Pity Kitty

Poor Rhubarb had a health scare last week.

He’s had a small lump on his forehead for the past month or so. Not growing, but not going away either. So, since he was due for his vaccination anyway, we all went down to the vet’s office.

The doc removed it, sent it off for analysis, gave Rhubarb his shots, and sent him home that afternoon.

We were all delighted to learn that the lump was a follicular cyst, but Rhubarb was not happy about wearing the Cone o’ Shame.
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Just look at that piteous expression. He’s been getting a larger-than-usual number of cuddles this week.

Follicular cysts are, we’re given to understand, not life-threatening, not prone to recurrence, and not communicable. Hooray for that.

But Rhubarb still has another week or so wearing the Cone, and he’s got quite the decoration on the top of his head.
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We’re still not sure if we should be calling him “Rubanstein” or “Frankenbarb”.

It’s Not Apple Juice

Those of you who have been reading my posts since the early days may recall that I had an argument with my kidneys around the end of 2013, which resulted in my receiving one of the worst presents ever–and I couldn’t even exchange it for something more pleasant.

I didn’t mention my second kidney stone a couple of months ago because, unlike the first, it passed relatively easily, and because I couldn’t think of anything amusing to say about it. Let’s be real: nobody wants to read depressing blog posts about stabbing pains in the abdomen. But funny posts about pain? Oh, yeah.

One kidney stone is no fun, and it’s the joy that keeps on keeping on. If you have one, the odds are good that you’ll have more. You can make dietary changes to reduce the chances of recurrence, but as my experience shows, you can’t reduce them to zero.

Of course, the more you know about what’s going on in your innards, the better you can craft your approach. Last time around, my dietary changes were based primarily on the type of stone. This time we’re also taking a closer look at what my kidneys are doing. This is not, fortunately, an invasive procedure. It is, however, amusingly perverse. Allow me to introduce you to the dubious joys of the 24 Hour Urine Collection.

The tools are simple: an orange jug with a capacity of four liters, two little cups with screwtops (they look a lot like a little kid’s sippy cup, only without the drinking spout), and a ziplock bag prominently marked “BIOHAZARD”.

Step One: Clear enough space in the refrigerator to hold the jug. Clear some extra space while you’re at it. Unless you’re a heck of a lot more comfortable with your own waste products than I am, you don’t want anything else in the fridge touching that jug.

Step Two: Choose a day when you’re not going anywhere to do the test. You do not want to carry this bright orange jug around with you. Did I mention that it’s bright orange? Hard to miss, and while it’s a great conversation starter, those aren’t the kind of conversations most of us want to have.

Step Three: Begin collecting with your second trip to the bathroom of the day. Those of us with convex excretory apparatus are lucky: we can pee directly into the jug, as long as we’re careful not to touch the sides of the opening with our gear*. Women, as I understand it, get to pee into a cup and then pour the contents into the jug. Don’t forget that the first thing your physician tells you to do to reduce the risk of kidney stones is to drink lots of water–a minimum of two liters a day. Those cups are tiny and fill up quickly. You do the math; I suggest wearing gloves.

* Officially, avoiding contact is to prevent the microorganisms that live on the outside of your spout from contaminating the specimen. The real reason is that touching your equipment to a piece of plastic chilled to just above freezing temperature is an experience you want to avoid. Especially at three in the morning, after you’ve crawled out of a nice warm bed.

Step Four: Continue filling the jug. Bring the jug along on every trip to the bathroom. Miss one and you’ll need to get a fresh jug and start all over.

Step Five: Collection concludes with your first trip to the bathroom the next morning. So now, roughly twenty-four hours after you started, you’ve got a bright orange jug of urine. Congratulations!

Step Six: Now you get to mix the sample thoroughly. Close the lid of the jug. Tightly. No, tighter. Got a large wrench handy? Use it. Now shake the jug as hard as you can. Try not to think about the lid popping off. You twisted it tightly, right? If you’ve been drinking enough to satisfy your doctor, the four liter jug will be at least three-quarters full. That’s fairly heavy. Better give it a couple more shakes to be sure it’s well mixed. Unless you’re going to do this regularly, it’s probably not worth investing in one of those shakers the hardware store uses for mixing paint.

Step Seven: Take the two lidded cup. Pull open the pour spout and fill both cups. Put the lids on and put both cups in the BIOHAZARD bag.

Step Eight: Discard the rest of the urine. Yes, all your hard work collecting your pee will literally go down the drain. Look at the empty jug. It does not say “BIOHAZARD”. Only the samples in the sippy cups are a public health menace, it seems.

Step Nine: Take the sippy cups to the lab. I asked the technician what I should do with the jug. “Oh, you can just toss it out,” she said. “I know,” I replied. “But does it go in the garbage or the recycling bin?” She froze, her expression completely blank. Clearly this is not a question she gets every day. Or, in all likelihood, ever. Finally, she shook her head. “Just toss it out.”

Step Ten: Examine the jug closely. I couldn’t find a recycling indicator on it. If you find that ecologically unsatisfying, you might consider washing it well and using it to make lemonade. You might. I put it in the garbage can.

New Year, Same Old Stories 3

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As you may have gathered from the above, I’m still dealing with Mother Nature’s charming little Christmas gift. Such joy. Such rapture. Feh!

I will make no promises, because every time I do, she throws me another little twist. That said, right now I plan to try to my best to keep posts coming, but may deviate from the normal schedule.

There Are Two Kinds…

There are two types of Christmas gifts. OK, I’ll pause here while you all relieve yourselves of your favorite “there are two types of x” jokes.

Done? Good. Moving on.

On one side we have this:

What is it? It’s a USB powered aquarium, and it’s awesome. Consider that it’s entertaining to watch, demonstrates some pretty impressive engineering, and demonstrates two unrelated areas of physics.

Really? Yup. Let’s break that down.

Two principles of physicsFluid Dynamics: there’s a fan inside that swirls the water, causing the fish to swim around. Consider the possibilities for discussion here: vortices, the interaction of moving bodies, edge effects. Light and Color: those cheery red and yellow fish change color. Well, actually, only the yellow one changes. Turn off the blue LED light, and the yellow fish turns green! (Very Christmasy.) Think of the hours of fun you could have explaining to a child–or a cow-orker–why one fish changes and the other doesn’t. Or why school says that blue + yellow = green, not green + blue = yellow. Or why blue + green = brown for crayons, but yellow for fish.

Impressive engineering – Yeah, seriously. This thing can run on USB or batteries. It feels solidly constructed: I have no worries about it leaking on my desk; the battery and water compartment covers fit securely, but are not so tight that it requires a fight to open them; and it doesn’t wobble or deform in my hand when I pick it up. The water fan and the light are on separate switches, so they can be turned on and off independently. Really, the only strange thing I’ve found in its design is that it requires a somewhat rare A-A USB cable instead of the more common A-B microUSB or miniUSB cable. But the necessary cable is included and is quite long enough to allow significant freedom in placing the aquarium.

Entertaining to watch – Well, I think so, anyway. The fish move largely in calm, counter-clockwise circles. Up, over, down, back, up, over, down, back… It’s quite mesmerizing to the predator part of the brain. I haven’t tried it out on the cats yet, but I’m willing to bet they’ll be just as entertained as I am. Up, over, back, down…

Now, consider that you get all that goodness for less that twenty bucks. (That’s an assumption based on rules of the gift exchange. Hang on a second… OK, yeah, I just did a quick search, and the median price online seems to be around $14.) The price-to-performance ratio on this thing absolutely rules.

Awesome gift, Eric. Nice job.


So that’s one kind of Christmas gift. Then there’s the other.

Those of you with weak hearts–or weak stomachs–may want to skip ahead here. The next chunk of this post includes some fairly graphic and fairly disgusting imagery.

Imagine the pain of being punched in the lower back. Repeatedly. In the same spot. Got it? Now add the pain of a live mouse trying to dig a tunnel out of your stomach. Add nausea, and flip a coin to see if it includes vomiting. Flip another coin for the possibility of diarrhea. Imagine that going on for four hours on a Friday afternoon. It’s going to pretty much kill any chance of clearing your desk before the holiday weekend.

That, my friends, is a kidney stone, and it is the sort of Christmas gift from Mother Nature that proves she’s a mean bitch with a sick sense of humor.

In my case, everything went away after about four hours. I felt OK Friday night and perfectly fine for most of Saturday. Sunday, around 3 in the morning, it all came back and did not go away. This led to a whole slew of exciting events:

  • A call to the 24 hour nurse hotline
  • An ambulence ride to the emergency room. (“This street is blocked by construction. Let’s try the next one over. Nope, that’s no good. What if we go around to the other side? Hey, this one is under construction too!”)
  • A series of tubes connected to my arm (Oh, look! My own personal Internet!)
  • A shot of some morphine derivative. Aah, blessed poppies that give relief from pain.
  • A CAT scan (Ooh, here I go, into the Time Donut. [Actually, given the size of the hole relative to the size of the “bread”, “Time Bagel” might be more appropriate.] And out of the Bagel. And in again. And back out. Hey, it works! The Time Bagel sent me a good ten minutes forward in time!)
  • A seven block walk to the drug store–in my slippers–to fill prescriptions for pain-killer and anti-nausea medications, followed by a 20 minute cab ride home while waiting for the pills to kick in. (Kudos to both the Walgreens pharmacist who filled the prescriptions quickly and the Friendly Cab driver who did not feel obligated to make conversation or crank the radio to eleven.)
  • Arguing with my doctor to get a prescription refill so I would have enough pain pills to last until my appointment.
  • Peeing through a filter to capture the stones when they finally passed.
  • Constipation and gas.

For almost three days, I survived on a diet of pain pills, anti-nausea meds, water, clementine oranges, and herbal tea (not much taste, but at least it didn’t taste like plain water).

When we went to refill the prescriptions, we discussed the possibility of getting me a human-sized Cone o’ Shame to keep me from biting back at the damned stomach mice, but decided against it, on the grounds that I’m not flexible enough to get my teeth anywhere within three feet of my own stomach. Nice thick mittens might not be a bad idea in these circumstances, though.

Wednesday afternoon and evening, I captured several itty-bitty brown specks in the pee-filters. Joy! By dinner time, I felt well enough to have some Seussian Christmas roast beast, though it took a couple of additional days for my appetite to get back to normal.

By Friday morning, when I finally was able to see a doctor, my only remaining symptoms were the constipation and gas, which led to the final thrilling experience of the affair. I got to be a human pop gun! The solid waste backed up in my gut was quite solid indeed. It organized itself in a series of hard pellets, each separated from the next by a pocket of compressed gas. Once things started moving, it turned the bathroom into quite the shooting range. Pop! Tzing! Sploosh! (pause) Pop! Tzing, tzing, crash! Whoops, there goes the light bulb! (pause) Pop! Tzing! You get the idea. Picture a good ten minutes of this scene as all-natural pellets bounce off the porcelain and ricochet around the room trailing a high-pitched “whizzing” noise and a cloud of organically-grown propellent.

Great way to spend the holidays, huh? And I was lucky! I only had about four days of the really awful part (waiting for the stones to pass). It could have been up to four weeks and/or required some form of intervention. Zapping stones with ultrasound or lasers sounds cool, but I’d prefer not to experience either one, thanks. Still less interested in any of the more invasive techniques. If you’re feeling brave, you can check out some of the thrilling possibilities–with pictures, even.

I don’t even get to keep the stones as a trophy: they’ve been sent off to a lab for analysis, so I can look forward to making dietary and lifestyle changes to reduce the odds of recurrence. Not that they would really make great trophies. I did mention that they were itty-bitty. Again, lucky. Kidney stones have been reported as large as golf balls. Picture that. Better yet, don’t picture that.

And hey, statistically speaking, there’s a 5-10% chance that you, the person reading this, will at some point in your life develop kidney stones (though your odds are about three times worse if you’re male than female). “Worse”? “Better”? Make that “three times greater”. Good luck!

Sucky gift, Mother Nature. Lousy job.