Many people get kidney stones once in their life. It's something they never forget — the searing, intense pain.
Other folks, like Stephen Stokesberry for instance, get them again. And again. And again. It seems to Stephen that they usually strike at night or on the weekend, and often when he and his wife are traveling far from home.
"That tube between the kidney and the bladder is really tiny," he says, "and when the stones are in there it hurts like hell. It's like a red hot knife jabbed into your nether regions.
"I end up in the emergency room because they always happen on the weekends. Or I'm in Winthrop at 9 o'clock at night. (That time it meant a 90-minute ambulance ride to Omak.)"
Kidney stones are no joke. Stephen is particularly susceptible to calcium oxalate stones. It is the most common type of kidney stone and is linked to foods high in oxalate, a naturally occurring substance found in plants and animals. These foods include beets, black tea, chocolate, nuts, potatoes, spinach and more.
Or as Stephen puts it, "Everything I kinda like is not good for me: peanut butter, broccoli, fruit with small seeds, almonds . . .
"I think the first kidney stone I had I was probably 40," he says, thinking back. "I've probably had at least seven instances in my life.
"My most recent episode was in March 2019. It started hurting and I thought, 'Ohhh, shoot another kidney stone.' How do I know it was kidney stones? Oh, you know! I went to the ER. They did an MRI, and once they knew what it was they gave me painkillers.
"The pain can last half an hour or up to two hours. Once the stone passes into the bladder, the exit tube is much bigger. The stone must have passed into the bladder while I was there, because the pain went away. I went home."
Emergency room care is great for, well, emergencies. But for Stephen's continued care for kidney stones and other issues, he has long relied on Dr. Mark Uhlman at Yakima Urology Associates.
"He's my primary doctor as far I'm concerned," says Stephen. "I also have prostate problems, so I see him regularly.
"About a month after I had that latest round of kidney stones, it was time for my six-month prostate checkup. Dr. Uhlman was looking at my records, and he saw from the MRI that I had many stones, about 16 of them. He said to me, 'You know, I should blast these all out.'
Stephen made an appointment. Dr. Uhlman took aim at Stephen's kidney stones right in the office (using a process called extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy). The whole deal, in and out, took about two hours.
"They blasted them all apart, but they're still in me," Stephen says, matter of factly. "They're sand now. Tiny, tiny, tiny. And they're telling me I'm not supposed to eat certain foods so that they might pass through, and so the bits that don't do that don't grow as fast. They also tell me to drink almost a gallon of water every day."
Stephen takes his reoccurring kidney stones in stride, being the veteran that he is. But if he could give younger men a bit of advice it would be this:
"If you don't want to be surprised, you should go to a urologist to find out if you're conducive to kidney stones. The other thing you should do is interview your father and your uncles. My grandfather had a history of kidney stones. Nobody went to the hospital then. You know what my grandfather did? He paced the floor. I found this out from my mother only after my first bout of kidney stones.
"Find out if people in your family have suffered from kidney stones... or diabetes, or Lou Gehrig's disease. Find out."