There are many things associated with teenage girls. Although I don’t like to pigeonhole myself or other girls, I must admit that when my grandpa stared blankly at his cell phone, I was the first asked to help him learn how to use it. He learned how to take pictures and quickly changed his background to a self portrait. I am a teenage girl. I have dreams. I love sports. I am determined. But I broke the mold when I was diagnosed with an ailment most commonly associated with elderly men.
Practices before swim meets are the best type of practice. The expectation hangs in the air and everyone is radiating nervous energy. The pool seems to transform into a different, more exhilarating place and our coach paces around the deck, observing his team carefully. Everything felt different the day before my first meet of the season which was an invitational in memory of a deceased swimmer. I felt strong. I felt in control. And as a junior, I finally felt that I was needed as a role model for some of the younger athletes.
I acknowledged the pain in my lower right side during practice that day, but I ignored it. Instead, I concentrated on gripping the backstroke bar and thrusting my entire body up over the water and into a tight streamline. The motion hurt, but I wouldn’t stop. I entered the locker room completely soaked and exhausted and I popped a few Motrin into my mouth before driving home. Every time I hit a bump in the road, I grimaced. The heating pad and the extra strength pain medication didn’t put a dent in the pain in my side. At the time, it felt like the clamp we used in woodshop was being tightened on my body. My insides were being squeezed, but images of my upcoming races leaked into my thoughts anyway.
At the emergency room that evening, the doctor gripped my waist and shook me. He closely resembled Frankenstein. I remembered how my mom had rolled down her waistband to show me the scar left by her ruptured appendix, but the doctor quickly ruled out appendicitis and ovary complications. After I pulled up my hospital gown and the technician lathered my belly with gel during the ultrasound, my condition became glaringly obvious even to an untrained eye. A star shone brilliantly on the screen, directly in the middle of my right kidney. I had a kidney stone.
“I’m not going to lie to you,” one of the nurses said as she thrust a prescription for Vicodin and urine strainers into my mom’s arms. “I’ve seen grown men on their knees from the pain of one tiny stone.” My mom’s eyes flashed and I could imagine her rushing over to me and clamping her hands down over my ears. Through gritted teeth, she muttered something undistinguishable and we left the hospital to a silent and moonless night.
I awoke at two thirty a.m., a mere two hours after taking my first pill, to the most excruciating pain I had ever felt in my life. Somehow I staggered into the kitchen and unscrewed the lid to the pills and managed to summon the spit to swallow one. I returned to my warm bed shaking uncontrollably, but luckily the other half of my bunk bed was being occupied by a sister I can always rely on. She coaxed me through it and I fell back asleep.
The following morning, I felt terrible. Unanswerable questions popped into my head one after another. Why did this happen now? What had I done wrong? The best part of the day was when I saw my coach’s head bobbing up and down outside the flowerboxes in my living room window. He was wearing the bright purple “Kenzie Klassic” shirt and was literally clutching a can of homemade “whoopass.” He pretended not to notice me crying and described how the girls would kick some anus even without my help. (And for the next week, he called daily to check my condition.) I’ll never stop loving him.
The rest of the day, I sat heartbroken on the sofa. I clutched my stomach fleetingly and stared outside. Every few minutes, I checked the clock and speculated about which event was happening. And regardless of how much I tried to glorify my condition, I simply could not imagine any of my favorite female book characters or movie stars passing a kidney stone.
According to the doctor in the emergency room, kidney stones usually pass within the first two or three days after serious pain is felt. It did not pass for eight long, terrible days. My mother maintains that it was an exercise in patience sent straight from God, but I was too unhappy with any divine power to care what I was supposed to be learning.
Now I can see more clearly. I understand that sometimes things happen for unknown reasons and that maybe the waves of pain the crashed over my body were to remind me of how lucky I am. I haven’t had much experience with pain or suffering and I cannot even attempt to fathom how much there is in this world. Despite my age, gender and eating habits, this happened to me. It reminds me that life isn’t always predictable or painless. I can smile and joke about being sixteen going on sixty, but unlike the elderly, my memory is impeccable and I’ll remember the lessons I learned for a long time.