This essay reflects personal thoughts that were written and collected to be passed on later to the family for my Storyworth project - a personal collection of life's memories. Today, is a memorable moment for me reaching age 75 and staring a health issue in the face. It's all part of growing older and being thankful for good health. "Long may you run...", as Neil Young has often sung.
I’ve been thinking a lot about my health and my age lately. I’ll be 75 tomorrow. Unbelievable! It’s a birthday that all my immediate ancestral family never lived long enough to pass. Dad had the record making it to 74. Mom was 70 when she passed a year after Dad. My three sisters are still in the running with me, being a bit younger. My older brother John, died in 1976 at the young age of 30 in a tragic accident. Now, I’m pondering, ‘What controls the length and quality of life?’ …as if I could control it. You can take your pick: genetics, environment, stress, exercise, relationships, diet and/or just plain luck. Some you are dealt. Some you choose.
I’ve managed to live through it all to retirement, raise a fine family with grandkids to enjoy. I think I figured out what life style works best for me with adequate exercise, a healthy diet, and maintaining relationships. Actually, I don’t usually think consciously about how old I am or how I feel. I’ve been lucky to have no real health issues. That is until recently.
About a week ago, after a Saturday bike ride, I started to feel a mid-left back pain. Shortly after, I started to feel queasy, nauseous and fatigued. I had not done anything out of the ordinary that would have caused a muscle to be strained so I knew it had to be something else. Two days went by and on Monday my back and abdomen pain had increased tremendously. It was time to seek medical help, which I normally avoid like the plague, whenever I can. My suspicion was that it was a kidney stone that was causing the pain.
I remembered years ago, on a tough long-distance walk, I was pretty sure I had passed a kidney stone near the end of that day. My wife, Mary Ann, had a couple similar bouts with stones, as did my father as I recalled. At the time of the walk, I had not properly hydrated and had to deal with an excruciating pain in my lower back. Then miraculously, it stopped an hour or so later once I rested and hydrated myself. I learned that severe dehydration is one way to bring on a kidney stone. I also learned that pain is easy to forget once it has passed. My kidney stone nightmare, which I had buried in my memory, suddenly came to life again.
Kidney stone pain is legendary. Some have said it is worse than childbirth, which I would not want to judge, even if I could. The pain usually appears after crystals build up into a stone which moves from the kidney to the ureter tube which carries it to the bladder then beyond. My primary doctor noticed a small amount of blood in my urine on Monday and ordered an ultrasound the next day which confirmed the location of a 3 mm stone, large enough to become an all-encompassing problem for me by Wednesday morning. Then, I had to wrangle an “asap” appointment the with my Urologist for the next day, promising to provide stronger pain medicine and a plan to get my life back. But, I wasn’t sure I could make it another day as the pain worsened.
After realizing I might have to wait another 24 hours for relief, I sat on my front steps hunched over in pain. Then, miraculously the pain stopped! The stone had apparently moved down to a more welcoming spot and was probably expelled soon after, without a proper goodbye. I did not get to see or determine the type of stone. Strange how a tiny stone can alter your life so quickly and make you suddenly appreciate life – with and without pain.
As painful and debilitating as kidney stones can be, they are quite common and rarely fatal. More than 1 in 10 people are affected and most often seen in people aged 30 to 60.. Kidney stones are usually troublesome when discovered in the kidneys or in the ureter, the tube that connects the kidneys to your bladder. Stones can be of several types based on which chemical builds up in the kidney, most are calcium oxalate or uric acid stones. Besides the pain, stones can cause a urinary tract infection which can lead to complications.
Adequate hydration, a certain diet and a hereditary disposition may help explain the presence of a stone or chances of an occurrence again. In my case, my conclusion is I have a hereditary situation, a need to hydrate better and because I probably had an incident before and now, there’s a good chance I may have another. That’s not a pleasant thought, but one I can accept and hope to avoid.
My Stepping Stone
I read recently that 20 percent of American adults — some 50 million people — suffer from a form of chronic pain. As I age I see pain present more and more. If not myself, my wife and friends are faced with dealing with painful joints, operations, treatments and disease that we all face at one time or another in our lives. Fortunately, kidney stones don’t last very long. But even a few days in extreme pain is more than one should bear.
For now, I see being pain-free as a gift. When that monster is on your back there is not much you can do or say that draws attention away from the suffering and the empty feeling that there is nothing you can do to stop it. With opioid pain-killers like Fentanyl and Oxycontin all over the news, its hard to avoid the subject of pain and the downside of finding a way to make it stop. In my darkest moment, I prayed for something stronger. It’s not difficult to see how someone would be willing to bend their principles and exchange one form of hell for another under the right circumstances.
Hopefully, I’m done with this stone and ready to move on. The question before me, at age 75, is “How should I change because of it”? The older you get the more advice and requirements you receive. Eat properly, consume less alcoholic drinks, get more sleep, see more doctors, avoid stressful situations and enjoy life when you can.
I would never say the stone was a blessing, but it reminded me to give thanks for what I have and to be vigilant at my ever-ripening age of what will be coming. That’s not to say I’ll change much at this stage, but maybe make a few lifestyle adjustments to keep the rest of this body going for as long as I can. Growing older is all about adapting to change… when you have to.