2013 was the worst summer ever for me. For most of June I was deeply involved in a business transaction and barely saw the light of day most days. I had to cut my usual July 4th vacation short, and as soon as I got back I received a huge wallop. Kidney stones. The pain started in my lower back and within hours I was in the emergency room begging for mercy. Thankfully the doctors there took pity on me and I received several rounds of morphine. They told me that kidney stones take typically anywhere from a week to a month to pass and gave me some drugs to get through the first week. In the following days, I would be fine for a few hours and then would have pain attacks that would last anywhere from an hour to four hours. I went back to emergency to refill my narcotics prescriptions two more times. The damn things would not pass.
On day seventeen, I went to a Urologist for an examination. He took one look at me and my CT scan and told me that there was a 60% probability that I would never pass these stones on my own. Concerned, he actually scheduled me for surgery that day, which for anyone who lives in the Canadian health care system knows that that is a nearly impossible feat. In the surgery, they installed stents to take the pressure off of the kidneys and to help the stones to pass. I left the hospital with more drugs and a belief that I was on the right path. John took me to my mom’s house where I sat in a reclining chair for days reading lifestyle magazines and watching westerns.
Ten days after the surgery, I possibly passed a stone. I didn’t feel well at all that day. There was an incident with some blinding pain and a lot of blood and after that I felt much better. There had been another day a few days before where I also thought I might’ve passed a stone, but wasn’t sure so after these two incidents together I had some confidence it was over.
But between that time and my next Urologist appointment, I never felt 100%. In fact, my insides were very sore, and chalked it up to the fact that the stents were irritating, like a straw poking you from the inside. Last week I went back to the Urologist believing that my saga was over, but it wasn’t. I learned that the first surgery was likely a failure; that the stones were still there and the stent probably wasn’t doing the right job.
So today, September 19th, I’m having surgery again. If all goes well, I may be back to normal by October 1st, which would be good since I’m headed to HRevolution in Las Vegas and really don’t want to travel feeling as I have been feeling.
Incidents involving pain are traumatic, and without question, this whole thing has been traumatizing. It sucked. Wads. It wasn’t cancer or a dreaded disease but it was debilitating and could have long-term side-effects. It was a reminder to me that I’m not invincible, and that the roads in my workaholic lifestyle lead to negative health effects.
Right now I’m focusing mentally on resilience. Resilience can be defined as the ability to recover quickly from illness, change, or misfortune. To be honest, this latest health incident has been more difficult to overcome because it has felt like one step forward and two steps back. To help me, I have been reading up on people who have experienced bad things and have remained resilient. One of the better articles about resilience comes from the American Psychological Centre’s Practice Central at http://www.apapracticecentral.org/outreach/building-resilience.aspx. I won’t recreate their article but it offers a few key pieces of advice I have found helpful.
1. Make connections.
The article stresses the value of relationships with family and friends in building resilience. While this network has been helpful to me, to my surprise, my broader work network has been equally supportive. Perhaps because kidney stones affects both sexes and isn’t necessarily to groady, I have felt more comfortable talking about it. I received a slew of cards and even flowers and gifts from clients who wished me well during my recovery. It meant a lot.
2. Avoid seeing crises as insurmountable problems.
It is hard not to be inwardly-focused when you are crawling on the floor writhing in pain. It helped though to remind myself that there was light at the end of the tunnel. First I focused on the Doctors telling me that kidney stones typically last a week, and then when that wasn’t achieved, I began to count down the days to the end of the month. Luckily, I live only a mile from a hospital and it was possible to get there quickly if I felt I was further deteriorating.
3. Take decisive actions.
In the month of July, I cancelled many meetings, or I turned them into shorter teleconferences. I delegated work. I accepted the fact that some things would not turn out as intended but held onto hope that they would turn out better than if it was just me. I felt liberated by some of the pressure lifted.
4. Look for opportunities for self-discovery.
The APA article suggests that “people often learn something about themselves and may find that they have grown in some respect as a result of their struggle with loss. Many people who have experienced tragedies and hardship have reported better relationships, greater sense of strength even while feeling vulnerable, increased sense of self-worth, a more developed spirituality, and heightened appreciation for life”. I have to agree. In some of the darker moments, my dog Mars was right there with me, doing nothing other than “be-ing”. I appreciated the simplicity and beauty of daytime mommy/doggy time, staring into his doe eyes. I plan on spending more time with him in the future.
5. Take care of yourself.
Your body gives you telling signals about how it is feeling. Pay attention to them. For me, in these times when I just couldn’t exercise, I focused on doing small activities to try to boost my spirits and energy. Luckily I had started a container garden earlier in the summer and was able to keep track of it without any prolonged standing.
Ultimately for me, the advice that has been the most helpful actually came from my husband John, who told me to “make the best of this”. My limitations gave me the opportunity to do things to add time to my day such as holding video calls. I revisited project plans and figured out how to streamline them. These were for more than my benefit. The streamlining has added efficiency, enabling time for more perspective, something my clients pay for.
I don’t know when this latest incident will end, but I am confident that it will. That sort of faith is a key part of resilience.