Preparing to blast some unwanted visitors to smithereens
The doctors are so exasperated with my failing body that they’ve decided the best option, medically speaking, is to bombard it with sound waves.
I was initially excited about this, despite the tactic reminding me of how you might go about curing a stubborn puppy of a persistent barking problem.
Just maybe, I thought, I can trick the insurance company into buying me a front row ticket for a rock concert — you know, so I can press right up close to the speakers and let the torrent of acoustic energy effect the needed repairs.
But it turns out the procedure the physicians have proposed is rather more complicated. And from what I can tell it has little in common with an arena show besides the possibility that I’ll be sedated ahead of time.
Although the name of this treatment — lithotripsy — has the ring of something that might have been sold at Woodstock on a shelf between the mood rings and the love beads.
(And perhaps the urologist will pipe in some placid adult contemporary, something soothing like Air Supply or post-Raspberries Eric Carmen, while I’m undergoing what amounts to sonic shock therapy.)
Frankly this situation leaves me with the unsettling feeling that my condition is comparable to that of a dilapidated car. And the mechanics, having exhausted more subtle remedies, have decided to give the balky carburetor a few whacks with a ball peen hammer just for the heck of it.
That technique would often rouse the sluggish starter on a Scout I used to own, at any rate.
My problem is my kidneys. Both of them.
(Although probably they would say, should anyone ask their opinion, that I am their problem, seeing as how they have the unenviable task of dealing with whatever I ingest.)
My kidneys do their primary tasks well enough. When doctors have had occasion to take a close look at my blood they have pronounced it properly purged of whatever nasty byproducts shouldn’t be there.
The trouble is that my kidneys also have the unfortunate tendency to act rather like fleshy little caves.
Specifically, they accrete tiny globs of calcium, and possibly other stuff, until it accumulates into what are known, quite logically, as kidney stones.
This is an apt term, geologically speaking, as kidney stones form in much the same manner as certain sedimentary rocks — including, to complete the cave analogy, stalagmites and stalactites.
But I don’t much care for the term.
I prefer kidney “boulder.”
This is, I’ll concede, a grandiose word to bestow on objects whose size is most commonly expressed in millimeters.
Except the significance of kidney stones shouldn’t be measured against the outside world, as it were.
A kidney stone that spans 4 millimeters at its broadest point is indeed a trifling thing compared with, say, Mount Hood.
But wedge that pebble into a ureter and it suddenly seems more substantial.
Especially if it’s your ureter.
Or mine, which does not react well to such intrusions.
The first sign that something’s amiss in the nephritic realm — well, in mine anyway — is a dull ache in the lower back.
Apparently this indicates that a stone has dislodged from the kidney and has started its torturous (and tortuous, now that I think about it) journey toward the bladder and, eventually, freedom.
Unfortunately, some stones are bigger around than the ureter. These can get stuck, like a potato shoved into an exhaust pipe. Although I suppose throwing a bowling ball into a septic tank gets closer to the reality.
Anyway this is bad. Your kidneys, once they’ve filtered whatever it is they filter, prefer to get rid of the junk. And when the refuse gets backed up, the results tend toward the unpleasant.
Yet even the tiniest of stones can wreak havoc.
The one that is, even as I type these words, migrating through my renal system, measures just 2ﬁ millimeters according to the machine that scanned my torso on Sunday. This means it’s small enough to pass — wonderful euphemism, that — as readily as a salmon fry expectorated from Bonneville Dam.
Which trip, of course, is often not helpful to small anadromous fish.
And neither, I can attest, is the passage of even a stunted kidney stone a particularly pleasurable experience.
Because stones are generally jagged rather than river rock smooth — the Internet of course has photos, if you’re so inclined — they can gouge, so to speak, the softer tissues through which they pass.
It certainly feels to me as if my stone (I might as well lay claim to it) is equipped with a bayonet which it jabs indiscriminately into my innards as it tumbles downstream.
The real trouble, though, lies upstream.
My right kidney, the doctors tell me, harbors a single, somewhat larger stone.
And the left, which clearly is the delinquent of the pair, is hoarding half a dozen more. I envision them stacked in neat rows, like high-explosive shells waiting to be hurled across no man’s land into the enemy’s trenches.
Lithotripsy is the medical equivalent to a military pre-emptive strike.
The concentrated sound waves are supposed to shatter the stones into rubble that will flush out quickly and painlessly.
Ideally, this happens without collateral damage to the kidneys themselves or to other desirable tissues.
Lithotripsy is described, in all the literature I’ve consulted, as a non-invasive procedure.
Which I suppose it is — if you consider scalpels and catheters and similarly tangible tools as the only invasive surgical instruments.
I’m not so sure.
Just because I can’t see sound waves doesn’t mean I won’t feel them.
I wouldn’t refer to any procedure that requires the patient to be anaesthetized as non-invasive.
My apprehension aside, I’m sure the episode, should it become necessary, will be a successful one.
I would be pleased, certainly, to be stone-free, at least temporarily.
(This isn’t my first go-around with stones. And the tepid sense of trust my kidneys had accrued in the several tranquil years since my last bout has disappeared; I’ll not be fooled again.)
Still and all, I’d like to give my concert idea a chance before the urologist’s fancy machine has me in the sterile embrace of modern medicine.
Just imagine the healthful effects of subjecting your kidneys, and their unwanted barnacles, to Eddie Van Halen ripping through “Eruption” with a full-on arena P.A. system.
No stone could survive that.
Jayson Jacoby is editor of the Baker City Herald.