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  • Writer's pictureKL Forslund

The Stones

A long time ago, in a year called 2010, I had a pain in my back. Right around where the kidney was. A trip to the doctor, and an ultrasound confirmed I had a batch of kidney stones cooking. Took big to pass, the doctor prescribed a soak in the magic tub to vibrate them out of me at Memorial Hermann.

As was their custom, the day before the procedure, the hospital called to ask how I would like to pay ten thousand dollars. Because my insurance, United Healthcare declined to cover it. I told them I didn't have it on me and United would just have to pay when the stones tried to kill me harder.

Flash forward to 2023, and a Thursday evening in mid-May. I sat uncomfortably in my chair working late with an engineer on a problem. My back hurt, and we needed to deploy something. After rushing through it, I hung up, and had to fetch dinner for the wife. I hurt so bad, I didn’t even order for myself. She wasn’t feeling good herself, having been T-boned the day before in her friend’s car (she’s fine now). Once I got home, I went straight to bed and lay there in increasing pain for a couple hours.

The wife clued in that I might be hurting, and called a nurse friend. Who advised a trip to the ER. So we went. During the drive, guess who texted me? Work. That deployment went bad and the folks in India found out the hard way. Too bad for them as I was in too much pain and didn’t have a computer or two thoughts to rub together.

The ER confirmed those stones didn’t pass. They grew to a whopping eighteen millimeters. Those ain’t gonna pass, either. Some good drugs and an hour later, I could text folks the answer to their problem, but alas the IT folks called it a night. Shrug.

The ER folks decided to keep me for observation at the main hospital (Memorial Hermann, remember them?). So I got my first ambulance ride, for free, even. That was fun going over bumps. The drugs weren’t THAT good.

As anyone who’s done time in a hospital knows, you don’t get sleep. They come in every hour to poke and measure. And I slept with one eye open in case an doppelganger came to take my place. So, I had a long time to wait until I knew somebody at work would start on the East coast so I could call them and get them working on the solution to the problem I made the night before.

Side quest completed, I could rest a bit more, walk around the ward with a rollie-drip, satisfied with the pride of a problem I created that was also solved by me while I was in the ER because somebody else was a slacker. The sucky part of my job is that I have to do what it takes to solve problems. The great part of my job is that I can screw up and still be respected in the morning.

Where was I? Oh yeah, the unrolling stones. I got hooked up with a urologist the next week and they made a plan to shove a sonic screwdriver up the streaming port and zap the stones. Good plan. As we learned from Patton, no plan survives contact with the enemy. So that procedure failed because the doctor got lost in my bladder.

Say what?

Let’s back up. Not to the appointment before the procedure where the doctor noted some odd shaping of my bladder. No, all the way back to the later 1970s. I was younger than eight, older than four. There were concerns about bladder infections, so they shoved a tube up me and x-rayed something that looked like a tiny bone (like from the Operation! game) that they fed in there to track. Getting all that out hurt. Like I remember saying,as a kid, “this must be what it feels like to have a baby.” The staff agreed. WIth a kid. That’s how bad it hurt.

See, I’ve got two defects on my bladder, like sacks on each side. That’s what the urologist ran into. There’s even a technical term for it, once he realized it. But, he didn’t ask more at the appointment, so we wasted some knockout juice trying the sonic screwdriver to do some lithotripsy.

Round two. Teamwork.

The urologist sent me to another village, up in Conroe. A lengthy journey that only the bravest commuter would make. Far away. Like fifteen miles. And that guy was a tubologist. Or some other title. Either way, he was the guy to install a tube in my back to my kidney, and then a stent from my kidney to the bladder. With that in place, my guy could use a laser to zap the stones. Yeah, no shit. Freaking laser beams.

Great plan. Except he took two weeks to get me scheduled. By now, over a month had gone by, with the weighty stones jamming up the works. Finally, a date was set. When? The day after my fiftieth birthday. What a present! I woke up in worse pain than I started. From the stones being agitated to the pain literally in my back from the tubes. And the icing on the cake? The tubologist said I shouldn’t be in any pain, so he didn’t prescribe any pain killers.

I called the urologist from the recovery room to get the next step setup. Great timing, too, because he was leaving on vacation in three days. They got me in for an appointment to review the tubing x-rays and set my surgery. I still had to work between surgeries, so that was not fun. But I got through it.

Seven AM, the day my urologist was leaving town. Basically, he’d swing in, do the job, and fly out. I woke up at 8:30AM and felt loads better, so good on him. A few days peeing shards and I’d be right as rain.

Now I still had the stent in me. Which did not feel good in a crimpy gut kind of way. So a week after that, I went in for an appointment, expecting to get scheduled for removing that. They send me to the room at the end. Which has trays of equipment, and disposable pads on the tilty bed. Yup, turns out they do that in-office. Thirty seconds of sharp pain, and a giant earthworm yanked out your dick. And burning. And feeling the need to pee. Which burned.

Sorry for being vulgar there, but holy mother fuck dickery did that hurt. I still have flashbacks.

There. I feel better.

Like really. I just had the last follow-up where they removed the stitch from the tubing removal. That only stung. But I’m better. Not stones. No shards. No sludge. I am good to kidney like normal.

Oh yeah, here’s the best part. I’d changed employer and insurance a few times. Guess who got to pay for all this? Come on, guess. I’m a writer. It’s a bookending to the story.

Well, also this is America, so I’m paying a six or seven thousand deductible. But United Healthcare had to get the rest. Hah.

They should have paid for the magic bathtub.

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