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Issue 7-3

Passing Calculus (Stone by Stone)

"Don't tell that story to anyone," my sister-in-law warned me. "No one will believe it." But despite Fran Mains's sage advice, here is the hard-to-believe tale.

For five days, David had been uncomfortable with vague abdominal pressure. A young friend, a urologist, popped past our house to check him out (shoveling my front walk, by the way), and finally decided an office appointment at nearby Central DuPage Hospital was in order. "Good news," reported the doctor, phoning us with test results later that afternoon. The CAT scan had shown David was suffering from renal calculus--Latin, meaning "kidney stone." (If this was good news, I could only surmise that he was dreading the discovery of something worse.)

Since the size of the stone showed it had a 50% chance of passing, the doctor decided to remove it by a scope up the urethra--a surgical procedure that would require anesthesia but would generally take a half hour. I dutifully dropped David off at the Perambulatory Patient Entrance so he could check himself in at Admitting while I ran to the office, seven minutes away, to check my e-mail and get a few things done that had piled up while I'd been watchfully waiting to see what that vague abdominal pressure was all about.

My desk phone rang. "Guess where I am?" said the voice of my daughter-in-law, Angela Mains. "We're in the Emergency Room at CDH."

My son Jeremy had run over to the local junior college, where he teaches U. S. Citizenship, to pick up some papers and had been hit with an attack of vomiting on the way. He made it to the parking lot, into the building and to the men's room, where another attack of vomiting hit him with such intense pain that he was thrown writhing to the floor. His big complication was that he had his four-month-old daughter, Eliana, with him. She was in the men's room with him and was in her stroller. A compassionate stranger called security, and my son was hastened by ambulance to the hospital.

"Jeremy has kidney stones. And I just saw David in a wheelchair being taken upstairs."

"I'll be right there." Visions of hospital staph infections flashed in my grandmotherly brain. Yet, when I arrived at the ER and was taken to Cubicle 15, son and daughter-in-law and granddaughter were no longer present. Jeremy was undergoing tests.

I went to the information counter: "Has my husband, David Mains, been admitted yet?" Yes, he was in Room 4304, bed B. "Oh, Angela and Jeremy are in the ER," reported my husband when I arrived. "Jeremy has kidney stones." David's cell rang; it was the M.D., who explained that he had found an afternoon surgical slot and they would take David down around 2 p.m.

I informed the doctor that our son was in the ER with kidney stones--right at that moment. Could he also check his charts? "What are the odds scientifically and medically of a father and son being in the same hospital at the same time with the same onset diagnosis?"

"I don't know," the doctor answered, sensing perhaps that I needed a little calming. He ameliorated my amazement. "Probably never happened before in all of medical history."

I kissed my husband goodbye, then hurried four floors down to the ER. They had returned. The baby, having missed her ten o'clock bottle, her father being intensely preoccupied with other events, was wide-eyed and content in her little carrying chair. Oh, this, this is what it's like hanging out with the Big People. Bells, carts, noises, groans, signals, people coming and going, emergency vehicles, sirens. And there, there's that funny lady who tries to make me laugh. Who cares about bottles when real life is like this! She gave me a wide, wiggle-your-whole-body-smile. By this time, Jeremy was floating into the land that knows no pain--morphine paradise.

"Yes," said Angela. "David looked up at us, surprised, and the attendant kept wheeling him on. You could see it all on his face. Oh, how nice of them to come to the hospital to see me to my room. (A warm smile.) Why are you here? (An expression of confusion.) Jeremy has a kidney stone? (Disbelief and amazement). I have a kidney stone. Jeremy has a kidney stone?"

Though nursing, Angela ran to the car to get a supplemental bottle. I stayed with the slumbering stricken patient. The baby was not interested in her mother's artificial inducements. Real life, with all its thrilling drama, held her in thrall; high theatrics was her true nutrient. She smiled to indicate her participation, her big bright eyes focal points in the bundling blanket.

Jeremy was released and sent home to await the passing of his smaller stone, so I walked with the ER nurse and the baby tot the sliding automatic doors while Angela brought around their car, then rode around the hospital complex with them to show them where the Walgreens full-service pharmacy was. Back in her car seat, normalcy began intervening, and Eliana started to fuss. Prescriptions procured, my little family went home to await the kidney stone event. I believe in family bonding, but this was a little too much.

I ran up to the fourth floor, but by now my husband had already been wheeled down to be prepped.

"Do you want to see David before he goes into surgery?" asked the doctor who found me in the West Surgery waiting area. "Oh, Jeremy's stone is smaller than David's. Just make sure he filters his urine so he knows when he passes it. It can take eight to twelve days for these things to make their way out, and he can feel fine. Then it can hit again. So he wants to know for sure." They provide white paper cones, rinsable ones.

Five hours later, the doctor, frustrated and vowing not to be defeated, had not been able to remove the stone. Five days and three more surgical procedures later, and one hellish Sunday afternoon in pain in the hospital, I finally brought David, sans stone, home. I requisitioned (grabbed) the plastic jar with the little black peppercorn, the size of two pinheads, from the hands of the surgeon before it went to the lab to be crushed and analyzed. After all, it was David's stone.

Melissa rallied the clan so their attentive shifts kept me from going under. Food filled the refrigerator; I fought off a cold coming on with lovingly homemade chicken noodle soup. Sons called, salted the walk and driveway, helped me get David upstairs. Phone calls came from the Phoenix family. A grandson broke his arm in two places. Daughters-in-law dropped by. David had a restless day and night, and the doctor came back to reinsert the catheter, just to give his bruised and manipulated and prodded and dope-swollen digestive tract a chance to settle down, to let the enlarged but not cancerous prostate (the true villain in our drama) a chance to shrink.

And today, David is sleeping, the deep sleep of the deprived-of-sleep-for-almost-two weeks. I'm back on my feet, and this is what I am thinking.

  • How good it is of God to allow this incident to happen now rather than in January when we were in Scotland for my 65th birthday or in April when David is supposed to be in Kazakhstan. Or as my daughter-in-law, Carmel suggested, "On an airplane over the Atlantic."

  • How grateful we are to be living in this century rather than in another that would not have had the medical procedures to remove the stone (shunts in the back through the urinary tract so the scope could move down behind the prostrate rather than up in front of the prostate.)

  • How fortunate to be where hospitals and medicines are available. (Central Du Page Hospital is four minutes from our house). I remember the 71-year-old men in other parts of the world who can only suffer without relief for the same ailment. I hold them to my wifely soul.

  • We have spent loving hours with our friend the urologist without having a clue that we would be desperately in need of the skills of the science of urology one day.

  • We will have such a story to tell in family gatherings and to friends and to acquaintances. The children will say to one another when David and I are no longer here, "Do you remember when Dad and Jer had their kidney stones?" And Dad begged for them to put the catheter back in--and whatever other myths and legends will develop from repetition and oral tradition. And we will laugh and then they will laugh without us, and they will tell again and again, "The Tale of Two Kidney Stones" (or alternate title: "Passing Calculus").
  • Reminder!

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    Karen Mains

    Karen Mains

    "Don't tell that story to anyone," my sister-in-law warned me. "No one will believe it."

    Granddaughter Eliana


    2008 Pilgrimage to France

    God Through the Eyes of the Artist and the Artist In the Eye of God

    October 24 - November 10, 2008

    This is a journey for men and women. The land fee is $2592. Half ($1296) is due by April 1, 2008. The balance is due August 1, 2008. Airfare is not included. Depending upon the exchange rate (the dollar being low), we may have to add a bit more to the land price, but we hope not to do this.

    If you can pay your full fee by April 1, 2008, we will be able to give you a reduction of $200.

    The land fee is figured on two persons per room; if you prefer to be alone, we can quote you the additional supplement price. We encourage singles to share rooms, and we are happy to introduce roommates before we travel.

    If you are interested in travel insurance, we can provide this as well. We will do the figures in August.

    The airlines do not allow for "deviations" from itineraries for group bookings, so, if you are planning to arrive in Paris early, to travel to other destinations in Europe, or to use air mileage points for your flight, we encourage you to book your own flight.

    Otherwise, we do work with an airline consolidator who will book flights from various destinations in the States and count it as part of the group booking (we need at least ten people for this). This means that you intend to fly from the States on October 24 and return from Paris on November 4. Flights from Nice to Paris are generally included in this fare, but if you book your own flight, we will have to add the Nice to Paris booking once we have determined if you plan to go on from Nice or to go to the States from Paris.

    If you have any questions,
    contact Karen Mains ()
    or Valerie Bell ().
    We can provide you with a flyer that has all the details and the general itinerary or you can go to the travel site at to print off the pages you need for full information.

    You can also register for the 2008 Pilgrimage to France at the travel Web site using a credit card.

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