As I’ve thought about my blog these past few weeks, my instinct has been to write a post listing out all the excuses why I haven’t posted for 4 months. Sure, my life has been busier than usual, but the honest truth is I haven’t made it a priority at all this summer. At first this made me feel lazy and undisciplined because I really do enjoy keeping up this blog, but I’ve begun to realize that some times life just happens and I need to embrace it. However, regardless of my dedication to my blog lately, I wanted to give an update on one of the struggles I’ve had for the past two months. For those of you who’ve seen me lately, you’ll know I was dealing with a stubborn kidney stone that just would not go away! The whole story is quite eventful so for those of you who find medical stories interesting, I will indulge you. (Warning: I openly discuss bodily processes in my story for those of you who find that uncomfortable. Additionally this is a very long post!)
It started on a Sunday in mid-June when I woke up with a mild cramp on the front left side of my lower abdomen. At first, I thought I was ovulating, since I sometimes feel a mild cramp for a day or two. However, as the day progressed the pain became worse. We went out for breakfast with my in-laws and I could barely sit up straight. I was sweating and had chills all over and I couldn’t even look at my food because I felt so nauseous. I finally told Bryce we needed to head home so I could lay down. Once we got home, I called my mom because I figured she could tell me what to do and fix everything! However, as I described the pain she got stumped. Her best guess was that it was gas and it would pass. The area where I was describing where the pain was didn’t have anything but my bowels. However, to help reduce the pain I took an Advil and fell asleep. I slept on and off all day until the evening when I felt better. By dinner I felt almost 100% and I figured my mom was right and it was just upset bowels.
The next day I left for a four day work trip to Cincinnati for a conference. Just before I boarded the plane I quickly went to the washroom. Before I flushed, I looked down and I realized I had literally urinated straight blood – inside the toilet was crimson red. My heart started beating out my chest and my mind started racing. I called my mom again and gave her the update. “No pain today, but now there is blood. Nope, it doesn’t sting to pee and my urine hasn’t been cloudy” As I discussed it with my mom, who happens to be a nurse who works in renal dialysis, her conclusion was I must have a kidney stone. At this point, a doctor wouldn’t do anything but wait for it to pass, so I figured I might as well get on the plane. During the trip the pain came in waves, sometimes I felt fine and other times I had excruciating pain in my lower abdomen. I also continued to pee straight blood for two more days, so I finally decided to go a hospital to get it checked out. After running blood tests and examining my stomach, they came to the same conclusion: kidney stones.
Once I returned home I followed up with my doctor to get an ultrasound. After two weeks of waiting I got in and within 2 hours of my appointment I got a call from my doctor saying to come see her in an hour. My doctor was completely taken aback by the results of my ultrasound because it showed that a 1cm by 3mm stone was stuck in my upper ureter. The ureter is a tube that drains fluids from your kidney to your bladder. Typically when a stone leaves the kidney people experience excruciating pain as it travels down the ureter into the bladder and finally out the urethra. However, for some strange reason the presence of this large stone was not causing me to be in constant excruciating pain. Regardless, they were worried about my kidney function with a stone blocking the ureter, so I needed to see a urologist regarding surgery. Fast forward three weeks and after following up with the urologist I get booked for lithotripsy at Vancouver General Hospital. Lithotripsy is a procedure that uses ultrasound shock waves to break apart kidney stones so that they can be passed through the ureter. Typically the procedure works in around 80% percent of cases. After the procedure I was sore, but in surprisingly less pain than I expected. I was instructed to strain my urine for the next few days to catch the stone fragments as I passed them so they could be analyzed. Two weeks later I had to have a follow up x-ray to make sure the stone was gone; however, up until this point I hadn’t collected any stone fragments. I was feeling skeptical.
Once again, within a few hours of my x-ray I received another call. The stone was still in the exact same spot. At this point I was frustrated, but I was almost expecting this outcome, due to the lack of pain after surgery and not collecting any fragments. Fast forward three more weeks and I’m going into surgery at Lions Gate Hospital. My urologist decided he needed to use a scope to go up through my urethra past my bladder into my ureter to use a laser to break apart the stone. The surgery was scheduled for the day after my brother’s wedding in Kelowna, so my mom and I had to leave early the next morning to make it to the hospital in time. Additionally I had to fast all day and not consume any liquids after 10am. We arrived at 1pm and my surgery was scheduled for 4pm. I got dressed into my lovely hospital gown, got hooked up to an IV in preparation for my surgery. However, it slowly became clear that they were running behind schedule and I was the last patient slotted in for surgery that day. Finally at 6pm the anesthesiologist came to tell me they would have to reschedule my surgery. I was devastated.
I had rushed here after my brother’s wedding, starved myself all day, and sat in the hospital with an IV for 5 hours only to be turned away in the end. Fortunately the nurses felt terrible and they told the doctor, so he came out to talk to my mom and I. He felt terrible as well, so he suggested I come back in the morning and check myself into the ER in order to get put on the waiting list for surgery the next night. I could go home and eat dinner that night, but I would have to fast all day in hopes that I could get surgery that night. Fortunately the plan worked and I got in the next night, instead of waiting several more weeks for surgery! However, the surgery ended up to be much more invasive than anticipated and they had to put in a stent from my kidney to my bladder to ensure proper drainage of fluid while my ureter healed from the damage the stone left behind. They also wanted to keep me in the hospital overnight because they were worried my kidney was infected due to the discolored fluid that drained from it once they broke up the stone.
That night in the hospital was one of the most painful experiences I’ve ever had. When I woke up from surgery I felt an unimaginably strong urge to pee. If anyone has had a urinary track infection, it was like that times ten. I tried going pee several times during the night and each time it felt like burning hot lava coming out. However, as soon as I returned to my bed, it felt like I still had a bladder that was about to explode. On top of this pain, I had cramps in my side and back that felt like deep intense period cramps. I barely slept that night despite the heavy drugs I was on and the only thing that got me through was the expectation that the recovery would be quick. At this point it was probably a good thing I didn’t know what the next week had in store for me because it would’ve been impossible to have a positive attitude. I could barely walk upright for several days after the surgery. I had to take pain medication and anti-inflammatories every four hours to keep functioning and I barely got out of bed.
Finally after one week it was time to get my stent removed. The unsettling part of this was it had to be pulled out through my urethra via a tiny black string. The urologist said I could do this myself, but I had no idea what to expect and didn’t trust myself, so I had my doctor do it. This was the strangest, most uncomfortable feeling, as the stent moved down my ureter into my bladder and then out my urethra. I could feel it moving inside me as it slowly got pulled out. When it was finally out I looked down and couldn’t believe what I saw. The stent was ten times bigger than I had imagined! I couldn’t believe it had actually fit inside me that whole week. I asked the doctor if I could take a picture for bragging rights.
After the stent was out, I figured I was on my way to a full recovery. I was off my meds, I had more energy and I assumed the stone was gone. Boy, was I wrong. Three days later I started getting a dull ache in my side. Five days later I was back in the hospital and diagnosed with a kidney infection. I felt completely defeated. After all these procedures and drugs my body was still in battle mode. The following week was awful, as I continually experienced fevers, nausea, back pain, and body aches. I had to miss a whole week of work and could barely get out of bed or leave the house. As a precaution, I got an ultrasound done to see how my kidney was doing. Within two hours I got a call from my doctor and I was back in her office. Turns out that a fragment of the stone was still lodged in my ureter, just outside my bladder. It was only 5mm, about half the size of the original stone, but it needed to come out. My doctor called my urologist and he suggested a medication to help me pass the stone.
A week later after taking more meds and straining my urine, I’d collected nothing. It looked like I’d need another surgery to get it out. I had another ultrasound and they found it in the same spot, unchanged. I followed up with my doctor the same day and she sent me to the bathroom for a urine sample to check on the infection. As I was collecting the urine I noticed a dark object fly out into the toilet. At first I thought I was mistaken, but as I stared into the toilet I became more convinced that it was the stone! I quickly reached in and grabbed it and began to laugh out-loud. Here I was holding the stone in my doctor’s office after just getting an ultrasound done that morning showing this stone was stuck! I had been straining my urine for 2 months for this thing! When I showed my doctor she was stunned and she sent the stone off to get analyzed so see what it’s made up of. The strangest part of this all, is as soon as I passed the stone I had instant relief of my back and side pain that I’d been experiencing for weeks! It was incredible how such a small thing could so drastically affect my overall health. Again I had to take a picture for bragging rights!
That was two weeks ago and I am feeling so much better! I still have a ways to go to get my body back on track and to repair the damage that has been done, but this whole experience has given me a new perspective. I thankful for the doctors who worked with me throughout this process and that I have access to a healthcare system that could provided me the services I needed without paying a penny. I cannot even imagine what additional stress I would’ve had if I needed to consider the financial repercussions of receiving the care I needed throughout all of this. I’m also thankful for my husband and mother who helped keep me sane by entertaining me and taking care of me after my surgeries.
I have some other insights that I’ve learned through this that relate to food, but I’m going to save that for another post, since this one is already long enough. However, I am excited to explain some of the things I’ve learnt and will incorporate into my diet over the next few months!