You know how they say that the third time is the charm. I always associated that with baseball and three strikes and you’re out! But that don’t make no sense, so it is just weird association. That begs the question, why is the third time the charm?
Is it because first time worst time? But what about the second time? When it’s me, especially with anything procedural, like finding some place — I get lost easily, no sense of direction — the second time is always an unmitigated disaster. There is a corollary, too: the better it went the first time, the worse it is the second time. I always figured that was because the second time, I was cocky. Hunh, I did it once. Now, it’s easy.
Regular readers might recall that I had a kidney stone plucked from the loving embrace of a ureter (the tube that connects the kidney to the bladder) last spring.
The whole thing went smoothly, no thanks to me. All I had to do is lie there and endure. And, with an incredibly high pain threshold, there wasn’t even all that much to endure.
Because I have so many stones in my kidneys and several of them are quite large, the doctor wanted to break some of them up using sound waves. Very sensible. We made an appointment for August when I got back from France. You remember our trip to France, don’t you?
I jetlagged the appointment, though, and didn’t make another until mid-November. They did the CT scan and found ANOTHER stone caught in a ureter, so there it had to be removed before we could do the breaking.
I thought this time would be a breeze! I knew everything having done it once before. The doctor knew everything. The nurses and aides and various and sundry other people knew everything. We had all done this before, and we were now all palsy-walsy, and everything.
We weren’t. We didn’t. It was FUBAR.
The insurance office of the hospital never told me that the guarantee of payment for the surgery had been approved. Oopsie! I let the week of the decision go by and the next week was Cambodian Water Festival and Independence Day (from France) all rolled into one, so on Thursday I called the hospital. They emailed the insurance company and cc’ed me. The insurance company answered. They had issued the GOP on 2 November the Wednesday before. It was now 10 November. I made an appointment for the surgery for on Tuesday 15 November at 2:00 PM. That’s important. Two weeks having lapsed. Remember that.
I reported in for surgery at 7:30 AM right on time bright and early even BEFORE eight o’clock day one.
Of course, there has to be a fasting blood draw along with a chest x-ray and EKG before the surgery can start. You have to fast for six hours before the surgery. Surgery’s at two, six subtract two is four, twelve subtract four is eight. I don’t get to eat until after the surgery. Well, fine!
The nurse, bless her, tells me that she’ll do the fasting blood draw first, so I can have some time to eat before eight. She’s my hero. She does. And I do.
I get checked into my room because I’m staying overnight! Wait. What? Why didn’t anyone tell me I had to stay overnight? Why didn’t I remember from last time? I didn’t come ready to stay overnight! Luckily, I had arranged for two days coverage at school, though. No toothpaste. No change of clothes. No clean underwear. No snacks. Nothing. Just me and my computer and the power cord that didn’t fit the plugs at the hospital. Great.
I’m waiting in my room for the appointed hour, when at twelve PM noon, the nurse comes in and says the surgery is delayed until maybe 5:00 PM. There was a problem with the surgery in the theater and it ran longer than expected. Bumped to the next available time. Missed the window for lunch. Oopsie!
My brand new cheap Chinese phone, though, has a super battery saver and it tells me that on super battery saver mode + six apps, I have almost two days of battery life left! Whew! I’ll just make it.
The time drags by, but eventually, they come for me. In the operating theater, everyone is busy coming and going, hemming and hawing, and doing this, that, and another thing. Except for me. I’m just lying there because that’s my job. Finally, something my god-given talents for listless uselessness qualifies me to do.
I was made for this age of social media doom-scrolling and binge-watching media. The old blues line of I can eat more chicken than any man can! has been updated to, I can waste more time than anyone can! So, I’m good.
The anesthesiologist comes in along with her hulking assistant. They roll me onto my side. He maneuvers me into the fetal position and pins me to the bed. That’s his job. He holds you down while she rams the super-sized needle between your vertebrae to administer the anesthesia.
It’s a spinal block type operation. That’s okay. I don’t mind. High pain threshold, remember? It is good for something besides destroying kidneys by not feeling the excruciating pain of having a stone stuck in a ureter.
She pushes. He pushes. I relax as much as I can. The needle is somewhere in my back.
Sorry, she says.
She pushes. He pushes. I relax as much as I can. The needle is somewhere in my back.
Sorry! Sorry, she says again.
Several times she got it into the spinal cord. I know because I felt the electrical charge shoot down my leg from the nerve she touched. I felt another cross my abdomen. Several times there as a sensation like someone was trying to sandpaper my left pelvis. And, another that seemed like someone was trying to use my liver to fold into an origami model of itself.
These are sensations that god never intended for anyone to feel. Yet, there they were.
Rinse repeat seemingly endlessly. I start wondering whether she’s the intern and I’m her first. The big guy pinning me to the table starts looking worried. After about six tries, she leaves the room without a word. We’re all just standing around the operating theater waiting long enough for me to wonder if she’s just off for a quick cry or a cigarette or to consult the how-to-jab-a-needle-between-two-vertebrae manual.
Luckily, my super power is being easily amused. I’m more amused than anything, although the possibility of paralysis does enter my mind once or twice.
Ten! Count ’em, ten! Jabs of the super-sized needle later she says, There, found it! I can feel the numbness starting to spread.
The doctor comes in. We chat for a minute. He leaves. I close my eyes to think about something other than the pound of hamburger my mid-back area that I’m now lying upon without the benefit of spinal block numbness had become. I do what I always do in these moments, imagine the blog post that it will become.
The doctor says that we’re done. I ask him about the stone. Usually they tell you about the stone immediately after. Last time he narrated the whole thing to me. I watched on a monitor. I was waiting for him to get started and do the same. I had felt some pushes and pulls and odd bumps last time, too. This time nothing. She must’ve given me a little bit of extra numbing to compensate for the ten jabs.
I’m a little disappointed that I didn’t watch it on the monitor.
The doctor says that there was no stone.
There was no stone.
How could I pass a 6 mm stone without knowing it? There is no explanation.
My bladder has been super irritated for a month. The insurance company agreed to pay for surgery to remove a stone. Urine has been backing up into my kidney for a month or more. My back is now suitable for serving at McDonalds. I’ve taken two days off of work. I’ve sat around not eating for an entire day. And, now there’s no stone.
As they are wheeling me into the recovery room to lay for three hours — that’s from 7:00 PM to 10:00 PM for those of you keeping track at home. I start to wonder if the insurance company will pay for the removal of a kidney stone when there was no stone to remove. I imagine the fight with the hospital over whose fault that is.
I get back to my room at 10:00 PM. The feeling slowly returning to my lower half. It’s a weird sensation being numb like that. I saw my foot. It didn’t look like my foot and leg. I didn’t recognize them. I knew they had to be mine because no one else was running around without their pants and shoes on. I squeezed my thighs with my hand. They felt like raw chicken thighs.
I knew the anesthesia was wearing off when I felt the Foley catheter get caught on the blanket. The fucking Foley catheter on top of everything else. A Foley catheter for the next twelve hours for no stone.
The night passed slowly. I had a hard time sleeping with the Foley waking me up and the IV port thingee sticking out of my hand. At least, I thought during my moments of fitful wakefulness, it will all be over in the morning.
I slept until 8:00 AM; something I never do. I awoke to a low salt omelette and ham breakfast and a nurse taking my vitals. He would keep me company throughout the morning coming in every two hours.
The doctor showed up about 10:00 AM to remove the Foley. He has the worst technique. Tug. This is going to hurt a little. Tug. This is going to hurt a little. Tug. This is going to hurt a little.
Just pull the fucking thing out, Doc!
He assures me that I am released as soon as they remove the IV thingee from my hand.
They are done with me. I go downstairs and have a second breakfast. I’m feeling very hobbity and entitled. Just before I leave a nurse-type tells me I have to go back upstairs, but first I have to sign some more insurance papers.
Upstairs, they tell me I can’t leave until I get my medication and the insurance company tells them that they’ll pay. No explanation for why they won’t take the GOP for payment. It is guaranteed, and everything.
The hours drag by. About 1:00 PM I begin to think of myself as a prisoner. By 2:00 PM, I’m thinking of who I should call at the school to call the hospital to plead my case for release.
At 3:00 PM, they come in with more insurance-related paper work to sign, but I am free to go.
For fuck sakes. The second time is always the worst. There damn well shouldn’t be a third, but with kidney stones, you never know.