Thursday, April 27, 2006

All Clear!

For real this time. I went back to my urologist's office this morning. They first sent me down to radiology for some x-rays. The tech made copies, and I carried the dupes back upstairs. I waited for a couple of minutes, and Dr. Zimmerman breezed in and told me they couldn't see anything blocking the ureter anymore.

"Here, come look at this ..."

He takes me to the hall to look at my x-rays.

"This is where it was," he says, pointing to a spot somewhere in my translucent abdomen. "And now there's nothing there. So I think the next step is to get you back in next week to remove the stent."

"So there's no chance of there being something still there, hidden?"

"No, I think you're fine. And even if some tiny piece was left, you'll be dilated from the stent and it'll come right out. I'll meet you at the front to set up the time."

My regular doctor, who recommended Dr. Zimmerman, had told me he lacked some bedside manners, but I think he did a good job in a fast, no funny business sort of way. When it comes to things stuck or jammed in your hoo-hah, you don't want any funny business.

At the desk they set me up for a same-day surgery appointment next week (to get the stent out) and then asked me if I had any other questions.

“Yeah, just one. What do they do with my x-rays after they’re done with them?”

“Why, do you want them?”

“Well, yeah, I guess. I did pay for them, after all.”

“Hmm, let me see. They sent you upstairs with copies, right?”


“Let me check.”

She leaves for a minute before returning with an oversized envelope.

“They’re all yours, Josh.”


After all the thousands I’ll end up spending (via my insurance) on emergency room costs, doctor visits and getting the stone out, those x-rays may end up the only souvenir I actually get to keep.

(Yes, that's me up there.)

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Wow, an Update!

You know, just so no one thinks I'm dead.

I've been feeling pretty good since Monday after a rough recovery from the lithotripsy. No need for pain medicine, not really even Tylenol. I still have a slight ache where the stent is, on my left side, but I can deal with it.

Tomorrow morning I go back to the urologist for an x-ray and, perhaps, the all clear. They had been telling me to drink a lot of water and look for any stone particles, but that got pretty annoying after just a week. After all, the lithotripsy may have smashed the thing into a million invisible bits. Who's to say I'd actually catch one of them? To that end I have been less than vigilant, and exclusively less than vigilant whenever I leave the house. It's not that easy to take a strainer and jug with you everywhere you go. Besides, if they really expected me to catch something in the strainer, then I wouldn't need an x-ray, would I? If the x-ray is the final arbiter, I think the straining gets reduced to more of a curious hobby than a necessity.

Amusingly, every single person I've told of my ordeal either stays riveted or, if they've had stones or family members with stones, guesses straight out where I'm going with it. The stories are all pretty darn similar. I got the first of many punchlines in the mail today, though: my emergency room bill!

The damage? Oh, just about $5800. Most of that was the CT scan, which apparently eats up a lot of cash while it hums innocently.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

OK, Not All Better

Perhaps I jumped the gun a bit. The really bad part is over with (or should be over with), but my current state is less than ideal. Back before the lithotripsy I thought I'd get an epidural, but it ended up being general, since "you're young and healthy."

Well, now I feel a little like a 90-year old man, sore and achy, with stuff going on with my body that inspires ass many sad sighs off recognition as they do moans and groans. Hopefully, I'll get closer to "better" as the week progresses.

Friday, April 21, 2006

All Better!

Technically, at least. I went into the Ye Olde House of Ultrashock (or whatever it's called) in LaGrange this morning. Filled out the usual forms and within minutes was told to take off everything (socks optional) and put on a robe.

"Does anyone take off their socks, too?" I asked, my butt hanging out but my socks still on.

"No, most people keep them on."

Figures. It allows even a smidgen of modesty, considering what they're about to do.

They place me on a table, or gurney, or bed, or whatever it is, send in the x-ray technician, then the anesthesiologist. My doctor makes a cameo, tells me that his Monday ended up open after all, so if it wasn't today it would have been scheduled for then. He asks a secretary to brew up more coffee, so I ask him if he's awake.

"Oh, I'm awake," he confirms.

The x-ray technician notes and jokes about my general hairiness, which is comparable to his own.

"People say, 'why not get a full body wax?' Have you ever seen 'The 40-Year-Old Virgin?' That guy's bleeding!"

Right around then the medicine kicks in, and I wake up an hour or so later in a different bed in a recovery room. I seem to recall the doctor telling me it went well, and then someone brought me fruit punch and shortbread cookies, which I ate, at least until I noticed the spot of blood on my hospital gown around my, um, crotch.

"This blood normal?"

"Oh, yeah, it's normal. It'll be gone in a day or so. Just drink a lot of fluids."

They had me put on my clothes, Alma came in to drive me home, Baby Z. yelled "da-dee!!" and we all went home, where I am right now. Ate a sandwich and drank four glasses of water. Next step - the last step - is peeing out all the tiny bits of stone in there, which should be no prob.

"This will hurt a little," said the anesthesiologist, back when he stuck the IV in my arm.

"Pain is pretty relative when you have a kidney stone," I told him. "Sure, it hurts. But only a little."

I still feel like I fared better than most (so far, knock on wood). As my Dad confirmed, it's not really the worst pain even, just the worst ache ever. They're different things. Not sharp, just ... painful. Like someone hit you in the back with a baseball bat and then kicked you in the groin. You know, that kind of pain.

But now it's all better. And if not, or if the stent bothers me, there are always the drugs.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

My Prescription is Beer

Forgot to mention what my urologist (I have a urologist!) normally recommends for passable kidney stones.

"Drink a six-pack, and then drink another six-pack."

And now back to regularly scheduled (or regular subject) blogging. Like the fact that Neil Young is getting all self-righteous about recording an album that calls out President Job, yet apparently feels no regret or embarassment for recording that P.O.S. jingoistic "Let's Roll" song just a few years ago. This is why no one takes rock stars seriously when it comes to politics.

The Urologist Speaks, or The Light at the End of the Tunnel

OK, here’s the situation. I’m scheduled for a 10am lithotripsy tomorrow morning. That’s the process that uses shock waves to break up bigger stones into tiny little stones that will pass more easily. It involves a water bed of sorts, 2000 blasted sound waves, plus – and here’s the best part – a thread like catheter up my whatnot (no, the other whatnot, the whatnot even doctors seldom deal directly with) to help insert a stent. The stent is to insure that the smaller stones don’t become a problem themselves. After all, a 6mm stone that breaks into a bunch of little stones may still mean, say, a 4mm guy bouncing around in there, which can still cause plenty of pain/agony/prayer and would therefore only complicate the situation.

Really, it’s just a simple outpatient procedure, so I’m not worried. They’ll give me an epidural, just like a pregnant woman, so I won’t feel a thing while they hasten the delivery. Then I get a week and a half of antibiotics, plus more painkillers (yay!) should the stent bug me. Then there’s a check-up and x-ray to make sure all the stone parts are gone, they take out the stent (more anesthetic) and I’m home free. At least until it happens again, which I am genetically inclined toward.

As a matter of fact, my Dad just had his own kidney stone attack last night, his third. What a coincidence, huh? I guess these things happen in spring.

(Oh, and Dad, they want the results of your stone, too, so they can compare their composition.)

All in all, it really could be worse. While it could get bad any second, I haven’t had any real pain or discomfort since Tuesday afternoon, and the fact that I can get this over with soon is good news. The procedure almost happened today (!), at one point may have been scheduled for a week and a half from now (!!) and I was nearly “on call” to get it done some time next week should a slot become available, but this works best for me.

And for those wondering: this is MUCH better than waiting for the thing to pass on its own. Which, by the way, the urologist said there was no chance of. It’s 6mm, which is pretty big, and lodged right near the entry into the bladder from the ureter. The pain I occasionally feel is when it gets dislodged and blocks the bladder. Then the ureter gets pissed. That’s what causes the agony – not the stone but the ureter spazzing out trying to get urine through. To that end, I’m no longer “pushing fluids,” which is medical talk for drinking 12 glasses of water a day. In fact, the nurse at the urologist was really impressed by my urine. Rarely do they see urine that clear! I was very proud.

Anyway, this is all one great lesson as to why you should try to keep both kidneys. ‘Cause you never know when the other one will really come in handy.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Good News and Bad News

First, thanks to everyone sending in their thoughts. For the record, though, as much as I wish I was as brave as everyone thinks I am, the pain has thus far only been unbearable Sunday night and Tuesday afternoon. And by unbearable I mean I haven't been doing much during those bouts, let alone blogging.

Got back from the doctor this morning, who told me that the CT scan showed only one stone (good!) but that it was not 4mm but in fact 6mm (bad!). Bad, because only 30% or so of patients pass a kidney stone of that size on their own. To that end, I'm seeing a urologist tomorrow morning, who may prescribe a watch-and-wait approach, offer to break it up with sound waves or schedule surgery, depending. Who knows?

Any way you spell it, it spells fun city.

The Cruel, Crippling Irony of Kidney Stones

So my good friend Dr. Beadle confirms that the pain will be intermittent and intense - nothing on Monday, yesterday sucked, nothing so far today - until the stone finally reaches my bladder, at which point I will be “home free.” Hooray! But that leads me to several of this ordeal’s great frustrations.

Passing the kidney stone hurts a lot. It’s the movement of the tiny stone from the kidney through the ureter and down to the bladder. The best way to try and speed the process up is to drink a lot – A LOT – of water. But speeding the process up also means making the pain a little worse. In theory, one could lessen the pain by drinking less, but that would ultimately only prolong the process.

Now, the pain of the stone makes me lose my appetite, which makes it hard to drink water. The painkillers do take the edge off the agony, but they also make me a little nauseus. So then I don’t want to drink or eat when I’m doped up, even though drinking is good for me.

Choices, choices, all of them bad. And I’m still working on the stubborn stone’s own schedule. Hurry up, little guy!

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Pain's back ...

Disappointing to learn that this may be a multi-day, start-and-stop process. Sudden intense pain, long period (hours, days) of relief, sudden intense pain, repeat until done. Kidney stones are lame. Let's see how the Vicodin handles it. Go, Vicodin, go!

Monday, April 17, 2006

Paid Da Cost to be Da Boss

The new Bruce Springsteen album "We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions" is largely what its title implies: a disc of Springsteen covering Pete Seeger. It is, however, surprisingly good, no doubt because Bruce recorded it loosely in his barn with a bunch of new blood (a veritable big band consisting of horn section, strings, banjo, and even a gospel choir), recording few takes and leaving in a few mistakes. That's why I've already listened to this album more than I've listened to his last three stiff studio albums. The album's a rollicking, fun good time that even ends with a version of "Froggy Went a Courtin’” and doesn’t play down the politics. Which is a way of saying it makes “The Ghost of Tom Joad” seem even more toothless and dull as concrete in retrospect.

Of course, the album has its recent antecedents. There's a whole lot of Billy Bragg and Wilco's excellent "Mermaid Avenue" reworkings of Woody Guthrie songs, or Steve Earle's bluegrass excursion "The Mountain" (not to mention his earlier collaboration with the Pogues). Also, "The Seeger Sessions" would probably sound good no matter who was singing, especially if it was someone of equal rasp (Dylan, Tom Waits). But hey - I'm glad it's Springsteen, and I'm glad the guy's having fun.

The only downside is that he’s touring massive and impersonal outdoor sheds this summer. Sure, he’ll have a 25-member band, but the guy can do better than this dump.

Kidney Stoned!

Samuel Pepys’ fascinating diary, started in 1660, contains the usual tales of lechery and narcissism, as well as amazing first hand accounts of the fire of London and the plague. But every March 26th he makes a special, pious point of recalling an operation to remove a painful kidney stone.

They say kidney stones are second only to childbirth in terms of prolonged intensity of pain, and last night I found out first hand that this could very well be true.

We had barely been back from our trip out east to D.C. and Philly, and had just finished dinner. Alma was upstairs getting Baby Z. ready for an early bedtime, and I was cleaning up all the books she had tossed around the living room when all of the sudden I got this intense pain in my lower left back. It was like a massive cramp, and it wasn’t going away.

After telling Alma what was up, I called my parents, who told me it sounded like a kidney stone, and suggested taking a couple painkillers (“do you have any Tylenol with codeine?” they asked, as if most people just have that lying around) and taking a warm bath. The Advil did nothing, and the warm bath only made my chills and discomfort worse. They had mentioned waiting a few hours before heading to the hospital, but I had a hunch that was pretty much inevitable and writhed back into my clothes.

I was basically moaning in agony on the couch, but Alma arranged to have our awesome neighbor come over to watch the (thankfully) sleeping baby before taking me to the emergency room. They saw me pretty quickly, as far as I could tell. Took a urine sample, more or less immediately diagnosed me (strawberry urine and the painful symptoms being a giveaway), hooked me to an IV and gave me a strong anti-inflammatory to reduce the pain.

Until that kicked in, I shivered in my gown under the sheets on the gurney as they wheeled me down for a CT scan, which was kind of cool, in a sci-fi sort of way. I was impressed at the giant GE logo branded in the side, as if such a massive piece of expensive medical equipment needed a brand.

“Ooh, have you tried the GE CT scans? Those things are great!”

The first test (which involves a little robo-prompt telling me to hold my breath, delivered in tandem with a cheesy, flashing airplane-ready icon of a smiley face holding its breath) more or less identified a 4mm calcification, which is a relatively little stone. Relatively, since the guy told me he’s seen them up to 8 or 10mm, and much bigger than that requires an operation. Anyway, he reassured me that a 4mm stone was still plenty painful, since he had one himself one New Year’s Eve a few years back.

Yeah, as if he needed to tell me it was painful.

Thankfully, the medicine kicked in on the way back to my crowded, cold corner of the subdivided ER. Cold, because as the nurse told me, nearly everyone who came in was either “obese or menopausal.” I had a feeling I was something of a novelty, given the fact that other than the stone my kidneys were in fine working order, I wasn’t morbidly obese and I seemed to know what was going on. The fat woman next to me went to the ER for a urinary tract infection. The younger fat woman across the way in “room” 10 was being told that generic painkillers were as good as the name brand.

Alma, who was great to have around, had to go home to relieve the neighbor and get some rest. I was sent back down for another CT, this time with some irradiated dye or something in my IV, which makes it easier to discern the organs. Several minutes later, I was back in my room, and the doctor soon confirmed the diagnosis as a kidney stone. Hooray.

I’m still unclear what comes next, but they sent me home only after a few short hours with a strainer and a prescription for Vicodin (plus one pill for the road, as it were, to be taken before bed, since I couldn’t get the prescription filled until today).

“Know anything about Vicodin?” asked the nurse.

“Only from watching the news,” I replied (and from Eminem songs, though I didn’t mention that).

“Well, it’ll make you a little dopey,” she told me, giving me the rundown.

I wouldn’t know, since I went to sleep almost immediately after taking it after the cab brought me home. Since then I’ve been drinking a ton of water, peeing a lot and straining my urine with a little funnel, searching for a tiny speck of a stone which may or may not appear.

So is the pain gone for good? Dunno. Will the stone emerge? Dunno. Will this happen again? I hope not!

Oh, the best story actually came from Alma. After I was carted off and she came back from moving the car, some woman in the waiting room blurted out:

“You lookin’ for your man? Your man went that way.”

That’s me. I’m the man.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006


Say it out loud. Now tell me that's not the cutest way for a 17-month old to ask for a cookie. You can't!

Monday, April 10, 2006

Regime Change

I love how President Job's horrible politics have given him (and America) such a black eye that his very stubborn, stupid, arrogant existence is enough to get leaders booted out of office. First Spain, now Italy - the protest vote in full effect.* We'll see what goes down in the near future in England, and as for France, well, they're smug in their isolationist cocoon.

And really, that may be the downside of all of this. Rather than protesting U.S. policy with alternative ideas/ideals, they're protesting with alternative lifestyles (if you pardon the invocation). Europe's going to end up a mess, with so many circle-the-wagons, neo-nationalist, isolationist governments (and shrinking populaces) trying to co-exist, while the world goes (and grows) on without them.

I'd much rather have a more constructive European presence, but our asshole in chief is apparently so alienating, frustrating and downright objectionable/hard to work with that the Europeans would much rather just wait this fight out. Unfortunately, that leaves Job free to screw around with global politics with few if any international checks and balances. Who would have ever imagined that we'd thank Russia and China for being the voice of reason on subjects such as Iran or North Korea? They may have their own nefarious goals, but at least they realize the power of "no" versus the pointlessness of silent, self-satisfied judgment.

*OK, there may be more at work in Italy than the effect of President Job. Much more, in fact. But I'd still like to think he played a part in the downfall of a nutty ally, assuming said nutty ally is felled or bested.

That said ...

On Saturday night I caught two shows. Gogol Bordello, self-proclaimed "Gypsy punks," were a little dubious and corny, but a load of fun. And Tom Brosseau later that night was magical in front of just a handful of folks hanging at the Hideout. I imagine the former will get increasingly popular but never change, whereas in the case of the latter, the sky's really the limit. Brosseau's got something special going on.

Steve Morse

Every rock critic, rock fan or person interested in either rock criticism or rock and roll should read Steve Morse's going away column in the Boston Globe. It's a stirring reminder just how young rock really is, and how there are those that walk among us who have experienced it from the very start, artists, writers and fans alike.

Some - OK, a lot - of young bucks virtually celebrated the announcement of Morse's retirement, as well as that of Robert Hilburn at the Los Angeles Times and others of their generation. True, folks like Morse probably grew a little out of touch. Really, of what contemporary critical value is the opinion of a man whose standard-bearer is Hendrix to someone weaned on Public Enemy, even if in a sense both acts were doing the same thing? The anti-rockists would (probably rightfully) decry his relative inability to grasp loop-based/computer/electronic music, from rap to glitch to grime to Jacques Lu Cont or Richard X. And it's a little conspicuous that the only hip-hop act mentioned at all in this column is Eminem, and only in passing. You'd think a guy who reveres Aerosmith this much could at least toss in a Run DMC reference.

But reading the litany of his high-points ... wow. That's a lot of big names and big stars. Will a rock critic starting today and reminiscing in 35 years, be able to drop as many instantly recognizable names, or talk about as many instantly familiar, infamous shows? God, I hope so, but I have my doubts. Music listening is so fragmented, so scattered and segmentalized that its history has gone totally scattershot. There is no history of rock/pop anymore. It's now a matter of *which* history, and *whose.* And when and where, etc.

Is that a bad thing? Probably not. But it takes artists - and writers - of real impact to change things, music and journalism alike. And the relative lack of both makes me wonder what the near future has in store. Plenty of surprises, I hope/imagine. But I also expect an ever-increasing number of disappointments.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Vanity Fair-weather

Apparently the mag is publishing a "green" issue, focusing on environmental activism and awareness. Does that mean the issue won't arrive with the usual 395 pages of worthless, wastefu, forest-depleting ad pages shilling perfume, make-up, watches and high fashion? 'Cause even the recycling truck sighs when I dump in each month's ten-pound, phonebook-thick "VF."

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Life in the Undergrowth

Alma and I were watching the first part of David Attenborough's "Life in the Undergrowth," his nature series on insects and other tiny creatures. Fascinating, as usual, from the very start, especially the play by play mating habits of the tiger slug. His special did it more justice and photographed the act beautifully, but check this out, anyway:

That blue flower? That's the two intertwined sex organs that sprout out of the slugs' heads!!!

Our Shitty Week

Those with weak stomachs should tune out now.

Saturday night, before I went to sleep, I poked my head into the baby's room.

"Something smells terrible in there," I told Alma.

"Do you think she pooped?"

"No, I bet it's the diaper champ."

So I open the door, sneak in and take the old diapers downstairs to let the room air out.

The next morning Alma calls me in for an emergency, which means a mess. Baby Z. had puked all over the crib and herself in her sleep. Ah, that was the smell! Vomit! So Alma bathed the bath-resistant baby and I changed the sheets.

The next morning, while shopping for furniture, Baby Z. had a diaper explode in the store to such a degree we had to change her clothes and throw out the old clothes.

That afternoon, I noticed the laundry machine made the basement drain back up a little, so I made a note to call the plumber on Monday. But Sunday night, in the middle of a massive storm, the drain started to REALLY back up, to the extent that untreated sewer water (including sewage) started to bubble up. Alma and I worked as a bucket brigade, scooping the stuff up and dumping it outside about as fast as it was coming in. Hey, at least we had gloves.

The next morning Alma was hit by some nasty, no doubt sewage-related bug that made her sick as a dog. But she trooped it out at work all the same. Meanwhile, I took care of Baby Z. as scheduled.

The next morning it hit me - or at least the part of the illness that felt like I was hit by a truck - and I more or less spent the entire Tuesday in bed, virtually unable to move. It suddenly broke when I was watching TV, and I went from 20% to 80%, which was like getting a heart transplant or something. I used my renewed energy to bleach the basement.

Now we're both mostly better, and thankfully Baby Z. never got really sick. But, boy, was it gross. The stuff from the basement looked even more disgusting in the daylight when I washed the remnants out of a trash can in the backyard, taking advantage of the good weather to dump bleached raw sewage behind the garage. Because where else can it go?

Yeah Yeah Yeahs and the Banshees

I just got around to playing the new Yeah Yeah Yeah's album, and am disappointed to discover that what I thought was a new Siouxsie and the Banshees song I heard on the radio was in fact the first YYY's single "Gold Lion." Why was I disappointed? I don't know. But if I were Siouxsie Siouix, I'd, er, sue.

P.S. The album's OK, and would have been a classic if it came out 25 or 30 years ago. Which gives you an idea of what else it rips off (Patti Smith, check your voicemail). A much better job of sounding ahead of their time, just in time, comes courtesy Mission of Burma, who are about to release their second retro early-80s art-punk explosion since reuniting a few years ago. Which in their case means picking up right where they left off.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Where's The Party At?

Ask no longer, since my sister has informed me that the party is clearly right here.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Holiday Trees

The monthly newsletter from the Village of Oak Park (or People's Republic of Oak Park, P.R.O.P. if you like) arrived with some helpful recycling tips, advice and guidelines. Like, what to do with your "Christmas and holiday trees."

OK, Christmas trees I get. I also get holiday trees, which generally means Christmas trees. But Christmas AND holiday trees? If holiday trees are something other than Christmas trees, then, um, what are holiday trees?

It's really overly P.C. when you're even being P.C. about being P.C.