Monday, September 17, 2007

Stoned in Salt Lake City

Was it Carol Burnett or Bill Cosby who described giving birth as pulling your lower lip over your head? In any case. I haven't given birth. But I am in labor of sorts. I am trying to pass a kidney stone. It'll be my third since 2001. Here's the story:

I was all dressed up and ready to go to a contra dance about 6 p.m. Saturday. Drying my hair in the bathroom, I felt some cramping in my lower back. I thought maybe the recent sips of milk I just swallowed were not sitting well in my stomach. I ignored the pain for a minute or so. Then I started to feel clammy in my palms and I got the chills. I sat down and tried to breathe away the pain now ripping through my lower back and left flank.

I got up to look in the mirror, and my face was a sickly green. I did *not* look good. Beginning to panic, I called Phil, with whom I was supposed to go dancing. I told him I didn't feel well and I might go to an InstaCare. I hung up with him, grabbed my purse and headed down the stairs to my car. On the walk to my parking spot, I started to think maybe the InstaCare was closed. So I tried to think where there was a hospital. I am still so new to this area I was unsure.

I got into my car, breathing rapidly and trying to stave off the pain. I backed up and - oddly -- got a friendly wave from the woman who works in the apartment complex's office. I considered asking her where the hospital was, but I couldn't get it together enough to slow down and roll my window down. I pulled out of my complex and felt an enormous wave of pain go through me. I had to pull over immediately. I knew I didn't want to leave my car in front of the red fire hydrant, so I slowly re-entered my apartment complex, pulled into my spot, and called Phil to ask him if he knew where a hospital was. Then I changed my mind in the middle of that call and told him I had to call 9-1-1 now.

It was the first time I called 9-1-1 from my cell for a medical emergency for myself. I could hear my panting echoing in the receiver. I gave the operator my location and symptoms. At one point, I had to excuse myself to vomit in the bushes near the car. The pain was just crazy. She told me to stay in my car, turn on my hazard lights, and wait for the ambulance. She said she'd be with me on the phone till the medics were right with me.

I reclined my seat and turned up the A/C, leaving my door open. My hands were beginning to tingle, and my lower left leg felt a little numb. I tried to take deep, slow breaths, but I just couldn't. I sat panting in pain while I waited to hear sirens. Eventually, I did. It took perhaps 5-8 minutes.

The medics came, asked me some questions, and told me they were going to load me onto the stretcher. I told them I had a history of kidney stones. They started taking my blood pressure (I think it was 120 over 60) and heart rate (90). They felt my stomach, tapped my knees, then tapped my left shin. Ow! The pain resonated into the ache in my side. I heard a medic say it looked like a classic kidney stone. (That tap on my shin help explained why it was feeling numb earlier.)

One of the medics asked for my driver license. I told him it was in a pink walette in my purse. He told me he was just going to reach in and get it. He asked if there were any sharp objects in my purse, and if I used drugs. Uh ... no! He returned the wallet and then pulled my keys out of the ignition. I eyed them as he placed them next to my phone on the dash. The medics started helping me out of the car, and I told them anxiously that I left my keys and phone. They told me not to worry, that they would get them. I saw a medic on the passenger side of my car, the door open. I expected he would grab my phone and keys before he closed the door. So, upon habit, I pushed the lock when I got out of my side of the car. They put me on the stretcher, and I heard doors slam. I asked about my keys and phone. They were still in the car. No one grabbed them before I foolishly locked the door. I knew I wouldn't be able to call Phil for a while. I repeated an expletive when I realized what happened.

Now I was in the ambulance with a female and male medic, the latter on my left, the former on my right. She kept asking for my social security number. I tried to be clear and concise, but she had to ask me three times. I was getting annoyed with her. Besides, I was still writhing in pain. I heard the driver say, "Bump, then left turn." I felt that speedbump -- and the 3 or 4 more that followed - with a distinction I wish I never knew.

They asked me if I preferred one hospital over another. I told them I had IHC insurance. They gave me a couple hospital names, and I just lolled my head from left to the right, saying, "Whatever. I don't care."

I heard the man on my left say he was going to start an IV with morphine. The medics asked me which veins were best, and I told them the side one on my left because that's where I gave blood from in Florida. I started rambling and telling them how I was not successful about giving blood in Utah because of the dryness and I didn't drink enough water and.... They told me not to worry, that they would find a vein.

The medic settled on a vein in the center of the back of my left hand. I felt a little poke, all the while staring up at the metal ceiling of the ambulance. Someone had stuck a typed, all-capital sign that read: "ENJOY YOUR RIDE." Funny. The medic asked if I was allergic to anything. I gave my standard reply: "Not that I know of." The medic started with 2 units (cc's?) of morphine. He asked if I felt anything. Nope. He then told the female medic he would give me 3 more. He told me I should start to feel something.

My left arm felt it first. After the cool swoosh of liquid filled the back of my left hand, the morphine crawled up my left arm with a comforting warmth. That spread to the pain in my side, and I finally began to relax. It was such a relief to feel nothing. My breathing slowed, and I began to calm down.

The medics, communicative as ever, told me we had arrived at the hospital -- Alta View in Sandy. The medics wheeled me into ER room H. They brought the stretcher parallel to the bed and asked if I could roll onto it. With effort, I lifted my head, pushed away the dizziness, and scooched onto the white sheet. It was cold in there, and I shivered as I lay down. I was offered a blanket, which I eagerly accepted. It turned out to be *heated* - delightful! Shortly after, an intern came in to attach me to a blood pressure machine. Then the nurse came in, followed by myriad hospital workers to get insurance information, urine and blood samples, medical history, etc.

The procession eventually slowed down. I requested a phone to see if I could get ahold of my boss. I was expected to fly to Pennsylvania in the morning, and I wanted to give him a heads-up on my situation. Without my cell phone, I was useless. The only phone number I had in my head was my cousin, Susie's. I called her and tried to get her 12-year-old daughter to find the number of some co-workers in Provo, but they were unlisted (Lisa, Carol-lyn, are you reading this???). I also tried calling what I thought was the 800-number for my office, but no luck. In the end, I was unable to get ahold of any work people till the following morning. I was able to call Phil and let him know I was OK (relatively) and in the hospital.

I dozed for a bit and was happy to see a familiar face peek in my doorway. Phil came to sit with me and see me through the ordeal. After a while, the doctor came in and told me she needed to get a CT scan. I had to wait for the bag of saline - the one attached to my IV - to completely drip into my veins. It took about an hour.

Finally, the lab technician came in my room with a wheelchair. I was wheeled through the halls into the room that contained the huge, GE-made CT scan machine. I lay down and was told to put my arms above my head. The machine whirred around me as a recorded male voice told me to take a breath and hold it. I had to do this twice, as the first time around, the zipper from my skirt interrupted the imaging.

The lab tech told me the results should be ready in 15 minutes. I got back to my room, where Phil was waiting for me. He snoozed in the uncomfortable-looking plastic chair while I snoozed in the bed. After 90 minutes, the ER doctor came in to tell me she'd been fighting with the tech folks to get my results. Her shift was over an hour earlier, and she said she'd be passing my case along to her colleague.

She left, and about 30 minutes later, the other ER doctor came in. He told me I had a 2.5 mm stone toward the bottom of my ureter. He gave me prescriptions for Flomax, which helps relax the ureter and make the stone pass more easily; and for Lortab, a narcotic painkiller. That painkiller was to play a major role on Sunday. Soon after, the nurse, Frank, came in with my discharge papers. I found out he was from Pembroke Pines, FL. He high-fived me when he heard I was from South Florida, too. It was close to midnight when I left the hospital.

Phil, his friend Randy, and I drove home from the hospital. I made a phone call to a 24-hour locksmith -- Pop-a-Lock - because I still needed to get into my car. Greg got to my place about 10 minutes after Phil and I did. It took about 20-25 minutes for Greg to break into my car. Turns out the 06 Ion is a tricky one. Thankfully, the morphine was still in effect. Finally, I got into the car and was able to get to Walgreens to pick up my prescriptions.

I was fine for most of the night. Sunday morning, I woke up and prepared to head to the airport. I was about 10 minutes on the road when a fresh spasm stopped me in my tracks. I called some people at work to let them know I wasn't going to make the plane. The rest of the day was spent laid up in bed, snoozing in between doses of painkiller, Phil bearing the brunt of my writhings and wailings. (He was so good to me; went out and bought a strainer for my urine -- to find the stone; shopped for food; held my hand when I needed it.)

The worst part of the day was a little bit after lunch. The pain started to come back. I took a painkiller and waited the 15 or so minutes it took to kick in. The problem was it didn't kick in. I took a second. That one didn't kick in, either. I was in horrible pain, wriggling under the covers, balling up in the fetal position and groaning. All Phil could do was look at me with pain in his own eyes, knowing he couldn't do anything to help me. He did call the pharmacy to see if I could take a third painkiller. He was told I could take an ibuprofen, which I did. So, after about half-hour of burning aching agony in my flank, I calmed down.

A good amount of vomit showed up later that night, but that was the last of my torture. I spoke to my boss, who told me to go ahead and cancel my plane ticket to PA. Whew.

I woke up Monday morning without pain. I've been straining my urine all day to see if the stone has passed. I saw the urologist, who informed me there are two stones in my right kidney, as well. One of them is 3 mm. I am unhappy about that. I've been drinking water like a madman all day. That might become my life. The doctor told me I should drink enough water every day to that my urine is clear or pale yellow.

I am set to return to work tomorrow. I plan on taking the pain pills with me. And the strainer. :)

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