Living With Kidney Stones: How I reduce my risk of future flare-ups

On a Saturday morning in May of 2014, I got up out of bed experiencing a pain from my lower back and left side that I had never felt in my entire life.  Soon after, this pain was accompanied by frequent vomiting and the overwhelming urge to urinate even though nothing was coming out of me.  The back pain/side pain became so severe I could not walk.  My wife eventually drove me to the hospital to see if I was suffering from appendicitis.  It turned out I had a very large kidney stone lodged in my digestive system.  The doctor provided pain killers and advised me that parts of the stone will eventually pass through my body, but it might take time for the entire stone to exit my system.

Having no previous kidney stone issues, I was curious as to why I started having problems in my late 30’s.  In this post, I will provide insight into what caused my many kidney stone flare-ups between 2014 and 2017.

Cause 1: Dark-Colored Soda Pop

When my wife and I had our son in 2013, our lives went from an average of seven hours of sleep a night to less than four.  I was never a coffee drinker, so I was consuming a lot of caffeinated soda pop to keep me awake while at work.  Sure, I drank a few glasses of water each day, but I was probably consuming two to three liters of Mountain Dew or Coca-Cola daily.  Numerous studies have suggested a correlation between dark soda and a higher frequency of kidney stone trouble, and my issues verify this link.  Prior to 2013, it would have taken me five to seven days to drink two liters of soda pop.

After my first attack, I started drinking coffee and reduced my soda pop intake to pre-2013 levels.  I drank plenty of water and I did not have another attack until December 2015.  When I had my second attack, I knew my water intake was low that day but when I rehydrated I still had problems on and off for a few weeks.  I couldn’t understand why then, but I soon realized why after reading further studies.

Cause 2: Vitamin Supplements

As time marched on and my son got older, my diet did not improve since my wife and I were always tending to him, working all of the time and eating whatever was quick and/or convenient just to get through the days.  Eventually I started taking vitamin supplements to get my body the nutrition it was lacking.  What I did not know was that supplements have been shown to increase the probability of kidney stone reoccurrences in patients that have had major problems with passing them.  Supplements rich in calcium and vitamin D were especially responsible for more attacks, and I was taking supplements that included heavy doses of calcium and vitamin D.  When I had my second attack in December 2015, I was taking vitamin supplements occasionally for over a year.  After I quit taking them, I made sure I was getting my vitamins naturally through my food choices and kept drinking plenty of water.  But, I kept having occasional problems in 2016 and I found out another trigger for kidney stones that I should have caught when I discovered the supplement link.

Cause 3: Antacids

The active ingredient in antacids is calcium carbonate.  1000mg of CALCIUM carbonate in each tablet.  By having this much calcium in each tablet, antacids provide a daily amount of calcium just like vitamin supplements are engineered to do.  I was taking antacids on occasion to relieve indigestion and heartburn and I ended up indirectly giving myself more kidney stone issues.  Once I stopped taking antacids the kidney stone attacks calmed down toward the end of 2016.  After I identified the three causes for my kidney stones I thought I would be stone-free as long as a kept drinking enough water to keep my kidneys flushed.  But kidney stones are like life–sometimes the events of the past can wreak havoc on future endeavors.

THE ROLLING STONE

March 17, 2017 was a Friday.  I worked my usual daylight shift and the anticipated snowfall of that day did not happen.  I was on-call for snow removal so my weekend wasn’t going to be a fun one if snow was going to fall.  Around 6 p.m. that night, Pittsburgh got hit with a complete white-out of a snow storm that lasted all of thirty minutes.  About two inches of snow fell and another one or two inches of additional accumulation were threatening on weather radar.  I got called into work to remove the snow which disrupted my dinner plans and my most important task during the evening hours–drinking a few glasses of water.

I drank some water during my time at work but it was not an adequate amount for somebody living with kidney stones.  I left work at 11 p.m., praying that I would not get called back in during the night.  I was tired and I had an overwhelming urge to urinate.  I knew from past experience that I would have to stay up until at least 2 a.m. before going to bed.  The pain from my stones would not go away unless I drank enough water to fill up my digestive system and flush my kidneys.  After two to three hours of pain, my agony would stop once I was full of water.  But this time, something was wrong.

2 a.m. came and the pain continued.  More water, more pain, then it was 3 a.m.  I was urinating all the time at this point but I was still having extreme pain.  4 a.m., then 5 a.m.  Finally just after 6 a.m., my pain started to go away.  I think I urinated clear and frequently from 4 a.m. until 7 a.m.  I was awake for over 26 hours and I was still on-call for snow.  Thankfully, we did not get any snow the rest of the weekend.  I felt fine the rest of Saturday and all of Sunday.  I went back to work on Monday and everything seemed to be back in working order with my body.  Work on Monday was fine, and I headed home to clean up before going to pick up my son.  Before getting into the shower, I felt like I had to pee.

Everything felt normal when I started peeing.  Then, without warning I was overcome with extreme pain.  It felt like my penis was on fire and I stopped urinating for a split-second.  It felt like something was blocking my urine flow and as fast as the pain came on, it went away.

*PLOP*

I continued to pee without much discomfort, but I was confused as to why I had so much trouble going for that split-second of extreme discomfort.  Then, I looked in the toilet.

In the toilet was a pea-sized brown ball.  This ball just exited my body through my urethra.  In the past three years my kidney stones were little granuales of sand that would pass through my system.  On that day, I passed hundreds of these granuales at one time.  I felt fine after I passed this monster of a kidney stone and I haven’t had any problems since this incident.

AFTERMATH

Over the last few months I have continued to follow the same water regimen to combat against another flare-up, but I have occasionally experimented with cutting back on my water intake to see how my body would react.  Since I “dropped the ball”, I’ve had no discomfort when restricting my water consumption.  The pea-sized stone that slowly rolled through my digestive tract for almost three years was gone, and my symptoms of kidney stone issues went with it.  I continue to drink about two liters of water a day even though my pain is nonexistant.  I remember the agony of passing kidney stones and I hope I never have to experience that pain again.

 

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Soothe: Nintendo lullabies, Leonard Cohen, Nick Drake and my young son’s love of them

There’s the old adage, “Write what you know.”  Many writers over time (Including Twain and Hemingway) have given this advice.  This tale can be titled Sing What You Know and/or Put On Music That Calms You Down When Calming Your Baby Down.  

My wife and I have one son who is age three right now.  When he was a newborn, he did the usual things a baby would do in its first year.  He woke up at night many times, pooped six times a day, required burping after bottles and wanted to be held the majority of the time.  We both worked during this period of his life so trying to get enough sleep was becoming more difficult.

I have a brother who is eight years younger that me, so I remember observing what my mother and father would do to calm my little brother down when he was crying.  Some would obviously work (Giving him a bottle because he was hungry) and some would not (Taking off/adding clothes when he just wanted held).  Over time my parents learned his cues and my brother didn’t cry as much as he got closer to his first birthday.

During those early desperate nights when it seemed we could not get enough sleep before going into work for a full day, we tried to understand our son’s needs in an attempt to get him back to sleep.  When it came time for me to take my turn in the waking up rotation, I wanted to sing my son back to sleep but I didn’t know any of the traditional lullabies people would sing to babies.  I wanted my wife to stay asleep, but I didn’t want our son to keep crying for thirty minutes.  I needed something to hum or sing that was repetitive, and there was only one type of music that came to mind in my state of sleep-deprived delirium:

Video game music from my old Nintendo Entertainment System (NES).

The first night I tried using NES music, I slowed down the background music used in the above-ground levels of 1986’s The Legend of Zelda.  It worked!  My wife would get so pissed that I could sing him back to sleep with the silliest method that would never be found in parenting advice books and blogs.  When our son didn’t want to hear the Zelda music, I slowed down the following music from other games (I challenge others to try this method to see if it works on other babies):

The podium win AND the “kick the can” music from Excitebike, above-ground music from Super Mario Bros., the game introduction/general background music from Bases Loaded and the count out/winner music from Mike Tyson’s Punchout.  I added a few from other platforms, including the original “hammer” music from Donkey Kong.

As my son got older and started going to day care, I had a problem keeping him happy in his car seat on the way home.  I always had CD’s of Nick Drake and Leonard Cohen in the car, so I would pop one in to see if the mellow folk music of Drake or Cohen would calm him down.  I could tell he was listening to the different instruments and the words being sung in the songs.  It was a sound completely different from what he heard in his early life.  After a few tracks, he would go to sleep.  If I knew he didn’t sleep well during the day, I would keep the music on and drive around for an hour to let him rest.

Even at three, my son remembers some of those drives home and knows their music well.  He has his own special names for each of his favorite tracks and when I pick him up from day care, we usually have Nick Drake’s Five Leaves Left on when we drive home.  Instead of tossing a child’s DVD in the car and my son blankly staring at a small TV screen while we drive home, my son and I sing “Time Has Told Me”, we listen for the strings to kick in on “River Man”, all while looking out the car windows, seeing the birds fly, viewing the turkeys pecking at last year’s corn crop remnants and marveling at the big construction trucks when encountering road work being done.

I loved my old NES and when I have time again, I know I will eventually purchase the recently released Nintendo NES Classic Edition.  I love the music of Nick Drake and Leonard Cohen because their poetic songs bring calm to my worrisome existence.  The games and songs that have soothed my soul over the years have provided my son with the same feelings of comfort and familiarity in a unique form.

 

A Poison Ivy Home Remedy That Works

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If the poison ivy in my yard looked like this, I wouldn’t complain.

In early June of 2005, I was suffering through another bout with poison ivy after I unknowingly grabbed an entire chunk of the weed when clearing away brush from an air conditioning unit (Yes, it is a weed despite the word ivy in its name).  The oils from the plant affected my hands and I spread the itchy rash to my forehead, legs, right arm and neck after taking a hot shower upon completing yard work that day.

During each battle with poison ivy I would apply over-the-counter medications to alleviate the rash and itching.  The various creams and lotions would take a few days to stop the itching and anywhere from seven to ten days to completely remove the blotches from my skin.  In 2005 I was working as a security guard at a corporate research facility for PPG Industries.  I was the switchboard operator and intercom speaker during the daylight shift.  When visitors arrived on site, I was the first person they came in contact with.

One morning a chemist turned saleswoman for BASF arrived on campus and noticed the rash on my forehead and neck.  She asked what I applying to the marks and proceeded to tell me about a home remedy that she thought would help me out.

She told me to buy Dawn dish washing liquid, but it had to be the original blue style.  Apparently the blue Dawn has different emulsifiers in its formula which will break down the poison ivy oils on the skin.  When watching television, take note of the Dawn commercials when they talk about saving wildlife.  The people are always using blue Dawn, so this information must be true.

Apply Dawn directly to the affected areas.  Keep the liquid on for ten minutes, wipe clean with a dry paper towel, then reapply.  She mentioned that as the Dawn captures the oils, the itching should subside.  Depending on the severity of the rash, it could be anywhere from fifteen minutes to an hour to see results.  Try to use paper towels instead of bath or hand towels since the oils might remain on household items until properly washed.

I followed through with the home remedy advice I received that day and within one day my itching was completely gone.  I would occasionally have to reapply hours after my first attempt but the severity of the itching decreased with each application.  Eleven years later, I still use this home remedy anytime I have issues with poison ivy and every time it works.

So go out and buy a small bottle of blue Dawn liquid and keep it in your residence in case you seek relief from poison ivy.  Procter & Gamble, the current makers of Dawn will not claim that Dawn cures poison ivy inflammation for various legal reasons, but I can attest that it does.  And if it doesn’t then sue me.  But seriously, don’t sue me, I’m a schmo with no money.

(Artwork of Batman’s/DC Comics Poison Ivy courtesy of blog site Sakimichan on Deviant Art.  CAUTION: Some of Sakimichan’s art is 18+, so don’t let children see it.  The work is very good.)

Rockin’ The Dad Bod

When I’m in blog land or jumping on Twitter (Facebook free since 2013!), I find it humorous when I hear a parent complaining that they cannot find time to lift weights, run, do yoga, etc.  It’s not because I’m a hater, it’s because it sounds like the parents I speak of are going to transform into a slob overnight if they can’t find time to do what they want.  Those darn kids, they can really take up your free time!

Holy crap people.  Having kids means sacrifice.  Well, it’s supposed to anyway.  My wife and I both work during the day so when we have our son in the evening, we enjoy spending those four to five hours each day with him.  Even if he throws tantrums.  Even if he throws blocks at my head.  We take turns getting daily chores done, but we are always falling behind on a few tasks.  It’s not because we have a ton of things to do, it is because we would rather sit on the couch and read a book with our son.  I sit on the floor so much with my son I find myself sitting on the floor when I’m alone watching television.  We have fun with him and he has fun with us.  We are both there for him as much as life allows.

Before this post turns into an annoying rant, I’ll pump the brakes and have some fun regarding the first two paragraphs.  I’ll recall a moment in time when my wife and I were a couple, then compare that moment to a current situation now that we are a family.  Here I go:

August 2011 – My wife and I played tennis two or three nights a week.

August 2016 – My wife and I are weak from playing with our son two to three hours a night.

All of 2012 – I would lift weights in the basement using my new bench that my wife bought for me.

All of 2016 – My wife bought many things for our son in 2015 and stacked many items on top of my weight bench.  I think I can see it down there again since I moved some boxes from that area of the basement.

Most of 2012 – I would run around our neighborhood three to four nights during the warmer months.  Nothing crazy, about 10-15 miles per week.

Most of 2016 – I run around our yard with my son three to four nights a week during the warmer months.  It’s crazy, he’ll circle the house 10-15 times per night.

As I mentioned in some of my other posts, my wife makes the money and I find work that fits into our schedule.  I don’t make much money, but I rarely work weekends.  I don’t have a prestigious title at my job, but my job allows me to see my family every day.  In my first year of employment at my new job, I’ll have 21 paid days off.  In America, many people can work 20 years or more at a company and not get 21 paid days off.  These days with a young son growing up before my eyes, I’ll take time over money.

When my son gets older, I’ll work myself back into a decent looking shape.  I look forward to turning my man boobs back into fresh elderly pecs.  I know my abs are still in there somewhere, but I have more important responsibilities to attend to right now.  I’ll find my abs in 2021 or 2022.

When I was under age 25 I was chasing my dreams.  Between 25 and 34, I was chasing a career.  From 34 to 39, I was chasing the money.  Now at 40, I’m chasing my son.  And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I’m home.”: An Alzheimer’s Tale

My wife will sometimes work with Alzheimer’s patients at her workplace.  She’s a physical therapist at a nursing home and she often dreads working with them since they are the most combative and non-compliant patients on her caseload.  She understands it’s part of the nature of her work, so she puts effort into being professional no matter how impossible a situation might be.

She has worked at a few different locations over the last eight years, one of which is close to our home.  This particular nursing home sits off the main road and is surrounded by acres of farmland on each side.  Up until three years ago the farm’s landowners grew corn in those two big fields.

One Saturday morning my wife gathered her caseload and noticed she had a new patient in one of the rooms.  “Betsy” was an old, frail silver-haired woman in her late 70’s.  She had been recently discharged from the hospital after a fall at her daughter’s house.  Betsy had moderate signs of Alzheimer’s disease and was in the nursing home to rehabilitate her broken arm.  My wife prepared her usual choice of words before entering Betsy’s room.

“Hi Betsy, how are you today?”

“I’m home.”

“Well, I’m here to help you get back home.  I’m here to help your arm get better.”

“I’m home.”

Not surprised by the answers she received, my wife simply continued with her assessment of Betsy and was shocked at how easy-going Betsy was for her condition.  Betsy complied with my wife’s requests and even said goodbye to her when she left the room.  Nurses and aides also commented on how pleasant Betsy acted despite having advanced dementia.

The following Saturday Betsy’s daughter stopped by to see how her mother was progressing.  My wife informed her that Betsy was doing very well and should be ready to come home soon.

“Betsy is doing great, but she keeps saying that she’s home.  When she says it, she’s always smiling and in good spirits.  Does she say this at your house as well?”

Betsy’s daughter was stunned to hear this news.

“I’m amazed she can tell that this is the location of the old family farm.  The only landmarks that have stayed the same since the 1950’s are the bends in the road, the tall trees in the front, the cornfields and the rusty old mailbox that is somehow still standing across the street from the nursing home.”

Betsy had an uncle and aunt that lived in the “country” (the property is only fifteen miles outside of central Pittsburgh) when she was a little girl growing up in the city of Pittsburgh during the 1940’s and early 1950’s.  They didn’t have any children, but during the summer months Betsy would come out to their farm house and stay with them, sometimes for a few months.  When the couple got older, they sold the property and the house was eventually torn down.  Betsy’s daughter remembers the stories her mother told her about staying on the farm and how much she enjoyed the visits some sixty to seventy years ago.

Obviously my wife was equally as stunned to hear the explanation as to why Betsy called this morbid environment “home”.  Betsy will probably end up as the best Alzheimer’s patient my wife will ever encounter in her caseloads.  She stayed for a total of three weeks, and went home to her daughter’s house.

Nursing homes are associated with illness, disability and the final chapter of one’s life.  Betsy’s stay in a nursing home was an opportunity to see a place that she longed to return to.  To the people around her, the residence was a three-story, three building campus set on twenty acres of land.  To Betsy, the residence was a one-story, four room house surrounded by cornfields along a dusty country road.  Betsy was home again.

WARNING: Parenthood may result in “fluffiness”

(BLOG NOTE:  Since I’m watching my son more often over the next several days, I’ve decided to post a “fluffy” tale before delving into another mind-bending post of what the kids would call “awesomeness”.  You’re welcome.)

A year before my son was born, I was still pretty active despite venturing further into the dreadful 35-44 age bracket.  This age group is the transitional period between hanging onto your youth and the new challenge of realizing your body’s limitations.  Up until my early 30’s, I could go several days without exercising and not lose results.  I had no problem keeping up with where I left off.  Now at 40, forget it.  Now as a parent, really forget it.

I’m not a total mess.  Yet.  I still have three pairs of mesh shorts that I purchased in 1996.  They are now stretched out to the point that they won’t fit me when I lose the weight, but I have to say we had a good twenty year run (I have shorts older than some of my readers).  I still manage to follow the main guidelines of the Pittsburgh Yinzer diet, which consists of the following food groups:

Milk, Meat, Vegetable, Fruit, Grain, Fried Food, Soda Pop, Coffee, Beer, Wine, Spirits, Doughnut, Birthday Cake, Catholic Fish Fry Friday and Fire Hall Wedding (rigatoni with meatballs, fried chicken, macaroni salad, some type of potato dish and rolls with butter)

When my son was born, many healthy aspects of my life became a low priority, and rightfully so in my eyes.  Obviously sleep became fractured, I consumed WAY more caffeine, I chose snacking over having a real dinner and I also chose catching up on sleep instead of using any leftover spare time to exercise.  These four factors led to my chest becoming boobs, my waist showing a small beer belly, my legs becoming thin and my face looking a little rounder than before.

Even after two bouts of kidney stones (due to too much Mountain Dew soda pop) and all of the illnesses acquired from day care the last few years, I wouldn’t change a thing.  Being a dad is the best thing that happened to me.  My son loves it when I chase him all over the house, when I take him for walks around the neighborhood, when I pick him up if he needs a hug and when I sit with him reading, playing with toys or watching television.  He’s getting heavier and I carry him for at least an hour each day.  At least my arms and shoulders are still somewhat beefy.

I’m a new dad, recently unemployed, out of shape, scared about the future and frustrated.  To remain positive, it could be said that I’m a hipster stay-at-home dad who is weighing his options before embarking on a new career path.  I’m also self-aware of life’s everyday challenges and that the path I have walked until now has not been in vain.

Hey, whatever.  I’ll figure it out.  Somehow, I always do.