I am writing this amid a kidney stone attack. Crazy?
Let’s start with why there’s pain. According to kidney.niddk.nih.gov, “A kidney stone is a hard mass developed from crystals that separate from the urine within the urinary tract.” When that “crystalized” stone, jagged on all its edges, travels through the ureter (the tube between the kidney and the bladder), it causes pain. Because I have had kidney stones for more than 23 years now, I have a little experience with them.
I had my first kidney stone pass when I was 16 years old. I was on a trip with my youth group and they had to send me back in the chaperone van. My dad met them at the hospital. First test they ran was for pregnancy. Now that was crazy! Last I knew, only one virgin in history has become pregnant; but she got a message from an angel first.
Anyway, after pumping me full of morphine, we discovered that I had an adverse reaction to the drug – nausea. I haven’t been given morphine since.
That first time, I never passed the stone. After more than a week in the hospital, they had to do surgery to remove it – twice. The first time they used a little basket to try and remove it – fail. The second, they scoped my ureter – it came out with the scope.
Two years later, a week after starting my senior year, I had my second kidney stone. Again, I never passed it. They did surgery. First they tried the scope because it was successful the last time – fail. Lipotripsy, extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy (ESWL), was the successful surgery the last time. I woke up a few times, they only had to use local anesthetic, and it felt like someone was flicking me with their finger on my back; not as bad as being cut open by far! The time it took from the beginning of the symptoms to returning to school? Six weeks. I graduated mid-term in order to work that final semester before college. That means my senior year I was in school a total of 12 weeks. It was a relief, I was so ready to be done with high school! But that’s another blog in and of itself.
The positive to all of these surgeries is that despite the pain I went through, the urologist put stints into my ureter each time, one on the left and then one on the right. Those stints stretched my ureter and now I have a bit more room for the kidney stone to pass though. I haven’t been hospitalized for a kidney stone since the one when I was 18 years old.
I have lost count of how many kidney stones, I’ve had, but I estimate that I’ve had well over 20. I had them while pregnant, while teaching, and while on vacation.
The most stupid comment made to me after someone saw my kidney stone was, “Wow, that’s so tiny. You couldn’t have been in that much pain.” I have never had the courage to say it, but just stop and think about that. You try and pee anything out a hole the size of your pee hole and see if it isn’t uncomfortable for you too!
I have gotten to the place where I don’t have to go to the hospital any more. Don’t get me wrong, they still hurt! There are wide ranges of physical pain that I go through. It usually starts with the feelings similar to constipation – quite a bit of abdominal pain, but there is no actual constipation. After that, I usually develop a sharp stabbing pain like a knife jabbing into my back just under my ribs. The pain grows to feel like the knife is being twisted. The pain gets to the point that I can’t logically focus on anything anymore. For those of you who have had children and been in labor, you may remember the moment when you could no longer breath through the contractions because the pain was too intense at which point most women get an epidural; that is a similar degree of pain. This is also when most people end up in the hospital. The main difference is that most pregnant women only have a matter of few hours before they deliver. With my kidney stones, I have had this on-again, off- again pain for up to three weeks. After the back pain sets in, I have a strange final symptom. It feels like I have glass inside of me, sort of like a really bad urinary tract infection. This final symptom creates an urge to go to the bathroom ALL THE TIME. I can finish urinating, but I feel the sensation that I still need to go. This final symptom has thrown my doctors’ diagnoses off many times. I have had more tests run thinking I have everything else but a kidney stone. Once they test my urine, they always find traces of blood (no, you can’t see it. It only shows up in tests). I personally have found a small measure of relief by applying and ice pack.
I have received some of the craziest suggestions of how to keep from getting stones. But there are several types of stones, or several elements. The first thing I had to do was catch a stone and get it analyzed. (The internet is full of information about the different types.) My stones are calcium carbonate. This is the first ingredient in all adult vitamins and tums, so I’ve stopped taking an adult multivitamin (children’s don’t usually have this ingredient). In place of Tums or Rolaids, I take papaya enzyme (they are chewable and taste great – available in the vitamin isle of most stores) when I have indigestion. I have never been a milk drinker. I had meningitis when I was 6 months old and haven’t drunk it since. It was easy to give up milk when the urologist said to. But research has revealed some other things that may contribute to stones too. According to kidney.niddk.nih.gov, here are some foods with high and moderate levels of oxalates, which may contribute to kidney stones as well:
“People prone to forming calcium oxalate stones may be asked by their doctor to limit or avoid certain foods if their urine contains an excess of oxalate.
High-oxalate foods-higher to lower: rhubarb, spinach, beets, swiss chard, wheat germ, soybean crackers, peanuts, okra, chocolate, black Indian tea, sweet potatoes
Foods that have medium amounts of oxalate may be eaten in limited amounts. Medium-oxalate foods-higher to lower: grits, grapes, celery, green pepper, red raspberries, fruit cake, strawberries, marmalade, liver. (Source: The Oxalosis and Hyperoxaluria Foundation)”
I might add that some of the medications I have taken after several of my surgeries for other issues have side effects which cause kidney stones.
There’s one thing not on this list that since I have eliminated it, it has helped reduce the frequency of kidney stones. That’s caffeine. A year and a half ago, I eliminated caffeine use from my daily diet. Unfortunately, caffeine is in Excedrin and some none cola drinks like A&W cream soda and even orange soda. I have done my best to avoid it, but sometimes I don’t find out until after I’ve already consumed it.
The other practice I have adopted is drinking almost a gallon of water a day. I don’t drink anything but water, so it is easy to get this quota a day. I had one urologist say that he didn’t care what I was drinking, as long as I was always drinking something. I have found that water is the best – no calories, needed for good health, tastes great with anything!
The most awful part about kidney stones to me is that I can go for a few days at a time with no pain only to have the pain return when I least expect it.
So, which phase am I in currently? I am on the final stage. This stage could take anywhere from an hour to weeks. So, I wait.