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.)