WINCING MATILDA 2: THE KIDNEY STONE SAGA
Having finally recovered from the embarrassment of my vasectomy and the amazing swelling balls episode, I wasn't too keen on my dangly bits taking another beating from a surgical team. My kidneys had other ideas and their over-enthusiastic production of mineral deposits was destined to place my nether regions under renewed scrutiny. There is one logical way for a kidney stone to come out of the body; it makes its way down a tube whose diameter is slightly less than the diameter of the stone itself. Not much different from giving birth except the tube happens to be a tad longer. The last one which made this epic journey of its own accord got stuck at the top resulting in some interesting, but necessary, manipulations to wrestle it free. Following my manual dexterity, it had finally pinged free like an airgun pellet and audibly bounced round the porcelain while a queue formed outside the bathroom door - partly for use of the facilities and partly to discover whether I had finally given birth to a small, sharp-edged deposit of calcium oxalate.
That was then. This time the stone was sulking inside the tube leading out of one of my kidneys, steadfastly refusing to budge and causing excruciating pain. Despite my lacklustre performance in the pain stakes after my vasectomy, I am not normally a guy to wimp out at a little pain. Oh no. I can curse at a stubbed toe or hammered thumb-nail with the best of them and grit my teeth and allow gangrene to set in before finally stumbling into the casualty department. This time I'd been rushed into casualty in an ambulance, semi-conscious from pain and with my worried spouse, well my worried spouse had decided to let me get on with the pain stuff while she got on with the full-time mother of two kids stuff. She'd spent the last two weeks telling me to see the doctor about the darn stone, so I was grateful that she hadn't opted for a ringside seat and had a good gloat at my discomfort.
I'd gotten to the hospital after spending the last three hours in the medical centre at work after keeling over in agony halfway through my annual performance appraisal. Having decided that I wasn't faking it simply because my appraiser was accusing me of being over-zealous in certain areas of my work, the appraiser had escorted me to the medical centre. The agony of a kidney stone can go from zero to maximum in less than 2 seconds and can subside just as quickly. Only this time, it only subsided down to 8 on the pain scale of 0 to 10.
"Have you had this problem before?" asked the company doctor, eager for me not to die on the premises because it looked bad on the company health and safety statistics.
"I have a history of kidney stones," I managed to mumble through gritted teeth.
"Well in that case, it's probably just a spasm. It should pass in a couple of hours."
"It's not a spasm." I insisted, "This is definitely the real thing."
"I'm sure it's just a spasm."
"No, this one is the real thing."
"I think you're making quite a fuss over a small spasm."
"It's not a spasm - it's a kidney stone!" I said, and promptly passed out as a new wave of pain hit me.
"Look, you can spend an hour or so in the other room on the couch until the SPASM passes." What the heck did I have to do to persuade this man that it was not a spasm? Pee blood, pass out and possibly die on the clinic floor?
An hour later, we were having a re-run of the spasm vs real thing argument and it was getting pretty heated. Here I was, a mere unqualified patient insisting that my body was telling me it was in mortal distress from genuine kidney stone. Meanwhile, the company quack (a man renowned for telling a lathe-operator he was fit for work despite the poor guy having 2 broken legs, both in plaster and having to be propped up at a lathe) was defending his professional pride by insisting that I was making a fuss over nothing and that I'd survive long enough to die off-site and out of company time.
"What ... do ... I ... have ... to ... do ... to ... prove ... it ... isn't ... a ... bloody ... spasm?!" I said in a voice halfway between a whimper and a yell.
"I can test a urine a sample, that will prove it IS just a spasm," he said, his professional pride unwilling to bow to my physical pain.
I hobbled to the toilet cubicle and managed a very small sample. It was very small because something was blocking the exit to one kidney. I could feel that side beginning to swell up with fluid and was wondering how to persuade the quack that I really did have a kidney stone and what was worse, there was a danger of the affected kidney actually bursting due to fluid retention. The doctor produced a dipstick and with a great flourish swooped it into the urine sample.
At the same time as swooping the dipstick he said "If the pad on the end of the dipstick goes spotty green after 45 seconds there's a high probability you have a stone. If it changes any quicker and eventually goes black, it is definitely a stone .. but I'm absolutely cert ... oh f*ck!"
The dipstick pad went black the moment it hit the urine sample.
"How quickly can you get to hospital? ... never mind, I'll call the ambulance."
By ambulance he meant the works ambulance, driven by a security guard who aspired to be a police pursuit driver.
"Iíll phone ahead and let them know youíre on your way," said the doctor, as he consigned me to the back of an ancient ambulance donated to the company by some benevolent fund in recognition of our sterling efforts to keep the health service in business by sending an endless stream of minor injuries, mild heart attacks and occasional major coronaries in their direction.
As the over-enthusiastic security guard wove in and out of traffic, thrilled by the opportunity to use flashing blue lights to get through the permanently slow-moving traffic on the dual carriageway, I held on tight with one hand and phoned wifey on the mobile. Ever supportive of her ailing spouse, wifey decided that the situation was well under control and that a little light shopping would help her to cope with my situation. Meanwhile, I was discharged from an ambulance which apparently had only two speeds - flat out forwards and flat out reverse - and into the A&E department. The triage nurse promptly decided that I could survive several hours on a trolley in the waiting room and made sure I was given a painkiller injection so that if I did die, I did so with the minimum of noise and fuss and didn't wake up the receptionist. Maybe I'm being a little unfair, but when you're in just about the worst agony of your entire 40+ years of life and you have a wait of unknown duration before a doctor can deal with you, it's hard to be charitable.
Thus I spent 8 hours in the Casualty waiting room, waiting for an emergency bed in the men's urology ward. At that point, I'd have settled for a bed in the women's urology ward, or possibly in the morgue, just so long as someone did something about the slowly swelling kidney and the excruciating pain. My wife (de-stressed after vigourously exercising my credit card in several clothing stores) condescended to arrive at about 7 pm, having dumped the kids on granny for the evening. Just as I heaved myself into a sitting position to talk to her, I felt something shift in my side. The stone had changed position and my kidney was deflating as the fluid finally found a way out - with a yell of warning ("Oh f*ck!" in a rising tone as I recall), I leapt off the trolley and made a dash for the men's loos ready for when the flood reached my bladder several seconds later. I was hoping that the pressure would shoot out the darn stone, but the fact that my kidney was no longer in any danger of bursting was a relief in itself. Wifey was explaining the source of the commotion to the nurse who asked if I still needed a bed or whether I'd passed the stone. Clearly embarrassed by my unrestrained performance, wifey made some excuse about picking up the kids from granny's and at 9 pm, the hospital finally found me a bed. I think they'd been waiting for the previous occupant to die or something, because I'm sure the sheets were still warm.
First thing the following morning (second thing if you count the starvation rations rather optimistically called "breakfast") I was trolleyed off to the X-Ray department to see what was going in my urinary system. One of the nurses injected me with some sort of chemical dye which showed up on X-rays. The injection went in my arm, just inside the elbow. A few seconds later a wave of warmth swept up my body from my feet to my head. As soon as it reached my head I began having a really good trip. Unfortunately I have no recollection of the X-ray procedure after that. The warm feeling subsided much more slowly over a few hours and I wondered if the stuff was available in tablet form or could be inhaled. Man, I was spaced out for most of that day.
The X-ray showed a large kidney stone had managed to exit the kidney but couldn't get any further. It was solidly stuck in the tube leading down to my bladder. It wasn't a suitable candidate for ultrasound fragmentation so there was only one thing for it - the dreaded endoscope. Basically a thin flexible instrument would be inserted into the tip of my penis, guided through my bladder and up into the appropriate tube towards the afflicted kidney. Graspers on the end would grip the stone and drag it out. This would turn the insides of all the pipework between the stone and the outside world into corduroy because kidney stones are a bit like shrivelled dried peas - but with very sharp edges! Thankfully I was going to be under general anaesthesia at the time. Unfortunately, I wasn't scheduled for surgery until the following day so I had plenty of time to contemplate the effects of large sharp object being dragged through narrow, soft tube.
With nothing better to do, I began comparing notes with the other guys in the ward.
"Mine's got a bone in it," said a chap I'll call 'Ray' to preserve his dignity, "Honest. I walked into the corner of a table and they reckon I've knocked a chip of bone out of my pelvis and it's worked into my dick. Big lump halfway along - like a pea under the skin. D'you know what they're going to do to get it out?"
He then regaled us with an eye-watering (and frequently repeated) description of his impending operation.
"First they're going to cut the skin, all the way round the base of it. Right round. Then they're going to roll up the skin towards the tip so they can see what the lump is. When they get it out, they're going to roll the skin back down and sew it back together. I'm going to look like that Bobbitt fella with his dick stitched back on!"
"Frankenstein's penis!" called the chap in the bed opposite (Mark), "Will they put a bolt through it too?"
"Feels like there's already one in there," Ray told his grimacing audience, "Anyway, I hope the stitches don't burst if I get a stiffy, cos the skin will roll right up like a window blind!"
"My turn!" said Mark, "Mine's got a 90 degree bend in it. The doctor is going to cut a wedge out of one side of it and stitch the bits together to pull it straight. I reckon they'll have to splint it or something. I wonder if they could cut a wedge of skin out of my ass and plant it in my tool to give me another couple of inches while they're at it? My boyfriend would like that."
The consultant did his ward round later in the day, just to ensure we had nightmares bout our operations. Most of the guys were in for kidney stone removals like me, with the except of Ray "Frankenstein's Dick" and Mark who cheerfully (or gaily? gay-ly?) announced that he was bent in more ways than one. There was absolutely no privacy in the wards, the staff all talked at just the right volume and pitch to negate the usefulness of privacy curtains. And besides, the moment the curtains were puled round a bed, the rest of us leaned a bit closer to hear what was going on in there.
"Now we've explained what we're going to do," the consultant was explaining to Ray, "We're going to cut the skin, all the way round the base of it. Then we're going to roll the skin up like a sleeve, all the way to the tip so we can see what the lump is. We have to slice into the flesh to get at the lump and remove it. When the lump has been removed, we'll roll the skin back down like a sleeve and sew it back together. I'm afraid that for a while you're going to look like Mr Bobbitt after his penis reattachment surgery."
"How soon afterwards can I have sex?" asked Ray.
"Well it will have to heal for a while," the consultant told him, "Otherwise the stitches will burst and the skin might roll up again. So you'll have to tell your wife not to bounce up and down on it too hard."
The rest of us were almost wetting ourselves laughing. We couldn't wait to see what happened when Ray relayed the bouncing up and down message to his missus.
The only other interesting one was Bendy Mark's consultation. I couldn't hear what was being said behind the curtains, but as the consultant walked towards the door, Mark jumped out of bed and followed him.
"Are you sure you can't add an extra couple of inches to it?!" he shouted at the consultant's departing back.
"Tell your girlfriend not to bounce up and down on it afterwards," called out Ray. Mark's boyfriend, who was real extrovert character, pouted, blew a kiss at Ray and flapped his wrist.
"Oooh promise I won't bounce up and down ...." he was saying as the nurses made Mark go back to his bed.
Half an hour later, Ray's wife arrived. Ray pulled the curtains and we all leaned towards his bed to hear him tell his wife about not bouncing up and down on Frankenstein's penis till the stitches had healed. There was a sudden crash, a lot of laughter and two nurses burst through the curtains. Mrs Ray had fallen off her chair and was sitting on the floor laughing helplessly. At this point I must point out that Ray and his wife were not of a bouncing up and down age - or build. As the nurses picked her up, Mark's boyfriend called over "now then you two, no bouncing around" and her knees gave way again.
"They're trying to do all their bouncing around before the operation!" called out one of the kidney stone patients from further up the ward and a nurse managed to get a chair between Ray's missus and the floor; tears were rolling down Mrs Ray's face and she couldn't stand up at all.
Though there was no privacy at all in the ward, there was a lot of good-natured cameraderie from a bunch of blokes whose dangly bits were all going under the surgeon's knife the following day pretty much up until we dressed up in paper gowns. I got a tap-thing put into my hand and a nurse gave me a pre-med jab into it, The effect was like being drunk, but much nicer due to the lack of accompanying nausea and the realisation that I was not going to wake up with a hangover (in retrospect, a hangover would have been more welcome than what I did wake up with). An hour later I was wheeled out of the ward, hallucinating mildly and convinced that I was flying thanks to the interesting effects of the pre-med, and everyone went quiet. The anaesthetist injected something into the "tap" in my hand (wonder if it could be used for intravenous beer?).
"Count backwards from 10 please," said the anaesthetist as he administered the jab, but I was out like a light before he had even finished his sentence.
For anyone who has never been under general anaesthetic, it is a weird experience. For a start, you don't dream so your brain doesn't get any idea of how long it's been dead to the world. When you come round, you have no way of knowing whether you've been "under" for 5 minutes or 5 weeks since your mental clock has endured a power cut. The actual waking up bit started off with semi-consciousness and the feeling of not being able to wake up from a dream. It is accompanied by pain and the brain's response is to shut right down again and go back to sleep until such time as it can cope with whatever it's going to find when it finally plucks up the courage to come back to full consciousness. One of my colleagues slept for 12 hours after a 1 hour anaesthetic, not because the stuff hadn't cleared out of her system, but because every time she got anywhere near consciousness, her brain refused to acknowledge what her body was telling it and opted for a few more hours' sleep in the hope that next time it woke up, it would discover that everything was a bad dream and she was at home in bed promising never again to eat cheese on toast so close to bedtime.
My brain was forced to concede to my bladder. I woke up in the recovery room desperately wanting to pee. I hadn't had anything to drink since early morning, but my bladder felt like I had spent the last few hours consuming my own bodyweight in beer. Maybe I had. Maybe I'd had my op weeks ago and recently drunk sixteen pints of Red Stripe lager and passed out, suffered partial amnesia and this was an entirely different op altogether. Like I said, the brain has an interesting way of dealing with things it doesn't like - it tries to invent ways of making them not exist until such time as it can deal with them.
"Nurse," I croaked, "I need the loo!"
"I really don't think you do," she said.
How the hell did she know? It was my bladder and it was telling me that it was about to burst under pressure. I gave it a few minutes.
"Nurse, I really do need to go."
"I honestly don't think you do. Would you like me to give you some pethidine?"
I tried to figure out how the urge to pee and the offer of painkillers was linked. In my fuddled state I couldn't work it out at all. Despite my fuddled state, I was pretty damn sure that I needed to pee. That's pee for piddle, not P for pethidine.
"Nurse," I said plaintively, "I really do need to pee."
"Okay," she said and handed me the bottle, "but i don't thing you really want to pee."
I let go and "Awwww f*ck!" and for the second time in my life I did vertical take-off (the first time being when my daughter had jumped on my lap and kneed me in my tender groin shortly after my vasectomy operation). It stung. It felt like I was peeing razors blades or acid or something. Either that or there was a red hot poker up the middle of my John Thomas. I handed the bottle to the nurse and it contained nothing but a teaspoon or so of blood. The inside of my pee-tube must have resembled corduroy after that kidney stone had been dragged through there.
"Would you like some pethidine?" she asked sympathetically.
"No, I can cope," I told her.
I could cope wit the pain, after all, I was a man! Me big strong hunter, can ignore mere pain of razor-blade pee, Me not wimp. A few minutes later and my bladder began that insistent message that I needed to pee. I ignored it. It repeated the message a bit more insistently. I ignored it a bit more. Finally ...
"Nurse, I need to pee again!"
"I don't think you do."
"I know I don't want to, but honestly, I've got to."
"How about some pethidine?"
"No, I just need to pee."
She handed me the bottle. The pain was worse than it had been the last time and there was only a tiny amount of blood in the bottle. The moment I handed the bottle back, my bladder started telling me I needed to pee.
"Can I have that pethidine now?"
I later learnt that poking an endoscope the wrong way up the urinary system does that to the bladder. It can't figure out what has happened so it gives the only message it knows how to. Mercifully, the pethidine soon silenced it.
Back in the ward, the guys were comparing notes on how far they'd gotten in the countdown before the anaesthetic kicked in.
"I felt it the stuff go up my arm - sort of cold. I got to five. Felt it in my wrist then up to the elbow."
"I got to three, I felt it near my shoulder."
"I got to five, the cold feeling was up to my neck."
"I didn't get any of that," I contributed.
"Aaah yes, Mr Davies," said a hovering nurse a trifle unsympathetically, "You passed out the minute the needle went in. If we'd thought you'd stay that way we could have saved ourselves an anaesthetic."
All heads regarded the wimp.
"Did you get that extra couple of inches?" I asked Bendy Mark, changing the subject.
He lifted the bedcover and peered down. "Dunno, it's all wrapped up in bandages."
"How you going to pee then?" asked a voice further up the ward.
"There's a pipe poking out the end. Is that for me to pee out of or have they put the drip in the wrong place?" Either Mark had a remarkably resilient sense of humour or he was still slightly high from all the drugs they'd given him.
"I've got one too!" said Ray "Frankenstein's Penis"
"And me - but no bandages!"
Deprived of normal conversation (sport, sex, beer, state of the economy) we were all discussing our catheters.
How many people really understand how much aggro the sudden and total lack of bladder-control causes? When you feel you need to pee, if you canít get to the loo (always placed as inconveniently far away from your bed as hospital geography can manage) within 30 seconds you may as well take your time and carry a mop. I also had to test my urine by peeing into the bottle, doing the dipstick test and hoping that it didn't go black (it didn't), then tipping the bottled pee through a tea-strainer to check for fragments of stone passing through the system. So even if I had the bottle nearby and used that, I still had to waddle off to the loo with a full one to do the tea-strainer stuff.
"Is this to do with under-funding?" I asked the nurse at one point, "Having to check my own piddle for stones?"
For the first couple of ew days after the op, within 30 seconds of getting the message from my bladder, the floodgates opened. This was fine just so long as I had a bottle at the bedside. Once I had progressed to sitting in a chair, the bottle wasn't feasible any more - I had to grab the tea-strainer and run, peeing into the tea-strainer while holding a dipstick in the flow! I began to envy the guys with catheters - they had a plug on the end of it! A day after the op, one of the catheterised patients decided it was time to remove the thing. Unfortunately he didn't know very much about catheters. They are held in place by a sort of inflatable bulb inside the bladder - poke the thing in, inflate the bulb and it doesn't fall out.
So there he was, tugging and tugging at this bit of tube wondering why the heck it didn't come out. Even worse, he managed to get it just out of the bladder and the inflatable bit got well and truly stuck inside the shaft of his tool. He kept on yanking at the tube but it wouldn't budge - he couldn't pull it out and he couldn't push it back again. He started to panic and the rest of the ward were wetting themselves laughing (literally wetting themselves in a few cases). The nurse finally got him sorted out and for the rest of my stay at least, he sat their looking very chastened and didn't try to remove it himself.
The other major topic of conversation was the size of the kidney stone extracted from some of us. One or two of the guys were boasting about the size of their ones, but they were piddly little things compared to the baby broad bean sized monster dragged unwillingly through my waterworks. Jeez, no wonder it hurt to pee. For a while we were allowed to have the kidney stones in bottles to show to visitors before the stones went of to the lab for analysis. Visitors were sympathising with the patients about the stones - at least they were until I waved my bottle in the air and yelled "If you want to see a REAL kidney stone take a look at this monster!" As a result, my pet kidney stone was confiscated by the doctors a full day before anyone else's.
To my chagrin, the guy with the bendy dick didn't suffer any pain at all. He didn't get his extra 2 inches either. The guy with Frankenstein's penis also got off without any pain - and they didn't even have to cut right round the base of his dick. They did one little snip and discovered the lump was a large fluid filled cyst, so all they had to do was drain it and stitch it up again! The bastard! Here I was with my corduroy innards, minimal bladder control and pissing razor-blades through a damn tea-strainer and he had three stitches and a smug grin. They took the catheter out the morning after his op and his wife collected him 2 days after the op so the rest of us got our own back by calling out "no bouncing up and down!" as they left the ward.
Hospital food was survival rations and the nurses frisked visitors at the door. Apart from the obligatory bunch of bananas and bunch of grapes, no food was allowed into the ward in case it brought in an infection. Considering that hospitals are riddled with superbugs and the best place to contract an exotic germ, I didn't see that a pack of Milk Chocolate Hob-Nobs was too much to ask for. I was actually losing weight on the hospital food! What did I do to deserve half-rations? So began my temporary career as food smuggler.
The terminally hungry among us pooled our pennies. The more mobile among us put on a dressing gown and jog-pants. As the doctor and nurse left the ward, one or other of us snuck after them. It was a case of bobbing and weaving along the corridor and ducking into side corridors if any of the Male Urology ward staff saw us. We crouched behind doors and very cautiously straightened up to peer through the glass panel. Several times, someone came through the other way and we got slammed with a door and asked what we were doing sneaking about. On one occasion, Bendy Mark nicked a wheelchair and got his boyfriend to wheel him to the A&E snack bar. He nearly got away with smuggling a load of stuff back behind his back, but some nurse came looking for the wheelchair which had been parked briefly outside a toilet while the patient took a leak!
The snack bar didn't know who were outpatients (who were allowed to buy food) and who were in-patients ("please do not feed the animals"). It was like a theatre farce. Sometimes the smuggler was apprehended on the foray and shooed back the ward. Sometimes the old "Well you told me to get out of bed and get some exercise - I was just walking to the end of the corridor and back" trick worked. Unfortunately the pocketful of jingling coins was a dead giveaway. Getting caught on the way back was worse because they confiscated the goodies and gave you a lecture! Then they took the contraband to their staff room and ate the whole lot. It wasn't fair. This was boarding-school treatment. Luckily the number of successes outweighed the confiscations, especially if we sent out a penniless decoy.
There was also the case of the wheelchair race. Bendy Mark and his boyfriend (they were always at the centre of any prank) appropriated a couple of wheelchairs - the big-wheeled sort that patients can propel themselves - and held a wheelchair race down one of the corridors. After that, we all took turns in borrowing wheelchairs and racing them while others kept a lookout for members of staff. If anyone came along, we scooted into a side corridor, jumped out of the wheelchair and started ambling along nonchalantly in a group, chatting about the first thing that came to mind.
After four or five days I stopped pissing razors and there was no blood or no fragments of stone in my pee. The doctors declared me fit enough to go home with a bunch of antibiotics, instructions to use paracetomol if required and some heart drug which had to odd side-effect of preventing the formation of kidney stones in most people (and which turned out not to work in my case). A smiling nurse handed me a grocery bag on my way out. It contained several expedition's worth of smuggled Mars Bars and some flapjacks. Just as I was congratulating myself on appropriating the whole ward's entire choccy supply, they were confiscated by my kids.
After a couple of weeks' rest and recuperation at home and a check up I returned to work to a reprise of the Wincing Matilda chorus. I had to see the company quack to be declared fit. This time he was very deferential and asked if I was sure I was okay. I saw a big note written in red marker pen on my company medical file and highlighted in bright yellow. It said something like "If Mr Davies says he has a kidney stone he knows what he's talking about!"
After a few weeks my colleagues were getting so fed up with hearing about the my op and hospital stay, Frankenstein's dick, Bendy Mark and the rest of it, that they threatened to write it up and post it on the web for everyone to see. They wouldn't dare. Would they?
Back to Wincing Matilda 1: The Vasectomy Epic