5. Kidney Stones
I write this to you as a drunk woman. Hear me out. I’m lying in bed with my phone in my hands, blinking black text bar phasing in and out of my eye line. I can see C in my periphery, combing through his notes for work. I did not plan to be drunk tonight. Then a pain in my side, one I will now lovingly refer to as Number Five, came calling at around 9pm tonight. It all went downhill from there.
My first pain like this came at age 22, still living in the communal yellow house on Wedgewood Avenue that I shared with three, sometimes four other people. I occupied the front room, the only part of the house to have its own individual front door, an exit I utilized on many an early morning heading off for tour. In the deep well of dreams I felt something sharp. I shot up; it was a cramping pain unlike anything I’d ever experienced. But it was so alien, this feeling, a jabbing, with creeping feelers climbing up and down both sides of my body, as if swinging across the monkey-bars of my ribs. After emptying the contents of my freezer, making a pallet of the thawing food on my floor, and seeing no way out, I called my father. He said, almost in the place of "I’m sorry", that it was most likely my first kidney stone. He of course, had experienced around 7 already in his lifetime.
I was then benevolently carted to the hospital by a roommate, before being led screaming and dry heaving to an open gurney in the hallway of Vanderbilt Emergency Care. No rooms were available, and morphine was a precious commodity. I’d need to be assessed by a doctor before that could get into my bloodstream. I held on tightly to the thin cotton sheeting loosely covering the rubber mattress, white knuckling for dear life before giving in and hobbling to the nearest restroom to dry heave. My best friend, Sharon, arrived shortly after in her church clothes (it was Sunday), like the guardian angel that she is. She held my hand in the last few moments before the teenage-looking ER doctor finally registered my pain level, probably from my rapidly paling skin, my bloodshot eyes, or my patchy cracked lips. I was ready for the good stuff.
After various MRIs, ECGs, and X-rays, it was determined that I indeed had a nasty kidney stone, infected, that had spread its taint to both kidneys, explaining the dull, lingering pain on either flank of my body. This would prove to be the worst pain I have experienced thus far. There’s nothing like the first time.
A year or so later, home from tour and heading to a co-write in Mount Juliet, 30 miles east of Nashville, I was just leaving town when I felt that twinge again. It came out of nowhere, but was unmistakeable. That same throbbing sensation creeping up my right side, just daring me to drive on. I knew in an instant that I wouldn’t make it to the next exit if I didn’t think fast.
I pulled off, wildly dialing my phone as I drove. Access road, Edgehill Avenue. Sharon picked up, midday through work but never, ever giving out on me. She directed me to her office, only a mile from where I had gotten off the highway. She was waiting outside when I pulled up; I was now knee deep in the throes of agonizing pain shooting up and down my right flank. I now realize how embarrassing it must have been for her, but she led me hobbling inside to the women’s restroom in one last ditch effort to excess the thing out of my system. To no avail. We then got back into my car, and Thelma-and-Louise-style clasped hands on the way to Vanderbilt Medical Center. I was screaming obscenities, mostly due to the fact that I knew how much this new kidney stone would cost my parents (still 25 and on their insurance), tears streaming down my weary face.
...I will take a moment to point out that Sharon is in fact one of the kindest, most loving, and most generous individuals I have ever met in my life. As soon as I am able, I will hire her and do nothing but fly her around the world to eat the most lavish meals and attend the most glam fashion expos; that and find a community somewhere populated exclusively by Old English Sheepdogs, her favorite thing in existence. I will send her there for holidays every year for as long as she wants. She deserves nothing less.
I was barely 27, the October following being kicked off my parents’ insurance and before finding one I qualified for on my own. I was fast asleep; it was somewhere around 5:30 in the morning. Far off in the abyss, something rumbled. Calling me, like the monster that called to Sigourney Weaver from the fridge in Ghostbusters. I shot up.
"C, I think I’m having a kidney stone."
"We have ten minutes."
It was that exact. He registered what I had just said, and in tandem, we both rolled like special ops agents out of our bed. He, throwing me a sweatshirt and pants, as well as clothing himself. I, trying to make a last ditch assessment of what I would need, and then mentally preparing myself for what was about to happen. At ten minutes exactly, we crossed the threshold of our apartment door, and my knees buckled.
It was 6:00am when we reached the bottom of our 3rd floor walk up, and through the open metal grating of the barrier door we saw and felt the torrential downfall of a before-dawn October storm upon us. As we crossed through, my arm slung across my fiancé’s shoulders, taking one piercing step in front of the other, I finally felt my will give in.
"I can’t," I said. Like a movie, so ridiculously dramatic, in the pouring rain.
He picked me up and carried my screaming form across the flooded parking lot, and flung me into the passenger side. I joke now that on the smiley-face scale posted in every doctor’s office ever, I now know why the tenth one is crying.
8am, C has left early for work and the easterly morning sun is pouring into the room as I work at my desk. Suddenly, zing went the pangs of my kidney. It was happening, and I’d only just gotten my final payment invoice for the last one. This is a nightmare, I thought. And then another, louder thought: After I’d recovered from #3, I’d been told by my dad, as well as a girl in my building, that if you chug a beer, it apparently goes through your kidneys like a fire hose.
I ran to the fridge, and grabbed a beer that, not kidding, said “Easy to Drink” on the label. It was. By 9am, I was heavily tipsy, and the pain was gone.
And here we are, back to me as I lie in my bed, drunk. Tonight started out like any other low-key Sunday night, my day off from shows. I opened a bottle of Occhipinti, a gorgeous white wine from Sicily that C likes. I had already decided in my mind that I’d had a long week, and for the first time in a month or two I wanted to open one of my nice bottles and actually finish it. So, sitting on the couch and two and a half glasses in, I feel it coming (in the air tonight, oh Lord). I jump up and swung around towards C, with a look on my face broadcasting my impending doom. “Go drink a beer”, he said, knowing it worked last time. I obey.
After thirty minutes, it has now seemed to push through. And after that, the classy white wine portion of my evening has passed like a wisp of smoke from an Italian cigarette. These are the kinds of moments in life that feel so darkly, inescapably funny. I think the beer worked, but a new problem has taken its place, albeit less painful. In a last ditch effort to not let this night totally go down the drain, I decided to write to you.
Who knows when I'll have another stone again; but what I do know is that I'm lucky to have people in my life ready to hold my hand off a cliff or carry me through the pouring rain. From my dad, to Sharon, to C, to that girl in my building--even the chef at my restaurant giving me unsalted salmon because he knows there's a reason for it and I'm not just incredibly boring.
A knock on our door. C, taking advantage of what he believes to be the single greatest thing about America, has ordered us a pizza. Maybe the night's not so ruined after all.