Sunday, May 15, 2011
Could You Please Pass the Kidney Stones?
The utilitarian coldness of the empty emergency department exam room where I sit echoes the urgency and temporariness of its use. I have no idea why I just wrote that sentence. It sounds like the beginning of a melancholy textbook written perhaps by Dorothy Parker, who I DO NOT want to imitate. Oh heck, it makes me sound sort of smart, so I won’t delete it.
I’m here waiting for my friend Amanda. Apparently she spent the morning wrestling and writhing with kidney stones in the vacant bed at my feet while our other friend Melanie sat vigil. However minutes before Melanie clocked out and I arrived to take her place, Amanda was whisked off to CT. I’m not sure what CT stands for because my medical knowledge doesn’t go far beyond the Fisher-Price doctor kit Santa brought when I was three. Sure I’ve had two babies in hospitals and know a myriad of uses for Benadryl, Tylenol and Pepto Bismol (don’t leave tablets in the pocket of your white pants, while washing a load of “lights.”) The results are far worse than an upset stomach. Other than that, I’m pretty useless medically.
My older sister Pamela is a family doctor with a thriving practice. When she was in med school, friends and relatives would commonly exclaim how handy it’d be to have a DOCTOR in the family, not just for quick diagnoses and prescriptions, but in case any one of us should develop a narcotics addiction. Unfortunately, Pamela’s not one of those physicians who’s more than happy to check out your bunion in the church parking lot or take a peek at your toddler’s tonsils while waiting in line at Kroger. Pamela’s attitude has always been “make an appointment and I’ll be glad to give you approximately 240 seconds between the hours of nine and five, Monday through Friday.”
Even bringing up a general health topic in small talk will trigger her “free-medical-advice-solicitation” radar and she’ll abruptly change the subject to the unconscionable practice of mountain top removal or how much she hates when people ask for free medical advice. We don’t talk that much, really.
It’s been 45 minutes and Amanda’s still not back. I traded my Sunday, post-church leisure to rush to the ER at Melanie’s urgings, portraying Amanda on her last leg. And she’s not even here. Sort of anti-climactic, I find this. On the plus side, it’s a good chance to write uninterrupted.
Across the hall is a 50’ish man, dressed in a bright red ‘Elmo” t-shirt. Yes, Elmo from Sesame Street. The man is clearly in pain, holding his excess stomach. He’s grimacing, clenching his teeth. The Elmo t-shirt makes me not want to take his pain quite as seriously. I wonder if the medical staff would agree. “We’re sorry, Sir, that you’re in agony, but we just can’t get beyond that ridiculous Elmo t-shirt. We just want to laugh and sing the ‘Elmo’s World’ theme song. We hope you feel better soon. La la La la, La la La la…Elmo’s World!”
Amanda’s back. She has a hole on the inside of her elbow, with what appears to be a mini- airplane-sized bottle of Demerol attached to it by an over-sized needle. Kidney stones must be just terrible. The CT scan results will be ready in 45 minutes. I’ve come to learn that 45 minutes in “hospital time” is two-hours. So, we’re sitting here waiting. Amanda’s one of my bestest-est-est friends. But, in-spite of our similarities, we’re starting to look at each other blankly and straining our brains for things to talk about.
Oh finally! The CT scan results are here, presented by a chipper nurse named Annie who’s bound and determined to deliver them as if she’s announcing winning Lotto numbers. “Well, you have approximately 30 stones in your kidneys!!! The good news is that they’re small enough that you can pass them yourself!” Oh great, just the DIY project Amanda was looking for. “Here’s a prescription for your pain meds. Well, okay then. Happy passing!” The above photo is of your average, garden variety calcium fortified kidney stone.
As we exit through the waiting room with its new crop of ailing victims, I ask Amanda to please save a stone for me (preferably sanitized and in a see-through vial). After hanging out in the ER for nearly four hours, I should at least get a souvenir.