A Stone’s Throw from Better Health: What My Kidney Stone Taught Me
Recently I embarked on a new health journey. I prefer the word “journey,” to crisis or problem. One week ago tonight, I awoke with a searing pain. Like most women, I extracted myself from bed and thought, “Maybe this is gas pain,” or “Maybe I ate something not quite right.” But as the hours ticked by while my sweet family snoozed, I felt as though I was going into labor. Waves of nausea hit, followed by smacking spasms along my sigmoid colon.
As the 3-hour mark hit, I realized I knew what this was. And I needed medical help. So – maybe not the smartest but now the most efficient way – to get to the ER (a place I dread going, even as a physician!), I left my family in bed and drove myself to the emergency room at the hospital I practice. I started vomiting along the way (and this is the reason I highly recommend keeping a barf bag in your car at all times) and stayed on the phone with my mother, in case I passed out from pain.
The ER knew what I had walking in, as did I. A kidney stone. In my case, a 6 mm (1/4 inch) jagged piece of oxalate had decided to birth itself out of my left kidney. Except, it was stuck, about two fingerbreadths north of my bladder. And it was making itself known that it was pissed off.
Using My Own Principles
Now, I highly recommend the principles we talk about in Mindset Medicine, but like yogis and monks, I am still a student of it as well. At the moment, trying to birth the baby I aptly named “Rocky,” I encountered my first piece of “doctor play” in the ER. The ER doctor – a man – told me kidney stones were worse than childbirth (and he knows, how?) and that he had one. And that I could go. At that moment, I asked myself, what did I need, a guiding principle of mindset medicine. And I told him that as a busy mom and OB, I needed to stay in-house and get some fluids, pain medicine, and rest. He shrugged his shoulders and walked away to call urology.
Within a few hours, somehow I was going for laser lithotripsy, which sounds like a game at Chuck E. Cheese but in actuality involves shoving a telescope up my left ureter, and playing space invaders with Rocky. Thankfully, this would be done under general anesthesia.
The urologist explained to my husband, while I was in Margaritaville recovering, that he had to place a stent – a small flexible tube to help my ureter heal. And that removing this could be done myself, and that it was like “pulling out a tampon.” I’m not sure why two middle-aged white men should be having this type of conversation, both of whom I’m fairly certain have never inserted or removed a vaginal menstrual device.
Sometimes Visualizations Don’t Work
I stayed two days, requiring pain medication. At this point, some might ask, couldn’t I just talk myself out of the pain? Create a vision board of how I wanted to feel? Normally, I could try. At this moment, I was in acute pain, and no amount of reprogramming how I felt about the situation could help. The biggest gift to my body was listening to it, and going with what felt right.
I tried to do clinic one hour after discharge. I was there, sure, but not as present as I’d like. It was a fairly easy clinic, and my patients were understanding that I wasn’t quite myself. I received a litany of medications on discharge – bladder spasm medication, pain medicine (2 of them), antibiotics, bladder numbing medicine, oh, and my great friend, Miralax (because you know all those pain meds were going to stop production for at least a week).
Fast forward one day – my husband and daughter got into a car accident, which left the vehicle undrivable. By Saturday, I was still miserable, and the words the urologist told my husband were starting to get to me: “This is really simple and she’ll be great after this procedure – I mean, people just go home and get right back to it.” Now, because of those words, I felt partly incensed, partly humiliated and defiant. When I called him to get instructions on how to remove my own stent in the office, he seemed surprised I was back at work. I did what I loathe to do: I went to Dr. Google. Stories from all over the world came back about people missing two weeks of work, or the immense pain of the stent.
The point was, I let someone else’s opinion get in my head. Who cares if that’s what we thought? Over the past few years, studying mindset medicine, I knew I needed to listen to my body and do what was right for me. This doctor was nice but practiced in an old style. Words I wanted to hear: “I mean she must be really tough to endure all she did, I think with her feistiness, she’ll feel better faster than most, but that’ll really be up to her and her body.” If I had heard those words – I would have felt empowered. Relieved. Listened to and trusted. Why don’t more doctors talk like this?
The following day I woke up looking like I had lip fillers injected three times. Or a hive of bees attacked my face. The diagnosis? Angioedema, a potentially life threatening swelling caused by a number of possible items (think Goldie Hawn in “The First Wives Club”). I traced it back to the Levaquin I was taking (which thankfully I had stopped the day before). I could breathe, I knew I was safe, but still – scary to think that the week continued to down spiral. Kidney stones? No reason to get one. Angioedema? What the heck.
Fake it Till You Make it!
I had enough. And it was time to call on my mindset medicine training to get out of this health funk. Like a good doctor, I showed up Monday morning ready to work. The first thing the nurses asked me on L&D was “How are you feeling?” In truth, I still felt cruddy. My lips were cracked and swollen. It was hard to swallow. I wanted to regale them with stories of my stone, my story. But that wasn’t helping anything. To get out of the funk, I had to start here and now.
“I’m feeling better – stronger every day.” It felt forced and fake to say it, but they didn’t seem to think so. They nodded and agreed. I expounded on it as the day went on and I saw more people who had heard of my tale.
“I’m like Gandalf the great white wizard – none shall pass! But I showed that kidney stone who’s boss,” laughing at my punchiness (keep in mind, I was off all pain medicine so don’t blame my bad jokes on that).
Throughout the day, I started to feel better. Stronger. On the 30-minute drive home I took stock of why I was where I was. How can I own this experience and learn from it? In truth, I wasn’t drinking enough. In my quest to be everything, I was quickly becoming paralyzed to nothing. I was working myself too hard, pursuing perfection. My marriage was in temporary turmoil, as all marriages are at some point. I felt unheard. My kids – perfectly gorgeous in their extreme toddlerness – were in a particularly needy phase. We adopted a new puppy, who delighted in finding fudgy feline treats in the cat box and piddling every 20 seconds on the floor. The house felt disarrayed.
Taking Care of Me First
So I made a plan. I was going STOP. THE. MADNESS. The first person I would take care of was me. My body was my mind incarnate screaming for me to listen to it. I turned off all electronics. I got out my computer to write. I started my emergency self-care plan (we’ll go over this). I doubled-down on the kids, demanding earlier bedtimes, tooth brushing without exemption, and tales of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Dragons Love Tacos instead of electronics. My husband made dinner tonight, and although I wouldn’t have cooked it, I thanked him profusely. And I enjoyed it. I pulled the piddle puppy on the bed and let him sleep next to me, with his little snorts and dream woofs making me giggle.
I decided to start with hydration. I knew I needed it. Tomorrow it’s hydration. Water, water, water. That’s one thing my body was telling me I needed (or what Rocky was telling me). I didn’t try to rearrange my life, but to listen to my life. My poor health was a sign of my sick thoughts and my abysmal self-care. And that’s about to change, as it has many times before in many health expeditions.
All along, I was a stone’s throw away from a new health journey. Which starts…now.