The Other Side of the Sheet

I have a pretty cast iron stomach. The most I usually feel is slight nausea regardless of what I eat. Six weeks ago when I had my head down paying homage to the great white porcelain god Toto I knew it was because of the Bratwurst sausage I had purchased off a market bbq the day before.

The rhythmic involuntary ritual body movements of vomiting caused excruciating pain in my side. Within a day it had all eased and life returned to normal.

Four weeks later I had a similar experience, this time in Melbourne. Again I knew what had caused it – chicken at an Indian restaurant the night before. An expensive visit to the doctor on my way to the airport suggested I had kidney stones not food poisoning. On both occasions.

Further tests back in Auckland strengthened that likelihood with a “dipstick test” confirming raised levels of protein and blood in my urine.

A week and 70 painkillers later a scan showed two kidney stones, one 9mmx9mm. No way that was going to be passed, thank you very much!

The next morning I checked in early to my Airbnb at Auckland City Hospital and for the first time in 67 years found myself the other side of the hospital bed sheet.

The procedure required for removing kidney stones is amazing to me. No blades. No incisions. A general anaesthetic ensures a pencil-sized tube can be inserted through the urethra up into the bladder. (I’m using the third-person to get some emotional distance here.) Somehow another tube with a small camera on the end is inserted through this even further up into the kidney and the surgeon has a look around for stones. On the monitor they apparently appear softball-sized. When they are found an attached laser blasts away at them in a Star Wars battle-type scenario as they spin around and bits fly off in all directions.

All inside my kidney; which is inside my body.

All that remained now was for the bits and pieces of the stone to get from kidney to the outside world. This happens through the inserted large tube.

Over the next 18 hours I watched flotsam and jetsam (used in the non-technical non-maritime sense) roll down the tube as the colour of the accompanying liquid changed from the appropriately named (Resene Paints Fashion Colour Chart) “Trouble” through “Havoc” to “Turkish Delight” and “Vanilla Ice”.

Hospital staff were astonishingly good: helpful, attentive, efficient, pleasant. Hospital food was excellent. (Even allowing for my having been on an enforced fast for 25 hours.) A wide choice at every meal. Flavoursome, at least warm, good-sized servings, and attractively placed on the plate. Most people can’t make a decent cup of tea so that was easily excused in an institutional setting. Even having my genitalia handled by more people in the last 24 hours than I had in the previous 60 years seemed acceptable. I can cope with being objectified.

So I find myself recovering at home. A little less recovered than I anticipated. The colour chart fluctuates between “Vanilla Ice” and “Suzie Q” and sometimes gets close to the desired polyurethane semi-gloss. Pain-killers are no longer required. My bladder brain needs to re-learn its function of holding on until I tell it to let go. A stent is to be removed in 3 weeks, which will hopefully stop the painful renal reflux (Since the stent is in my ureter up near my kidneys I have some nervousness about how it will be taken out. That’s a long way inside me. No strings attached.)

The pain of kidney stones passing or blocking is often compared to that incurred in childbirth. A woman who has experienced both assures me it is. Watching my blood pour into the toilet numerous times a day is quite traumatic. Wearing undie-liners is awkward. I have a deepened appreciation for what women go through as a matter-of-course.

While a routine operation for surgical teams (high summer temperatures and humidity make this time of year peak-kidney stone season in Auckland, with a queue every day for surgery), it was far from that for me. And while being not far above an ingrown toenail on the scale of traumatic events, it was significant for me, never before having had a broken bone or hospitalizing illness or injury.

So in the light of my last few years of focused learning how to be before I do, and to find a more contemplative way of being and doing, what did I learn or have strengthened in my understanding of my faith and life?

  1. Prayer is not a vending machine. Prayer request in : Solution out. Prayer is a state of being arising from an ongoing, growing-in-intimacy relationship with God more than it is a telling God what I need or want. In fact when the former is in play my prayer becomes more like a conversation about how I am feeling, and what concerns me, rather than a shopping list. I found I could be content with knowing that my life is embedded in God and whatever happens will be OK. So my prayer became much more concerned with what I could learn through this experience than about getting to an end point that I had determined would be what was best for me ie a return to good health so I could get back to doing what I needed to do (for God of course. My help is needed.) This state of being didn’t mean no requests, but it put them in the context of a loving relationship rather than one of supply and demand.
  1. Learning to relax and embed myself in God removes anxiety. Anxiety arises from worrying about doing. What will I do if I can’t get to work on Sunday? What if this never gets fixed? How will I cope? I’ve been reminded, again, that God couldn’t care less what I do. Jesus didn’t come and die so I could do more. He came and died so I could be more. Be more of who I was created to be. Be more deeply embedded and resting in the loving presence of God my creator and lover. Be more loving, be more honest, be more integrated, be more just, be made whole. Of course all of those work themselves out in some form of doing, but that’s a by-product of being, not the aim of living.
  1. The health system in New Zealand is good. Very good. The staff are incredible and should be paid more, especially at the ward level. I am very fortunate to have all this care done at no cost. ($5 for a prescription post-discharge.) It may not always be perfect but it worked for me. Compared to people in refugee camps and the developing world (even the USA) I am among the elite. I need to appreciate that more. Any sense of entitlement belongs among the list of my key sins and those of most white Western Christians. Concern about the temperature of my rolled oats or how often my water jug is refilled are measures only of the insidious nature of this sin.
  1. Visiting people in hospital is always a tricky thing. I’ve been on that side of the sheets many times. As a pastor I want to show people they are cared for and thought of by their faith community and, if needed, to offer some pastoral comfort (or “afflict the comfortable” as it has sometimes been described) as a somewhat neutral person. As an introvert I was quite happy not having visitors (family excepted). My tenure was hour to hour anyway and I didn’t know when I went in that I would be there for two days. Most visitors visit out of their own need rather than that of the patient anyway. There is an element of that even when I’m visiting as a pastor. I don’t think that motive matters as long as it’s acknowledged. But the constant re-telling of your story, while struggling to get over anaesthetic, dropping off to sleep, drug rounds, and so on aren’t conducive to lengthy conversations. I can understand how tiring visitors could be. I will have a deeper appreciation for the hospital situations I go in to.
  1. I don’t want this experience again! While I appreciate everything about it as a learning experience (yes), I would rather not have it again. So I will eat less nuts (cutting down from a jar a week of the nectar of God – Pic’s Peanut Butter – won’t be easy), less dairy, sugar and salt, drink more water and lemon and lime juices, and pray for those working in our health system more often.

“Wake me to your presence Lord, so that I don’t miss the times of trial that can shape me more into the likeness of Christ.”

Be silent.

Be still.



Before your God.

Say nothing.

Ask nothing.

Be silent.

Be still.

Let your God look upon you.

That is all.

God knows.

God understands.

God loves you.

With an enormous love,

And only wants

To look upon you

With that love.




Let Your God Love You, by Edwina Gateley.


















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