"A kidney stone?" you interject, "what kind of a story is this?"
"Yes," I respond, "and I am rejoicing over my kidney stone."
Also, Dr. Love - a caring Physician from Kaiser fits in here and so does Attorney Wong as well as Mayor Jackson, but before I explain all that let me go back.
The past ten days have been hard and bad. Suddenly I begin to know that I am mortal. You go through life and never have any major medical crises and you think, "I am not vulnerable. I am immortal."
"Others go to the hospital. Others need their doctor every month. Others are hypochondriacs. They are not strong like me."
"Others take 22 pills a day, but my Dad at age 102 took no medications and I will be like him. My body is good even in my seventies. I still can shovel the snow in the driveway and drive alone all the way to Columbus and back."
These are my arrogant thoughts.
Then something happens. It was ten days ago and we were attending a wonderful event at Margaret Wong's amazing legal offices with all of its promise, magic, and generous people. The food was good, the conversation better, and the program best of all.
But I began to feel nauseous. This had started a little before we came but now it grows worse. I needed to lay down. I search each of Wong's offices looking for one with a couch. Then I can go in, close the door, pretend this office is occupied, and flop down on the soft couch.
But no such luck. There are no couches. I can only hide out so long in the men's room. Some little boy keeps coming by and wanting in. I can only "beat him off" so long.
Then I spot there is a couch by a window in Attorney Wong's front reception room. Three people are on the far side sitting on another couch. But I will ignore their presence and lay down anyway. The couch, however, is too cramped. I am an uncomfortable pretzel, all scrunched up.
Soon Ms. Ryan comes out of the huge community gathering. "I saw you going in and out of the bathroom," she says, "Maybe it is time to take you out somewhere." (Later she will tell me: "You looked all white and pale. You looked like that before you came. But you were stubborn and insisted to come. If you do not take care of yourself, nobody else will.")
I do not even argue. I am holding my stomach and feel like I am suffering the man's version of morning sickness. However, a day later after a good night's rest, I seem to feel better and return to the office and all the work on the computer. Four days go by and I am again invincible. The pain is gone.
But then comes the following Monday night and I awaken with pain deep in my stomach. I get up and walk back and forth in the bedroom seventy-two times. I go into the bathroom and kneel at the porcelain altar holding onto both rounded smooth white sides of the toilet bowl. Something is coming up my throat and out as I cough and cough harder and louder.
Ugly stuff comes out that I won't even describe. There is a pain down in my gut. I feel like the poor humans in the Alien movie when the beast drilled into their abdomens. Is this colon cancer? Or stomach and pancreatic ills? Or a huge gall stone? Or maybe prostate problems? Or could this be a friendly kidney stone? It cannot be a kidney stone because it is taking so long to travel the tubes and out.
"Please, please Dear God, let it be just a kidney stone and help it to pass," I beg in prayer.
"I have not heard from you in a while." I think I hear God's voice. He is always complaining and now He is taking advantage of my pain to scold me.
"Oh, God, I am sorry for not contacting you more, help me and I will pray daily or even five times a day like the Muslims." I beg.
Then I stagger back to the bedroom. I will journey back and forth to the throne room several times. Finally I drop off to sleep as a DVD plays on the television, It is something about a benefit for Tibet and the Dalai Lama seems to be talking to me, "You should drink more liquids and the stone will pass," I think he is preaching to me.
So Tuesday morning I am all right. I am cured. The pain and my fears have all passed away. My anxieties about colon cancer are now forgotten. If it was a kidney stone, it must have departed because my stomach feels well-behaved. I even enjoy my usual Vietnamese morning coffee, half a banana, and rye toast with lots of salty butter.
I have lunch with one of my very favorite Cleveland attorneys. He is of Jewish background, so very Jewish and I appreciate that so much. For me Israel is a very special place and a very special country. There can be no compromise.
So he explains it all to me: "I have been to these places over there. I have sat down with people from both sides. I have heard the Palestinians. There was one mayor of a Palestinian village who told me, 'We all--everybody gets along.'
"My Jewish friends nearby," the Cleveland attorney explained, "They also report, 'We can sit down together and get along.'"
He then recounts, "Here is how it works. In one place, some extremists destroyed a home of a Jewish family. So the next night a group of extremists on the Jewish side destroyed an olive tree orchard owned by a Palestinian farmer. Then the messages went back and forth between the Jews and the Palestinians. 'Do we all want to keep doing this destruction or is there another way?'
"It was not in anyone's best interest to destroy each other," my friend concluded. "and the nonsense stopped."
While I appreciate this tale of peace and harmony from the Holy Lands, I still feel bad for my lawyer friend. He is currently in a big battle: "This is very close to me. Our firm is splitting," he sadly relates. "It is all very painful. Half the firm goes with him and half goes with me. I thought we had an agreement concerning splitting the clients but they broke that even before they walked out through the conference room door where we hammered out the deal.
"They undercut me," he explains, "when I have a client appointment, they even waylay the client at the office door and I never get to see that client although that one had called me first."
I am thinking this is so terrible after all these years they have been together. I can hear the pain in his voice and feel it at the small table where we sit at the Harp Restaurant.
Later we shall leave the Harp restaurant together. I am now beginning to feel worse again. In fact, the pain was attacking me even as I sat in the restaurant and I could not eat any of my Lenten fish sandwich nor even enjoy the apple sauce which I ordered to replace the slate rocks called potato chips.
I get in my car and again I worry. The pain is returning and growing worse. Maybe it really is colon cancer? Or maybe prostate problems which strike one male in five and I could be the lucky winner? Or could it be some kind of rectal cancer like the alien eating me from the rear? I feel something growing in my abdomen and devouring my insides. I am mortal again.
So I go home and lay down. In the night I jump up as the pain bores deep into my bowel and won't let me rest. This cannot be a kidney stone. I have had those before. A few hours, maybe a day and then it comes out with a long hard burning thrust. But this just lingers and gives me constant pain.
All night I walk back and forth and almost fall asleep as I walk.
Finally morning arrives.
It is Wednesday and this is the Mayor's Annual State of the City speech at the City Convention Center. I have been working on my new question for him. Last year I asked him a question on how his administration would welcome people to Cleveland whether from other areas in America or even other countries.
Let me paraphrase his response: "We must first take care of our own…" That got some notice in the general media. So now I have a new recommendation and question for how our City of Cleveland can welcome people to our city, provide more students for our schools, and increase our population.
At the Convention center some one thousand people have gathered for the salad lunch meal and the Mayor's speech. I have been invited to sit at Attorney Wong's special table. She will show up later half-way through the meal. I myself arrived late because I could not find parking nearby including my valiant efforts in the dark parking basement of City Hall where I drove round and round on an Indianapolis 500 looking for a space. Finally, I had parked over on West 6th and endured a long trek in the snow back to the Convention Center. Of course, that gave me time to think about my question and sharpen the edges of the wording.
At Attorney Wong's table, I cannot eat as I anticipate asking my question. I leave the table and walk along the long side corridor of the Convention Center. I plan to watch over the microphone, wait for the right minute, and then seize the first position in the line behind the microphone.
Somehow Margaret is walking along side of me as I move rapidly to seize the high ground. She is looking around at the audience and says, "I wish we had more people."
What is she referring to, I think to myself. This cavernous place is filled. But then I recall her speech last week when received the annual award from the International Rotary Club. She had said in her "second speech, "We need more people in Cleveland. We need more children and families. We cannot keep aborting our future." I paraphrase her words but that was her message.
"More families, " I ask her, "More babies, more people in Cleveland? Wasn't that your speech last week?"
"That is right," she says.
I have nearly reached the front of the huge hall where I find a chair at the side wall to lay in wait. Margaret has left for another mission of hers.
The Mayor gives one of his traditional low-keyed messages. A former boss of mine had once stated that the Mayor was "dull, boring, and uninspiring." Those are all true adjectives, but he is an effective and compassionate administrator who has worked diligently to save this city. We do not need golden throated parrots, but capable dedicated civil servants. The Mayor has balanced a budget, kept up city services, fought for better schools, and avoided massive cuts and dis-employing people. In fact, he has maintained a solid city work force and good city services.
The Mayor does not speak formally from behind the barricade of a speaker's podium and microphone. He has adopted the style of sitting in a chair with a news media person who asks questions. The Mayor even shows a nice sense of humor in his answers. His speech again stresses the city's schools and now he has some good words to say about welcoming more people to Cleveland. I paraphrase, "We need to increase our population including by the natural way. That of course will take some time."
Then comes the moment for questions. I leap to my feet which is a little hard for an aging lawyer. I gain the first position in the microphone line next to the City Club woman who will manage the questions.
Now is my turn for my question. Here is what I remember:
"Mr. Mayor, I am Attorney Joseph Meissner. My question builds on your remarks about our City's reduced population and immigration. Several weeks ago, a man who has three children that are American citizens, who has worked for many years, and paid his taxes was about to be deported. He was here illegally. People protested and a group marched all the way from Painesville to our Cleveland in support of him. At the last minute the effort to rescue him was successful and he was allowed to stay. Couldn't this be a model with our Cleveland becoming a City of Sanctuary? People who are in America illegally could come to Cleveland where they would agree to stay and raise their families for a period of time, like ten years. In return, they would not be subject to deportation. I do not ask you to judge this idea but only to consider it."
The microphone lady has been desperately tugging at my coat. I have talked too long. But you know that I always persist.
The Mayor does voice some thoughts that the man I have described sounds like a perfect citizen that any city would welcome but that there are many obstacles to implementing such an idea. However, he does not reject it.
As he finishes his answer, I try to squeeze in a few extra words: "Mr. Mayor, we have a fine group of immigration attorneys such as Attorney Margaret Wong who could help implement this." The young City Club lady cuts me off. I know I have violated the rules for questions. (Later I will call the City Club and apologize to her.)
So I limp away from the microphone and along the side corridor back to the Wong table. Several people from the audience shake hands with me and say, "Good question."
As the event ends, I get up and head out. Again people reach out to shake my mind and congratulate my question. I shall receive a number of praising emails.
But it is now Wednesday night. The pains return and I cannot rejoice that I got to ask the Mayor "Sanctuary City Question." I pace and pace. I kneel before the porcelain bowl god. It does no good. The pain gets worse and worse. The minutes of the night crawl so slowly and the pain only continues.
Finally, it is Thursday morning early.
I cannot tolerate this any longer. Iron man is crumbling. "Do you want to go to the doctor?" my friend asks, but really commands.
"Yes, I have to go." She drives me as I place another burden on her shoulders.
We go to Kaiser Urgent Care, rather than the Emergency room. The lady at admission tells me to wait in a side room. I wait and pace back and forth while my friend sits in a chair. I cannot sit.
Finally, Doctor Vincent shows up. Very efficiently and very quickly he diagnoses my plight after I have listed my problems and pains.
"You probably have a kidney stone. That has been causing all the pain. We will send you for a cat-scan to be sure."
Then an act of mercy. "We will also give you a shot to control the pain."
I am grateful as the shot quickly takes effect and the waves of torture subside.
Later a nurse leads me to the cat-scan room. I lay down and close my eyes in the tubular machine to avoid feeling closed in.
Three minutes and the cat-scan is over. The nurse wants me to sit in a wheel chair to return to the room. But I refuse and make my way along the hospital corridors to the room.
Thirty minutes later and they also take an x-ray. Then Dr. Vincent re-appears.
"You have a kidney stone," he reports. "It seems like it may be ready to come out. If it doesn't, we can reach up inside with forceps and pull it out." A shiver runs down my spine. That is not what I want as I imagine some kind of metal invading the most private parts of my body.
"You can also stay here in observation for twenty four hours," he offers, "and we can see what happens. You can also go home and wait."
"No, doctor, I would rather go."
So I leave with my friend and go home. I shall wait all day in bed.
Then I sleep that evening and into the early night. I get up about nine o'clock when I feel something hot, buzzing and burning in a special part of my body.
"That is it," I yell out in delight.
Yes, I go to the bathroom and urinate piss through the hand-held cone screen and there it is. Such a small dark colored grain in the golden fluid.
My God, how that little thing caused so much pain! How is it possible that this tiny almost sand grain can completely immobilize me? I will hold my questions for my visit the following Monday with "Dr. Love." An appointment has been set for me in Urology at Kaiser Parma.
So I walk into Room 103 at Kaiser in Parma. A nurse named Jasmine greets me, "First we will weigh you." I strip off all I can so that my weight will be lower. No use appearing more obese than I have to.
Then, Jasmine states, "Go to the room down the hall and the doctor will be in. I sit in a chair and says my rosary while also looking thru a National Geographic and reading a story about landing on Mars and exploring the rocky surface. There is a knock at the door. "Come in," I say.
In comes a man clad in the typical blue medical gown and he is carrying a large glass beaker. He clutches it around the throat. "What is that?" I ask. "Why are you carrying it?
Inside I can see all sorts of small and large pebbles, even a few stones. "Oh," he says, "this is my collection. These are what I have taken out of people over many years."
"Oh my God," I react. I look at them. He is like a boy with his baseball cards, but here are actual items that were inside people. Not just tiny seeds like my kidney stone but almost stone size, like two inches or three inches around.
These are from all kinds of places inside patient, not just the kidney area. Dr. Love tells me all kinds of interesting facts.
"There are two main kinds of kidney stone. We need to analyze this in order to know how to suppress them. By the way, people in Parma have four times the kidney stones of other people from other areas."
"Why did it take so long for this stone to come out?'
"It would fall so far in the tube giving you pain, then stop. The pain stops too. Then it would start up again and the pain started. It took a week or so to complete the journey."
"Do you want see the X-rays?" he offers.
He shows my sliced-up body looking upward from my feet. It is all bluish with bright little white spots. "What are those?" I inquire.
"Those are tiny grains inside you that may develop into full-blown kidney stones."
Oh no, I think, more sleepless nights and more pains in the gut and more long waits. I feel doomed.
But I should be very grateful. This time it was only a kidney stone. Next time, who knows what it will be? And as Gia Hoa Ryan always wisely says, "Life is too short." The lesson from these ten days? I am mortal.
And perhaps I could find more sympathy for all of our other human brothers and sisters who painfully suffer so much illness and handicaps. We are all joined in our diseases and bodily weaknesses.
So if you were planning to something good, don't wait until next year, or even tomorrow. Do your good now!
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