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‘You can lead a horse to water...’

Posted: November 4, 2011 10:04 a.m.
Updated: November 7, 2011 5:00 a.m.

I admit it.

My wife was right. My kids were right. My mother was right. My co-workers were right. My doctor was right.

I need to drink a lot more water. A lot more.

If I were a horse, I’d be the one in the old saying, “You can lead a horse to water, but can’t make it drink.” If anything, add in the word “stubborn” before the word horse.

But, man, have I learned my lesson. A painful one at that. A very painful one.

Yes, my friends, I finally joined the nearly 500,000 Americans, male and female, who suffer from kidney stones annually. I experienced my first one a week ago.

I woke up Oct. 30 feeling a bit of lower back pain which actually isn’t unusual for me. (I suffer occasional back pain and am continuing to be treated for neck pain and in my left shoulder, but that’s for another time.) After breakfast, we were all sitting in our living room while I read some material on Christopher Columbus to the boys as part of a study they’re doing on Native Americans this year.

Suddenly, I felt what I thought was a really bad muscle cramp in my lower right back. I tried shifting in my chair, standing up and walking around and even heading off to the restroom. It only got worse and, I’m not ashamed to say, to the point where I was pretty much screaming in pain. After lying down for a bit, it seemed to subside but that ramped up again about 45 minutes later.

The rest of the day was better, but only because I stayed in bed, on my back, with a heating pad under me.

Considering where the “cramp” was located, my wife and I realized a kidney stone was certainly a possibility. However, I made an appointment the next morning with one of my doctors in the hopes that I had just strained something while carrying a load of dog food that Saturday.

Alas, it was not to be. The doctor was pretty convinced it was a stone, prescribed anti-nausea and pain medications and yet another admonition to drink lots of water. He even prescribed beer, but I haven’t drunk any alcohol since my 20s.

According to some statistics I found by inputting “Americans kidney stones” into Woflram Alpha’s knowledge engine, some 255,300 men get kidney stones each year. The average age is 52. Slightly fewer women -- 243,000 -- get kidney stones, but then tend to skew younger, 45 (I’m 46). About a quarter of men diagnosed with kidney stones also suffer high blood pressure (13 percent for women), while 66 percent of women also have a urinary tract infection (49 percent for men).

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, (NLM) kidney stones are actually masses made up of tiny crystals that form when urine contains too much of certain substances. Dehydration -- surprise! -- is the biggest factor. They don’t necessarily cause pain when they first form, waiting to make you suffer until start heading down toward the bladder. Fun! Because the stones block the flow of fluid, urine backs up in the kidney, causing them to swell -- that’s what causes the pain.

“The pain is usually severe,” the NLM says.

No kidding!

There are four types:

• Calcium, the most common and usually appear for the first time in men between ages 20 and 30;

• Cystine, forms in people who have cystinuria, a disorder that usually runs in families;

• Struvite, more common in women with urinary tract infections -- they can grow very large, blocking the kidney, ureter or bladder; and

• Uric, more common in men and can occur with gout or chemotherapy.

In addition to the pain, many sufferers also experience chills, fever, nausea (I did twice, briefly) and vomiting (which I did not). Indications include abnormal urine color and blood in the urine.

I didn’t think I noticed anything that first day or on Halloween, but a simple test at the doctor’s office proved there was blood in the urine, however. That’s what convinced the doctor I had a stone.

The good news was, he was pretty confident it would pass in as little as 48 hours, perhaps less. We agreed that I would simply use the medication, drink lots of water and, if I didn’t get better by this past Thursday, to call and set up a CT scan.

Luckily for me, that wasn’t necessary.

Sometime after 3 p.m. Halloween day I started feeling that excruciating pain again not only in my back but on the right side of my abdomen. The stone was on the move again.

Now, I’m sorry if this seems a bit too personal, but I believe that if I’m going to write about myself at all, I might as well be useful about it. Sometimes that means including what others might consider “TMI” (too much information).

I made my way to the restroom and wiped away tears of pain as the stone made its way through my system. About a half hour later, I suddenly saw two small and one slightly larger brown “spots” in the water. Just as suddenly, my back felt tremendously better.

It turns out I’d had not one, but three stones and, finally, they were gone.

I have been a soda drinker for as long as I can remember. I also love certain fast foods. Like you, I’ve probably spent tens of thousands of dollars at certain restaurants.

That won’t necessarily stop, but I do plan to be a whole lot more circumspect in where, what and how often.

In the meantime, the biggest step I’m taking is to drink water and pretty much nothing but water.

I hope that will keep me from experiencing that terrible pain a second time or, at least, not for a long time to come.

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