By Charlie Sacchetti
I regard it as a strange phenomenon that begs questioning: Why do people who shared a particular hardship or unpleasantness find humor in their suffering when talk about it later? Guys might stand around chuckling about a time their car broke down in the middle of nowhere, or veterans may laugh about their experiences in Basic Training while in the care of a particularly brutal drill instructor. I must admit that I have often laughed with others about an ailment I have endured twice that was anything but funny at the time. The events I speak of were two separate attacks of the dreaded kidney stones.
In the summer of 1984, I was living in Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania. As I dozed on my couch one peaceful Sunday night, I
was awakened by a pain that radiated from my back into my groin. The sensation was horrifying. I had no idea what was causing it; I only knew I had never experienced that kind of pain before. I decided that I’d better get to the hospital. In an effort not to wake my wife or young kids, I struggled to my Chevy Malibu by myself and drove the half-mile to the Delaware County Hospital emergency room. Upon my arrival, the nurse took one look and made me put on a hospital gown. I waited for two auto-accident victims to be treated before the doctor got to me. By then, any modesty I may have had only an hour before was thrown out the window. I’m sure the nurses were treated to a few interesting sights as I thrashed around in the cubical, trying to alleviate the discomfort. Unfortunately, there is no position you can get into that will lessen the constant pain. Only a shot of morphine helped. I spent three days in the hospital before I “passed’ the stones and was released. I was told that, if they do reoccur, it usually happens within 10 years or so.
Nine years later, I was living in New Jersey. It was ironic that I was about to make a sales call on my customer at the Hunterdon Medical Center in Clinton, New Jersey, about 60 miles from home. Deciding to get a quick bite first, I stopped into the local McDonald’s and, while walking to my car, it happened again . . . that same terrible pain I had nine years earlier. This time, I knew what it was. I drove to the Center and staggered into my customer’s office, explaining that I was having an attack. He said, “Let’s go. I’ll get you admitted.” However, I turned him down, knowing that my wife would be worried, and the distance from home would only create problems. I decided to risk driving home and going to my local hospital in Cherry Hill. As I sped down Route 29, along the Delaware River, and later on I-295, in an effort to make it back, I was hoping a state policeman would notice me and perhaps give me an escort. Of course, this made no sense at all but, at the time, logic was not at my fingertips as I drove with my teeth clenched while invoking the help of God the father, God the son, and the Holy Spirit, along with every Saint who came to mind. Miraculously, I made it back OK, squirming in my seat for the entire 60 miles. When I stumbled into the emergency room at Kennedy Memorial Hospital, I was so stressed that my blood pressure was through the roof, and it took three shots of morphine to calm things down.
For the first two days of my stay, the treatment involved, among other things, taking liquids orally and intravenously with the hope of my passing the stone or stones. When that didn’t work, I was told that I had to have some X-rays taken with a full bladder. Now, the phrase “full bladder” sounds benign enough, don’t you think? Well, when you have kidney stones, it is anything but. I can only describe it in this way:
• Recall how much it hurt the worst time that you had to go to the bathroom but had to hold it in until you reached the facility.
• Double it.
I wasn’t permitted to relieve myself – hence the bladder began to fill. Once the ultrasound showed that it was completely full, I was taken down to the lab to have the images taken. In I went, and a nice, young nurse explained to me that she would be taking pictures for about 45 minutes. I politely told her that she was crazy if she thought that I could last that long. The old bladder was starting to wave the white flag. After about 25 minutes of taking the X-rays, I couldn’t stand it any longer.
“Honey, either you get me out of here, or there’s going to be a big accident because I’m about to bust,” I told her.
She was kind enough to relent and handed me one of those little, portable urinals. It was as if she had given me a pot of gold. I was about to make quick use of it when three young nurses entered the room on their way to the lab office. I said, “Ladies, I’m sorry, but if you stay here, you are about to see a show you may not have bargained for.” They just laughed and moved on. I put the urinal to good use, and I felt like the weight of the world was off my shoulders.
Two days later I was released, again apparently having passed the kidney stones. I say “apparently” because, in both instances, we never recovered the stones. They may have been so small that they slipped through the screening device used to capture them.
Now, over 20 years later, I haven’t had an acute attack since. But, invariably, when I come upon someone who has had kidney stones too, we exchange stories, and a few chuckles usually slip into the conversation. I guess those light-hearted moments are just one way to deal with a situation over which you had absolutely no control … and you’ll never forget!
Charlie Sacchetti is the author of two books, “It’s All Good: Times and Events I’d Never Want to Change,” and “Knowing He’s There: True Stories of God’s Subtle Yet Unmistakable Touch.” Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org