A nurse was shaking me awake. The procedure was a success. We pulverized the stone. She said. They had inserted a scope up my urethra and did something to the kidney stone — blew it up, or something? — and now it was gone. I would continue to keep passing “shards” of the stone for the next few days, they told me. Sure, okay, I said.
I was groggy from the anesthesia, but I instantly felt better. That I’m-going-to-pee-my-pants feeling was gone. And after I had been wheeled out of recovery and back into my room, a kind nurse helped me wobble over to my “English” toilet and let me pee for the first time in three days. It stung a little, but that was normal, they told me, because of the scope they had stuck up there. I looked into the toilet and there was blood. Not streaks of blood, not spatters — the entire bowl was dark red.
That’s normal, the nurse told me. I still felt faint. She helped me wobble back into bed and I laid in the dark feeling nauseated from the anesthesia. I threw up a couple times. But I felt lightyears better than I had felt in the past day. I had been in the hospital about 18 hours at that point. The nurse gave me something to put me to sleep. My two friends stayed the night with me in my room, and called my mother every few hours to update her on what was happening. I’m certain that the entire experience, as hellish as it was for me, was way worse for her.
They released me the next day around noon. I was a little sore, still, but the stone had passed, and there was no need for me to be hospitalized any more. I could pee on my own. I still peed blood, but again, they said, it was no big deal. It should taper off in a few days. There was still a lot of it.
In Bangalore, we walked everywhere. Our campus was large and vast, and for some reason there were a lot of wild birds everywhere. The walk from the main gates of the campus back to the girls’ dormitory took maybe fifteen minutes. Getting anywhere on campus, from point A to B, was a fifteen or twenty minute walk. On the walk back from the hospital, my classmates approached me, horrified.
We heard you went to the hospital?! They said. Are you okay?!
Oh, I’m totally fine! I’d say, brushing it off. Toooootally fine. I had a procedure and they blew up my kidney stone like the Death Star and I’m all good now. And I thought I was.
The next day, in my lower back, I got a tingling pain, very slight, in the place where the kidney stone had lodged. Within minutes, it had evolved into an agonizing ache, and in another minute it was so painful I had to lay down on my back and take deep breaths. I was at a mall when this happened. Oh God, I thought, the stone is back. I have no way to get to the hospital. I’m all by myself. I can’t even move. What am I gonna do?
The pain subsided after a while and I was able to hobble back to my dorm room, terrified. I didn’t know what had just happened, but it felt like an attack. It had come out of nowhere, and was crippling, and I had no idea if it would happen again. I decided to skip class that day, to rest up, in case whatever it was came back.
It came back a lot.
On my way to class, on my way to the dining hall — wherever I was going for the next four or five days, I would randomly get this stabbing pain in my back, and a paralyzing fear would grab me. If I was on my own in the city or on campus, and I had this pain creep up on me, I’d be stranded. I’d have to lay down on my back, or sit on the ground and breathe through it.
Meanwhile, my Indian phone was running out of minutes, and I had to take an auto-rickshaw across town to buy a calling card with more minutes. I couldn’t walk across campus — whenever I walked anywhere, that stabbing pain would come back — so my phone minutes just petered away. My laundry was piling up — and in India, we did all our laundry by hand. Literally. We took it up to the roof, lathered some soap on it, beat it against a rock, and hung it up to dry on a clothesline. It was hard work. I could barely pick up my laundry basket, so the laundry kept piling up. Students at the University bought food at the supermarket across town to keep in their dorms, or ate in the cafeteria at the edge of campus, or both. The few times I had tried to walk to the cafeteria, I had been besieged by the stabbing pain and had high-tailed it back to my dorm room. I mostly ate some leftover biscuits I had been keeping in my room, so I wouldn’t have to leave my dorm. I didn’t change clothes, because I couldn’t do my laundry. I didn’t go to class, because the kidney stone pain might have flared back up. The stones are coming back, I would think, whenever the stabbing back pain would creep up on me, like a pocket knife slowly inching into my back. I’m going to have to go to the hospital again. I’m going to need surgery again. Eventually I couldn’t leave my room. I kept a bag packed next to my bed in case I had to go back to the hospital. I was in a near-constant state of pain or waiting expectantly for the pain to come back. I was a hostage.
Meanwhile, I was still peeing blood.
The hospital had given me a prescription for some medicines when I had left. I had to take the perscription to a pharmacy and have them fill it. I couldn’t tell what it said, because of the handwriting. I managed to decipher some of it and looked it up on Google when I got back to the dorms. One of them was a medicine that made me pee. Another was a painkiller. Another I had no idea. Was I allergic to this medicine? I had no idea. They hadn’t asked if I had medicine allergies. Would it interfere with the meds I was already taking — the anti-malaria pills my doctors had given me back home? Nobody knew. The doctors didn’t ask if I was taking anything else. They didn’t seem to care. Neither did the pharmacy guy — who, by the way, was like, just some fucking dude in a garage. The first time I went to the pharmacy to fill the perscription, it was closed. I came back a few hours later, still closed. The guys outside the garage-like building told me the pharmacist was on his lunch break and to come back later. I did. He was there. No lab coat, just some dude in jeans, with his friends hanging outside his shop, talking on their phones and making jokes. Was this real life?
After five or six days of this, still peeing blood and having this random, paralyzing pain, I went back to the emergency room. I was exhausted. Terrified. I was a prisoner. I sobbed to the emergency room physician that I was still peeing blood — a lot of it — and I thought I was still passing stones. They wouldn’t stop. I couldn’t go anywhere, or do anything. I couldn’t function. Or get groceries. I had lost five pounds. I hadn’t been to class.
I couldn’t understand what they were saying, their broken English. They did the Indian head bobble at me — which, if you’ve ever been to India or talked to an Indian person, you know that this head bobble means exactly nothing. It can mean yes, or no, or maybe, or anything, really, it’s just a gesture. I don’t know what that means, I kept telling them. Is that a yes? A no? Do I have kidney stones again?
|I can’t believe I found a gif of this.|
They did some more x-rays. No stone. I cried and cried. Please just tell me what’s going on, I begged the physician. I literally have no idea what this pain is or when it’s going to sneak up on me next. The physician patted my head and told me I just needed some tea. Then put her hand on my stomach. Then she started to pray. In tongues.
Make no mistake — I’m a big believer in the power of prayer. I have felt it work many, many times. That time, however, was not a time I felt it work. And that was not a time I appreciated being prayed over. Is this real life? I kept thinking. Is she a real physician? Did she just wander off the street and put on a lab coat? I laid there on the gurney and just cried harder.
After she worked her voodoo, they discharged me with more prescriptions. I was passing kidney stone shards, apparently — remnants of the original big-ass kidney stone they had already blown up — and it should be over soon. I should stop peeing blood any day now. It wasn’t and I didn’t.
I filled the perscriptions at the pharmacy when the pharmacist decided to randomly show up (there were no hours of operation, the pharmacist dude just came and went whenever he felt like it). What the hell were these medicines, and what did they do? Hell if I knew. Side effects? No idea. One was a painkiller. I tried to google the rest. No results. I had no information, even from Google, because the only English websites about these medicines were sites like the FDA, which didn’t recognize the names of any meds because they weren’t American medicines. Great.
The next day, I was so nauseated I couldn’t stand up. I made myself puke in my private bathroom in the dorms so I could end my misery, but I was still just as nauseated as before. I couldn’t eat — not that I had groceries anyway. Some friends brought me some strawberries and I puked those up too. I was still peeing blood. A lot of it. Every time I looked in the toilet my heart would start to pound, and I’d get this warm, tingling wave of anxiety all over my body. One day, I just stopped looking. Somehow, I managed to crawl out of bed and I went back to the hospital. There was an on-campus doctor at the university, but he only came every other wednesday (or every wednesday, I don’t remember), so it was either lying on my dorm floor, puking, or back in the hospital, trying to figure out what was going on. So I went back to the hospital.
Oh, said the physician, when I told her I had been severely nauseous. That’s a side-effect of the medication. I’ll give you another medication you can take.
LOL, I thought. There’s no way I’m taking anything else you give me. I lied and told her I was fine and got the hell out of there. I lied and told her I had stopped peeing blood days ago. Before, my choices were the Indian hospital where nobody knew what they were doing and some freak voodoo bitch was trying to poison me, and my dorm room where I had no clean clothes, no food, and no contact with the outside world since my phone had run out of minutes a week ago. I’m getting out of this hell-hole, I decided. I’m going home.
Immediately, I ambled back to my dorm room and tried to buy a flight home. Lots of websites were blocked at the university for some reason, and I couldn’t access any travel websites. Because terrorism, or something. The next day I went to leave campus and go to an Internet cafe where I could purchase a flight, only to be told that nobody was allowed to leave the campus because there were mobs of people just randomly attacking women all over Bangalore. Is this real life? I called my parents, who had to jump through a bunch of hoops to purchase an international ticket (because again, terrorism, or something), and finally — finally — about ten days after this nightmare had begun, I was getting out of there. I threw everything in my suitcase. I threw out what didn’t fit. I hired a cab and hugged my friends. And I started the 30-hour journey back to Chicago.