My Wife Stabs Me in the Back While I Sleep.
I awake in a cold sweat writhing in pain. My wife has stabbed me in the lower back. I cannot stand or walk. It hurts to breath. It hurts not to breathe. I go see our general practitioner Dr. W. Dr. W. is short and dark. He has a bunch of kids. He looks to be about 15 years old. He likes to talk about dieting.
My Wife Did Not Actually Stab Me in The Back.
I have not actually been stabbed in the back. My wife would not do that. Not in my sleep anyway. She would stab me in the stomach so her face was the last thing I saw. Dr. W. isn’t sure what’s going on. Then again, he never is. Is it a kidney stone? I ask. No, he says. Remember that Seinfeld where Kramer has a kidney stone? he asks. Sure. Remember how he was walking? Yes. You would look more like that. So, what it is then? I think it could be a virus interacting with your kidneys, he says. Really? Yeah, let’s run some blood tests and check your urine. Ok. Ok. The pain subsides. It is not a virus. But there are some malformed cells floating around in my urine.
Herman Munster Tells Me He is Going to Put a Camera in My Penis.
Dr. W. sends me to see Dr. F. Dr. F. is an Urologist. He has a square jaw and a head like Herman Munster. His neck is always red and irritated. He doesn’t say much. So, what do you think? I ask. I think it’s probably a kidney stone, he says. Really? Yes, he says, or a tumor. A tumor? Yes, but that’s doubtful at your age. So, what do we do, I ask. A Cystoscopy, he says. What’s that? We’re going to look inside your bladder and see what’s there. And how do you do that? I ask. There’s a tube and a camera and we go through your penis. Yeah, so, I’ll be asleep for that, right? No. No? No, you’ll be awake and we’ll do it right here in the office, he says.
Herman Munster Puts My Dick in a Clamp.
I return one-week later. The room is cold, and bare, just a table and a monitor. Dr. F asks me to strip from the waist down and cover myself with the sheet. He leaves. I strip. I lie there. I wait. And wait some more. I read the sports page. Dr. F. returns. He pulls out a clamp. And what’s that for? I ask. It holds the penis in place during the procedure, he says. Dr. F. pulls the sheet down and adjusts the clamp. He then pulls out a plastic tube, maybe half an inch across, and a couple feet in length. This is the scope, he says, we need to insert this. How, I say, I mean really? He does not respond. He takes out a tube of some unidentified lubricant. He coats the scope and then inserts it into my penis. There is a pinch and then there is movement. It burns a bit. It’s also kind of titillating. Dr. F. manipulates the tube until it reaches my bladder, and then moves it around. He is searching for something, anything. We track his progress on the monitor. He doesn’t find a thing. No tumor, no stone, not even a trail of residue the stone might have left behind. You probably passed the stone between visits, he says. Wouldn’t I have felt that? I ask.
Not necessarily, he says. What can I do to prevent this from happening again? I say. We don’t really know, he says, drink lots of water, avoid too much ice tea. That’s it? I ask. Well, that and get on with your life, he says.
I Get On With My Life Until Everything Feels Fucked.
I get on with my life. Until the blood that is. It’s not like I haven’t had blood in my urine before. But back then I was playing ultimate Frisbee and running marathons. And back then my father hadn’t just died from a rare form of Cancer. Dr. W. isn’t so sure he knows what’s going on. I’m going to send you back to Dr. F., he says. Oh, and by the way, he adds, I’ve lost 15 pounds on my new diet. Yeah? Yeah, no carbs, no sugar, and a Diet Coke when I want some pop. Think about it.
Dr. F. is happy to see me. I think, maybe, who knows. You could have a stone trapped in your bladder that is rubbing on the bladder’s lining, he says. Really? Yes, and that could be causing the bleeding, he continues. He orders an IVP. This is a test where you drink some dye and it allows them to X-ray your internal organs. I get an IVP. The results are murky and there is a dark spot. It could just be a spot on the X-ray, Dr. F. says, or it could be something else. Like what, a stone? I say.
Yes, he says, or some sort of harmless malformation. Could it be a tumor, I ask? Maybe, anyway, I want you to get your bladder scoped. All right, I say. I will not be able to perform the procedure though, he says. No? No, I’m sorry, I was offered my dream job in the oncology unit at Rush, and today is my last day. Congratulations, I say. Thanks, he says, I am referring you to my colleague Dr. S. Okay. You’ll like him, he adds.
I Watch Bubbles Float Out of My Penis and Feel Like Liberace.
Dr. S. is smallish, well-coiffed, talkative. He reminds me of Teller, except for the talkative part. This is not a kidney stone, Dr. S. says. No? No. It could just be a defect of some kind, he says, but it could also be a tumor. We’ll scope your kidneys and take a look. Don’t worry about it, he says. It’s probably nothing. Yeah? People don’t get bladder cancer at your age, he adds. I have to go to the hospital. They don’t scope you in the doctor’s office. They give me local anesthesia and tell me I will be awake for the procedure. I’m not though. I fall asleep immediately. When I awake three hours later I’m freezing and hungry. They give me Lorna Doone cookies and say I cannot leave until I urinate. I don’t want to stay, but I don’t want to urinate either. I don’t know what it will feel like, but I know it will be bad. I do urinate though. There is blood everywhere, and bubbles. I feel like Liberace. The scope finds nothing. Which is good, but for the pain in my back that won’t go away. It’s my kidneys apparently. They’re bruised from the probing I’m told. I’m also told it will pass.
The Pain In My Back Does Not Subside.
The pain in my back does not subside. I call Dr. S. several days later. Should I be worried about this back pain? I ask. No, it’s normal. Really? Really. Ok. I’m glad you called though, he says. I catch my breath. No one is happy you called back on your own unless shit is going south. When we were probing your kidneys, he says, we did a wash just to see what might come up. A wash? I say.
A wash, he says, and then we ran some tests. Right. You show a number of abnormal cells and they reflect a high likelihood of carcinoma, he says. Carcinoma, does that mean I have cancer? I ask.
I don’t know, maybe, I doubt it. But there could be something hidden in there that we missed, he says. Hidden? We need to do a biopsy of your bladder, he continues. Biopsy? We could have done it last time we were in there, but everything looked fine, he says. Okay. It’s probably nothing, he adds, but you should come in. I’m supposed to go to Spain this week, can I still do that? I ask. Do you think so? he asks. Yes? Great, come in after that.
I Go to Spain.
I go to Spain with my wife. We stalk Gaudi. We find out we are not pregnant though we were sure we were. We are sad. We drink beer. We eat cold potato pies. We try not to think about Cancer. We come home. I go back to the hospital and back to sleep. When I awake, I’m freezing. Again. This time though the pain is excruciating. I cannot bend. I cannot stand. I cannot bear to get dressed. And I will not urinate, but I do. It’s bloody and paralyzing. They give me Vicodin and send me home.
Night Sweats and Saltines.
I collapse into bed. I awake at 3:00am with night sweats. The muscle is being peeled off my back. Cramps undulate across my stomach. I take my Vicodin. Nothing happens.
Nothing. Twenty minutes pass. Still nothing. I walk to the living room window. I watch the parking lot attendants behind our building move cars. But nothing happens. One hour passes. I eat a saltine and then another as I shuffle back and forth across the living room. The cramps subside. Another hour passes. The cramps return. It’s been two hours and forty-five minutes. I want more Vicodin, but I have to wait three hours before I can take another one. I stare at the bottle. It stares back. I reach the three-hour mark. I rip the cap off the bottle. The cramps subside. I crawl into bed and curl up into a ball. Two hours later I need more Vicodin. And so it goes, all day long and into the night.
It is morning. I cannot walk, or move. There is a band of pain I wear like a weight belt. I call Dr. S.
He says it’s possible that they perforated my bladder and that I should come in. I do. It’s nothing.
It turns out that the side effects of the Vicodin are mimicking the side effects of the surgery. The result is intense gas and cramps. Go cold turkey, and take these, Dr. S. says as he hands me some new pills. And the results of the biopsy? I ask. Nothing, it showed nothing. No tumors, no cancer, you’re fine. But what about the blood and the murky IVP and the abnormal cells? I say. Aberrations, he says. All of that? I say. All of that. What are the next steps then? I ask. Get a physical in six months, he says, and get your blood checked and your urine tested. That’s it? Yes. And I believe him. I do. But not fully. And not really.
I Drop My Pants.
I go in for a physical. Dr. W. is gone. He has moved his growing family back to Jersey. Dr. L. has replaced him. He’s tall, good looking, neatly dressed, and focused on me and my history. I tell him what’s been going on and he doesn’t like the sound of it. It doesn’t jibe, too random, too many pieces that don’t make sense. He calls Dr. S. They talk, he feels better. He tells me to drop my pants.
He wants to check me for testicular cancer. I drop them my pants. I turn to my right. I cough. He squeezes something and it hurts. Have you noticed this before? he asks. No, what? I say. I don’t know, one second, he says. He squeezes the spot again. It kills. Could be some extra skin, he says, could be a cyst. A cyst? Fuck me. It’s probably nothing, he says, and even if it is a cyst, it could still be nothing. So that’s good? Well, given your history, he continues, I would like you to get an ultrasound.
My Balls Are Smeared With Cranberries.
I go get an ultrasound. I strip. It’s cold in the room. It’s cold on the table. The stuff they smear on my testicles looks like leftover cranberries the day after Thanksgiving. The young technician gets to work. I fall asleep. It’s quiet. Peaceful. Someone is talking to me. Hey man, dude, yo dude. It’s the technician. What am I looking for man? I don’t see anything here. It’s a cyst, I say, it’s supposed to be somewhere on the right side of my testicles. Well man there’s nothing there, he says, you’re cool.
I talk to Dr. L. Good news, he says, there was nothing there. We had to check. And now?
Come back next year for your annual physical.
My baby son is sick with the flu. My wife is sick with the flu. I am not, but assume I will be soon.
My lower back is sore. As the day progresses I cannot get warm. I pull on my wool socks and fleece pants, but nothing works. This continues long into the night. I spend the next day in bed napping.
By dinner I feel fine, whatever it was has come and gone. I sleep like a baby that night. The next morning there is blood in my urine and lots of it. It continues all day and into the next. I make an appointment with Dr. L. He has a little less hair then last time I saw him. He’s skinnier as well.
Too skinny maybe. I wonder if he’s ok, but I don’t ask. What do you think is causing the blood? I do ask. I think this is a condition where the flu virus interferes with your kidney function, he says.
Great, if you tell me that’s what it is, I won’t even bother to call you next time this happens, I say.
Well, given your family history, he says, and your history I would feel better if you got a CAT Scan.
Really? Really, I also want you to follow-up with your Urologist, he continues.
A Cold, Hard Table.
I go in for a CAT scan. I am given two bottles of Barium. I am told to drink one immediately, and then the other in 20 minute intervals over the next hour. When I am done I am led into a room and asked to lie down on a cold, hard, metal table. I am slid into a cylindrical tube. Intermittently I am asked to hold my breath over the next twenty minutes. I do as they ask and then I am done.
One week later my wife and I meet with an Urologist named Dr. T. Dr. T has sandy blonde hair and a limp handshake. He does not smile. We discuss my recent medical history. Dr. T. types everything I say into a computer. He never once looks away from the screen. I talk about the stabbing pain in my back, murky IVP’s, and bladder biopsies. I have always thought these various maladies were due to kidney stones, I say. That possibility has always been dismissed, I continue. I’m looking at the results from your CAT Scan right now, he says. I can see a small stone in your right kidney that has been there for some time, he continues. Yeah? I can also see several other ones growing in your left kidney, he adds. Really? Really, it’s right here, he says, tapping the computer screen with his right index finger. Could the one in the right kidney have been wedged there for the last four and a half years? I ask. Yes, he says. And could that explain the chronic lower back pain, the malformed cells, and the blood in my urine? Yes, he says. Ok. Ok. So, can you treat it?” I ask. It’s too small to treat, he says. I want you to change your diet and see whether or not you can break it down first, he continues. Ok. You shouldn’t have this many kidney stones at your age though, he says. No?
I also want to run a metabolic test on your urine and try to pinpoint the possible causes. Yeah?
Yes, he says, walk over to the Center for Urology down the hall and they will set you up. Sounds great, I say. And it does. I’m ready to move on. If only it were that easy. You know, Dr. T. says, the blood in your urine seems disproportionate to the stone you have. Huh? We need to eliminate the possibility that there is a tumor in your bladder, he continues. Again? I ask. Yes, he says. But you won’t need to do a Cystoscopy again will you? I ask. Yes, he says, we will. We will schedule it so the results from the metabolic test are back at the same time, he continues.
The receptionist at the Center for Urology gives me two brown plastic containers. And two vials of preservatives. You will wake-up, she says, and urinate into one of these containers. You will continue to urinate in that container over the next 24 hours. You will then repeat that with the other container for the 24 hours following that. You will not need to refrigerate them, the preservatives will do the trick. I place the containers on the shelf in my bathroom overlooking the toilet. They loom there, like the Heads from Easter Island. They are stoic, strong, and beautiful, standing guard, and offering greetings to the bathroom’s visitors. Both containers come folded in on one side and slowly expand with each visit. I lug the semi-filled containers to the Center and turn them in along with a blood sample. The nurse gives me a copy of a special diet for people suffering from kidney stones. I need to I place the containers on the shelf in my bathroom overlooking the toilet. They loom there, like the heads from Easter Island. They are stoic, strong, and beautiful, standing guard, and offering greetings to the bathroom’s visitors. Both containers come folded in on one side and slowly expand with each visit. I lug the semi-filled containers to the Center and turn them in along with a blood sample. The nurse gives me a copy of a special diet for people suffering from kidney stones. I need to cut out spinach. Who knew? So, the nurse says, you’re seeing Dr. T. Yep. Not much of a personality, she says, but he’s the best on kidney stones.
I go in for my Cystoscopy. I lay down naked on the table. The nurse comes in, doesn’t say a word, and starts pouring liquid Lydocaine into my penis. You know, I say, last time I did this they used the gel form to numb the tip of my penis. No reaction. Any reason you choose to use the liquid form? I continue. It’s more effective this way baby, she says. I like being called baby. Still. Really, I say, because I’m not feeling very numb. You’re number then you think, she says. She smiles and leaves.
Dr. T. comes in. He walks over to me and without a comment he inserts the tube into my penis. I feel the tube sliding along every step of the way. It’s too big by a half. There is a pinch. I grimace.
The pinching sensation does not pass. I grab the sheet. I let out a yelp. I have never yelped. You will feel a pinch as we pass through your sphincter, Dr. T. says. He’s done. The procedure has lasted a few minutes at best. Dr. T. pauses for a moment and then removes the tube. No tumors, he says. And the results of metabolic test? I ask. They didn’t get here in time, he says, call me in one week and we’ll talk. He reaches out to shake my hand. And with that he’s gone.
I call Dr. T. one week later. I have started to see blood in my urine again. Why are you trying to reach me? he asks. You told me to call you and follow-up on the metabolic test, I say. And I know the Cystoscopy looked good, but I have blood in my urine again. Any concerns there? Yes, he says, we may need to do another IVP. And then he moves on. You don’t drink enough fluids, he says. Drink two cups of water when you wake-up, a quart during the day. And two more cups before you go to bed. Lemonade is also good, as is orange juice and grapefruit juice. You also have too many Oxcidents in your urine, he says. Oxcidents build kidney stones. Cut out tea, chocolate, and raspberries. Do you have a copy of the special diet we’ve written-up? Yeah, I do, I say. Good, take a look at it. He has not mentioned the blood in my urine. By the way, he says, in terms of the blood in your urine, everything looks clean. So, it may be that the kidney stone that’s wedged in my right kidney is causing it? I ask. Yeah maybe, he says, but it could also be a malformed blood vessel. Really. Yes. And what does that mean exactly? I say. It’s kind of like how other people get bloody noses. Really? I say. Yes. Is it just a coincidence then that I may have both a malformed blood vessel in my kidneys and stones? Yes, he says. And how do you treat that exactly? I ask. We would cauterize it, he says. Dear god. What I suggest, he says, is that next time you see blood in your urine, you call me immediately. We will do another Cystoscopy and look for the source, he continues. Another Cystoscopy, I say. Yes. Ok, I say. That’s it for now then. Ok, thanks. Bye.
I Pass the Stone.
I drink more water. When I wake-up. When I go to bed. And all day long. One day I am at work. I am in the bathroom. I pass the stone. Just like that. Like magic. No pain. Just a weirdness. A push. And something jagged and crystalline is staring at me like a far away star come to Earth. I pluck it out of the toilet. I place it in a baggy. I show it Dr. T. That’s it, he says.
Featured Image Credit: Jason Mecier via BoingBoing