How Not to ‘Epicurean’


Epicurus apparently suffered from kidney stones and eventually he died of one at age 78. The account I recall is that he got in a hot bath to reduce the pain and drank wine and drank wine until finally he passed out and slid under the water and that was the end of him.

That is one aspect of Epicurus’ existence I don’t want to emulate. Really.

Yesterday I went to the post office and picked up my mail, then started driving home and suddenly was hit with a wave of nausea and dizziness – it was like I was going into shock for no reason and I pulled over by the side of the road thinking that I was having my first heart attack. After a few minutes of everything spinning and feeling terrible and covered with flop-sweat, I drove the rest of the way home, by which time I started feeling fine again. So I put up some coffee and got ready for a client conference-call that was scheduled for noon.

By the time I was drinking my coffee and reviewing my notes, I started to feel like I had a terrible gas cramp. No problem, I can deal with that. But it got worse. I got on the call and mentioned that if I sounded a bit strained it was because something was mildly wrong and I was a bit out of breath. It was around then that I realized I was dizzy because I was only breathing shallowly; my fingernails were grey and I was bucketing with sweat. From there, it got worse. I managed about 15 minutes of my conference call and excused myself quickly, lay down on the bathroom floor, and txted a local friend for help. By the time I got to the ER in Clearfield, I was in so much pain I was unable to think – I don’t know if I was literally blacking out or not, but my mind was too busy to run the program I call “Marcus’ consciousness” so looking back at it time feels compressed with lots of holes in it.

Anyhow, I won’t give you the full blow-by-blow but that was how I spent my yesterday.

Unlike some of you, my experience with pain has mostly been brief and intermittent. This was a whole new kind of thing – a slowly building grinding relentless hurt that lurked right on the edge of the morphine that the opiate goddess came and gave me every so often. At some point, I had a very clear series of thoughts about how effectively and rapidly we learn from pain. I had learned that “I’ll do anything to keep that from coming back.” If Epicurus suffered from that, intermittently, for a lifetime, I totally understand why he might have finally decided ‘enough.’

Drinking fluids as fast as I can, I’m loopy and uncharacteristically optimistic – and I realize that the main source of my optimism is the awareness that I have another day’s worth of painkillers and I’m just hoping everything passes before they run out.

Comments

  1. felicis says

    Ouch! You have my sympathies!

    I have (thank the non-existent gods) never had a kidney stone, but I did have a sinus infection once – I described that pain as, “someone taking a good windup with a ball-peen hammer and smacking me in the right cheek, just below my eye”. From what I understand, a kidney stone is much, much worse.

    I hope it passes quickly too!

  2. says

    Oh shit. I was just about to send an email, I’ve been worried over you being missing the last couple of days. Stones? Oh, I don’t envy you that one. Awful fucking pain, that. Take care, and if things go bad again, get to a doctor! What the fuck is it with men and doctors? Christ, I had to nag the holy hell outta Rick to go and get his knee seen to by a doc.

  3. says

    Caine@#2:
    What the fuck is it with men and doctors?

    I’m actually really good about going to doctors! As soon as the pain started to ramp into “this is nothing I have ever experienced before” level I was getting to the ER. I guess that’s the value of lived experience – we learn where the normal parameters are, so we’ve got a pretty good picture of “no this is horribly wrong”

    The last person I know who dropped with the same set of symptoms had pancreatic cancer. So I guess I was relieved this was just a kidney stone.

    Stuff like cuts and bruises that are within parameters, yeah, I let them heal. But when I broke my jaw and cracked my skull back in 2015 you just betcha I didn’t try to tough that out.

  4. says

    felicis@#1:
    I did have a sinus infection once

    Those can be horrible. And once you get a few, they always want to come back. (I know, not what you want to hear) We have badly designed sinuses in my family, so I got pretty used to steaming my head to reduce the pain – I have no idea if it’s a placebo or not but it’s what I do.

  5. says

    Marcus:

    The last person I know who dropped with the same set of symptoms had pancreatic cancer.

    Yeah, they sounded familiar to me from acute pancreatitis, which is a misery I wouldn’t wish on anyone.

    I’m actually really good about going to doctors!

    Not good enough! You should have been in hospital, not trying to do a conference call. If that had been a heart attack…

  6. says

    chigau@#6:
    Yeah. So I just writhed around and kept hoping it was only a kidney stone and not pancreatic cancer. And (since the incidence of pancreatic cancer is pretty low!) my prayers were rewarded. And, bonus – I had a CT scan of that area. So I didn’t have a radiologist come in and say, “while we were looking at your kidney we saw …” and that’s a good thing.

  7. says

    @Marcus
    I hope you get well soon.

    @Caine
    “What the fuck is it with men and doctors?”
    I wish I knew. I’ve got a bad case of self-neglect and it’s on the therapy list. How much is culture and how much is depression I don’t know. I do have a list of appointments I need to make though.

  8. ledasmom says

    My very most sincere sympathies. Husband has had two stones. Second one, he was in the ER, couple hours, sweating, moaning, got put down as pain equals ten without having to say a word. Doctor comes in having seen X-ray, says “Three millimeters! Not so bad, eh?” Can’t yell at the guy who may give you painkillers (and since husband had had Vicodin and IV morphine at this point, doctor desperately needed there).
    That stone had to be shot with a laser. When peeing out sand for days is the best option, you know it’s not great. But I’m not forgiving that doctor any time soon.

  9. says

    That stone had to be shot with a laser.

    TIL “We’re sorry, sir, but your body-boulder is too large, we have to blast it with our laser gun smithereener.” is reality, not sci-fi.

  10. jazzlet says

    Uff, sorry it’s horrid to be in so much pain, though morphine is wonderful stuff in such circumstances. I hope you don’t need it at all very soon because when you are at “I need more, now” but the medical staff are at “it’s too soon to have more” it is (to use a little British understatement) shit.

  11. says

    ledasmom@#9:
    Can’t yell at the guy who may give you painkillers

    When I showed up, I was whimpering and thrashing around. In one bit of lucidity I apologized to the nurse for whining and she said, “this is why men can’t have babies.”
    I said “I want puppies, anyway.” I think I was a bit snappish.

  12. says

    abbeycadabra@#10:
    We’re sorry, sir, but your body-boulder is too large, we have to blast it with our laser gun smithereener.”

    Yeah, I had to pause and google around a bit there. It sounds nice but horrifying – stop at the part about putting a tube up through the urethra and into the ureter. I don’t think they can laser-zapify through the body itself, which is too bad. Tuneable death-ray badly needed. I suppose a gamma knife is too aggro. I cringe just thinking about it.

    jazzlet@#11:
    They say “stay ahead of the pain.” And just the beginning of the feeling of the morphine wearing off was enough to make me sweat in terror.

    Not knowing what was going to happen this morning, I drank a huge amount of water and then took a percocet. The water and percocet kicked in around the same time and I believe that the little fleck of reddish grit in the strainer is the beast itself. I’m going to wait for the drugs to wear off and see. I was nearly gibbering with fear even with the percocet.

    Morphine is the stuff. Sazz told me about when he got shot in the neck in Vietnam and they gave him a battlefield dose of morphine; apparently he was telling jokes the whole way back to the firebase. He said they had a rule that you’d give one styrette of morphine for an injury, two if it was so bad they were probably going to die, three if it was so bad they needed to die.

  13. Raucous Indignation says

    Caine, I have no idea what the fuck is wrong with us and doctors!! I rolled around on my bedroom floor in agony not willing to admit that I needed to get to the ER the night I passed my stone. Around midnight I had accepted that, no, I had not pulled a muscle lifting, but I didn’t know what was wrong until a HUGE wave of colic rolled down my back into into my scrotum whereupon it exploded in my testicle. Exploded. In my sweet and innocent, unsuspecting testicle. Pretty sure I lost consciousness for a second. But then I had the eureka moment of, “Oh, thank gads! I’m only passing a kidney stone! It’s not really serious!” Do we go to the ER? Ooooh no! We do NOT! That’s not what men do. We roll around on the floor in agony, truly the worst pain I had ever experienced, take every possible painkiller and goofball in the medicine cabinet to tough it out, puking all night (sometimes simultaneously having diarrhea, yaayy!) until 7:30AM when we call our primary care physician and tell him to meet us at his office. Eventaully, finally, I dare say blessedly, our primary MD gives us a shot of intramuscular ketorolac and the pain wanes. The arm where you get the shot feels like and alligator is biting it, but only wussies ask for it IV.

    Men and doctors? Nothing to see here, move along, move along.

  14. johnson catman says

    I can sympathize with you. I had one a few years ago, and I would only wish that pain on a few people I can think of. Mine hurt so bad that it doubled me over, and I could not walk. Apparently, that was when it was moving. I never got any pain meds, but I did pass it quickly. I was sitting (yes, sitting) to pee, and I heard a *tink* hit the bottom of the toilet. That wave of ecstasy when it popped out was better than any high I have ever experienced. I was dumbfounded at how small that damn thing was that had caused me so much pain. I hope you recover quickly.

  15. Johnny Vector says

    Dan Simmons’ Endymion/Hyperion tetralogy is all about pain. There’s a creature from the future called The Shrike, who is seven feet tall and covered with spikes, who among other things impales people on his Tree of Pain (that’s when I looked up what actual shrikes do with their prey). Over the course of what must be 2500 pages, our heroes get stabbed, sliced, impaled, struck by lightning, burned, and have their fingernails pulled out. Of all this, the most excruciating description of pain is when the protagonist gets a kidney stone. I sometimes wonder if the whole series was just a chance for Simmons to try to get across the level of pain stones cause.

    (It’s three and a half really great books, by the way. Recommended.)

  16. says

    Oh my, I just noticed this post. My sympathies. My father had kidney stones once and the story of it gave me enought fright to try all I can to prevent them. So I am very careful to have enough water intake and not letting my urine become too concentrated. Fingers crossed for full recovery.

  17. Curious Digressions says

    … but my mind was too busy to run the program I call “Marcus’ consciousness” so looking back at it time feels compressed with lots of holes in it.

    You know the pain is bad when your mind starts skipping time. I’ve only experienced it once, you can probably guess when. That’s a great description.

  18. says

    Charly@#24:
    My father had kidney stones once and the story of it gave me enought fright to try all I can to prevent them. So I am very careful to have enough water intake and not letting my urine become too concentrated. Fingers crossed for full recovery.

    I’m all back to ‘normal’ now. I wound up going from kidney stone to horrible constipation and had a few days after the kidney stone passed, of further distress. But I was able to sort it, and everything is good, now.

  19. says

    Curious Digressions@#25:
    You know the pain is bad when your mind starts skipping time. I’ve only experienced it once, you can probably guess when. That’s a great description.

    I really think that’s what’s going on. We have a certain amount of processing that is normally devoted to our self-awareness (basically, a monitoring loop that watches over all the other subsystems) – when one of the subsystems is generating high priority alerts in a gigantic flood, it degrades the whole system so badly it impacts consciousness.

    That’s not based on any science; it’s just my own way of thinking about thinking, based on some 1980s neuroscience and observation.

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