40 ways to appreciate a kidney stone

At the er for a migraine

I wake up a lit­tle before seven with a sharp pain in my lower back. Just that old pulled mus­cle act­ing up again—but man, this time it really hurts. I gob­ble a bunch of Advil and hob­ble back to bed.

A few hours later, I’m up again. While the pain has abated, it’s still there, and I briefly won­der if I should mosey over to the Emer­gency Room. But no, I’m being a wimp. I pop a cou­ple more Advil, pack up my com­puter, and head off to a café. It’s Monday—Memorial Day—but I didn’t make any plans, in part because I really need to motor through a bunch of work.

I’m eat­ing my crois­sant and sip­ping cof­fee when the pain washes over me again. I look up from my lap­top screen. This really doesn’t feel right. And yes, it seems silly to go to the ER because of back pain, but you know what? I don’t care.

Well, as you’ve likely fig­ured out by now, this wasn’t just my ancient sports injury giv­ing me grief. It was a kid­ney stone. I’m still not sure exactly what this is—something about a cal­ci­fied some­thing try­ing to find its way out—but I do have one salient piece of advice:  Refrain from get­ting one.

It’s really good you came in,” said the med­ical tech­ni­cian, who started the IV drip to admin­is­ter pain meds and fluids.

I hadn’t brought any­thing to read, but I did have my iPhone. “Hol­i­day greet­ings from the Coo­ley Dick emer­gency room! Work­ing hypoth­e­sis: kid­ney stones. #tmi,” I typed into Facebook.

Thanks to social media, I had instant company.

I read a great essay a few days ago about how you can make dif­fi­cult expe­ri­ences bet­ter by craft­ing the story that you’ll later tell about them. Or some­thing like that,” my writer friend Megan quipped.  She was talk­ing about this, and in fact, I already was.

At the time the pain struck, I was fin­ish­ing up a col­umn for Sec­on­dAct about doing a Plan B Nation-style Hap­pi­ness Project. The idea, of course, grew out of lawyer-turned-writer Gretchen Rubin’s #1 New York Times best­seller The Hap­pi­ness Project. I’ve some­times jok­ingly call Plan B Nation  “a Hap­pi­ness Project for the rest of us”—for those who don’t already have Rubin’s pic­ture per­fect life—and I wanted to write about that.

But lying in the ER, my mind wan­dered to two of Rubin’s pre­vi­ous books—Forty Ways to Look at Win­ston Churchill and Forty Ways to Look at JFK.  And then: Forty Ways to Appre­ci­ate a Kid­ney Stone. The title just popped into my head, and I decided to make a list. (If you’re inter­ested, you can read it below. In fact, I only came up with 25, but in def­er­ence to whim­si­cal­ity, I left the title unchanged.)

Two days later, I was telling my writer friend Lisa about my mis­ad­ven­ture. “I was so con­vinced it was that sports injury that I blocked out any other option.”

As it hap­pened, Lisa had her own such story. Walk­ing down a dark Brook­lyn street a num­ber of years back, she caught sight of three suspicious-looking char­ac­ters ambling towards her. If you see some­thing sus­pi­cious, always look at your watch. A friend had described hav­ing done just that after see­ing a plane fly low over Manhattan’s Twin Tow­ers. Now Lisa did it her­self. In an instant, she saw her­self on the wit­ness stand, Law and Order style. She alone would have the facts! And then, she was mugged.

Oh! I’m not a wit­ness! I’m the vic­tim!” was her first aston­ished thought.

You might say our minds have minds of their own. They assume “facts,” cre­ate sto­ries, and often won’t shut up until they get us to act accord­ingly.  At times, this is a great thing. Our lives depend on it. But help­ful as our minds may try to be, they some­times lead us astray. Their first impulse isn’t always the right one. That’s why we need to keep them open.

Forty Ways to Appre­ci­ate a Kid­ney Stone

1. It wasn’t some­thing worse

2. I got to meet the super nice super kind peo­ple in the Coo­ley Dick emer­gency room

3. I wasn’t out of town

4. I didn’t have the dis­ap­point­ment of can­celling hol­i­day plans (had been feel­ing a lit­tle glum about not hav­ing any. Now I was glad.)

5.  It didn’t hap­pen right before a work deadline

6. I wasn’t screw­ing up any­one else’s hol­i­day plans

7. It gave me an oppor­tu­nity to test my story-creating tool—and find it worked again

8. It led me to appre­ci­ate health in a way I hadn’t the day before

9. It gave me another way to reflect on the qual­ity of open­ness that I’ve been mulling; the abil­ity to see out­side expec­ta­tions. In brief, my ini­tial ten­dency was to attribute this to a flar­ing of a sports injury. In fact, it was some­thing different.

10. I told a nurse about Gree­nie pill pock­ets for her aging cat

11. I appre­ci­ated liv­ing in a place with easy access to med­ical care

12. I now know what these symp­toms mean in the event they strike again

13. I know I should be drink­ing more water.

14. Another way to con­nect with friends

15. It gave me a chance to see that, at least some­times, I’m get­ting bet­ter than I used to be about life not going accord­ing to my plans.

16. It gave me a sense that I’m not as much of a pain wimp as I’ve always thought of myself as being.

17. I didn’t have to take the heavy duty painkillers.

18. I had the heavy duty painkillers in reserve, which was reassuring.

19. Appre­ci­ate FB—didn’t have to call any one per­son but had com­mu­nity sup­port, felt not alone + knew I had some­one to call on if it turned out I did need help

20. Friends who offered to help

21. Made me appre­ci­ate insurance

22. Made me appre­ci­ate Mass, where health insur­ance is affordable

23. Made me appre­ci­ate my apartment—quiet, rest­ful, safe space to recuperate.

24. Appre­ci­ate my car—that I was able to drive myself to the ER

25. Writ­ing about this gives me a chance to con­nect with others—and maybe help some­one else who ends up in this place in the future. (Research sug­gests that help­ing oth­ers makes us hap­pier than doing things for ourselves.)

© 2012, amy gut­man. All rights reserved.

35 thoughts on “40 ways to appreciate a kidney stone

  1. Hi Amy,
    I wanted to let you know that this post of yours inspired me to write one of my own, about my wife’s recent kid­ney trans­plant: http://theseekerblog.net/2013/08/26/25-ways-to-appreciate-a-kidney-transplant/ (It’s on my “other” blog where I post more per­sonal writ­ing.) It was noticed by the hospital’s PR peo­ple, and linked-to from their blog: http://medcenterblog.org/2013/08/the-seeker-gives-through-a-living-kidney-donation/
    You never know what a spark of an idea will develop into! Thanks for the inspi­ra­tion.
    Matthew recently posted…25 Ways to Appre­ci­ate a Kid­ney TransplantMy Profile

  2. Ditto for my gall stone! It too reared its ugli­ness and mine on a hol­i­day week­end — Easter.
    #26 Gall blad­der was removed so I will NEVER have a gall stone again!

  3. Dear Amy (and I do mean “Dear”, despite my unfor­tu­nate behav­ior of the other day),

    I too have been hav­ing some somatic com­plaints, and have found my moods dis­torted by same. When last we met I was a tad hos­tile (mea max­ima culpa), as a direct func­tion of a deeply alarm­ing week spent fre­quent­ing the neigh­bor­hood vet. (So you get the pic­ture, this guy has a photo-portrait of him­self exam­in­ing a mis­er­ably fat cat hung on the wall of the recep­tion area. AND, two cats live at the office all the time. Really?)

    So the first time, I had 15 teeth removed and parts of me shaved, because I have “bad saliva” and lousy own­ers, who are too lazy to brush my teeth. I came home feel­ing rot­ten, with antibi­otics and pain killers. And the sec­ond time, the day of our mis­ad­ven­ture, my older sis­ter Cather­ine dragged me in so the vet could look at a sus­pi­cious some­thing on my back. Despite all his expe­ri­ence the guy found it nec­es­sary to shave me, again, within an inch of my life so he could see it. Then he sent me home with antibi­otics and pocket Gree­nies (of which you speak above) and the dubi­ous rec­om­men­da­tion that my fam­ily apply hot com­presses three times a day for 15 min­utes at a stretch (REALLY?).

    So I was not a happy puppy when you came in the door that day.

    And by the way, I went back on Tues­day (even though I started to shake vio­lently when we turned up Mass. Ave en route past Simon’s to the cat-man’s lair) because I pulled a mus­cle and blamed Betsy for it and wouldn’t sleep with her any­more and she’s depressed. Now, thank God, I have the pain killers again and they’re back to feed­ing me human food and I’m feel­ing more frisky and smil­ing more. I am try­ing to let Betsy come around on her own, because she got way into my space over the pulled mus­cle thing—she hates when I cry. So I’ve been cau­tious about drag­ging my butt along the floor and hump­ing ran­dom legs when I have an urge to dominate—to reduce her stress level.

    So you think you’ve had a tough week. Been there, done that, got the T-shirt. I wrote up my own Forty (well, 12) Ways to Appre­ci­ate Going to the Vet

    1. It wasn’t some­thing worse

    2. I wasn’t out of town—the vets on the Vine­yard are too crunchy, and obsessed with irri­tat­ingly serene black dogs

    3. Led me to appre­ci­ate chicken, salmon and steak all the more

    4. It gave me another way to reflect on the qual­ity of open­ness that I’ve been mulling; the abil­ity to see out­side expec­ta­tions. In brief, my ini­tial ten­dency was to attribute this to hav­ing eaten some bad chicken, salmon or steak.…. In fact, it was some­thing different

    5. I told the doc­tor to stop say­ing “Good Girl” and get a life, which was satisfying

    6. I know I should be eat­ing more chicken, salmon and steak

    7. Another way to remind my fam­ily how much they can’t live with­out me

    8. Gave my own­ers a chance to see that when life doesn’t go accord­ing to plans their first pri­or­ity should be me

    9. I got those pain pills and had dreams about hav­ing not been spayed

    10. Got Betsy to get off freak­ing Face­book and Twit­ter long enough to address more mean­ing­ful concerns

    11. Got Betsy to spend more time with me and less at that over-rated Simon’s Cof­fee Shop, where every­one knows her name and she wastes money on WiFi with her over-educated Cam­bridge friends all of whom wear head­phones (Really? who pays for WiFi anymore?)

    12. Made me appre­ci­ate Mass­a­chu­setts, where health insur­ance is affordable—leaving more cash left over for chicken, salmon and steak

    12. Writ­ing about this gives me a chance to apol­o­gize for my poor behav­ior, and to offer a believ­able excuse, thereby increas­ing the like­li­hood that when you come again you will still have Evergood’s cheese on hand.

    Love and licks from me, Wubby

  4. Amy—this is just lovely. As you know, we had a few awful years recently, with the accom­pa­ny­ing residuals—and I learned a lot about appre­ci­at­ing var­i­ous things I had always dreaded. It comes with age, it comes with expe­ri­ence, and it def­i­nitely is not pos­si­ble with gen­er­ous and loyal friends. I love this post.

  5. I also had a kid­ney stone. My list would include:

    26 . Mor­phine! The day I flew with­out an aeroplane.

    What’s Face­book?
    Snakebite recently posted…BHFTF RecapMy Profile

  6. What’s with kid­ney stones and hol­i­day week­ends? I had one July 4th week­end of 2011. I still carry my expired bot­tle of oxy­codone pills in case I get a relapse while on a plane! I am glad you are on the other side of the “expe­ri­ence” and are feel­ing well enough to write so engag­ingly about it.

  7. Wow, Amy, I had no idea since I haven’t been on FB much. Glad you’re on the mend and that you chose to write your way through the kid­ney stones and inspire the rest of us by doing so!

  8. What’s with kid­ney stones and hol­i­day week­ends? I had mine July 4th week­end of 2011 — first and only time so far. I still carry the expired bot­tle of oxy­codone they gave me in case I’m on a plane and get a relapse. Great piece — glad you are on the other side of the stone.

  9. Who else could write about kid­ney stones like this?
    amus­ing, blithe, caper­ing, clever, comic, com­i­cal, droll, dry, fan­ci­ful, far­ci­cal, flip*, flip­pant, friv­o­lous, funny, gay, humor­ous, indeco­rous, ironic, irrev­er­ent, jest­ing, jocose, joc­u­lar, jok­ing, josh­ing, laugh­able, ludi­crous, merry, not seri­ous, play­ful, pleas­ant, pulling one’s leg, pun­ning, putting one on, ridicu­lous, salty, sar­cas­tic, satir­i­cal, smart, sportive, sprightly, wag­gish, whim­si­cal, wise­crack­ing, witty, wry
    From what I’ve heard about kid­ney stones, I can barely even con­ceive of wry, let alone BE witty, wise and wry! Huz­zahs, Amy!

  10. Wel­come to the Stone fam­ily, Amy. Dixie and I have both been to the ER with stones—-the relief from IV pain meds felt so good I begged the male nurse to come home with us and bring his rolling IV pole with him. He declined. A month ago Dixie had a 12 mm one “blasted” and it took two weeks for the result­ing “gravel” to pass com­pletely. I know, tmi…Here’s to a clear Xray for your birthday!

    • Thanks, Molly! Not sure a full-out sys­tem­atic Hap­pi­ness Project is in my future–I think it would make me nuts to feel like I ALWAYS HAVE TO BE POSITIVE. But it’s fun using blog­ging to reframe, which seems to come eas­ily and nat­u­rally to me. We all have to find what works for us.
      amy gut­man recently posted…40 ways to appre­ci­ate a kid­ney stoneMy Profile

      • Does a Hap­pi­ness Project mean that you always have to be pos­i­tive? I would think it would mean to find some­thing to be happy about each day. We can’t be pos­i­tive about every­thing, although you did find an awful lot of rea­sons why a kid­ney stone wasn’t so ter­ri­ble :)
        Molly@Postcards from a Peace­ful Divorce recently posted…Trav­el­ing SoloMy Profile

        • Well, I do call Plan B Nation “a Hap­pi­ness Project for the rest of us” so maybe I’m already doing one! In any case, it’s prob­a­bly about as much as I can han­dle. No new projects!! Though I failed mis­er­ably in my effort to Do Less this month, which will be the sub­ject of my next blog post …
          amy gut­man recently posted…40 ways to appre­ci­ate a kid­ney stoneMy Profile

  11. I had a very sim­i­lar expe­ri­ence — dull pain that I attrib­uted to an ath­letic issue … dis­ap­pear­ing and com­ing back big big big. I too drove myself to the CDH emer­gency room where I posted my FB sta­tus as “At CDH. Kid­ney stones,” or some­thing along those lines. And I vowed to drink more damn water. Here’s to you, my kid­ney sister!

  12. You’re amaz­ing to be writ­ing about this so soon after the fact. My wife had a kid­ney stone years ago and she was pretty mis­er­able for sev­eral days (maybe some­thing to do with the mid­night ride to the ER and the asso­ci­ated loss of sleep). And I know (from expe­ri­ence) that it’s tough to find the “lessons” in health crises, so I love that you’ve done just that.

    • Thanks, Matthew–it’s sort of a two steps for­ward, one step sort of thing for me. I was feel­ing way bet­ter, then crappy again, now bet­ter. Back to the doc­tor tomor­row; hop­ing to have it all behind me by THIS week­end! Wish­ing you a very good one, and as always, thanks for read­ing & stop­ping by.
      amy gut­man recently posted…40 ways to appre­ci­ate a kid­ney stoneMy Profile

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