Thursday, December 29, 2016

To Hell and Back in Three Hours


So one moment I’m happily bidding good-morning to my darling grandson Malik and then the next I’m curled up on the couch in pain, nauseous and light-headed. Squirming around trying to figure out what’s going on in my lower right back and abdomen and desperately seeking a comfortable position. To no avail. But ten minutes later, it seemed to pass and I ate breakfast and went out to sweep the front porch.

It’s the final day of our wonderful two days at The West Point Inn. Jovial company, great weather, good food, fun games and the ever-inspiring view. Highlight for me was some informal music sessions with the 1, 2 and 5 year olds, most hilariously me playing ragtime on the piano while the little ones ran circles around the room chased by their parents.

And so I awoke looking forward to breakfast, clean-up, group photo and either a 2-mile hike back to the cars or ten-mile hike to Sausalito and the ferry. But life had other plans. While sweeping the porch, I felt dizzy and the pains had returned. I tried everything—lying down, sitting up, standing up, walking around, but there was no escape. I hoped it would pass soon as the first one did and when it didn’t, we all began to be concerned. There was one car at the Inn to take our belongings down while the 20 of us hiked the two miles to the other cars. It became clear I couldn’t walk, so Karen drove that car with me in it, to switch to our car at the parking lot.

And so began the most excruciating hour of my life. Bumping up the dirt road to the asphalt one, winding down in hellaceous curves, me gripping the door handle and screaming and moaning a one-hour non-stop aria with one melismatic word-OOOWWW!!
Just before I left, a couple of the folks offered a diagnosis: “Kidney stones.” With the addendum: “This is the closest men will ever get to experience labor pains.” I tried to bless women for their efforts from this new point of view, but couldn’t help but think, “At least they get a short rest between contractions.” Sorry, women, I know you get the worse deal, but it was true that this was like one, long, uninterrupted 60-minute labor pain bumping down the mountain and out to the freeway and over the bridge with Kaiser Hospital the goal. There was not one iota of relief. Not a second.

When we arrived at Kaiser, I tumbled out of the car and entered the hospital with my yelping aria at full volume. No one seemed too concerned— it was the Emergency Room, after all, and I had no visible knife or gun wounds— but as far as I was concerned, I wanted attention and I wanted it NOW!  Some five minutes later, the morphine started flowing and ten minutes later, I re-entered the land of the living and could breath again. The Cat-scan revealed it indeed was a kidney stone and it seemed poised to exit. They gave me a screen to catch it and at first pee, nothing. But by now, the morphine (bless whoever invented that!!!) was flowing full-tilt, the diagnosis made and I could go home. Walked into the door and peed and there it was. Three hours from 0 to 100 on the pain-o-meter and back again to 0. I could go hiking on Mt. Tam this afternoon.

I couldn’t help but wonder what would have happened if all this kicked in hiking the ten miles down the mountain. Or if the group decided to leave me for a bit at the Inn, get the car and come back, adding another hour to pain beyond my capacity to endure. Or if this whole internal drama decided to unfold on a 15-hour plane ride to Singapore. (Of course, the glass half-empty notes that it could have kicked in just as we crossed the bridge to San Francisco and the whole fiasco would have been a manageable fifteen minutes.)

I’m always looking for a moral and a message and the remarkable fragility of life, its capriciousness, unpredictability and uncaring choice of who to make suffer is the obvious one. Or I could reflect on the power of something the size of the period at the end of this sentence to cause such excruciating pain and wreak such havoc. 

But why do I have to always make everything labor its way to meaning? Bad stuff happens and today was my day. And though I would have tried to punch you in the face if you said in the midst of my highest note of pain’s song, "it could be worse," of course, that's true. And at the end of the matter, I'm grateful. 

PS Friends, if it ever comes down to being brave enough to withstand torture to not name you to the Inquisitors, this is as good a time as any to say: "Sorry. Don't count on me."

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