Painkillers Put My Writing On Hold For A Moment…

I’m not writing at the moment. Which is strange for me, because I’m always writing and always having fun with writing. However, I have problems concentrating on my fiction when my life is a mess.

November 22th, around midnight, just as I was about to go to bed after a long day, I got abdominal pains. At first I thought it was indigestion, but the pain got worse and worse, and I couldn’t find any position to ease the pain. Sitting, standing, lying down, nothing worked. And the pain got worse, like a hot poker stabbing the left side of my back.

I’m not unfamiliar with pain, even excruciating pain, but this was worse. This wasn’t a sharp pain for a moment, but an enduring sharp pain that I couldn’t ignore. I swallowed paracetomol and diclofenac and those painkillers did exactly nothing. Standing bent over under a hot shower eased the pain somewhat, but it was three in the morning and I couldn’t sleep in the bathroom stall under a pulsing spray.

My wife woke up at half past five when she heard me downstairs, crying and moaning as I sat on the toilet with a bowl on my lap to throw up while I had diarrhea. I was pale and sweating, close to passing out from the pain. And I still didn’t know what was going on.

We went to the hospital an hour later, with our sleepy children in tow because we couldn’t find a sitter on Saturday morning. I had to give a urine sample, which had blood in it, and my blood glucose was spiking at 10.6, so they told me I probably had Diabetes type 2.

Great, but I was still in pain. Moving about seemed to give me some relief, but I was unsteady and delirious. They took me to the emergency wing, where I was put in a bed and examined. It was there that I learned that my pain was probably the result of a kidney stone.

As the pain suddenly diminished, the consensus among the doctors were that the stone had shifted and no longer blocked the urethra, so I could go home. I could come back when the stone blocked my urethra again.

I asked what we were supposed to do about the stone? ‘Drink lots of water and orange juice to flush your kidneys’, was the only advice. I got more diclofenac and a brochure and was sent packing. At home I could finally sleep, but I felt like I had been stomped in the back with steel-nosed boots.

Over the week the pain slowly lessened. The Monday after the weekend of pain I had my blood tested again for glucose, but it had dropped to 7, so I didn’t have Diabetes type 2. Which was a relief.

Monday, December 30th, the pressure in my back began to build again. I called on my physician, but the first moment I could have my kidneys scanned with ultrasound and x-ray was the next Friday. So my New Year’s Day was pretty much spoiled by stomach cramps and nausea. At Friday morning the ultrasound showed that my left kidney was swollen, filled with urine and blood, so they also took two x-rays of my kidneys and bladder.

I called my physician in the afternoon, but they were clearly too busy with other patients, so finally I got a message that they had taken a cursory look at the X-rays and report from Radiology, but they’d have a referral letter for Urology ready for me the next Monday.

So I suffered through another mostly sleepless weekend, called the hospital on Monday and made an appointment for Tuesday at eleven. With no immediate need for the referral letter, I stayed at home and went to my physician Tuesday at ten to get my referral letter.

The referral letter had not been made yet, my physician wanted my urine to check for blood and… The sleep deprivation and pain took its toll and I cursed her for wanting to do more tests and reneging on her word that the referral letter would be ready. Due to my anger she referred me to her younger colleague to write me the referral letter.

In the office with the younger colleague, I found out a few things. A) I should’ve been taking my diclofenac with two paracetomols, that would have increased the effectiveness of the diclofenac and diminished my pain, and B) when I told her I had been drinking three liters of water a day, as per advice of my physician, she told me I should’ve stopped drinking more than absolutely needed when the pain began…

I got my referral and at Urology they told me that my six-millimeter kidney stone was an average size and their usual advice was pain management for a month. However, since my left kidney was swollen with fluids (because I had followed my physician’s advice to drink three liters of water per day), they deemed the kidney stone an urgent case for removal. So I got an appointment for early the next morning when they were going to break up the stone by using ESWL (Extracorporeal Shock Wave Lithotripsy). In the meantime, they prescribed Tramadol, an opiate to reduce the pain so I could finally get some sleep.

At eight the next morning I rode my bicycle back to the hospital for the ESWL treatment.

The process for ESWL is: You lie on a water-filled cushion, and the surgeon uses X-rays or ultrasound tests to precisely locate the stone. High-energy sound waves pass through your body without injuring it and break the stone into small pieces. These small pieces move through the urinary tract and out of the body more easily than a large stone.

I would receive three thousand high energy sound waves, which feel like someone is whacking your lower back with a small hammer. The intensity of the whacks is increased in increments, from 1 (the least painful intensity) to 6 (the most painful intensity). The first few increments were easy, and while the pulses became more painful, I easily managed the last thousand pulses at the highest intensity. The nurse who handled the ESWL was pleased with reaching level 6, since most people can’t handle anything above level 4 or 5.

My wife drove me to another hospital, where I visited an orthopedic expert for recurring pain in my wrist (caused by an irritated tendon in my wrist), and afterward I could take public transport back to the first hospital to retrieve my bicycle and cycle home. Three hours later the pain increased and I was retching, pale and sweating again, close to passing out. At half past eight in the evening we asked a neighbor to sit in our house in case the children woke up and rushed back to the ER at the hospital.

At the hospital I got an IV drip with Diclofenac and Fentanyl, which took away aaaallll my pain. I drowsily answered their questions, but while the pain had been extreme, I could expect some pain when I’d be flushing out the crushed kidney stone. When the fentanyl drip was empty, the pain returned, and they gave me three doses of morphine, but the morphine only diminished the pain somewhat without removing it altogether, like the Fentanyl.

Still, there was not much they could do, and my pain was not harmful, so I was sent home again. So that’s the situation I’m currently in. I feel ‘okay’ most of the time and the rest I’m between cramps and outright pain.

Next Wednesday the urologist will check my kidneys for progress and determine whether I need more ESWL treatments. Meanwhile the drugs make me drowsy, so I put my fiction writing on hold until that pesky stone has left my body.

I hope to resume writing on the Amsterdam Assassin Series and my stand-alone novel In Pocket by the end of next week. In the meantime I will rest and read when I’m not too dizzy, so if you have anything you want me to read, this would be a good time. Although I’m pretty sure I’ll be too cantankerous to write positive reviews…

Edit:  So, the CT scan found six stone fragments forming a queue in my urethra and Wednesday February 12th I went into the hospital to have them removed. Thankfully under complete anesthetic, they inserted tubes through my male organ to reach the bladder, where they burrowed through the urethra to the left kidney, crushing every stone they found with lasers and flushing them out, leaving a JJ shunt between the kidney and the bladder to prevent the urethra from collapsing as it healed.

I woke up after the operation with an IV drip and a catheter that continuously gave me the urge to urinate. After a drug-induced sleep between Wednesday and Thursday, both IV and catheter were removed and I was discharged. I felt fine until the drugs wore off, then I felt extremely violated…

Since I’d been too stoned to pay attention, I missed the part about the drugs I needed to take at home, so I spent Friday in increasing bouts of severe abdominal cramps and went back to the hospital on Saturday, where they told me (haha), I should’ve gone to the pharmacy to pick up my Oxybutinine, which would relax my abdominal muscles and at the same time make me too stoned to concentrate on even the most mundane tasks.

It’s Wednesday the 19th now and I’ve been stoned 24/7 and not by choice. It’s no fun taking drugs when you’re not allowed to relax and go with the flow. Instead I have to concentrate getting through the day taking care of my children… Well, two more weeks and they’ll remove the JJ shunt and I’d be able to stop taking drugs…


March 5th my JJ shunt came out. The procedure should be relatively painless. First they put some numbing gel on your genitals, then a hollow tube with a light and camera goes inside and through the hollow tube goes a flexible snake with pliers at the end that grab the shunt and pull it out.

The problem is that the JJ shunt has two curls on either end, so there’s some resistance as the pliers pull on the shunt as the upper curl (in the kidney) uncurls and straightens so it can pass through the urethra. Got that picture? Good.

I could follow through a monitor as the camera inched closer to the curl in my bladder. The pliers opened and after some maneuvering the pliers closed on the end of the curl and started pulling it toward the camera tube. Then the slippery shunt escaped the pliers and sprung back.

I can tell you right now, that doesn’t feel good at all.

Second attempt, and the shunt is almost at the camera tube when the beak of the pliers let go and the shunt sprang back. Like someone uses your innards like a slinky. Spooooinggg.

Then I lost my cool and snapped at the assistant, “Can you hold tight on the damn thing?”

She excused herself and the third attempt went fine, the JJ shunt slithering out of my body like a reluctantly evicted squatter. They asked if they should throw the JJ shunt away, but I had them lock the bastard into a specimen bottle so I’d have something to gloat over.

So now I could stop with the drugs and get some clarity again. Should help with going back to writing fiction again!

JJ Shunt

13 Comments on “Painkillers Put My Writing On Hold For A Moment…”

  1. Extremely sorry to read of this. Not being a stranger to pain, I don’t even want to try to imagine your experience.
    Best wishes for a swift… very, very swift recovery.


    • Thank you, Ned. I’m under sedation, otherwise I’d experience more than the current discomfort. The main issue is that I don’t have enough clarity to write fiction and get some distraction from that. So I downloaded the entire A Song of Ice and Fire series on my iPad to have something to distract me from the pain.


  2. sharkbytes says:

    Wow- so sorry to hear this. Sounds awful. Hope that stone decides to move on (literally) soon.


    • Thanks, Joan. So far, I peed out some crumbs, but I think the ESWL failed to break the stone properly. Wednesday I probably have to undergo another ESWL treatment, hopefully they get it then.


  3. And you cycled home?? Hope you get well quick 🙂


    • That was about two hours after the treatment, Laura. And I felt good enough to ride my bicycle back home, no doubt still profiting from the sedatives. However, two hours later the pain began anew and that was downright horrible.

      Thanks for your well-wishes. I doubted whether I should write this post, but in the end I’m glad I did.


  4. Tim Scott says:

    I know your pain, good sir. I salute you! You have seen Valhalla and the River Styx and said, “Not yet”. Ok, well I’m being a bit dramatic but…well, not really. It feels like death is upon you. Just don’t ever, every try to relate your “kidney stone” experience with your pregnant wife who is about to give birth. She doesn’t care, nor will believe your pain is ANYWHERE close to hers.

    Take care bud. My brother has hereditary kidney stones and is constantly battling them. He’s had to undergo ESWL multiple times. Even know they work against the stone, they also blast your organs too.

    I had mine in 2005 and the docs told me the same thing when I asked for the pill I could take which would just dissolve the stone and, you know, that would be it. But alas, water, that ancient medicine, is still your best remedy and prevention in the 21st century. I drank buckets of water for about a year after, since they said doing so would help flush out any small “nucleus” which attaches to your kidney and eventually builds up to a larger stone.

    I really hope your pain eases sooner rather than later. It’s an experience I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy!


    • Thank you for your well-wishes, Tim. I agree, the only thing that seems to help is plenty of water and fresh citrus juice, since most stones seem to consist mainly of calcium buildup. I’m also looking into alternative/Chinese medicine. According to a friend there is a Chinese herbal tea that helps drive off these pesky stones. Even if that would taste like Calgon (decalcifier for washing machines), I’d probably still drink it if this pain could be spared in the future.
      One of my friends had four stones, one in his right kidney and three in his left, and the ESWL didn’t work out, so they had to go through his urethra and use lasers to crush the stones. All in all that occupied his life for three-quarters of a year, and he was on mandatory sick leave from his work as an airline pilot for even longer, because you don’t want to have a pilot with kidney stones behind the wheel (or stick or instrument panel).
      I wish your brother strength and tell him the ESWL might be bad, but going in through your penis is worse.


  5. I added an update about the operation to remove the last six stones lodged in my urethra…


  6. datmama4 says:

    Martyn, you have my sympathy. My husband suffers from regular bouts with kidney stones, although his have always passed without medical intervention. The only time he ever saw a doctor about them (the very first time), the doctor did x-rays and said, “No, you don’t have a kidney stone.” My husband passed one the next day. After that, he figured it was futile to bother seeing the doctor about them, as long as they continue to come out eventually.

    You can compare it to whatever you want to. You don’t know what it’s like to have a baby, but I don’t know what it’s like to have something shoved up a penis, so fair’s fair when comparing pain. 🙂


    • Hi Lynda,

      Thanks for your reply. And I hope your husband has good painkillers too, because passing stones can be almost as painful as a blocked kidney.

      You wrote: “You don’t know what it’s like to have a baby, but I don’t know what it’s like to have something shoved up a penis, so fair’s fair when comparing pain.”

      I did speak to a woman who delivered twins. She also had a kidney stone, and she told me she’d rather deliver four babies at once than have another kidney stone. When I expressed incredulity at her statement, she said that (for her) the main difference was that when she was giving birth, her brain was producing endorphins to deal with the pain, whereas her brain didn’t give her any endorphins when her kidney was blocked by stones.

      Still, I wouldn’t want to compare stones to birthing. I just know that I have a high pain threshold and I was close to passing out from the pain. That doesn’t happen often.

      And now, even after they’re gone, I have regular cramps and I need to take drugs to avoid getting spasms that make me want to urinate 24/7. Ah, well, a few more weeks and the JJ comes out. Hopefully I’ll be pain and cramp free then.


  7. marcys says:

    Ugh! Worst pain in the world, or so I’ve been told. But next time You’re on those opiates, try to write on them. I never could, but I’ve heard some do. Hope you’re all better by now.


  8. […] My second novel, Peccadillo, was half finished when Reprobate came out. I finished Peccadillo in three months, spending a total of fifteen months on writing it. I wrote the novella Locked Room in three weeks. Microchip Murder took me less than two. And the novella that gets the highest praise, Fundamental Error, was written in eight days. Rogue, the third novel took less than 12 months. And Ghosting, the novel I’m working on now, clocks in at about eight months, despite my battles with kidney stones and glaucoma. […]


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