When I was in Japan a few years back to write a story about former Royals manager Trey Hillman, I woke up in the middle of the night with a kind of crazy back pain. I wrote a bit about it -- and how Bruce Springsteen's "Girls in their Summer Clothes" helped save me. But the thing is I never really knew what happened that night. I figured that it had something to do with how hard the bed or something. The funny part is that I was talking about it with Dave Owen, brother of Spike, who was Trey's bench coach in Japan. And Dave said: "Well, at least it wasn't kidney stones."
And I said: "Well, that's good to hear. I was actually worried that it was kidney stones."
And he said: "Oh, if you have kidney stones, you will know. Worst pain of my life."
Sunday morning I started feeling a bit of back pain. I will not take you through the awful next couple of hours except to say that soon a little bit of back pain turned into quite a bit of back pain turned into quite a lot of back pain. There were other symptoms I'd rather not describe. But the back pain was the thing and after a little while I decided I better go see a doctor. We happen to be in Florida, which made things a bit more complicated.
We went to a nearby doctor, and we sat in the waiting room for about 20 minutes. It's fair to say that things did not get better at that point. I will explain the symptoms just slightly for effect ... I could not sit down so I walked across the room and grunted like a madman. People were holding on tight to their children. I twice had to go to the bathroom where I unloaded comical vomiting sounds that could be heard pretty much throughout Tampa, which was bad since we are in Orlando. At that point, I told Margo that we probably should go to the emergency room because it was possible that an alien was trying to emerge from my stomach.*
*I have little doubt that scene was inspired by a bout of kidney stones.
I actually did not tell Margo that exactly. What I said was "URRUEOJOFHGHHH!" There was no light joking going on during the intensity phase of this thing. When my daughters were saying, "Are you OK, Daddy," I wanted to say, "Oh, yes, don't worry, Daddy will be fine, I apologize to you both for delaying our spring vacation." But what I said was "URRUEOJOFHGHHH!" No comedian, not even Louis CK or Chris Rock, could work the kidney stone wing of the emergency room.
That's where we went ... to the emergency room next, where I got to sit in a waiting room that held roughly the population of the Fox River Cities. I certainly do not want to make any comment whatsoever on the health care debate -- we all know that I try to avoid politics -- but I will say that after having to wait more than three hours to get anyone to even look at me when it felt like an alien was coming out of my stomach ... you can finish the thought.
After waiting an hour I went up to the front to give them what I considered a rather alarming bit of news about what I had done in the bathroom. They alerted me that there were only 10 people in front of me. Ten. This is not a joke.
The one thing they did keep doing was asking me to rank my pain, 1 to 10 -- one being "pain free" and 10 being "the worst pain you have ever felt in your life." They repeated that exact phrase at least a dozen times: "Rank your pain 1 to 10, one being pain free, 10 being the worst pain have ever felt in your life."
Nothing at that moment felt funny at all, but if you think about it this is really a funny question to ask someone. The pain, seemed to me, to be A LOT. I mean, we all know I'm kind of a statistical guy -- I have another baseball stat post ready to go for later today -- but I really didn't have any great way to rank the pain beyond "A LOT." On the one hand, I didn't want to seem like a wimp. On the other hand, I wanted them to give me a pain killer that would knock me unconscious, if necessary. Sure, if I'd had my computer with me, I could have tried to whip up a little formula for POPC -- pain over paper cut.
But in that setting, without a calculator around, I didn't really have any reference point. I could not remember the worst pain I had ever felt in my life. It could have been one of my many accidents as a kid. It could have been the feeling after I had my adenoids removed. It could be the time I slipped on the ice, fell back on concrete stairs and was sure I had paralyzed myself.
But this pain had one strong advantage over those in that I was feeling it RIGHT THEN. And that was my feeling. I wanted to say, "Compared to all the pain I am feeling right now, this pain is really the most excruciating. The time I cracked my head open on the window sill when I was 8 does not really hurt now."
I decided to go with 5 on the pain scale at first, which was convenient because before the day was done I would say the pain doubled, which would have made it 10. Of course, I never said "10." The highest I ever went was "7 or 8," which made me feel tough, but perhaps did not reflect the urgency of the situation. I was in the emergency room for more than 12 hours. They gave me three different kinds of pain killer. The first was morphine and it did nothing -- the worst pain I felt all day happened after I took it. The second worked a little bit better. The third knocked out the pain, though I suspect this was not so much because of the pain killer but because the kidney stone moved.
The pain killers and intensity of the pain turned me kind of loopy I guess ... I know at some point I started telling a doctor why I wear a fedora on my photo on the back page of SI.* Mostly I drifted in and out of some kind of weird sleep with crazy dreams. One, I distinctly remember, involved Cameron Diaz and popcorn.
*That's a conversation I wish I remembered because, frankly, I don't really know why I do wear a hat.
There's plenty more -- I guess I was so dehydrated that it took them eight shots and three nurses to draw blood, which would normally have really bothered me but compared to the back pain that was like nothing. I know you don't care about it. I don't even care about it. At about 2 a.m. they let me go with prescriptions for half the medicines in the place. I was pretty much pain free at that point, though I don't think the kidney stone has passed. I feel OK now, a bit tired, but without pain. I took a cab back to the hotel so not to wake up the family, and when I went into the cab the driver said: "How are you doing today?"
I said: "Well, it was kind of a rough day."
He said: "You need to be positive. You will get a good night's sleep and tomorrow will be a great day."