Monday, March 23, 2009

I Was Strong As I Could Be, Nothin' Ever Got To Me

My wife blogged our trip to California pretty well, so instead of going into all of that, I will just regale you with the tale of my little kidney stone and its travels through my body on the night we returned to Utah.

First of all, I am slightly annoyed because I endure impressive amounts of pain on a regular basis but never obtain convincing visual proof of the events. I almost cut my thumb off at work with a sawzall but instead just smashed it really bad (but just the fingernail turned black) and now I have a 3mm kidney stone in a cup but when you take a picture of these things they don't compare with Sculpin's ice-skating mishap photos.

So anyway, we drove all day across Nevada. When we got to Wendover my back was starting to bother me but I figured: I drove this far and I can drive the rest of the way. We got home about 10 pm and the kids had school and I had work in the morning, so we just got everyone in bed. It seemed like business as usual.

Somewhere between 2 and 2:30 am I rolled over in bed and my back was killing me. I kept rolling around, trying to find a comfortable position but that position did not exist. When I couldn't get back to sleep, I quickly became frustrated. I already knew that within the next few hours I was supposed to dig a trench by hand for work. I couldn't beleive that sitting in a car could damage by back like that and the pain was bad enough that I was worried that I would need back surgery to fix the problem. Back surgery would keep me from doing both of my jobs for quite some time. I was upset. I also felt like I was going to puke.

My wife kept trying to tell me to go to the doctor, but I don't like doctors. I just asked her for a heat-pad. She has one that she heats up in the microwave. She got it for me and I laid on it and was able to fall asleep for an indefinite amount of time. But when I woke up, the pain in my back was still waiting for me. I went into the bathroom and looked at my back in the mirror. The heating pad had been hot enough that my skin was burned red and I had a blister forming.

I got back into bed and flopped around until it was time for me to wake for work (5:30). I asked my wife to call my boss and tell him that she was taking me to the emergency room.

I find it funny that nurses always seem upset that I haven't had any significant health problems in the past 18 years. They act like I'm lying or they just look at me like I'm a freak. But when I told the nurse my syptoms she guessed it was a kidney stone right away. She said people come through the doors with a sudden onset of extreme back-pain, then pass the stone and walk out like nothing had happened.

Compared to the back surgery I was imagining while flopping around in bed I became optimistic. I said, "That sounds good to me. Let's do that."

The nurse laughed at me and declared, "You are the happiest kidney-stone patient I have ever seen."

She checked my pee to see if it had blood in it (it did) and then she gave me a shot of morphine. She said, "Some people say morphine makes their chest feel restricted and makes it hard for them to breathe so be ready."

I said, "Yeah... it does kind of feel like someone is choking you. It's strange that some people take this stuff for fun."

The nurse said, "You can always tell the people who do from the ones that don't."

If you haven't been to the emergency room before, I will tell you that they have this scale from 1 to 10 with a happy face assigned to the number 1 and a sad, crying face assigned to number 10 and then various faces to the numbers inbetween.

She asked me what level of pain I was experiencing when I arrived at the hospital. I told her I was probably a number 6, which is the circle face is frowning a little and looks like he's just starting to sweat.

The nurse said, "Hmmm. Most of the people who come in with a kidney stone say number 10. There's a chance that you already passed the stone before you came to the hospital... or else you're really tough."

I said, "I hope I already passed it. But I like to think I'm pretty tough, too." It turns out that I am tough. They did a cat-scan and said the stone hadn't reached my bladder yet but that it was small enough that I could go home to pass it.

While we were waiting for those results, my wife and kids came into my room to see me. I felt bad that my kids had to wait there for four hours. We looked at the pain chart and decided that each of us was a number four: Where the happy face just has a straight line for a mouth. I personally think that the scale should be extended to 15 where 15 is a happy face with his mouth wide open in a scream and blood is coming out of the ears and an eyeball is hanging from its socket. But that would probably just cater more to the crybabies.

My wife said that lots of people were coming into the emergency room screaming and wailing, pitching unconvincing fits like little kids. My advice to people is to expect to wait around awhile even after you get to the hospital. Crying isn't going to make you better any faster.

My wife told my kids, "Thank your father for making your vacation one day longer." and then we left. We picked up some prescriptions and went home. They told me it was likely that I wouldn't return to work that week, and if the stone didn't pass after a couple of days then to come in to see a urologist and he would help me get it out.

I started imagining my week. I still had annoying back pain and I was groggy from the pills but I was still thinking I could write on my blog, write some short stories maybe go see The Watchmen during the day while my wife was at work and the kids were in school.

But then I peed the stone out a few hours later and I went back to work the next day. And I think every kidney stone quarterback thinks the same thing when they see it come out: That little thing caused all this trouble?

They say I can take the stone in and have it analyzed. I haven't done it because I know those people want money every time you talk to them, but I'm guessing my stone is made 50% of Dr. Pepper, 10% Pepsi, and 40% snakes, snails, puppydog tails and other miscellaneous matter.

When we got to the hospital my wife said, "Well, now you'll get to see what a woman goes through when she gives birth." But when I passed the stone later that evening she said, "Hey! I'm glad you're better but I don't think you got to experience childbirth."

I said, "Yeah. That wasn't too bad. I don't know what you girls are always crying about."

It's hard to feel special for passing a kidney stone, because after you've done it you find out that everyone and their dog has had kidney stones and they all want to tell you their stories.

Tune in tomorrow for the story of the popcorn kernel that refused to be flossed away!

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Know Your Mofo And More

Let's call today's mofo Drago. He's from a slum town in Indiana. He's my same age and tried marraige for a year or two but it didn't work out. He was able to work simultaneous shifts as a firefighter for the city and a steel mill and had a pretty good thing going. He had A LOT of paid time off (over two months per year), money in the bank and he was also good friends with an older man at the steel mill. He soon became smitten with his friends daughter and the three of them were almost like a family.

After a few years of dating, Drago's girlfriend told him she wanted to plan a ski weekend in North Carolina with some of their friends. Drago's response was like, "Skiing? North Carolina?" but he sighed and was like, "Whatever, Babe." He could barely remember how to ski and wasn't too thrilled about the craggy mountains of North Carolina but he told his girlfriend he would make the most of it.

So they went and when he got to the snowy mountain and went sailing through the trees he got a strange feeling and admitted to the girl that the weekend had completely changed his life. He had found his new purpose in life. He checked around and found that Utah had some of the best skiing the world had to offer. He spent winter after winter here in Utah. But, if anything, it only made his hunger worse.

Just a few years ago the economy was not so bad as it is today and he realized how easy it is to get a job in Utah and share a house with others who have devoted their lives to sliding down mountains.

He told his girlfriend he was moving to Utah. It was something he had to do. She said she would come with him. But when he loaded all of his stuff into boxed and his boxes into his truck he found that she hadn't packed anything. She told him she couldn't move to Utah. He just told her, "You ended this, not me." And he drove to Utah.

He's one of the mofos that comes to the Waffle House on the weekends. He tells us crazy stories about his experience as a firefighter and an EMT. He told us how they were attending to one guy who had all kinds of stuff messed up on his insides. They were loading him into the ambulance when a deadly blast of diarreah came out and all the life left the man's face. They were convinced that he was dead and not coming back but they were required by law to perform CPR. He says it was horrible because when they would press on the man's chest, more of his guts would come gushing out of his orifices.

He said one time they had discovered a dead body in a bathtub but it had sat for days and became so bloated that the bathtub had to be cut into pieces to remove the body. It was a pretty gruesome mess but the real twist came when they realized the deceased was an old fire marshall they used to work with. They remembered him as a tall, thin man and not as someone who was so big that a bathtub could not contain him.

He said one time they were dealing with a burning building and he needed to get a window open for some reason. They were on an upper floor and he couldn't just smash the window because people were entering and exiting the building several floors below and he didn't want to shower them with broken glass and debris. He was wearing all of his fire garb and struggled to get the window open. He was still in a frenzy when another fire fighter came up behind him and motioned to his feet. There was nothing he could do but sigh and curse when he realized he'd been stomping on a barbecued human body while he'd been fighting with the window.

The stories he tells are pretty rough but I figure it's good for him to get them out of his system. He gets a season pass to Snowbird every year and spends the warm months hiking through all of Utah's scenic parks. He says that moving furniture feels like a vacation for him. Yesterday he shared some girlscout cookies with me and asked if I'd like to go hiking with him in Zions or Canyonlands this summer.

Speaking of dead bodies, I've been working the last couple of weeks at a facility where they perform nearly all of the autopsies for the state of Utah. It's actually been a pretty good job aside from the occassional smells. Every once in a while they get what they call a "stinker." It's not the worst smell ever but it seems worse when you know that it comes from a dead person.

It seems like it would be a depressing place to work day in and day out. We tried to make jokes about the place to keep our spirits up but everything comes out seeming inappropriate. It is strange, though, to see an endless stream of trucks and vans rolling in with lifeless bodies.

I go back to the indian reservation in California every spring and the past three springs each included a funeral. It was bumming me out. This week I'm driving out to California with Rogi (of Cow Country fame) for my brother's wedding.

I'm excited about this. I never expected my brother to actually get married. I'm happy for him. It also makes me feel like I'm driving out there to witness a beginning rather than an ending. I'll put up some pictures later.