What my kidney stone taught me about acceptance and resistance
Updated: Jun 10, 2021
I woke up suddenly, gasping in pain.
It was as if my body had been invaded by an alien spirit who was intent on creating the worst pain possible.
It took me a few moments to collect my wits enough to recognize that the severe pain in my left flank (lower back to the left side of my spine) and sending shooting signals of pain down into my groin on that side, could mean only ONE thing: that I was suffering from a kidney stone that was trying to leave my body.
I was moderately grateful at that moment that my medical knowledge allowed me to recognize what was going on, and to keep myself calm enough despite barely being able to breathe because of the pain. “Wow,” I thought. “When they describe the pain of kidney stones being as strong as labor pains, they mean it!” I knew that others describe it as “The worst pain I have ever experienced,” and I recognized how that was probably true. I then found myself recognizing that the pain was coming and easing in waves, or spasms, and when the waves got really bad (imagine a huge wave at the seashore cresting right before it crashes on the rocks) I would vomit, just a little, but without any warning, and without the sensation of being sick to my stomach. I knew that the most important thing I could do was to hydrate myself, so I forced myself to drink as much water as possible, and eventually fell back to sleep with the pain at a tolerable level, but not gone.
Next morning, I felt a bit better, and decided not to worry about it too much, figuring that perhaps the little nugget had passed during the night or would soon do so. Unfortunately, about a week later, the pain returned and was even more severe, only this time in the afternoon. My physician scheduled me for a computerized scan of my abdomen (CT scan, also known as CAT scan), which revealed that I had a moderate-sized kidney stone at the place where the ureter (the tube that goes from the kidney to the bladder) meets the bladder on the left side. This was causing dilation and swelling of my kidney as well as of the ureter. There were also many smaller stones dispersed throughout both of my kidneys. Ugh! So even if I got rid of the main offender, I had to get used to the fact that I had many of these irritations.
I WAS NOT HAPPY!
I started to read everything I could find on kidney stones, made some alterations to my diet, and continued to drink what seemed like gallons of water each day. A few days later I saw a urologist, who counseled me further on diet and hydration, and we discussed possible approaches if intervention was required.
I was not ready for any “invasive” procedures, so I returned home to strain my urine, drink lemon juice and water, and wait. The pain was persistently present but had moved from being awful to just annoying. However, I was a bit anxious about the acute horrible pain returning, but once I accepted that I could not really do anything to prevent that beside what I was already doing, it seemed to lessen a bit.
Well, by now you are wondering why exactly I am dragging you through this story with all its gory details. It’s simple--because I learned a very important lesson from this experience, and from the resolution, and I want to share it with you.
I was getting ready to travel by air to assist my daughter and son-in-law with some childcare issues, and I was really nervous that the stone would decide to raise its ugly head (I wasn’t sure it was ugly, but I had never seen a particularly beautiful looking stone in any of the textbooks) while I was traveling.
What if I couldn’t keep up with my hydration?
What if I was in so much pain, they had to make an emergency landing?
So many thoughts were going through my head, that I decided I had to do SOMETHING. And then it hit me! I have learned, and, indeed I have taught, the mindfulness principle that ACCEPTANCE is the best way to deal with difficult situations—that it is RESISTANCE which turns pain into suffering. OK, I decided to try it. And, through a series of meditations I managed to come to a peaceful acceptance of the pain. This made it hurt a lot less. But the next day, despite feeling generally better due to lessening of the pain, I realized I was still anxious because the stone was still in my body.
Before I fell asleep that night, I had a chat with my stone.
I said, “OK, I suppose you are my guest for as long as you choose to stay. While I have not chosen to carry you in my body, I will now accept that you are here, and I will make you welcome. I would appreciate it if, in return, you would not hurt me any more.”
I am serious. Those are the words I said, and then I went to sleep.
When I woke up the next morning, there was a strange feeling in my groin. I realized it was an ABSENCE of pain. “Hmm,” I thought. “What could be going on now?” I rushed to the bathroom (a familiar and frequent occurrence due to the large amount of water I consume) and gasped in amazement. There was my stone!
This is no joke. It was just like that.
Did my stone leave my body BECAUSE I decided to accept that it was there? Well, I cannot do the gold standard “randomized, controlled, double-blinded study” to determine beyond any doubt whether that is the case. However, I do believe that my ACCEPTANCE allowed my whole body to relax. I believe that in turn, relaxation allowed the non-consciously controlled muscles in my ureter to relax, to stop being in “spasm” and the stone, with encouragement from my large intake of water, was able to pass.
The heart rate tracing at the top of this post is my heart rate during that night taken from my FitBit™ tracker that I always wear. I think it’s pretty remarkable the way my heart rate was high for the first few hours and then fell to a nice low level where it stayed for the rest of the night. Either my heart rate dropped because the pain stopped after the stone passed, or my body fully relaxed, my heart rate fell, and then the stone passed. Either way, it made me happy.
So, what does any of this mean for you? And how does this relate to coaching, or any of the other topics we discuss on this blog?
What it means, from my standpoint, is that I now fully understand the feeling that accompanies the act of acceptance.
I now understand that acceptance is not a passive undertaking but requires active engagement.
I guess the other thing it means is that while I had read and heard about the beauty of acceptance from others, having never experienced it I never truly “got it.” I am hoping that by sharing all the details and helping you feel the experience along with me, perhaps you “get it”now, too. I hope you do because this was a great lesson to learn.
I know that the stone’s buddies are still in residence in my body. I ACCEPT that they are there. That doesn’t mean that I am happy to have them, or that I would consciously CHOOSE for them to be there. Nor does it mean that I throw up my hands and give up or give in. No, I continue to work on lessening the impact they may have on my body and how it functions, by following the physicians’ recommendations, eating an appropriate diet, and drinking the appropriate fluids—and A LOT OF THEM! But I am no longer laying awake at night worrying about when the next stone will make the journey to the outside. It will be whenever it will be.
Tell me, in the comments below, what kinds of issues are you trying to learn to ACCEPT? How is it going? What have you learned about the process? Have you seen any results to support OR refute my story? I am honestly interested in knowing whether this process is useful to others.
Thanks for reading. I value your time and am honored you chose to spend the last few minutes reading this post. I hope it provided value for you. If so, I would appreciate it if you would share it with someone who might also find it of value.
To add more value to your life ask yourself this question every day: What choice can I make and action can I take, in this moment to create the greatest net value? Then take the free VQ (value quotient) assessment to start your journey with Axiogenics, and learn how to consistently play your "A" game.