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Notes on a Kidney Stone: Hug Your Mothers

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Thomas Jefferson wrote, "The art of life is the art of avoiding pain." I couldn't agree more. I'm not cut out for pain, suffering, nuisance -- really anything that might damper glee or merriment. This is why, when I recently discovered I had a kidney stone by virtue of excruciating pain (which I'm told is the closest a man will ever come to experiencing the pain of childbirth), it was unpleasant. Nay, it hurt like f**king hell. What is a kidney stone, you ask? In the immortal words of Cosmo Kramer:

I know how that Seinfeld episode ends -- lots of anxious waiting followed by clowns at a circus, cacophonous cries of anguish and eventually getting dumped by a Romanian gymnast. Given my aforementioned aversion to pain, I find none of those options acceptable. So I immediately went to the emergency room in search of relief.

Shortly thereafter, while on a gurney in the fetal position, I was being asked by a nurse to rate my pain "on a scale from one to 10." "Infinity," I said. "Excuse me?" "A hundred," I responded, sensing I may have overshot with my first answer. There was an awkward two-second pause that came next, which caused me to realize that this process was taking entirely too long, and I needed a quick fix. "Kill me. Please. Do it now," I said. (Note that I wasn't under the impression I would die from a kidney stone, but was actually asking to be killed to cease the pain from a kidney stone. It's an important distinction.)

Unamused, the nurse exited to retrieve some of the most potent painkillers available through modern medicine. Another individual approached with a clipboard to take my insurance card and ask a few ill-timed questions. "Occupation?" "Dead people don't have occupations," I said. "Please stop this silly line of questioning."

The nurse returned and injected my IV with medicine. "This should take the pain away," she said. "Take the life away. Take it now," I responded. The nurse and the clipboard lady proceeded to share some soft-spoken banter about my personality foibles. "You're being a little cranky, Mr. Kitchen," one said. "You know who's not cranky? Dead people. Kill me, and I promise, we'll be best friends. Please. I have excellent insurance; there's no deductible for euthanasia," I said. My pain had now escalated to "a hundred million," as both ladies exited in frustration.

"I'll be back with more medicine," the nurse said, and I was left alone to wonder whether it would be more efficient persuading someone to kill me or whittling a shank out of tongue depressors and slitting my own wrists. I'm not terribly handy. I can, under the right circumstances, be quite persuasive. So I kept begging.

"I think you have a kidney stone," the nurse said, administering my next dose of pain medicine. "I think you should kill me. I think that's a better diagnosis. Just trust me: I'm also a health care professional," I said. (That was a lie -- I mowed the lawn at my hometown's hospital while in high school, and I'm a textbook hypochondriac. But that hardly qualifies and is, in fact, equivalent to putting "leadership expertise" on your resume and then explaining in the job interview that you once sat in an exit row on a plane that didn't crash).

This proverbial volley of receiving medicine/begging for death continued for a few hours. After the eighth exchange the entire hospital staff were bandying about adjectives such as "persnickety," "man baby" and "raging asshole" to describe me, although they did appear impressed that I was still able to complain after receiving enough narcotics to anesthetize a family of Clydesdales.

"It stwill hwurts," I said, defiant and with drool now running out my mouth, but still in a semi-conscious state. The nurse summoned the doctor, a man with seemingly zero kidney stone experience, who arrived rolling his eyes. It was around this point that I attempted to strangle him with my IV cord, but ended up falling off the gurney and nearly asphyxiating myself. The team of actual medical professionals huddled to devise a game plan. It was clear that if I remained in the emergency room much longer, it would indeed drive one of them to carry out a homicide. Their patience was exhausted, and waiting for the stone to pass was not an option.

I was rushed to surgery to have my stone obliterated by laser. When I awoke in the recovery room the nurses found me to be remarkably affable (this, in spite of telling one that she looked like "Shrek's girlfriend," and including a clarification "but the one before she turns into a human princess," which I attribute entirely to the drugs. In truth, the entire staff were some of the most caring, conscientious and compassionate people I've ever encountered. It was as I was leaving that a nurse enlightened me to the notion of kidney stones being to men what (almost) childbirth is to women. I immediately called my mother to apologize for being born. I then called my two younger siblings and explained what a miracle it was that she decided to hatch each of them.

Simply put, I think it's fair to say that even the greatest of men (Thomas Jefferson and myself being two fine examples) are, deep down, wimps. We're the weaker sex. If we show up to our child's birth, snap a few pictures, hold hands and manage to not pass out, we consider it a success.

The nurse's words led me to think about friends of mine who have twins. If men were the ones capable of childbearing, twins would cease to exist. We'd suffer through the first baby and then immediately close up shop. "Never again!" we'd proclaim, conspicuously insinuating that this was all the fault of the woman, who could never truly empathize with what we had just gone through. We'd leave the unborn child inside until it eventually grew too large to contain as an internal papoose and killed us like something out of a bad science fiction novel.

In conclusion, anyone apart from firstborn children should consider him or herself a miracle (as firstborns, we can assume that everyone gets to make a mistake once). It's quite literally a miracle that the human species continues to perpetuate itself, especially in the age of social media. I have a sneaking suspicion China's one-child policy has nothing to do with overpopulation, but that women simply got together and decided there were better ways to spend their time than enduring the physical hell of childbirth -- like shock therapy or sticking needles in their eyes. Perhaps that's why so many male politicians seem obsessed with engaging in vagina dialogues; one had a kidney stone, a nurse enlightened him and while whining to his male counterparts about the major booboo he endured, mentioned that women are not only stronger, but also capable of bringing about the demise of human civilization. Regardless, mothers are heroes, and the next time you see yours, you should give her a hug (and an apology).