19 June 2005

Episode No. 4: I’ve got stones...

The daytime nurse woke me to take my vitals. She also helped me call T. She simply dialed the hospital operator and gave her T’s phone number. In a few seconds he was on the line. Earlier in the morning, after many attempts on the bedside phone, I was unable to reach an outside operator. The hospital operator told me to go to the phone booth outside. Being a half-dressed patient, I didn’t think I was allowed to do this and went to sleep instead. The day nurse was named Sylvie, the same name as my french professeur, and I took this as a good sign because I was looking for good signs. Sylvie was a young black woman and spoke very good english. She was just as nice as every one else I met.

In the time that I was in the hospital, the stone made its way from wherever it started to a place between my kidney and urethra. I saw it resting there on the sonogram. The doctor poked and prodded into my abdomen. I could see my insides on the monitor beside the bed as I contorted into various positions at his command. The stone looked to be 5 millimeters, he said. I was pleased that there was only one stone, and that it was not the large kind that need to be zapped into smaller pieces by instruments that find their way to your kidney by taking a very uncomfortable route. I was about to ask him if it was a boy or a girl, but I’ve learned not to be a smart-ass outside of my own country. It takes all of my effort.

I was wheeled back to the observation room and climbed into bed. I tried to sleep some more, but I was suddenly worried about the cost of all of these tests, the lab work, the hospital room, the phone call made through the hospital operator, and the medication I would have to get at the pharmacy. T would understand, though it would bother him nonetheless. It might come up a year from now in an argument about our finances. I hoped the hospital stay would not exceed the cost of my entire trip. I couldn’t get back to sleep but lapped up the air conditioning while it lasted. It was the one thing that came at no additional cost.

The chipper American doctor returned a while later. I was glad she was still on duty. Sylvie ordered breakfast for me, and I worried about how much that might add to my bill. The doctor said it could take as long as 9 days for the stone to pass. It seemed an obscure number that she made up on the spot. I thought it would pass much sooner and was hoping it would happen while I was in their care, close to their drugs.

I was prescribed (a) an anti-inflammatory, (b) something that helped with the side effects of the anti-inflammatory, and (c) a pain killer. Armed with these medications, I would wait for the stone to pass – something that could take place anywhere, at any time. I found this very disconcerting. The doctor told me to lay down whenever it happens. "Even if I’m on the bus?" "Even if you’re on the bus." Surely she was kidding. I was upset that in the middle of Paris, at any time, I could go into labor with a kidney stone. My french classes now seem like an afterthought to this kidney stone, and the heat wave, and the medication, and the stairs to my apartment.

The doctor had finished with me, and I thought it was very civil of her to insist I have breakfast before I dressed and went to the nurses’ station to check out. I ate a croissant and a piece of bread with butter and jam. I drank half of the strong coffee, even though it had no milk. I thought it was the polite thing to do.

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