When I was about 13 years old I went to a week long girls camp with my church. At the end of the week each girl got some sort of prize. You know the type - "sweetest girl", "friendliest girl", etc. Every girl got one and each came with some sort of plaque crafted out of wood, pipe cleaners and sundries. My award that week? Rotating Ailments. I don't recall the specifics of my various ailments that earned me the prize but there is a photo of me from that week reclined against a log mid-hike holding tissue to my nose so I suspect nose bleed was among the problems I encountered. If I had to guess I would say I probably had a headache or two and probably fell and either twisted or scraped something to add to the mix. But since I don't remember the specifics, I am just guessing since those sound like things that I would do.
I'm not prone to hypochondria. In fact, if I knew what the opposite of that was, I think that would be me as I tend to brush off symptoms as being nothing until they reach some sort of dire level requiring immediate attention. I avoid going to the doctor because I feel most of the time rest and waiting it out is the best remedy.
But for whatever reason, I have often found myself suffering from strange and unusual ailments that often hit one after another. Which reminds me of my oh, so appropriate Rotating Ailments plaque. Even in the midst of these ailments I find myself trying to convince myself that I am blowing it out of proportion and if I ignore it, maybe it will just fade away.
Unfortunately, that does not always work.
Which brings me to my most recent ailment and the story of how I spent my President's Day off work: in the emergency room. Prior to yesterday I had never been to an emergency room in New York City and I had no desire to ever go to one. I've heard enough terrible stories to be fine with never experiencing one first hand.
But yesterday morning I woke up tired. I had gone to bed early and slept in until 830 so there wasn't any reason for it but I just felt out of sorts and my back was sore. But that wasn't terribly unusual since I had been experiencing various forms of back pain since early December in that same spot and had recently been diagnosed with a pinched nerve. So I went to the gym at 9 am to meet with my trainer thinking I just needed to loosen it up by walking on the treadmill. After two minutes the pain intensified so I tried stretching. My trainer thought maybe I was experiencing a back spasm but there was something all too familiar about this pain. It reminded me of the kidney stone I had over ten years ago.
She helped me down to my apartment and asked if I had a doctor I could call. This is a problem I have had for quite some time. I do not have a general practitioner doctor because I already feel as if I have enough doctors to see on a regular basis between my pulminologist (for my asthma), my gynecologist (uh, for obvious reasons) and my dentist. I recently added a chiropractor to the mix too. And I was pretty sure none of them would have much to add to my current situation. So I made the decision to go to the emergency room. The pain was pretty intense.
The closest hospital is only one long block and one short block from my apartment. A five minute walk - tops. But I wasn't exactly up for walking so we took a cab. But the cab driver dropped us at the main entrance rather than the emergency entrance and the security guard sent us on a long series of "straight through those doors and then turn right until you see the yellow sign and make a left and go right again until you see the 'triage' sign and . . . " Leaning on my friend, we found our way to triage and it was strange. I later discovered that we had bipassed the front desk and gone straight to intake by coming in the wrong door which may or may not have saved us a long wait in the front waiting room. But at the time all I knew is no one seemed to be acknowledging us sitting on this random set of chairs in a hallway. My friend tried to inquire and was told to just sit down and I tried to breathe through the intensifying pain as tears spilled down my face.
Eventually I was ushered into triage and was asked a series of intake questions I managed to answer between waves of nausea and pain. The best one was "on a scale from 1 to 10, your pain is a [brief pause], I'm going to put 10." Yes, that is what a 10 feels like trying to stab its way from the inside out. We were then told to go to some nurses stand where things got confusing again. I think they verified my name and I was told to wait some more. Then this nurse/orderly/guy-in-scrubs told us to follow him and led us down a hallway, around a corner and into a strange back room and told me I should be more comfortable there. We spent several hours in that freezing room. A doctor did manage to find me there and I told him I had a kidney stone and he agreed that was probably the problem but threw out other possibilities like "twisted ovary" that needed to be ruled out. And how do you rule out the possibility of a twisted ovary? With a pelvic exam of course. But first I had to pee in a cup in a really gross bathroom (shouldn't hospitals be clean?) and I was given some morphine by a very nice nurse along with some "fluids" and anti-nausea medication that ultimately made me puke. The morphine dulled the severity of the pain for a little bit but not enough to make a pelvic exam tolerable. The doctor kept telling me to relax my legs. Let me repeat the circumstances - excruciating and debilitating back pain plus a freezing cold room plus being probed with foreign objects . . . sure, I'll relax now that you ask nicely. It was simply not in my power to relax under those circumstances. Eventually they gave me more morphine but no one would allow me to have any water. Even after I threw up.
I took a wheel chair ride around the hospital so I could wait for an MRI in a room that I swear was refridgerated. I knew I needed to stay still and a voice kept telling me to hold my breath and forgot to tell me when I could start breathing again but I was shaking a lot. I was then wheeled back down to the actual emergency room area where there were lots and lots of beds curtained off with people bustling around. Probably where I should have been taken in the beginning. It was the first time I was actually lying on a bed and during the next 2 hours while I waited for the doctor to come back, I managed to drift in and out of sleep a bit.
Finally the doctor came and told me it was a kidney stone and that it was "only 2 mm" so I could go home and wait for it to pass. A nurse removed my IV, handed me a couple of prescriptions and sent me to check out. By this time I had sent my friend home so I was on my own. Besides, I was no longer in pain, just really, really thirsty and tired.
So I stopped at the pharmacy across the street from the hospital and walked home. It felt a little surreal almost as if I had made the whole thing up. And today I am back at work and except for the fact that I am seeing a urologist on Friday and I have some heft prescriptions in my bag, everything feels pretty much normal. No pain whatsoever.
And now my question is, was the back pain I have been suffering since early December caused by the kidney stone all along? I believe that is the first thing I will be asking the urologist on Friday. That is, the first question right after I ask him if I am safe to get on a plane to Panama on Saturday . . . .