This past Thursday, my husband came home from work and woke me up to tell me he needed to go to the ER. My very sleep deprived brain was confused because he’s an RN and he had just come from work…. from a hospital. Yes, a hospital WITH an ER. I sat up trying to clear the fog from my sleepy brain and that’s when I saw his face and “heard” his pain. All color was drained from his face and I could tell by his breathing that he was in some serious pain. I jumped up out of bed and said, “What’s wrong?” His reply? “I think I have another kidney stone.” Oh my. Here we go again I thought (this would be his fourth).
I learned way more about kidney stones than I ever cared to know from the first one my husband had. As a veterinarian I used to see a lot of bladder stones in dogs and cats which are more common in animals than actual kidney stones. And these were often asymptomatic and diagnosed on a routine physical exam. Other times an owner might bring a dog in for hematuria (blood in the urine) or dysuria (difficulty in urinating) and a subsequent work-up would reveal the stones in the bladder. With my husband’s first stone, our family was walking on a local Greenway, and we were about 2 or 3 miles into the 6 mile walk when he started having lower abdominal pain. His pain did 2 things. It got worse very rapidly, and it moved up in an ascending fashion (just the opposite of the direction I would have thought it would move if a kidney stone was descending down the urinary tract). He began perspiring and was wincing in pain. When the pain reached high in his right flank, he had a sneaking suspicion it was a kidney stone. I kept telling him to sit down and rest and I think one time he did stop to sit on a bench. But not for long– he had become very restless and wanted to keep moving to get to the car.
All kinds of bad things went through my head. How were we possibly going to make it the 2-3 miles back to our car? How would an ambulance EVER reach us down here on this narrow winding Greenway trail if he collapsed? What if he did collapse? WAS this a kidney stone? Could it be something really bad like an aneurysm? Did I remember my CPR training from years ago should I need it (God forbid)? If all that wasn’t enough, it began to rain. He began to shake and tremble all over. I began to silently pray. Hard.
By the time we made it to the ER, his pain was definitely a 10 on a scale of 1-10. As luck would have it, they didn’t have any available rooms in the back so we took our seat out in the waiting room. The. very. crowded. waiting. room. By this time, I was sure he was in shock from the sheer pain and was writhing and moaning and groaning. He was still pale as a ghost, was restless, sweating, and shaking all over his entire body. His pain was a 10 and my anxiety was a 10. People stared at horror at him…. this man who looked like he was experiencing some weird LSD trip or having some bad delirium tremors. I heard words slip from my husband’s mouth that I had never heard come out of his mouth before (that he said later he didn’t remember even saying and didn’t realize he had said). And you have to understand that my husband is usually a very calm and reserved man. Pain can do that to people.
FINALLY they called him back. A CT scan (which took forever to get the results on because it was a weekend and had to be read by someone in Australia!) showed a kidney stone at the very distal end of his ureter that they said was getting ready to drop into his bladder. They tried to hit a vein to start IV fluids and pain meds but couldn’t find a vein. His veins were collapsed and nowhere to be found and he was as white as all the lab coats that surrounded him. My husband usually has very good veins but not on this particular night. He was shaking violently all over. At this point, I was thinking my husband was going to die. How would I tell my sons? Thank God my father-in-law had come with me as he helped to calm me down. My husband wasn’t getting any relief from the pain because they couldn’t find a vein. Now I’m no doctor, but the veterinarian in me wanted to scream out to them to just give him SOMETHING, ANYTHING (intramuscular) to give him some relief while they continued to try hitting a vein, but they never did and I couldn’t understand that. I lost count as to how many people tried to hit a vein on him. I was so scared at this point and actually thought he might die of shock before they EVER hit a vein. At the same time, I felt for them because they knew he needed pain relief. They felt bad. After what seemed like an hour or more, they finally got an IV in and started the pain meds which gave him immediate relief.
After some fluids and after his pain had eased, they sent us home with a prescription for Percocet and instructions for him to drink a lot of water to help in the passing of the stone. When we got home, the nausea hit. He hit the bed. Occasionally he would get up to throw up. This nausea and vomiting we were told could be due to renal colic from the actual movement of the stone, or just an unpleasant side effect from the Percocet, or both. He absolutely could not drink water as they had instructed him to. This went on all night. We went back to the ER and this time they admitted him to the hospital for fluids, antinausea meds and pain meds. The urologist kept thinking he would pass this stone since it was right on the edge ready to drop into the bladder but it was just a vicious cycle of pain, nausea, vomiting, etc. My husband started begging the urologist to do surgery to go in after the stone but the urologist wanted to wait and give it more time. My husband finally told him he didn’t think he could stand it any longer. The urologist was reluctant, but complied and took him to surgery. He told me after the procedure that every time he grabbed the stone with the basket instrument,” that his ureter would spasm around the stone and “latch on to it” like it didn’t want to give it up. That happened three different times but he was finally able to retrieve it on the 4th attempt. The urologist told me later that he didn’t believe my husband would have EVER passed that stone on his own.
The second kidney stone was pretty much a repeat of the same scenario with us going to the ER, him being sent home and told to drink lots of water, not being able to drink water because of nausea and vomiting, and being admitted to the hospital where again, they had one heck of a time hitting a vein. He was able to pass that stone the night he was admitted. The third stone he passed at home after taking Flomax and getting into a hot bathtub.
This time with stone #4, he was able to pass it at home with the aid of Hydrocodone, Flomax, Zofran and hot baths. Let me tell you, he was one happy man when that stone passed. Again, I thought he would die before he passed this one. It’s hard seeing someone you love in a lot of pain and feeling helpless because there’s not a lot you can do to help. My husband told our doctor that he’s had four kidney stones and all have caused a different type of pain. No two have been alike.
I remember one night when my sons were younger and they were in karate class. I was sitting on some bleachers at the dojo watching the class when a man collapsed on the sidewalk outside. He was in some serious pain and was rolling around on the concrete sidewalk. There happened to be an OB/GYN sitting next to me and someone came running in to get her saying there was a man in some serious pain outside flailing around on the sidewalk. She went out and in a few minutes came back in and calmly replied that with that kind of pain, he was either: 1) having a baby or 2) passing a kidney stone. Our bet was on the kidney stone. He was whisked away to the hospital ER and sure enough, it was a kidney stone.
I’ve always heard that having a kidney stone is even more painful than having a baby. I had an epidural with both my babies. I did experience some pretty painful contractions while in labor and only dilated to a 4 and that was all the pain I cared to experience during the miracle of childbirth. When I first got to the hospital to give birth to my second child, there was a woman down the hall from me who was screaming and wailing (it was 5:30 in the morning), and who I was just sure was either: 1) being stabbed by a serial killer or 2) dying during childbirth. When I finally inquired about this poor wretched woman, the nurse informed me that she was only dilated to a 2 and it was too early for her to even have her epidural, and that “everybody experienced labor and pain differently.” It was at that point, that I was very glad I had already decided to have an epidural with baby #2. I have been told that you can ask any woman who has experienced natural childbirth AND had kidney stones which pain was worse, and she will say the kidney stone pain wins hands down.
My husband still has multiple tiny stones but they are still up in the kidneys. He was told to drink lots of water and that lemon water would help to dissolve the remaining stones. Let’s just say hubby is putting away the lemonade these days!
Have you ever had a kidney stone?