The economy is passing a kidney stone. Here's one man's guide to survival.


Last Friday I was wrapping up my last day as the editor on Shootout. Five years, and 180 episodes, and I’d never missed a single one. They had hidden a cake with GOOD LUCK, BILL! for my surprise going-away party.

Just before noon I felt a little . . . something. Five minutes later it felt like someone had punched me in the left kidney — hard. I went back to the edit bay to lie down for a moment. Things got a little better, then worse, then much worse. And then someone said they were going to drive me to the hospital.

The Hospital. No health insurance. Why? A preexisting surgery made me tough to insure, but the fact is, I had gotten away with it yesterday, and the day before, and the day before that. So I was trusting to luck for a while. And I had been lucky — for a while.

Next thing I know I’m bent over in the hallway, waiting for the car to come around — hands on my knees like I’d run a marathon. And then — BAM! I’m kneeling in front of the couch, arms wrapped around the cushion, making sounds like frying grease . . . little pops and grunts and hisses. Ten minutes in and I was beneath language already.

The only thing I remember about the drive to the hospital was that it was slow. I scratched my name on some forms, left my clothes on the bathroom floor after getting undressed, and didn’t give one sweet damn about any of that gown nonsense. I staggered out just holding the thing on. Because by now, my friends, my world was just a white-hot blinding light — all around me, the entire room was just bathed in that wall of pain and the only thing I cared about was getting that shot.

Little problem, here, however: They didn’t actually keep the pain medicine in the same place as the actual people having the actual pain. No, that had to be signed out of the pharmacy. The nurse made a call, a guy said he’d bring it down “as soon as he could” and that meant about another 25 minutes before Nurse Kessie — bless her — decided it was taking too long and went up to get it herself.

It took me about an hour to get the first shot of Demerol . . . which did absolutely nothing. It took another hour for me to discover it wasn’t working, tough it out for a while so I didn’t look like a complete baby, then ask for another shot, get it delivered, and injected.

See, on one level, I felt I somehow owed to my ancestors not to wail and scream and beg for something that they had no hope of obtaining. It offended me to have to ask for a second shot. I felt like I was weaseling out of a debt I had owed for a long time and had just now been called to make a downpayment on.

But the fact is, after two hours of this I was screaming and cursing and calling out to God and Jesus and whoever else would listen. And all that second Demerol shot did was take that bright light down from filling the room to being a single, white-hot spot the size of my fist moving down and to the right at the speed of L.A. traffic. So after three hours of this, I was reduced to simply mewling, and at about 3:30 P.M., the doctor went away for 15 minutes and when he came back he gave me a shot of Dilaudid, which is the name I will give to my first child, male or female.

I’d been in serious pain only once before, about 20 years ago, when I cracked a molar that lit into the nerve that runs through your jaw. That put me on the floor, too — right quick. That was a toothache I felt in my hip. And the thing I remember about that time and on Friday too, was a sense that when you are in that universe of pain for three or four hours there simply is no other side to it. You can’t remember, and you can’t imagine, what it would feel like not to hurt.

So imagine my delight, ten minutes later, to see the hallway door melt away as room was filled with unicorns! Little cartoon unicorns, each with a silky mane of bright blue or green or pink . . . and when they giggled — which was continuously — they would lift up their little tails and rainbows would emerge. And in that one wonderful moment as my eyes rolled back and the white-hot light faded away and vanished — in that blissful instant I suddenly understood with perfect clarity the whole Hope and Change thing. I had gone from the horrible, nasty, mean Republican America to the other America. And it’s a much better place, it really is.

It had been almost fours hours since they called for the renal ultrasound guy to try to find this jagged little bastard. It would be another hour before he finally arrived, but the fact is once the Dilaudid got going I didn’t much care if the guy didn’t come till after Christmas. I could have waited right there for ever. When he finally did come, he was an Iranian ex-pat — very serious, but very competent at reading what looks like shadows cast on the bottom of a murky fish tank. No stone. Gone. It disappeared unnoticed down the catheter, which I will spare you the description of, other than to say it was a pre-war Bulgarian design, and was the diameter of a common garden hose.

Also, I’m not pregnant.