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More on Pain August 18, 2006

Posted by Administrator in Catholicism, Family, Personal.

Now, before I go any farther with this, let’s make at least one thing clear:

I am in no way setting myself up as some type of bloody-shirted veteran in terms of pain endurance. Check with any woman who has had labor without benefit of drugs, or perhaps my erstwhile antagonist GodofBiscuits for examinations of the horrors of prolonged, intense or chronic pain. They have had it worse than I had it Wednesday night, and the following ramble is in no way designed to address the needs that have come about from their own struggles with pain. My hat is off to them that they haven’t slit their throat while in the midst of their struggles. I do not suggest that what I am about to say ought to generalize to their -or really anyone else’s- experiences.

Disclaimers disposed of, on with the reflection.

Kidney stones are essentially little balls of salts that form in the kidneys of some people. These little balls then proceed from kidney through the ureter-the tube leading from your kidney to your bladder. Once in the ureter, the stone -which very often is barbed- lodges, blocking the flow of urine and arousing the nerves about the ureter, partially in an effort to create muscular tension to push the lodged stone down the ureter. It is this nerve arousal that creates the sudden and extreme build-up of pain in the sufferer. It is a poor result of this nerve arousal that the muscles actually clamp down, constricting the ureter in making it more difficult for the stone to pass, exacerbating the situation in a vicious, downward circle of pain, constriction and lodgement of the offending stone.

The pain itself is surprisingly huge. For guys, imagine taking a real good shot in the testicles. The initial pain is world-ending, but also fleeting. Take the pain that you feel about 2-5 seconds after the initial impact. Now multiply that by 2 and extend that pain out indefinitely. That’s kidney stone pain. Talking is very difficult. Groaning and outright screaming are definitely options. Grabbing something -like a metal bed rail- is a must. Lying still is no relief, but then neither is standing, sitting or any other position. I CAN say that bending forward while an MD and an internist are both palpating your abdomen right over the spot of the lodged stone does in fact make the pain WORSE. Other than that, the only relief to be found is in passing the stone (which presents its own horrors, most notably, more pain) or in the liberal use of narcotics.

Thank God for Dilaudid. This synthetic opiate derivative once injected gives a feeling of tremendous weight in the shoulders, followed by a general relaxation of muscle tissue. The pain actually is still there, but the mind now no longer cares.

Happily, it is this relaxed. care-free state that finally allows the muscles surrounding the ureter to unclench, giving the offending stone a chance to continue it marauding trip down to the bladder. Once in the bladder, it no longer presents a problem, as the urethra, the tube leading from the bladder out of the body, is a wider channel than the ureter. Kidney stones that can successfully -if painfully- traverse the ureter can pass through the urethra unnoticed.

That’s the best case. The worst case is a stone fully blocking the ureter, thereby backing up the host kidney. Left untreated, this situation will quickly kill the affected kidney. This emergent condition is treated surgically, and most commonly by knocking the patient out, and using a surgical catheter to go up through the penis, urethra, bladder and up the blocked ureter and then break-up the offending stone.

Thank God all they had to do was get my muscles to relax, and the stone wandered its merry, destructive way down into my bladder with no further ado.

What happened to me Wednesday night was in many ways very illuminating. Pain is regarded in this culture -more or less- as The Universal Evil, something to be avoided at all cost. And in our increasingly pharmacologized, media-saturated environment, we have been doing a good job of avoiding pain.

Let’s face it: Pain sucks. No one aside from a clinical masochist in the midst of the waves of agony that follow discovering your spouse has cheated on you or having been kneed in the balls will say: “Hey, you know what? That feels pretty good. Do it again.”

Nevertheless, there are some benefits to pain, including the type I suffered the other night, that I would suggest may be beneficial:

  1. It is oddly clarifying. My memory of the pain, where I was at, how I tried to manage it, the reactions of my wife and the ER staff as they cared for me, gripping the sides of the bed in an effort not to groan aloud. . .all of these things are set in my mind with an unusually crystalline clarity.
  2. In that clarity, there is most definitely a sense of being fully alive. Granted, there are most certainly other things a person might be doing that gives that feeling of vitality -climbing mountains, succeeding at a difficult task, sex- that are much more pleasurable. But one cannot deny that even in the grip of mind-numbing pain that a person sure isn’t going to grumble, “Man, am I BORED.” That just does not factor into the experiential equation at all.
  3. Being taken care of. It was very comforting to know -even while writhing on a bed and taking really short breaths as an alternative to screaming- that your wife and a host of unknown medical personnel are busting their butts to get you feeling better. Very comforting indeed.
  4. Never in my life has my prayer life been as intense as it was while I was thrashing about on that bed, gripping my wife’s hand and bruising it. And here’s the odd thing: I did not pray for release. I do not offer this as an example of my moral superiority. Praying for release frankly didn’t occur to me because I knew that it would be going away soon. I have had morphine-based medications before. I respond very well to them and pretty much knew that once they shot me up the pain would be reduced. So I wasn’t worried about enduring pain indefinitely. No fear there. But, while waiting in the meantime, I’m still writhing in misery and wanting to put it to use. So I prayed that God would make use of it. As a committed -and researched- Catholic, I know one of the uses of suffering is a means of alleviating the suffering of others. So I “offered it up” as they say. While it did nothing at all for the intensity of the physical suffering I was enduring, it did create an odd inner peace, knowing that I wasn’t wasting my time on that bed, wishing my abdomen would simply GO AWAY and leave me alone.
  5. I often wondered if -deep down- I’m really a pansy when it comes to pain. I knew my wife had a simply hellacious time in birthing our first four children; I knew I had never experienced anything like it previous, so I simply said that Nina is tougher than me. Which led to the question; Can I handle serious pain? Or am I really a wimp? Once I discovered that many women have described kidneystones as worse than labor,

Looking back at the kidney stone attacks, now, from the vantage point of having been through labor, give me labor any day! Kidney stones are by far the worst pain I have every felt. Some medical professionals since then have told me it is the worst physical pain experienced by humans. The decision was made to re-insert my IV and begin the home therapy again. I had a new pic line inserted the next day and it would stay there until I was 22 weeks along. (LINK)

I felt like I had survived the battle with pain with my dignity intact; that I actually AM somewhat tough (tho’ still not as tough as Nina).

So, would I say that this was a delightful experience and would line up to do it again?

Of course not. I’m no masochist. But it WAS an enlightening experience, for the reasons listed above. And if an Rx said that I was likely to suffer from another one, well, I’d be less than thrilled, but comfortable enough to know that I could survive it.

A bit of research gives me hope that this will not repeat. One becomes a candidate for repeating kidney stones after you’ve suffered your second one. Family histories also seem to indicate a tendency toward them, but in my vast, rambling extended family, I believe I am the only one to have this experience. So, the odds are good that this won’t happen again.



1. The Village Idiot - August 22, 2006

My dad passed a kidney stone a few years back. They said there wasn’t much they could do for him except hope that it would work its way out. So we went on family vacation and spent a lot of time listening to him scream in the hotel room while we watched TV. Since we didn’t have a TV at home and weren’t allowed to watch much elsewhere, it was great for my younger siblings and I.

Dad ended up passing the kidney stone in Philadelphia, we took a touristic trolley ride that jogged us over a lot of historic cobble stoned streets.

I’m glad they gave you morphine and that its over.

2. demolition65 - August 22, 2006

Great God. What a nightmare for him. I can’t IMAGINE putting up with hours of that pain, much less days, without some type of assistance.

3. James Taylor - September 15, 2006

Myu wife is currently in the bathroom passing many stones that were broken up from a 2.5 centimeter in diameter stone using lithotripsy. She’s in a huge amount of pain now and crying and asked me to give her privacy. She can’t pee because one is blocking, but I know it’ll work it’s way out. Thanks for the story.


4. demolition65 - September 15, 2006

2.5 CENTIMETERS??? That’s about 20x the size of the piece of sand I passed.

God be with your wife, James.

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