A few days in hospital…

By August 25, 2020Other

Perhaps I should precede this essay with the sort of solemn warnings we get on television that what we are about to see might shock or worry viewers. If there be such among the readers I apologise in advance. I simply needed to get this experience out of my mind.

Earlier in August I entered my 84thyear, and wondered again, as you do at this age, how long I had left. I don’t have a bucket list, neither my wife nor I will travel overseas again, and I am more or less content with what I currently do, write books, maintain my website and attend to medical visitations of several kinds. And by and large my battle against cancer was going well, until this month. I log the ordinary indicators of my health on a daily basis, and could see that my weight was slipping rather than increasing. That was not good, and I could see no obvious reason for the change. Abdominal pain, a curse now for the past two years, was increasing. I’ve had a kidney stone, and that was gruesome. This pain was not quite as severe, but finally unpleasant enough for me to agree that I should go to hospital where some real pain relief could be provided. The doctors there would be able to find out what was wrong.

I arrived into the Emergency Department around 10 pm and at about midnight was having a CT Scan. The diagnosis was that I had a ‘ureteric stone’, and something would be done about it in the morning. I was then transferred to a ward, and did my best to sleep. Oh, yes, I did get some real pain relief. What is a uretric stone, you ask. Well, it’s a kidney stone that has became stuck somewhere else, in my case in one of the ureters, the tubes that carry urine from the kidneys to the bladder. About nine in the morning I had an exchange with the anaesthetic specialist, who was informative and had a group of students with him. I was assured that this was a routine procedure. What was it? Well, a tube would be placed through a catheter that would hold the stone in place and allow fluids to flow. That tube is called a stent. A few weeks later, when everything had settled down, another stent would be placed in the same position, and the stents and the stone exploded by sound waves. It didn’t sound highly attractive. ‘Lithotripsy’ is the technical term for the final procedure, and it didn’t sound an attractive term either.

What happened after that is somewhat blurred in my memory. I do remember the anaesthetist placing a mask over my face and asking me to take in oxygen, then another mask and an immediate total blackout on my part. When the procedure was over I was placed in Recovery, about which I remember very little, other than being asked my name and date of birth, questions that I answered perhaps several dozen times over the next three days. At length I returned to the ward, was greeted by my three companions, and tried to sleep, that which ‘knits up the ravelled sleave of care’. Yes, I studied Macbeth for the Leaving in 1953. For the next three days I was desperately underslept, and indeed even now, two weeks after the event, I am still short of sleep.

The reasons are straightforward. Every four hours my blood pressure was tested. That’s six times in every 24 hours. Then I had an intravenous antibiotic, also every four hours, but not the same four hours. Then my bladder woke me every couple of hours. There were three meals and three breaks for tea. Each of the three shifts began with a public discussion of where patient Donald was in the scheme of things. My three companions had similar interruptions. In no sense am I critical. The doctors and nurses were exemplary, caring and professional. But my cancer and the chemotherapy already rob me of energy, and sleep alone helps you to cope. I just couldn’t get enough of it.

The general anaesthetic I was given also seemed to destroy my sense of time. It seemed that I had been there for days and days. In fact, when I told my daughter this she pointed out that I had only been in the hospital for less than a day. I kept closing my eyes to grab whatever sleep was about. Each time I did this it was as though another day had passed. All four of us in the ward wanted to go home. I had to wait until the doctors were satisfied that my bladder function was okay. When the catheter was removed (ouch!) would my system remember what used to happen before the catheter and the dreaded bag? Fortunately, it did, and I received applause from the nurse for that small victory. Finally I was pronounced fit for duty, and told I could go home that day, which turned out to be in mid afternoon. I went at once to bed, and spent the next two days just sleeping.

Now I wait for Phase Two, the second stent and the ultrasonic explosion. Apparently this is much less of an ordeal. I hope so.

I’ve not had quite such a hospital experience in the past, or if I have had one, I’ve forgotten all about it. I learned through it that old men have much less resilience than younger men. I learned, with real gratitude, that today’s medical professionals are on top of their jobs. I learned that hospital beds are precious, for the hospital wanted me out of mine as much as I wanted to go home. I learned about shared adversity. One of my companions was a skier with a broken leg, and his first experiment on crutches was applauded by the rest of us. We’d never met before, and are unlikely to meet again, but for three days we shared all the excitement and pain of serious illness. I learned, again, that we have a decent health-care system

And all that explains why there was no essay last week. My thanks to those who sent get-well messages or were simply worried about what had happened to me. I’m still in the land of the living, and hope to remain there for some considerable time to come.

Finally, something on the funny side.

How do I follow the science? Is there a consumer’s guide to the right science to follow?

Join the discussion 18 Comments

  • James Came says:

    Don, yes I was beginning to worry about your well-being rather selfishly at first wondering what was holding up the essay. Thank you for your positive take on your circumstances I only hope that we would get that from the television rather than what ‘follows their solemn warnings.’ Wishing you a comfortable recovery.

  • BB says:

    Hi Don I have had many stones removed five at one go once, the first one was with ultrasound. All the others were done using laser the endoscope is a class fibre small enough to go right through into the kidney. I very strongly advise you if you can possibly avoid it don’t do ultrasound the difference between it and the laser technique is vast it is much much much less painful. My experiences are fading in my memory it is so long ago must be more than five years. My urologist advises strongly not to drink black coffee and I have had a thing called Eurolift which opens the urethra. Plus there is other medication that shrinks the prostate and that helps since lack of flow is also one of the problems. As far as the stones themselves are concerned people talk about the pain but for me it has always been the nausea being more important than the pain.

  • thanks so much for sharing Don -the trials of our later years!!


  • Doug Hurst says:

    Good to hear you are still with us Don, and should remain so for a while.

    Modern medicine is something of a wonder, but still not painless unfortunately.

    But it is still a wonder, and without it I would have no teeth (instead of enough to still do the job) and be blinded by cataracts (now removed and replaced by little lenses giving me almost perfect sight) – but none of this would matter as I would have died from pneumonia fifteen years ago were it not for antibiotics.

    Our generation (I did Macbeth in 1957) know how wonderful this all is, but a disaffected and disgruntled element of the young seem to take it all for granted, with never a thought for the mostly white men who pioneered the science behind this and so much more. No doubt many were racists and sexists, but their legacy shows no signs of these flaws and we all benefit, whatever our colour or gender.

    All the best. And as we say these days, take care, stay healthy.

  • Neville says:

    Thanks for your update Don and a number of blokes have told me about kidney stones etc and none of them liked the experience.
    I hope you can now catch up on much needed sleep and I think we can forget about new items per week if it becomes too much for you. All the best Don and I hope things improve for you from now on.

  • JMO says:

    Thank you Don for sharing your experience., medical ordeals and positive narrative. My wife, Frances, was in hospital for 2 months after a severe car accident, I visited her at least once every day and we both share your views on the medical profession; they are very good as is our health system. We admired them.

    Wishing you a speedy recovery. I read drinking a litre of water after we get up, 1 hour before breakfeast, flushes out the kidneys and helps the liver and other organs. After reading your experience I think I will give this a go.

    Also thanks for the cartoon, well said.

  • spangled drongo says:

    Good on you Don. Sounds like you are coping well, under the circs. All the best.

  • Peter E says:

    I was sorry to hear of your trials Don but glad to find you back home and writing. How great is Shakespeare comparing the care-soothing qualities of sleep with the knitted repair of a worn sleeve?

  • Taieri says:

    My best wishes.

  • Chris Warren says:


    I have had similar sojourns in hospital and truly, the level of care and what medicine can do today are both marvelous. This includes cancer treatments.

    The point made above about black coffee is good advice.

  • Boambee John says:


    Best wishes for a speedy (and painless) recovery.

  • david purcell says:

    A most unpleasant experience Don. Do hope your recovery is speedy and the second procedure is painless!

  • Ian Plimer says:

    I wish you a speedy recovery. Can you imagine being in a hospital that relied on solar and wind electricity? I too only have good words for the medical profession and their embracing of the great advances over the last few decades, especially with cancer research. Gone are our Macquarie University days when you would comprehensively thrash me at squash despite me being younger and fitter.

  • Peter S says:


    Thanks for the essay. It reminds me of my own experience in 2007 when I had a heart attack, a stent inserted to open a blocked artery, followed next day by a quadruple bi-pass. Your experience with the anaesthetic is eerily familiar, as is the sleeping difficulties because of frequent medical interventions which were part of the after care. My experience with the medical staff was similar.

    I had very vivid dreams coming out of the anaesthetic and have memory of the intensive care nurses telling me to go back to sleep because I was waking up too early and fighting with the intubation that was still in place after the operation.

    Like you I was relieved to find my body functioning as normal as I recovered.

    Keep well. I do enjoy your musings

  • beththeserf says:

    Don, glad yr back. Keep well and keep writing!

  • … old men have much less resilience than younger men. Normally, I’d agree this correct. But you are not an “old man.” You are DON AITKIN, distinguished Australian, holder of sometimes-controversial views, loving husband to Bev. YOU WILL GET THROUGH THIS. xoxo and hugs from Nicole and Ron

  • Peter Kemmis says:

    Hi Don,

    Very tough. Many have been there, but it is rough when you’re older. Keep going, mate. And your perceptions in no way flag, nor your writing.

  • […] So there it is. I learned a lot, and IASP and Wikipedia were  a help, and are worth going to if you too would like to learn more about this universal and troubling phenomenon. Now to Phase Two in the story of my ureteric stone. If you haven’t read about Phase One, it is here. […]

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