Helping you avoid intense, awful pain

The following column originally appeared at www.hometownsource on July 19, 2017


Helping you avoid awful, intense pain

This column has one purpose: to help you avoid the most intense, excruciating pain I’ve ever experienced in my almost 68 years of life – from kidney stones.

In an online video, Dr. William Haley, a Mayo Clinic physician, calls this pain “legendary.”

A Health Partners nurse, whose name I’ve unfortunately lost, who had given birth and had kidney stones agreed that “the pain of kidney stones was worse.” Fortunately, there are simple, cheap ways to dramatically decrease the likelihood that you’ll experience kidney stones.

Before explaining what doctors recommend, let’s go back to the late December 2016 day when suddenly I knew something was really wrong. I was at a meeting when I felt a strong pain below my stomach.

I drove myself to a local hospital, which turned out to be a mistake; hospital staff told me that people who arrived in ambulances were a higher priority for treatment. I was hoping to save money by driving myself – but this ended up with me sitting in the hospital emergency room for more than three hours in pain so powerful that I was moaning and then pleading for help. (Not to be overly dramatic, but this has never before happened in my life.)

Apparently, this was a bad day for the hospital as lots of people were coming in. My wife arrived and she also asked if someone could see me. Literally hours went by.

Finally, I called another hospital, which explained that their priority was treating people who arrived by ambulance. So I called an ambulance and waited a block away from the hospital, since the ambulance would not pick me up there. I was doubled over and moaning in pain. A man who appeared to be homeless saw me and asked if I was OK. “No, we’ve called an ambulance,” I stammered.

A few minutes later an ambulance arrived. Within an hour, a Regions Hospital doctor arranged for an X-ray, reviewed it and confirmed that I had kidney stones. Over the next week, I took various medicines and ultimately passed two stones. Since then I’ve followed doctors’ instructions to avoid this ever happening again.

Unfortunately, the National Kidney Stone Foundation and a medical journal both report that, as the foundation explains, “Recent studies have shown that kidney stone rates are on the rise across the country.” One study found that the increase is greater among children and women.

In an online statement, the National Kidney Foundation recommends what local doctors have also told me: “One of the best measures you can take to avoid kidney stones is to drink plenty of water.” That and other simple suggestions are found here: The brief video in which Mayo Clinic physicians describe kidney stones and offer suggestions is here:

Usually I write about learning, teaching and schools. Today I’m describing some of the most powerful, painful lessons I’ve learned in my life. Please consider checking with your doctor about kidney stones. This is not something you want to experience, either yourself or by your family members.

Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school teacher, administrator and PTA president, is director of the Center for School Change. Reactions are welcome at