Saturday, May 28, 2005

Pain. Intense pain.

kidney stone After falling asleep over a book late last night, I woke up around 6:00 this morning with intense pain in my lower abdomen. At first I thought it was just your garden variety gastrointestinal distress, and for about the next hour and a half I paced restlessly, took a hot shower, drank a bunch of water, tried various yoga-inspired poses. The pain continued to intensify. Then came the nausea, sweating, and dry mouth. Finally, around 7:30, I decided it was time for drastic action, and I pulled on some ratty sweats and staggered out to my truck to head for Baptist Hospital (roughly 30 city blocks away).

I was making good progress until I hit Eighth Avenue downtown, where the police had stopped traffic in both directions to allow some sort of track and field event to pass by. Barely able to talk, I pulled around the line of cars and basically begged the police officer to let me through. After making several suggestions that I try to back up and find another route he eventually called his supervisor over, and they let me pass.

I arrived at the ER, parked, staggered through the door, and threw myself on the mercy of the woman at the desk. They immediately took me into the triage area, where I received the first "official" guess at what was probably going on. "Do you want to throw yourself on the waiting room floor," the nurse asked.

"Huh?" I grimaced dimly through the pain.

"I'm just asking because most guys who come in with kidney stones want to throw themselves down on the waiting room floor." She also told me to stop drinking from the water bottle I'd brought, because "you're going to start throwing up soon." This was bad, because my mouth felt as if it was stuffed with cotton. I continued to surreptitiously take tiny sips.

She sent me over to the office where they verify insurance info, where I merely gasped that they should already have my info in the computer. They then sent me back out into the waiting room, where the pain continued to intensify. Apparently two ambulances arrived around that time, and I got bumped down the list. So continued to writhe in pain, no doubt scaring some folks. An eternity later (well, probably only 20 minutes, but it seemed longer) someone finally arrived and took me back to an exam room, where at least I could lie down.

A while later a nurse arrived in the room. At this point, everything was more-or-less a blur, but he soon became my favorite person in the world after he started an IV full of very potent pain and anti-nausea medication. The drugs were a godsend -- the pain was still there, but it had gone from the "wild badgers are clawing through my guts" variety to the "scraped my knee on the playground" variety. A big improvement. The drugs, however, made me pretty loopy and I began to nod off in a warm, fuzzy stupor. Somewhere in there I remember being wheeled off to the x-ray area, where I laid on a freezing-cold table and had my abdomen irradiated. After that, they wheeled me up to the second floor for a CAT scan, which also involved a cold table. Then it was back to the exam room, where they hooked me back up to the monitors, reconnected an IV of some sort, and left me to float along in a happy drug-induced haze. Eventually a doctor showed up and told me that it definitely appeared to be a kidney stone, but since they were unable to find the stone on the x-rays they were pretty sure it was going to emerge on its own. So they gave me a perscription for Percocet (crazy strong anti pain medicine) and anti-nausea supositories (ugh), and instructed me to go home and drink tons of water.

Well, actually, it wasn't that simple. Apparently they've had problems with people on the happy drugs checking themselves out and then trying to drive home. So they refused to even let me out of the bed until someone arrived to pick me up. I duitifully called a friend, who showed up to bail me out. We then took a detour to the pharmacy and picked up the pain pills and a pile of bottled water, and she dropped me back at my house. I drank and dozed for a while after that. At about 1:00 I woke up thinking that I was actually feeling pretty good. That is until I tried to urinate. Suddenly the pain was back with a vengeance. I took a percocet, drained another bottle of water, and retreated whimperingly to my bed. Luckily the drugs kicked in, and I was able to doze off again.

The original plan was for my friend to drive me back over to pick up my car around two. But when she heard I was back on the drugs, she wisely suggested that we put off that expedition. So I stayed at home and continued snarfing bottles of water, until a bit later the culprit finally emerged.

From the amount of pain, I was expecting this thing to look like, I don't know, a lima bean. Or at least a pea. But the actual stone (or at least the one I recovered) was about the size of a small pebble. Doesn't seem possible that such a tiny thing could wreak so much havoc!

Since the emergence of the stone, the pain has basically disappeared. I'm still drinking water like a madman -- and I have a newfound resolution to drink massive quantities of water on a daily basis. But it looks like the worst of the ordeal is over now.

Not the way I'd recommend spending a holiday weekend.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Wild Wacky Roof Gizmos

I'm on a continuing quest to get my landlord to make repairs around the house. Even better would be if I could get her to make repairs with some degree of sensitivity to the fact that the house is located in a historic district.

The house includes these wierd-looking tile things on the roof:

wierd roof things

Several of the tiles were broken recently. Gary, my landlord's favorite cut-rate jack-of-all-trades handyman, took one look and observed "well, you can't get them things at Home Depot." He had a go at the broken pieces with liquid nails, but I have little faith that this fix is going to last very long.

So I'm on a quest to find out where, if anywhere, you can still get things like this. So far my Google searches for "roof thingies" haven't been successful. Anyone have any ideas?

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Platypus hitting the sauce

Another memory from the same batch of disks: Senior year of college, my roomate and I decided to try to create a new mixed drink. The basis was some sort of Jello-based dessert that I had made for a potluck. Jay was convinced that this could be turned into a mixed drink with a bit of modification. As I recall, the resulting beverage required Cool Whip, green food coloring, pistachio pudding mix, and some sort of liquor (maybe tequila.) We got it to the point where it was at least drinkable, christened it "Green Shit", and served it once or twice. I don't think it ever really caught on, but at some point (possibly hopped up on the stuff) Jay created illustrations on paper plates immortalizing the beverage. I apparently scanned them, and will now post them here for your enjoyment.
happy platypus
punch bowl guy

A slow goodbye

I've been sorting through old computer disks from college, and came across this essay I wrote for a magazine journalism class in 1998.
May I sit down on your bed?" I ask the woman, unsure of the house rules. We are in a generic room that could be a part of any modern housing subdivision. Personal momentos dot the shelves, and a the wool blanket I remember snuggling under as a child is draped over a chair.

"I don't care if you sit on it or shit on it!" the woman responds, cackling to her self as she hobbles out of the room.

This woman lives with my grandmother. But she doesn't know my grandmother. In fact, no one really knows my grandmother anymore. The tiny explosions that have ravaged the blood vessels in her brain have also destroyed her ability to remember, to converse, or even to dress herself. Her life is a progression from one bedtime to the next, with the occasional intervention of nursing home staff.

I have never before seen her in this setting. I have been away at college, and the last time I saw her was Christmas two years ago. At that point, her short term memory was gone, and, as usual, you found yourself having the same conversation twice in a period of minutes. But she was there. She had an interest in her surroundings, and I knew this was the same person who used to take me home after church on Sundays and eat Pepperidge Farm chessmen cookies with me in her dining room. The staunch member of the DAR, who took me to nearby Monticello when I was in sixth grade. The woman who agreed to marry my grandfather after he took her on a grueling hike on the C&O canal towpath.

That woman is no longer there. Instead, my grandmother stares at her lap constantly, and her speech is limited to the immediate expression of preference. "I'm cold." or "I'm not hungry." Her hands shake, and she can barely eat without assistance. She is the shell of a person.

The scariest thing about all this is that she saw it coming. It was not a sudden, debilitating condition that struck one day, leaving no time for reflection. Instead her brain began to fail her bit by bit, just like a trick knee might slowly impair walking. At first she would forget a few details of conversations. Then she would forget entire events. She knew this was happening. She began to compulsively keep lists of everything -- She would routinely pull a rumpled piece of paper out of her purse and read over it, trying to remember the obvious -- where she was, who she was staying with, where her family was. She began to lose track of the date, and she would routinely address us as relatives who died decades ago. When I stayed at her house in rural Virginia during my freshman year of college, she woke me up at 7:30 in the morning so that I wouldn't miss the school bus.

You sometimes hear senility called a "second childhood." But this facile characterization does nothing to convey the horror that one must feel as the brain begins to fail. To me, this is the most terrifying aspect of growing old. It is not the loss of bodily function. It is the prospect of losing the ability to think and understand -- and to know that this is happening.

When I graduate from college this Sunday, I will think of my grandmother, sitting in her small nursing home room 500 miles away, quite possibly unaware that she has three grandchildren in college. And I will wonder about the future.