Jenkins: Under cover with a rolling stone

June 28, 2012 

Easy, friends. You do not have to, figuratively speaking, duck into a restroom, or get on your cell phone, or remember a sudden meeting you’d forgotten ... all the clever ploys used in the last eight weeks or so by some good people who also happen to be my good friends.

They were, understandably perhaps, trying to avoid another excruciating report on my kidney stone and the disposal thereof when they saw me coming.

When one has a medical condition that is ongoing for some time, it’s difficult to get it off the brain and out of discussion. Particularly when the aforementioned “one” is inclined to, as the Baptist preacher said to the sinner, “Tell it all, brother ...” I am, in other words, a man without much inhibition ... even when it would be better to have some.

In the case of reading your correspondent’s offering today in the newspaper or on The N&O website, I guess “ducking into the restroom” would come in the form of turning the page or clicking on the next item. I couldn’t blame you.

But this most recent encounter with medical science, and with the “health care system” that oversees that science, provided moments both frustrating, maddening, touching and uplifting.

I bought the first silly hats and paper whistles for the pity party weeks ago, on being diagnosed with my second kidney stone in the last three years. Last time out, in 2010, I’d had two of those procedures where they jolt your back with shock waves in order to break up the stones and “allow” you to pass them. This was not pleasant, but it didn’t involve anesthesia or a lot of pain or anything “invasive,” otherwise known as a friend of mine puts it as “getting involved in your business.”

It also was not as some people thought sitting in a tub of warm water while sound waves calmly took the stones away. I can’t imagine where that rumor got started, but the procedure is sort of like having Babe Ruth take a Louisville Slugger to your back and try to clear the center field wall in Yankee Stadium.

This time, the stone was too big to pass and too small to bust from the outside, and that meant involvement in my business and an invasion of instruments and lasers and all that. Along the way, I had postponements, a change in hospitals because of insurance issues, a nuclear stress test, a pin cushion’s worth of blood work and repeated visits to doctors’ offices and radiology places and all.

I was keeping track of all this, being of the view that our current health care system makes it difficult for doctors to do their jobs, overworks virtually everyone in the practice of medicine from physicians to nurses to the office folks who keep the places going, confuses and frustrates patients and results in standoffs over insurance and all sorts of complications that have nothing to do with medicine. This experience only confirmed those notions.

It’s also true that for most people, at least those with painful but manageable problems, the actual delivery of care is compassionate, gentle, absolutely competent (and then some) and just as intense for those with no insurance or those who are indigent and perhaps not able to speak English as it is for people with comprehensive coverage and education and all the rest of it. This experience confirmed those notions, too.

I had my ... er ... business meeting last week at WakeMed. The doc did a beautiful job (not mentioning names because in dealing with me he’s probably suffered all the indignity he can stand) and the nurses were spectacular and supportive and conveyed to me and all the others in the recovery room a sense of patience and optimism. And then there was the unintended consequence, the real lesson in all this.

I heard little kids crying and older folks moaning (they’d all be all right) and saw parents with deep furrows after being up for days and middle-aged children by the bedside of elderly parents who’d probably spent more time in hospitals than out of them in recent years, people with worries that will burden their minds and bend their backs and weigh upon their souls. I thought about all those people I’d seen in radiology offices or other physicians offices in recent weeks (including a young fellow who’d had problems on a stress test I’d passed easily) and how they were facing serious challenges ahead.

And the lesson, one of which we’re all reminded from time to time? I have no complaints, and much for which to be thankful.

Deputy editorial page editor Jim Jenkins can be reached at 919-829-4513 or at jjenkins@newsobserver.com

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