You’re a tough case,” the urologist said to my husband Don. Maybe I can start a short story with that sentence some day. Here is what the doc recommended: he wants to try another lithotripsy on the right-side kidney stone, which is the one that broke in half the first time. He said that if he can break one up, it’d be better than surgery, since it’s non-invasive and doesn’t involve cutting and hospital stays and long healing. He still might go in and remove the other one surgically, (or both, if the litho just doesn’t work) depending on how much longer this goes on.
Here’s the problem: Medicare will only pay for one lithotripsy per month, and the first opening they have for the procedure is March 6. Don asked how much the procedure costs, and I knew the answer to that, since after the first one we received a notification in the mail from the hospital that they had billed Medicare for fifteen thousand dollars. Yes, that’s 15 and three zeroes – for an outpatient procedure that lasted three hours from when we walked in to the moment we walked out. Anyway, we’re waiting until March 6 and letting the U.S. government pay for it. I never intended to be a socialist, but who can afford not to be? (which is not to say that we didn’t pay plenty into the system over the last 40-50 years, not to mention all the dough our supplemental insurance still gets out of us every month)
So, we’re living with nephrostomy bags for another month, at least, and maybe more than that. Don is not in pain, and we have a routine down, now. His pacemaker incision is healing, though he still can’t lift anything heavy, or lift his arm over shoulder high, or lie on that side. I’m feeling more comfortable about leaving him alone for a few hours at a time, so I’m going to try to resume some activities. I’ll be doing a talk at Tempe Public Library on the 18th, and a talk in Phoenix on March 4. I have a workshop in Tucson on March 15, which I’m going to do if at all possible. My friend Nan has volunteered to go down there with me. I may set myself up another lesson on my iMac.
Between now and the 6th, Don will go back to Banner Desert Hospital to have his tubes replaced (the urologist said he can live with those tubes a long time, but they need to be replaced every 4-6 weeks). They’re supposed to call us tomorrow to set up a time. It’s another short outpatient procedure.
This all started out as a crisis – a dash to avoid dying. But now the crisis has abated and it’s turned into a marathon. I said from the beginning that one of the lessons we have to learn from this is patience, and I was right. We’re lucky. I think that if we can just hold on, there will be a good outcome.
We have actually had some sweet, quiet days together since this started, whenever we don’t have to be visiting some scary doctor or having something cut upon. I am reminded me of a lovely Zen story that seems to particularly apply to our lives right now. A Zen master fell off a cliff and plunged many hundreds of feet toward certain death on the jagged rocks below. On the way down, he fell past a strawberry plant clinging to the side of the cliff. On the strawberry plant was one perfect, ripe strawberry.
“Beautiful,” said the master, and as he hurtled past, he plucked the strawberry and savored the taste of it all the rest of the way down.