Eight (8!) years ago when we first arrived in Germany, we spent many hours exploring our new neighborhood. Long walks through foreign streets, playing in neighborhood parks, hours browsing stores and new-to-us wares. On one of our first walks we passed a stately old house, surround by a brick wall and iron gates at the entrance. An engraved sign proclaimed “Krankenartz”.

We stopped, puzzled over what a Krankenartz could possibly be. Since I speak Dutch fluently, I am by birth Dutch, I knew artz was most likely arts or doctor. Dave speculated that Kranken sounded like “cranky”. We decided that cranky was closest to crazy, therefore a Krankenart must be a: Psychiatrist!

It was almost a year later that we learned Krank = sick. And Krankenartz = doctor. But we were close. We were in the medical field, and, really, being sick does make one cranky. It is the perfect name.

I got really cranky about a week ago. On Father’s Day. We’d spent a lovely afternoon & evening strolling the streets of Sindlefingen at their yearly International Food Fest, happily tasting treats from around the world, listening to folk music, watching live performances, and generally having a perfect day. Near the end my back hurt from all the walking. Or so I thought. By 4 am Monday, I knew. I had a kidney stone.

I planned to wait it out till 8 am. I wanted to get Dane to school, not get in trouble with the German system for him being late or absent, and not wanting him to sit in a hospital all day with me. Unfortunately, you cannot plan a kidney stone. By 6 am my pain had exploded to Mach 10. You always hear that kidney stones are the most painful thing you can experience. It’s true. I would rather have 10 more children via natural childbirth than one hour of kidney pain.

I couldn’t walk, I could only writhe on the floor in immense pain. Tessa called “112”, Europes 911, and three big burly guys arrived almost immediately, filling my bedroom to the brim. However. They are mostly a transport system. They are not as trained as they are in the states. The three of them stood there, as helpless as Dave, and watched me contort in pain. Luckily the local Notartz or emergency doctor, was nearby. They called him and he showed up in minutes. Seconds later I was under the soothing influence of some amazing painkillers.

The rest of the day was a blur. I was transported to the nearest hospital, examined, given more painkillers, diagnosed as having “kidney colic” and then transported to another hospital over 30 minutes away. Because the first one did not have a kidney doctor. This was not fun. I wound up sitting in the waiting room of an urologist, alone, confused, drugged, and with the pain slowly returning.

Eventually everything went black, I woke up in an examining room, vomiting, hooked up to various machines. Soon I was again heavily medicated and checked in to a semi-private room upstairs. Between the drugs, and the pain, I honestly had no clue which way was up, what was happening, where my phone was, where my shoes were or what happened to Dave and the kids.

I was out of pain, a steady drip from an IV kept me from climbing the walls or jumping out a window. I also had a roommate. Three feet over was a chipper, older woman happily chatting away with another lady I assumed to be her daughter, and about my age. I slurred a “Guten tag” in their direction and fell into a deep, drug-adled sleep.

I woke up screaming in pain. My IV empty. My roommate staring at me wide-eyed with concern. A nurse was at my side immediately, refilling my IV. I could feel the cool medicine drip into my hand, travel up my arm and provide relief in minutes. I sheepishly apologized for my behavior to both the nurse and my roommate, both of whom graciously accepted.

My roommate was a lovely, sympathetic woman. She slowed down her German for me, worried about me, and made me feel loved and cared for all from her own hospital bed, three feet away. That evening the kidney doc came by and laid out my options. I wanted to avoid surgery, so I opted for drugs and praying I could pass the stone naturally.

It was a rough night. I quickly learned to ask for drugs when the pain returned, but the pain did return every 3 – 4 hours. Each time I woke my roommate, much to my dismay, and she soothed me with her kindness. She was my rock and held me up when pain and fear overwhelmed me.

The next day we were served breakfast, both sat up groaning in our beds and lifted the lids. Our eyes met. What new hell was this? A slice of bologna. A slice of cheese. 1 cherry tomato. And 2 slices of flavorless bread. Sigh. I had no appetite, and didn’t take a nibble. My roommate had turned her back to me, sitting on the edge of her bed. I could hear her struggle. I craned my neck to see around her, how could bread & sparse coldcuts cause a struggle?

For the first time I noticed her left arm, encased in an external, metal halo-cast. She was trying to cut her bread into little squares, like my mother had done for me when I was small. She was not succeeding. I offered to help, and she gratefully took me up on my offer. It was wonderful to give back a little after all the support she had given me.

The next couple days went by in a blur. It was the hottest days of the year and we were on the 5th floor of a no-air conditioning hospital, laying on plastic mattresses. Our days were filled with fresh drugs, sleep, pain, and repeat. Occasionally food found it’s way to our room. Neither of us enjoying any of it. In our good moments we talked and got to know each other a little better. In our bad moments we offered words of support or help.

It was easier for me to move around. I helped cut her food, and I pushed her pole when she needed the restroom. When the pain overwhelmed, she was my coach, my lifeline, until the new meds cooled the intensity. Finally, my choice was taken away. I could not pass the stone naturally. My kidney and ureter were both too swollen. I needed a stent to open the ureter and to give the kidney time to recover. I was wheeled away for minor surgery, my roommate smiling encouragingly and waving as I left.

I returned to find her still smiling. Her encouragement and cheery words never faltering. Post-surgery was not easy for me. I had some issues, something went wrong, and a team of doctors and nurses rushed to my side. It took minutes, but those minutes rivaled the intense pain I’d felt when the kidney stone first said hello. After, a fresh new IV in my veins, cool drugs dripping relief, I once again fell asleep.

I woke to my roommate getting her bandages changed, by now I knew she’d fainted and fallen. I didn’t know how wide-spread her injuries were. While her arm had a compound, open fracture, hence the halo-cast, I hadn’t notice the huge black bruise covering the entire left hip and upper thigh. I hadn’t seen the bruised, scraped and swollen shoulder, or the open wound and bruise on her right ankle. While I only had a 3 mm stone, my roommate was injured and bruised over 50% of her body. She had never once complained, cried out in pain. She had never once lost her smile or positive attitude. My roommate was an angel. A truly beautiful human being.

The insertion of the stent between my kidney and bladder took away the brunt of the pain. I had new pain. New discomforts and so much blood. But it was all normal, and I still got IV painkillers as needed. After a day, I didn’t need them as much. My pain, while still there, never got above a 7. Usually hovering around a 3 or a 4. I begged to go home. My appetite was returning, and the bread & water diet at the hospital was still unappealing.

I suddenly saw three doctors in one day. I had a scan, an ultrasound, an a pre-op screening for my surgery to remove the stent and scope my kidney to try to remove the stone. I was declared healthy enough to go home. I was loaded up with one more dose of magic painkillers, a prescription for antibiotics and (so low dose they never worked) painkillers, and a special card to tuck in my wallet identifying me as a stent patient.

As Dave packed my things, it’s amazing how much stuff you collect in four days, my roommate looked on wistfully from her side of the room. I asked her when her surgery was, to set her wrist. She still had 6 days to wait. She had just finished her last IV antibiotic that morning. I knew her daughter was staying in her house, nearby, so she could visit her mom every day. I told her to ask if she could home.

“I can do that?” she said. Her face lighting up at the possibility of being in her own home. Her own bed. Of course you can, I said.  She buzzed the nurse immediately. Soon our room was like Grand Central station. I had nurses, and a doctor on  my side. Providing final checkout stuffs, removing my much loved IV, and providing packets of paper for my surgery in July and instructions for home care.

And then it was over. Everyone left. It was time to go home. I walked over to my roommate, now out of my matching hospital gown and in my “street” pajamas. I grasped her good hand warmly and said a heartfelt goodbye. I would miss her. Her warm hand held mine and she said her goodbyes, and even better? She beamed at me, a smile that could light up a banquet hall:

“I’m going home.”