October 31, 2020

Sick Days

Self Portrait as a Sick Person, Kirchner

By Chaplain Mike

I had to take a couple of sick days this week. That’s unusual for me. Our entire family has been blessed with good health, and even the sicknesses we’ve had have not been serious.

It becomes easy to take that for granted.

Two years ago I had an experience that opened my eyes a bit to physical suffering. Though the problem turned out not to be serious and the outcome was good, nothing about what I went through for a couple of days was pleasant. I’d rather not have to go through it again.

So, on this past Sunday night, when I realized I had a fever and a few of the same symptoms, I made a decision right then and there to go to the doctor Monday morning. I’m glad I did. I’ve had a few unpleasant moments, but nothing like the agony of the previous experience.

I described that first illness on the blog where I wrote before coming to Internet Monk. I will re-run it here today to remind us of those in sick beds all around us, so easily forgotten.

The Sick Girl, Ancher

From January 12, 2009, at Otium Sanctum
Last Friday after work I came home and knew things were not right. All week long I had a mysterious pain in my right lower back that radiated around to my thigh. I thought I had twisted my back and pinched a nerve. It’ll work out. Except it didn’t. On Thursday I had a strong urge to urinate often, and it burned when I did. By Friday evening, after I made it home feeling dizzy and out of sorts, I crawled into bed with uncontrollable chills.

My weekend plans were set.

Since I couldn’t get in to see a doctor on Friday as I had planned, I managed to scrounge an appointment for Saturday morning. I slumped over to her office, shivering all the way, waited ten minutes and then was invited in to the exam room, after having left a urine sample. When the nurse came in the room, we exchanged a few words about urinary tract infections, and she said coldly, “Now you know what your wife goes through.” I think she had issues.

When the doctor came in, she was much more compassionate. “You know, in men this is often caused by a kidney stone, and I don’t like that flank pain you have.” Great. Two words in the English language I never wanted to hear spoken together, addressed to me: “kidney” and “stone.” “How is your pain tolerance?” she asked. I’m probably average, for your spoiled, middle-class Baby Boomer. I don’t have any. “You know,” she smiled, “women who have had both babies and kidney stones say that they would rather have the baby.”

This day has started with such encouragement.

She sent me to the hospital for a CT scan to check for stones. Maybe that’s not it after all (he prayed). After stopping at the pharmacy to get my antibiotics, I arrived at the hospital (part of the health network for which I work), went dutifully to registration and gave my information, squirming in my chair to find a comfortable position. “Did your doc call and put you on the schedule?” I didn’t know, and when I said so, she shot me a disapproving look. She called the imaging department and apparently the doctor hadn’t phoned. Disapproving look number two. “You’ll have to go to the waiting room until they can call your doctor. Please tell her next time to call; we have to follow the appropriate protocol.” From far away somewhere in a gathering storm of misery, I nodded meekly.

Now to Radiology, where for almost an hour I must have looked like a homeless man taking shelter from the cold as I sat in the waiting room, head down between hunched shoulders trying to stay warm and comfortable. From snippets I heard, the delay was because the young woman at the desk could not get my information to come up right on the computer. She tried and tried again. She sighed and whined and tried again. She called the IT help line. She called in coworkers, who came, punched a few keys, shook their heads and walked out again. Some grating “crisis of the week” movie was on the TV. I had to get up and pee at least five times.

Ward in the Hospital in Arles, Van Gogh

Somehow, the technical problem got resolved. I had my two minute test…then waited…and waited for the results while their people called my people and waited for my people to call back only to have to wait again for their people to call back and talk to my people. In the end, good news—a normal scan. No kidney stones.

Still, I figure I have about a 102 degree temperature, I haven’t eaten since yesterday’s lunch, I ache all over, my back and leg hurt like crazy, and now I get to drive home. Stopping to get a sandwich and a drink, I take two bites of the sandwich and then throw it away. Tastes like dust.

From that point on, the trajectory of my weekend was flat. Lying on the couch watching football. Lying in bed sleeping. Lying in bed watching football. Lying on the couch trying to get comfortable. Etc., etc., etc. We usually make remarks about how time flies and how we can’t believe it’s already such and such a date. These were the longest days of my life.

Life went on all around me, but I honestly don’t remember much about anything. Most of Friday night through Monday morning was like being shut in a closet and subjected to some sick torture treatment with a relentless soundtrack of football talk, games, inane commercials, distant sounds of family life going on without me, phones ringing, cars needing muffler work growling by my window. It was all repeated endlessly, while I turned over and over again in the bed to find a good position, alternately burning with fever and drenched with sweat. All in all, a pretty good foretaste of Purgatory, I’m sure.

I write this not to elicit sympathy. My illness didn’t turn out to be deadly serious or anything. But for one who spends his days visiting people who lie in their beds, I wanted you to know that I gained a tiny bit of perspective over that long weekend. I hope I will never enter one of their rooms again without a new measure of sympathy and a new sense for what might encourage them.


  1. So glad it wasn’t worse! Still, bad enough. My teen son had a UTI infection a couple years ago, which had possibly travelled to his kidney. It was excruciating for me to watch, much less for him to go through.

    While there are those tormented with acute pain for an extended period of time, even lower-grade pain, fatigue, malaise or debility can have serious consequences over time both neurologically and psychologically. It’s grinding, isolating, wearing – and the resultant situational stressors (such as lost income and/or relationships) don’t help.

    It’s also unfortunate that you had such negative experiences with medical professionals. No way someone experiencing severe pain and fever should have to deal with what you described. Unfortunately, these experiences aren’t uncommon, and while there are wonderfully compassionate and competent professionals there are also a fair number of overworked, insensitive, even arrogant and judgemental medical personnel. Your experience also illustrates the helplessness of patients in crisis circumstances: even if appropriate assertiveness would help change the situation, a vulnerable patient is likely ill-prepared to stand up for him- or her-self.

    Thanks for sharing your story, and for your service on behalf of those who suffer. Blessings, and drink your cranberry juice! 🙂

  2. Ah, kidney stone attack – my first and hopefully only experience (last summer) of the agonies and torments of hell. I am not kidding.

    You and those bedridden by illness have my complete sympathy. I would nearly go insane if I had to endure such pain and helplessness and dependence on narcotics (as I did that week last summer) for the days and weeks and months some people have to for things like cancer (my wife does home health care and has seen and treated some truly mind-numbing conditions).

    Lord, have mercy!

    And thank God for morphine and Toradol.

  3. It’s something I never want to go through again. I’ve had the agony of kidney stones. My pastor told me it was God’s way of letting us men know what it felt like for women to have babies. EricW is right, it’s a torment of hell.

    • When I had my kidney, my only prayer was for the Lord to heal me or kill me. I didn’t care, but just make a quick decision.

      • kidney “stone”

      • I’ve been there. I had food poisoning one night a few years ago – throwing up constantly, until I couldn’t even hold water down. I couldn’t lay flat without vomiting, so I slept sitting up all night. I had feverish dreams which seemed to me to wake me up every 5 minutes or so…all throughout the night. I prayed for death or healing as well, and I did not care which.

        It really threw me for a crisis – why would God allow such intense suffering with seemingly no end, no purpose, no result at all?

  4. I had a kidney stone 20 years ago. I was lying in bed and I felt a faint pain in the right lower portion of my back. I tried to move a bit thinking it was just a muscle contracting – except I couldn’t get away from the pain and it continued to get worse until I was writhing on the floor. That as the day I realized that big tough me was a wimp.

    The pain eventually subsided and I went to the doctor who confirmed it was a stone – and I left with instructions that if I passed it while urinating I was to retrieve it for testing. “How will I know I passed it?”, I asked. “Oh you’ll know” was the reply which was accompanied by an unsettling grin from the doctor.

    Those pain attacks would hit me while driving – in mid work-out, at work…. until one day I was in pain and soaking in a hot bath (Honest -they recommended this) when I couldn’t take the pain any longer and off I went to the hosptial and eventual relief under morphine (which made me lose my cookies – after almost a fifteen year streak of not doing so). It ended up being the calcium kind and not really all that big (lots of barbs though).

    In the end I try to take better care of myself these days (with my wife’s prodding of course). I realized through that whole ordeal that I wasn’t nearly as tough as I thought myself to be…..