It Sucks to be Sick

I am really fortunate, having made it through fifty years with very few medical problems.  I have broken bones and lost a gallbladder, but the number of days in my life affected by illness are really small.\"\"

I am guessing that it\’s not just his kidneys that have stones

Last night, however, my body felt it was time for things to change.  At about 6 PM I was hit with pain in my lower back on the right and a nasty case of the sweats.  My first thought was that I was having a kidney stone (I\’ve actually had one in the past, but was lucky enough for it to be minimally symptomatic).  Yet the pain wasn\’t close to a 10/10 (which is one of the things I look for with kidney stones), and profuse sweating was the primary symptom for at least 2 hours of the evening.  This prompted me (and my attentive wife) to consider if this was a strange version of angina, but I\’ve yet to see someone with low back pain as the sole pain in heart disease.


I was not aware kidneys had such poor grammar.

I\’d spent the majority of my day outside working on the deck in the front of our house, so I also wondered about dehydration, muscle strain, and rhabdomyolysis.  It was around 90 degrees outside (still below average in the humidity department, though), and I am fifty, so it makes some sense to consider these things.  Yet I was quite careful to keep hydrated and take breaks.  Plus, the pain came on fairly suddenly, which is not something I would expect with most of these problems.

When the pain returned with some force during the night (after taking a merciful hiatus for a few hours), I was finally convinced that I do have a kidney stone.  Right now my pain is coming and going, but not getting much more than a 5/10 at the worst.  I am planning on working today, but will put my office staff on notice that I may keel over in pain at some point during the day.  They will be trilled, I am sure.

As I was overcome by symptoms during the evening, frustrated that a relaxed and potentially productive evening was turning into an intimate affair with calcium oxalate, I thought about my patients.  I thought about the people who have to deal with this kind of thing (and much worse) on a daily or continuous basis.  I thought about people who are thrilled to have pain-free days, contrasting my life in which pain-free has been the norm.  It was another reminder of a fact often forgotten by doctors: it sucks to be sick.

My knowledge of this reality, newly acquired by my evening spent getting stoned, doesn\’t give me any new healing powers.  The majority of patients who come into my office with pain or other overwhelming symptoms won\’t be miraculously cured of their maladies.  As a physician I face a losing battle, if the measure of my success is fixing people\’s problems.  Last I checked, the mortality rate of the general population hasn\’t budged from 100%.

What my intimate affair with a stone does do for me is give me sympathy.  I will do what I can to help people feel better and avoid situations like mine, but it is at least as important (perhaps much more) that I acknowledge that it really does stink that they are suffering.  To a great extent, the bad guy in this battle is not disease or pain, it is isolation and fear, both of which I can impact simply by listening and sympathizing.


You get hot babes bringing you your food with this diet too!

I hope my problem passes quickly and I can once again spend my evenings doing more productive things (like playing games on my iPhone or checking up on my Twitter tweeps).  But this once again reminds me of how lucky I am to have had the ability to choose what I do with my days, not being forced to constantly deal with pain or illness.  Hopefully my evening won\’t be wasted, and I can be a little less business-like at work and a little more human while I help people struggle through their illness and pain.

3 thoughts on “It Sucks to be Sick”

  1. Happy Belated Birthday!!!  Hope this passes fast and you are back to being PAIN-FREE !!!

  2. You’re the doctor, but make sure you don’t have a kidney infection (I had similar symptoms, thought I had a stone, but was wrong).

  3. JenniferDavisEwing

     While it is certainly important that you acknowledge a patient is suffering, equally important is what you intend to do about it.  My former neurologist didn’t believe fibromyalgia exists, yet he made note in my chart of “diffuse musculoskeletal pain”.  I asked him, if not FM, then what? What further tests did he intend to run? I even suggested several things, but he turned me down flat and told me I “would just have to learn to live with it (the pain)”.  While I accept that I may never have a completely pain-free day again, it would be nice if I could at least have my pain diminished to the point I could actually do things like basic housework without collapsing from exhaustion after fifteen minutes.

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