[body]The pain is the most concentrated and intense pain she has ever felt. Reclined as far back as the Oldsmobile Cutlass passenger seat will allow, she bites her lip and holds her breath in an effort to stifle a scream. She is still dressed in her casual black shorts and white polo t-shirt with a mermaid embroidered over her left breast, yet taking people\’s drink orders is the last thing on her mind. \”Mom, you have to hurry,\” she urges as panic begins to creep into her system. \”I don\’t know how much longer I can take this!\” She realizes she has been holding her breath and exhales deeply, closing her eyes. Her lower back feels as if it will snap in two at the slightest movement and the piercing ache in her abdomen is growing more severe. She\’s scared and feels as if she will give birth to something at any moment, but knows that\’s not even possible and has no idea what could cause such constant pain. This scares her even more.
As she stares out the window at passing cars and endless cornfields, she thinks back to a mere hour before. She had just finished her lunch break at the waterfront restaurant where she works and was putting in a food order for her table of four when a shooting pain in her lower back, just above her right hip, caused her to suck in a sharp breath and squeeze her side. Although she has always had back problems, the ache had become more intense over the past few days. She had a sudden and constant urge to use the bathroom, yet was unsuccessful in every attempt. In a matter of minutes, she was unable to do anything but sit in a chair and take slow, supposedly-calming breaths. Now she tries taking these calming breaths again, but they soon turn into panting and tears begin to dampen her cheeks.
\”We\’re almost there honey, hang in there,\” her mom says, trying to drive 80 miles per hour without getting caught. The hospital comes into view and the almost-hyperventilating passenger grits her teeth and tries to hold back the most creative string of expletives. She has the door open before the car comes to a complete stop and jogs, bent at the waist, into the bathroom. Minutes later she emerges, stomach still cramped, and proceeds to the waiting room where her mom is filling out paperwork. This is not the first time she has visited this hospital, and she tries to prepare herself for what could be hours worth of waiting. She is pleasantly surprised when her name is called 10 minutes later, and with the help of her mom, she slowly makes it back to a too-white hospital room.
\”Why are you here today?\” the nurse asks in a tone that suggests no answer will be serious enough to require a trip to the emergency room.
\”It hurts to move,\” comes the reply in a voice just louder than a whisper. \”My back hurts so bad, and so does my stomach, and I keep feeling like I have to use the restroom but I can\’t.\” Still uninterested, the nurse jots down the reply. The nurse prints the infamous bracelet notifying the world of the fact that the patient is 20 years old, has blue eyes, and is 5\’2\” and wraps it around her wrist.
\”Take these and follow me,\” the nurse hands her a hospital gown and a plastic cup and leads her to the bathroom. \”Put that on and then I\’ll need you to give me a urine sample. I know it might be hard, but we need it to run some tests. Leave the cup on the counter when you\’re done.\” She dons the gown and is unable to complete her next task. Her mom leads her to the room she was assigned to.
\”I don\’t know how they expect a urine sample if I can\’t produce any urine,\” she says and spends the next hour lying on a sorry excuse for a bed drinking as much water as her body will allow. Once she successfully gets something in the cup, she waits another 20 minutes for the doctor to come.
\”Hello there, in some pain are we,\” he says in a voice that is supposed to make her feel better – it doesn\’t. \”What seems to be the problem?\” She responds with a now well-rehearsed description of the events of the last few hours as the balding doctor listens intently. \”How long has your back hurt? Just today?\” he asks.
\”Well, it\’s worse today,\” she replies, annoyed at having to answer the same questions over and over again.
\”I want you to roll over onto your left side and bend your right knee so that your thigh is perpendicular to your body,\” he says. Puzzled, she does so, and with each move it\’s as if a new pin is shoved through her back and abdomen. \”Now, twist gently at the waist so that your shoulders are both on the bed,\” he says. \”This is a stretch I want you to do every morning on both sides. Also, sleep with a pillow between your legs. This should help your lower back pain go away.\”
\”That\’s it? Really? You think it\’s just my back?\” She stares at the doctor, unconvinced. \”Why do I keep feeling like I have to pee?\”
\”Hmmm, that is interesting. Did you give a urine sample?\” he asks, and she nods, mentally beginning to question his credentials. \”Oh, look at that, there is a significant amount of blood in your urine. Can you stand up for me?\” he asks. Convinced he\’s going to have her do jumping jacks or touch her toes, she is reluctant to rise, yet does so anyway. She is certain the pain can\’t get any worse when, unexpectedly, the doctor\’s fist connects with the right side of her lower back. She chokes on a breath, screams, and grabs the bed to stop her legs from giving out and sending her to the ground. \”Did that hurt?\” he asks.
\”YES!\” she manages, ready to have him fired and his degree taken away for the sole reason of being the most dense human being she\’s encountered in a long time.
\”Well then, seems you\’ve got kidney stones,\” he says and pulls a pen from his pocket. \”Does anyone else in your family have a history of kidney stones?\” he asks.
\”Not that I\’m aware of. Mom?\” she asks, still skeptical that the doctor has any clue what he\’s talking about.
\”No, not that I know of,\” her mom says, also looking a bit confused.
\”Well, kidney stones are usually hereditary, but can also be caused by an excess of calcium,\” he says. \”I\’m going to give you a prescription for Vicodin to help the pain, but the stone will have to pass on its own. If the pain isn\’t gone within the next day, see your family physician. Good luck, and the nurse will be right in to check you out.\” With that, he left the room. The painkillers knocked her out and within 24 hours, her body was back to normal. It was as if nothing had ever passed from her kidneys through her urethra and out.
Through her own research, she learned that kidney stones are usually caused, as the doctor said, by a calcium and mineral build-up and typically are passed on their own. In cases of stones large enough to block the ureter (usually six mm or more), a laser procedure or surgery may be required. While typical sufferers of kidney stones are between the ages of 30 and 45, anyone can develop them, and those who do usually have recurring episodes. Though the stone did pass on its own, she never saw it and couldn\’t pinpoint the exact time of passage. Happy to have the experience over and weary of returning to the quick-to-diagnose physician, she nearly forgot about her bout with kidney stones – for awhile.
[pain]Just one year later, days before the beginning of her junior year in college, she sits at the kitchen table with her roommate eating the first homemade dinner in their new apartment. Grilled chicken, sauteed mushrooms and asparagus fill her plate and James Blunt provides the evening\’s entertainment. About halfway through the meal, she starts to get a dull ache in her lower back but shrugs it off. She had been moving stuff in all day and was sore in general. Within minutes, however, the pain becomes unbearable and she moves to the floor to assume what must be a yoga position – sitting back on her knees with her head on the carpet, arms stretched over her head, palms down. Then came the urge to use the restroom.
\”Can you drive me to the hospital?\” she asks her worried roommate. \”I think I\’m going to pass another stone.\”
Within fifteen minutes, she is sitting in the hospital waiting room taking those calming breaths. Now familiar with the procedure, she drinks from a water bottle and exits to the restroom to take care of the sample. To her surprise and relief, the pain is immediately gone. She not only has a sample to turn in, but also a kidney stone.
\”I\’m pretty sure I just passed it,\” she says, returning to her seat next to her concerned friend. \”The pain is gone, and look,\” she showcases the culprit of the now-absent ache.
\”Wow, just like that, huh?\” her friend almost whispers, in awe at what she has witnessed in the past half-hour. The patient hands over her sample, takes a few blood tests, and has an ultrasound before returning home with the name of a urologist. Almost comfortable with the uncomfortable routine of passing a stone, she is now eager to find out why she is getting them and how many more she can expect.
\”Well, looks like you\’ve got three to four more in each kidney,\” the urologist informs her in his office a week later. \”They don\’t look large enough to cause any problems, but lets run some tests and see if we can\’t find out what\’s causing them. They actually aren\’t as uncommon as people think, but the type of stone can really depend on the type of treatment and prevention required.\” He sends her home with a jug and instructions for a 24 hour urine test. She has to collect every drop of urine for a 24 hour time span and keep it in a cool place. Thrilled at having to explain to her roommates why a container of pee needs to be refrigerated for the next day, she hopes this test will be able to make sense of her otherwise random formation of kidney stones.
After completing the urinalysis and putting up with her roommates\’ comments about the new addition to the refrigerator, she gets a message from the lab that processed it.
\”Hello, I\’m calling to let you know that your tests came back normal. If you have any questions, give the office a call. Have a great day,\” says the pleasant female voice.
\”What in the hell does normal mean?\” she asks her dad on the phone just minutes later. No one can seem to give her any answers, other than she\’s definitely going to pass a few more stones in her lifetime.
Annoyed with blood tests, urine samples and too-sanitary white rooms, she gives up on her quest for answers. She\’ll probably never know why she has produced them and, with her luck, will pass them at the most inconvenient times. She should probably cut back on apple juice, as it may help in the formation of stones, and will have to deal with her increased chance of getting a urinary tract infection. She figures if she\’s passed one before, she can do it again, and would much rather deal with it on her own than have another big-headed doctor punching her poor kidneys.

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