You might be wondering what motivated me to write a book about kidney stones. Well, it’s because I’m a stoner…a kidney stoner, that is.
I specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of kidney stones, and ever since I was in medical school, people have told me that the pain from kidney stones can bring macho, grown men to their knees. I never knew how true that was until I got kidney stones myself.
My first bout of kidney stones had its origins in a trip to Thailand. I love street food, and I’m usually careful about what I eat and always make sure the street food is cooked through before I eat it. This time I was so tempted by an offering of tea-smoked duck that I had to try it. Bad move. I broke into a feverish sweat and spent the next 12 hours of my trip in the bathroom.
As a doctor, I knew to stay hydrated during this horrific bout of food poisoning, but every time I drank something it passed right through me. As I was also traveling, I feared drinking anything potentially harmful, so I quit drinking all liquids. Bad move number 2.
The next morning, my fever had broken, so I headed to the airport to return to the States. By the time I got on the plane I was already dehydrated, and the dry air in the plane made my situation even worse.
I was back at work the next day when, right in the middle of surgical procedure I was performing, I felt a tremendous amount of pain in my side, between my ribs and my hips (otherwise known as the flank area) all the way down to my groin. It was so excruciating that I collapsed right on the operating room floor. My colleague finished the surgery while my nurses rushed me to the ER. When I went to the bathroom and saw blood in my urine, I suspected I had a kidney stone. A CT scan confirmed that I had a 3-millimeter kidney stone lodged in my ureter about a centimeter from my bladder.
I had a calcium stone, the most common type. (I’ll write about the different types of kidney stones later, by the way.) It was probably caused by the dehydration resulting from my bout of food poisoning in Bangkok. Because of my training, I knew there was a 70 percent chance the stone would pass on its own, so I took some painkillers, drank a lot of water, and played the waiting game.
Later that night, at a performance of the opera Madame Butterfly, the stone did pass. Maybe the soprano’s high C note cracked my stone, even if it didn’t crack glass.
I guess I didn’t learn my lesson the first time, though, because a few years later it happened again. Like the first bout of kidney stones, it happened because I was dehydrated. I know better now, especially because having had two episodes of kidney stones puts me at risk of yet another kidney stone. Wherever I go these days—whether I’m seeing patients or traveling—I always have a bottle of water by my side.
The results of my suffering were a much greater empathy for the suffering of my kidney stone patients and the book Even Urologists Get Kidney Stones. I hope that it will tell you everything you need to know about kidney stones, including information about diagnosis, treatment, and prevention. May you never be a stoner again.