It's not just that I worry about me or my students getting Covid-19. I worry about all the other things you can need a hospital for, which don't seem that urgent until they do. I had a dramatic reminder of how quickly those things can happen this summer, and I can't stop thinking about it.
The pain hit out of nowhere, and I was in the middle of nowhere. Somewhere near here, to be precise...
I drove, because that felt safer. Fully vaccinated, armed with a pile of masks, Clorox wipes, and every manner of hand sanitizer. I was vicious in scouring hotel options and booking only those following safety precautions, and I carefully planned out my route to minimize stops.
And all that was going great, until it suddenly wasn't.
And then it suddenly wasn't fine. It started with a sharp pain in my left side that very literally took my breath away. Within a few minutes, I was very literally screaming. I wasn't near any towns with hospitals, and with no idea what was happening, completely uncertain as to what to do. So I kept driving, out to Little Jerusalem Badlands, where I was headed, where I thought I'd take some pain medicine, drink water, and recover for a bit before continuing on. I made it there, swallowed as much Advil as it seemed safe to take, and wandered to the edge of the park. A slow walk and deep breathing did seem to help - the pain was still there, but for the moment bearable if I didn't move too fast. That seemed promising.
I texted a friend who happens to be in medical school. Fortunately for me, she insisted that I immediately go to a hospital.
Unfortunately for me, "immediately" from that point on the map meant I still had a lot of driving to do.
The first hospital I passed was ominously full, so I kept driving, alternating between screaming into the void of my car and wondering how I was possibly going to keep going. By the time I made it to the hospital where I ended up stopping, in Goodland, Kansas, I had driven - and I don't know how - more than 140 miles. I was shaking uncontrollably, the vision in my left eye was blurry, and I was struggling to use words because of the pain. When I nurse came on the intercom to ask what I needed, I shrieked "Please help me" and nearly collapsed from the effort. It all sounds dramatic now, but that has nothing on how it felt when I looked up and with the one eye I still had vision in saw two nurses and a doctor running toward me.
I got lucky in stopping where I did. It was quiet there that day and they had me in a bed, tests running, through a CAT Scan, dosed with painkillers and diagnosed within the hour. I had a very large kidney stone completely blocking my nearly failing left kidney. They considered air lifting me to Denver, before deciding I could afford to wait through the night. A nurse helped me into fresh scrubs - my clothes were soaked in sweat and I was still shaking uncontrollably. She brought me warmed blankets and crackers I couldn't keep down and held my hand when all I could do was scream from the pain.
It turned out the worst of the pain hadn't even hit yet - it came hours later, when the stone moved. During the night, heavily dosed with morphine, I nearly stopped breathing and required oxygen. My pulse at one point dropped to 32. I don't remember much, but I was aware that a nurse stayed with me for most of the night. In more lucid moments, she asked why I was traveling so far from home alone and I told her about the trip I was on - the peace of these little badlands not so distant. In other moments, she made sure I kept breathing.
Since then, I've been pretty much stuck waiting for care. I followed up with my regular doctor, who took my kidney stone for testing and referred me to a specialist - and then Covid-19 cases spiked again. My follow up visit with the specialist has been pushed back multiple times. Every time they are apologetic, ask how my pain levels are, and we reschedule. The initial CAT Scan showed more stones in my kidney; I am essentially in a ticking-time-bomb period of knowing I could have another one at any time. I wake up every day feeling both lucky and terrified.
A kidney stone is the most singularly painful thing I've ever experienced. I don't know how I would have come through it without the attention and care of the hospital staff that took care of me when I needed them. Though it didn't feel very lucky at the time, to have the kidney stone happen while I was out on the road alone, I was fortunate to have my hospital stay coincide with a time when they were able to give me that care.
I can't imagine they have a bed for me right now - I hope they've been able to catch their breath.