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A medical adventure

July 23, 2006—By the time we got to the emergency room in Gillette, I was in considerable pain. Kate, who's had kidney stones, suggested that as the most likely culprit, and I had to agree with her. I've had stones in the past, and this was beginning to feel more and more like another one. (Photo by Kate Klein)

Andy in the hospital

The cheerful and efficient hospital staff didn't make me wait long. They started an IV and ran in a mixture of Dilaudid and Phenergan, which did a splendid job of eliminating the pain without making me feel nauseous or stupid. I was so grateful! Then they did a CAT scan series and a couple of pelvic x-rays. They even gave me the images on a CD-ROM—very cool!

They sent me home with enough painkillers and antibiotics for two days, plus prescriptions for more. Since this was Friday, they told me to see a urologist on Monday. Kate investigated and found one in Sheridan, three hours' drive from Moorcroft, so we made plans to go there. I had a sandwich and a chocolate shake on the way home—the first food I'd been able to keep down in almost 24 hours—and felt much better.

Most of all I was grateful to Kate & Terry for taking such good care of me. (Did I mention that while I was at the hospital, Terry took Marie into their coach so that she could stay cool?) Without them, I don't know what I'd have done. In 110° heat, I could barely even think, and with the pain on top of that, and dry heaves every ten or fifteen minutes, I wasn't in any shape to do much for myself. Besides, my throat was so raw from throwing up that I could barely make myself understood. I had what amounted to laryngitis for almost a week afterward.

I certainly couldn't have driven anywhere in that condition. I guess I'd have called 911 and gotten an ambulance ride...but then how would I have gotten back to the campground? How would I have gotten my prescriptions filled? How would I have gotten that milkshake? By taxi?

CAT scan

On Monday I was able to see Dr. Holst, a very pleasant and competent urologist in Sheridan. Using his brand new MacBook laptop, he showed me my kidney stones on the CAT scans and x-rays. Yes, I said "stones": to my dismay, there were three or four. The smaller ones were grain-of-sand sized, and Holst said there was nothing that could be done about them except to drink lots of fluids and hope to wash them out, or at least prevent them from growing enough to cause any trouble. But the main one was ominously large: about the diameter of a kernel of corn and half an inch long. And it was wedged firmly in my right ureter just below the kidney, blocking that passage completely.

The chances of my passing such a stone were negligible, and the blockage it was causing threatened a kidney infection. Recommendation: laser surgery to remove the stone. Accordingly I was scheduled for the next day at the local surgical center, while Gertie was to go into the shop (a mechanic recommended by Susan Fain) for some maintenance work.

So the next morning I dropped off Gertie at Coffeen Dyno and Repair and checked into the Sheridan Surgical Center, where I was put to sleep so that Dr. Holst could put his laser to work on my kidney stone. He blasted it apart and washed it out, then inserted a silicone rubber stent to keep my ureter open while I healed. I woke up an hour or two later with some soreness but no stone, and was discharged from the surgical center with a bunch more prescriptions for painkillers and antibiotics.

My operation was a success, but Gertie didn't fare so well: although I had a 9:00 appointment with the mechanic, he didn't start working on her till midafternoon, so she ended up having to spend the night in the shop. That left me and Marie without a place to lay our weary heads... so I had to spend the night in a Super 8 motel. It was clean, but spartan, and surprisingly expensive at $82 a night.

But it did have high-speed internet access via WiFi... so I holed up there with my little 12" PowerBook and caught up on email while listening to my iTunes music through headphones. I don't use the PowerBook very often—my beloved 20" iMac is my everyday computer—but this is exactly the kind of situation for which I bought it.

I slept pretty well, and the next morning we moved our rigs to a spot behind the bleachers at the Sheridan Fairgrounds. Pleading medical emergency, Kate had convinced the management to let us stay there for as long as it took me to recover. It wasn't exactly scenic—in fact, I had to step over a cow-pie to get in my door—but it only cost ten bucks a night with electricity, a third of what we'd been paying at the KOA.

Gertie at the fairground

In the ensuing days I mostly stayed in and rested, while Kate & Terry explored Sheridan. One of my "prescriptions"—probably the most important one—had been to drink three to four quarts of water and fruit juice a day. Kate came back from a shopping expedition with a 75-ounce water bottle, and sternly ordered me to fill it and drink it every day, which I've been faithfully doing. It isn't easy, because I'm not used to drinking such large amounts, and I don't like water in the first place... but most of all because I have a bladder that holds only half as much as a normal person's (250 ml, or about a cup)... so when I guzzle water all day, I have to pee literally every fifteen minutes. It's rather annoying, but it beats having another kidney stone. Maybe I'll get used to it.

Big drink

I did go into Sheridan once or twice with Kate, and looked around the town a bit, but I was still easily tired, so I didn't explore very much. I was amused to find this phlegmatic-looking bronze rhinoceros on a street corner outside a gallery. His name is "The Boss," and he can be yours for $25,000, according to the nearby plaque.

The Boss Jimmy Neutron

Kate had thoughtfully brought me a handful of toys from the local dollar store: a blue raspberry sucker with a built-in flashing LED, a bottle of orangeade with a statuette of Jimmy Neutron on top, and a multi-LED "Sparkle Mouth" gadget that puts brilliantly flashing colored LEDs behind your teeth. You can't talk or do much of anything except grin like an idiot when it's in place, but it surely is splendiferous!

It was sweet of Kate to find these little get-well presents for me; they really did cheer me up. This is the second time I've been sick while traveling, and the second time I've been saved by my friends: last fall when I thought I had appendicitis (which may actually have been a kidney stone, as I think back on it), Bill Haas took very good care of me. This time it was Kate & Terry. I've been very lucky to have such good friends nearby when illness struck.

Sparkle Mouth
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