Mama is a valetudinarian


I finally had my follow-up visit with my urologist, to discuss my kidney stones, and how best to dig and/or drill them out of me.

And guess what? There’s no good way to do it.

It turns out that my kidney stones appear and disappear on a dime. In December 2011 I had one the size of a marble; it was gone six months later. The doctor informed me that there’s really no treatment for the kind of stones I have. I could undergo lithotripsy – the ultrasound treatment that shatters stones – but it appears that my body is already doing that: the stones form and then dissolve again, and I pass them with little or no pain. The only discomfort I have is a dull ache, like a toothache in my back. It goes away for days, or weeks, or months, and then comes back.

So it is a chronic condition.

Which means I will be moaning and complaining about it for a very long time.

Which makes me a valetudinarian.


val·e·tu·di·nar·i·an [val-i-tood-n-air-ee-uh n, -tyood-] Noun

  1. 1.   an invalid.

  1. 2.   a person who is excessively concerned about his or her poor health or ailments.


  1. 3.   in poor health; sickly; invalid.

  1. 4.   excessively concerned about one’s poor health or ailments.

  1. 5.   of, pertaining to, or characterized by invalidism.

I am all of the above.

Mazel tov to all of you.


Human frailty

I have my kidney stones, and my ischemia. I told you about my tennis elbow.

What else can go wrong?

We came back from France a few months ago, which means hoisting things in and out of overhead compartments on airplanes. Then, a few days after arrival, I went to the Providence Public Library without my sweet-little-old-lady library bag and came out with four heavy books and two “I LOVE MY LIBRARY” t-shirts. I walked for at least twenty minutes balancing thirty pounds of cargo – oh, that’s right, I stopped at CVS to buy some candy.

Two days later, my right shoulder began to ache.

Two days after that, I couldn’t raise my arm. I couldn’t put on a shirt without screaming with pain. I couldn’t lift a box of Junior Mints from the table.

I reconciled myself to this, though the blinding pain. I assured myself that I could make it through life somehow with one arm.

Then, after consulting WebMD and applying a heating pad and doing some physical-therapy exercises I learned from Partner, most of the pain went away.

It still twangs once in a while, and reminds me that it’s there. Naturally the words “rotator cuff” peal in my head.

And I remember what I heard a health professional say once: “Once you begin going downhill, you might slow down a bit here and there, or delay, but you never really stop going downhill.”

How cheerful!

Here’s a toast: to going downhill.

I hope the scenery along the way is nice.

Kidney stones


I was diagnosed with kidney stones back about eight months ago. They were described by my general practitioner as “small.” He recommended that I drink a lot of water to help flush them out, and told me to let him know if I had any recurrences of pain or other symptoms.


I was a very good boy after that. I stopped drinking coffee after my first two cups in the morning. I stopped drinking cola drinks altogether, both naturally and artificially sweetened. I tried to drink as much extra water as I could.

After a month or so, the pain went away.

Then, a few months later, very surreptitiously, it came back.

(Note: I have never had the falling-down-dead kind of pain that’s associated with kidney stones. Mine is more of a mild ache, but it’s very localized; I know exactly where the stones are. I visualized them, after my December doctor’s visit, as something like aquarium gravel, or maybe tiny lemon seeds.)

The pain came back in earnest about three month ago, along with a couple of other more-or-less alarming symptoms.  So I presented myself to my G.P., who (with some alarm) referred me to a specialist.

If you’ve never been in a urologist’s office, you’ve never lived. I (at my advanced age!) was easily the youngest patient there. There was an aquarium with two suicidal-looking fish mooching around the bottom of the tank; if I see the same two fish there when I go back for my next appointment, I’ll be shocked. Everyone in the waiting room was running to the restroom every five minutes, and we all knew why.

The urologist (when I finally got in to see him) was a funny redhead who said funny things. When I told him I’d been reading WebMD, he said, in a Scooby-Doo voice, “Ruh-roh!”

And when he looked at my X-rays, he said, soberly: “Wow!”

My stones, kids, are not so small after all: one is 11 millimeters, and another is 5 millimeters. In short: I have a handful of driveway gravel inside my left kidney.

I’ve started carrying around a couple of small stones in a box in my pocket.  Whenever anyone starts complaining to me – about anything! – I pull out the little box and show them the two objects.  “I have kidney stones,” I say. “They are this size. I can feel them inside me right now. Now: what were you saying?”

It sobers people when they realize that you have a handful of driveway gravel inside your abdominal cavity.

(The next step, of course, is getting this handful of driveway gravel out out OUT of my body. There are several methods. All are more or less painful.)

(As the Rolling Stones said: “What a drag it is, getting old!”)

My procedure


Momma went to the hospital last week.



Let me tell you all about it.



I’ve told you that I have kidney stones. Well, I had accompanying symptoms that worried my doctor (and were scaring the bejeezus out of me), and since I have a family history of cancer, they scheduled me for an exploratory – um – procedure.



I call it a “procedure” to be polite.  Think of it this way: there’s really only one good way to look into a person’s bladder. It involves something like a Krazy Straw, inserted into the most inconvenient place possible.



Luckily, I was under anaesthesia at the time.



I had this done at Kent County Hospital in Warwick, Rhode Island, and I tell you Rhode Islanders who may be reading this: you should be heading to Kent Hospital for pretty much everything. Every single staff member was wonderful to me, and the care was first-rate. They were having dog-therapy day when we arrived, and there was a huge mutt the size of a Shetland pony coming down the corridor toward us when we first arrived, and Partner was immediately entranced. (Sadly, the dogs go off-shift at 3:00 pm.)



I have never been under complete anesthesia before. It was charming. I felt a kind of coldness in my arm, and heard the anesthesiologist telling me to “breathe deeply,” and – well, that was that.



The recovery room was also wonderful. There was another man my age who’d had something unpleasant done to him, and an older woman ditto. I was the least traumatized patient, and the staff were very kind to me as a result, because I was easy to deal with. (I was a lamb, actually. I’d been napping all day in preparation, and I was terribly dehydrated, so I was as weak as a kitten. They could have knocked me out with a wet Kleenex.)



Before the “procedure,” they made the mistake of giving me the binder that had my whole patient history in it. So I read it. Terrific. I find that I had “good hygiene” and appeared to be “well-groomed.” Naturally!



Also I have an abnormal T-wave in my EKG, and an enlarged left ventricle (I think I knew that), and – get this! – an ischemia.



I will hold this over Partner’s head for the rest of his life. Our favorite episode of “The King of Queens” involves Doug’s father-in-law, the unbearable Arthur Spooner (played by Jerry Stiller), having an ischemia, which sends him into conniptions whenever he’s frightened.



Nobody had better frighten me from now on. I might go into cardiac arrest.



An aspirin a day keeps cancer at bay


 A new study shows that a low-dose aspirin a day keeps cancer at bay.



Sorry, I didn’t mean to rhyme.  But that’s what the study said.  A low-dose (under 100mg) aspirin once a day not only assists in ongoing cancer treatments, but seems to help in preventing cancer.



I love simple solutions to heavy problems.  If this will help, then by god I will do it.  My mother’s family (and Dad’s too) is rife with cancer; both my parents and both my sisters died of it.  If this will help, then I will by god do it.



That’s this year’s conclusion, of course.  Last year, it was found that the problems caused by aspirin (including internal bleeding) were significant enough for the medical authorities to caution people from taking the drug.



Internal bleeding?  Hell, that’s like a paper cut, or a scraped knee.  That’s an everyday occurrence for me.  If I lose the same amount of blood because of one aspirin, and I gain some traction against cancer, then sign me up!



(For now.  Until they find otherwise.)



(Remember my kidney stone?  Until very recently, doctors were recommending cranberry juice as a preventive measure against kidney stones. My student employee Noah, only last summer, told me that his father drinks gallons of the stuff for kidney stones, on the advice of his doctor. Now, however, there’s reason to believe that cranberry juice is (at best) useless, and (at worst) a contributor to kidney stones.)



(This is how medicine works: a step at a time.)



(We work with what we have.)


Home remedies for kidney stones


Ever since my diagnosis with kidney stones, I have been a very good boy.  I drink coffee only until noon each day, and water thereafter.  I have stopped drinking Coca-Cola altogether, as one of the websites I consulted recommended discontinuing “dark beverages.” 



And then there are the home remedies.



Here’s one: six cans of Coca-Cola, twenty minutes apart.  Then puree one can of asparagus and drink the result, followed with two large glasses of water.



One of the cures recommends asparagus all by itself.



The funniest of all recommends kidney beans.  This is a great example of sympathetic magic: if a plant resembles a body part, it must be good for the health of that body part.  (See “liverwort” and “lungwort” for further examples of this.)



Here’s the thing: kidney stones hurt.  So I am tempted to try all of the above silly cures (which seem to be at least non-life-threatening), just to see if they’ll work.



But I know they won’t!  (The kidney-bean one especially.)



And the simple course recommended by my doctor – hydration, i.e. drinking lots more water than I had in the past – seems to be working, because the pain is considerably less than before.



But if the pain gets worse again, I may well try the six-Coca-Colas-and-a-can-of-asparagus cure.



It can’t possibly kill me. And who knows?  It might work.



(But probably not.)


Kidney stones


Gather round, children.  Momma has some pretty awful news.



She has a kidney stone.



I’ve suspected this for some time, actually.  I’ve suffered with a dull ache in my lower back for years, centralized right around where I know my kidney to be.  My doctor insisted I was mistaken, my urine tests were clear, it was just a muscle cramp, blah blah blah.



Well, now we have X-ray confirmation.



Eh.  It’s a small stone, apparently, which is why I am not rolling on the floor in agony.  There’s no real treatment, except to increase fluid intake and try to avoid certain foods.  Beer.  Broccoli.  Beets.  Beans.  Bran, for god’s sake!  And those are only the Bs.  (Not to mention that I have increased my consumption of beans and broccoli and bran over the past few years, because they were supposed to be healthy for me.  Go figure.)


I looked up the condition online.  Lots of famous people have suffered with kidney stones: Napoleon, Giovanni Gabrieli, Michel de Montaigne, Michelangelo, Billy Graham, Lyndon Johnson.  I’m not sure why this matters, but it makes me feel a little better about the whole thing. (Especially Gabrieli and Montaigne.)



I do not intend to give up my beloved beans and broccoli and bran, not altogether.  So I am resigned to drinking lots and lots of water.  Lots and lots and lots of water.



Which reminds me of a funny story:



In Morocco, we drank mineral water exclusively.  There were three brands: Sidi Harazem and Sidi Ali, which were both flat, and Oulmes, which was sparkling.  As an aesthete, I preferred Oulmes, because the bottles were prettier. 



One day I was idling in a café with my British friend Austin and reading the legend on the Oulmes bottle.  “Oulmes is naturally carbonated,” I read, “and radioactive –“



I stopped.  Austin laughed.  “Didn’t you know that?” he said. “The water comes from a hot spring. It’s radioactive lithium, I think.  A friend of mine used to drink the stuff all the time.  He developed kidney stones, and they showed up beautifully on the scans, because they were radioactive too.”



(I notice, by the way, that the Oulmes website does not mention this.  Hm.  They’re marketing in Europe now.  I wonder if they’re just lying, or if they’re actually bottling non-radioactive water.  Who can say?)



So, you see, things could be worse.



At least my kidney stone isn’t radioactive.


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