October 27th, 2009

What better end to a supper party that to jump up from the table, dash out the front door and throw up in your host’s bushes?

I pretty much knew what it was that was stirring inside of me—not an alien hatchling, but a pesky kidney stone. Probably not as large as the stone that dropped Goliath, maybe not even as big as the pea that bedeviled the princess. But big enough to send this grown man to the emergency room.

Honestly, I didn’t want to go. Over the past three months the wife and I have logged a total of four visits to the ER, which is pretty amazing in view of the fact we both consider ourselves healthy. Hers was precipitated by a gall stone attack, followed by a relapse, followed by my bout with pneumonia, which I’m pretty sure had something to do with Annie’s troublesome gall bladder. Following surgery, she had so many complications and underwent so many procedures that I eventually came down with what doctors call compassion fatigue—also known as “gurney envy.”

It so happened that her initial gallstone attack also occurred on a Saturday Night. Surgery was scheduled for the following day, which was a Sunday. In August. I have since learned that surgeries that transpire on weekends during the dog days of summer are performed not by actual surgeons but just anybody who happens to be available. So it came to pass that Annie emerged from the OR with her hip bone connected to her neck bone, her esophagus connected to her Visa card. Etc.

“Do we HAVE to go to the hospital?” She whined. “I hate that place. They almost killed me! Can’t you at least wait until Monday?”

I couldn’t wait. Here is the thing about a kidney stone. It may be tiny, but as it begins its journey from the kidney through the narrow ureter to the open sea, the result is generally regarded as the most severe pain known to mankind.

“It can’t be as bad as childbirth,” Annie countered.

“You’re not listening,” I said. “It is the most severe pain known to MANkind. Now take me to the hospital. I need morphine!”

It being a Saturday night, there was the predictable queue at the admissions desk. No matter that I was writhing on the floor in excruciating agony, I still had to wait my turn, and once admitted I was informed that all examining rooms were already occupied. So I was assigned to a gurney in the hallway.

Presently an attendant came to draw blood and attach an intravenous line. Then came a female doctor, who asked about my pain level. On a scale of zero to ten, I estimated ten plus.

“It’s the worst pain known to mankind!” I added.

She looked at me askance, as if to say, “I reckon you’ve never had a baby.” Nonetheless, I got my morphine.

An hour later I was feeling just fine, even though the morphine was wearing off. That’s the weird thing about a kidney stone. The pain comes on abruptly and is so bad that you wish you could die, and then just as suddenly it goes away, making you feel like the biggest crybaby that ever staggered into the emergency room.

It didn’t help that seriously injured patients were being wheeled past my horrified eyes. One poor fellow, in the course of celebrating Utah’s victory over Air Force, had fallen from a balcony and crushed an ankle. Then came a young man in a wheelchair, a recently laid-off oil worker with a wife and four kids and a right leg broken in five places—thanks to an accident involving an ornery bull in Wellington. After being dragged from the arena, the injured rider was taken by pickup truck to Price, where he received a shot of Demerol. There being no orthopedic surgeons available in Carbon County, he and his younger brother had continued up the road to Central Valley Hospital in Provo, where again no doctors were available thanks to an influx of suicidal fans, torn ligaments and dislocated shoulders—the result of BYU’s crushing loss to TCU. So up the road the pair continued to University Hospital.

“Why on earth would anyone choose to participate in a sport where there is a hundred percent chance you’ll get hurt?” I asked the ambulatory brother. (I was referring to bull riding, although I suppose football runs a close second.)

“Because it’s fun!” he exclaimed. He pulled up his sleeve to expose an ugly scar—remnant of an operation to repair an arm crushed by a bull. Broken bones, bruises, blackened eyes, stitches—it’s all part of the game. It’s all “fun.”

By now my pain level was zero, and I had begun to wonder if maybe—just maybe—a kidney stone isn’t in fact the greatest pain known to mankind. Whoever took the survey may not have polled young men whose idea of a good time is strapping themselves onto the back of a two-thousand pound homicidal quadruped, secure in the knowledge there is no way on earth the ride is going to end peacefully. Or maybe they were polled, but instead of whining about how much it hurts they answered like true cowboys always do: “Shucks, ma’am, it warn’t nothin.’”

I tip my hat to those crazy cowboys. Now, can I please have another shot of morphine?


-Richard Menzies