Most of my body was submerged in a steel bath of warm water after given a spinal block. I was given earphones so I could lose myself in Led Zepplin to drown out the rapid firing banging of the machine blasting me with sound waves through the warm bath. Each time I was zapped I heard a loud bang that represented several zaps of sound waves aimed at my kidney. It went on so long that each time I was hit it felt as if I was being stabbed with an icepick.
Later the next day, recovering at home in our downtown apartment, Judie and I took a two block walk and rested on a bench. As I sat with her in the cold autumn wind I began to cry, shake and hyperventilate. The awful experience of the last weeks hit me at once.
Within two months my body simply fell apart. I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, arthritis and possibly Behcet’s Disease. The latter was confirmed two years later when I permanently lost half the vision in my left eye.
Pain and disability roared to life and within another three years I had to give up my practice and teaching.
Looking back on this I’ve come to think that the calamity of that first kidney stone unearthed and made me a target for the underlying illness that waited patiently to flower.
I could never shake free of that first attack as I was felled by gruesome kidney stones and the necessity of invasive procedures to be rid of them, one after the next, after the next…
These attacks were traumatic, and one nearly killed me when my breathing and blood pressure went through the floor after a shot of morphine while in the emergency room for yet another ghastly attack.
It is clear to me now that these traumatic medical incidents stirred up two traumas from my childhood and I was not only caught in the grasp of medical trauma, but in old traumas as well. It seems in retrospect that the helplessness of the previous traumas and the helplessness of the kidney stone left me wide open for what was already stirring.
The pathways to pain might be as varied as those who live with it.
Mark Maginn lives in Chicago where he is a poet, writer and social justice activist. Mark suffers from chronic pain and was a longtime volunteer with the American Pain Foundation. His blog “Left Eye Blind” can be found here.
The information in this column is not intended to be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Only your doctor can do that! It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s personal experiences and opinions alone. It does not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of National Pain Report or Microcast Media.