A Dialogue With A Physician

I am fortunate to have a physician friend who often in the course of conversation enlightens me about illnesses, their causes, and cures. If I ever have a niggling question related to health and medicine she is there with an answer.

One evening I was upset seeing an aunt of mine writhing with pain. She said the pain was akin to that of being stabbed. It was painful to see her tossing, turning, and sometimes curling up on her bed but nothing seemed to give her any relief. On diagnosis, it was detected that the culprits were kidney stones that settled down in her kidney. Her doctor advised surgery and she was mortally scared of surgeon’s knife. So this evening, “kidney stones” becomes the topic of our conversation.


I begin ‘Is it possible to remove kidney stones without surgery?’
‘Yes.’ comes her curt reply.
‘Come on, how is it possible? How can the stones be removed without cutting the body?’
Always willing to educate me in the matters of physiology she ignores my ignorance as usual and asks ‘Why impossible? Do you know how kidney stones are formed within the body? ‘
Knowing well I have no answer she continues ‘You see, certain substances in the body form the crystals called kidney stones.’ I keep my eyes steadily to her face and she knew I want her to be more elaborate and she obliges me by continuing her discourse ‘Substances like calcium oxalate, calcium carbonate, uric acid, magnesium bond together and form these crystals. These lodges comfortably in nydus or urethra and cause stabbing pain as they move through the urinary tract. This sudden and intense pain is the hallmark of kidney stone pain.’


‘Yes, but removing something from the body non-surgically?’My Non-medico mind is still in doubt.
‘Why not!’ she goes on determined to explain the phenomenon to me as simply as possible ‘In that case it is not removing the stones, it is disintegrating and destroying the stone inside the body which then purges the disintegrated the mess out.’
‘Well, the mode of treatment depends on the type of stones. Apart from surgery, there are other treatments too in modern medicine, for example, Lithotripsy. This procedure uses shock waves to break up stones. This treatment is much favored by physicians these days. This destruction of hardened masses can as well be done by other means such as with the help of drugs or by excluding from diet certain things like spinach tomatoes or anything that aids the formation of stones. Sometimes surgery is unavoidable. However, a nephrologist is the best judge in the matter.’ She finished her oration and looked at me as a teacher looks at the student to ascertain if the lesson has gone home.


I am convinced alright but I am not done yet. I want to know why these hurtful stones take birth inside the human body. I am told that causes may vary. In some cases people are predisposed to the formation of stones, sometimes inadequate intake of water or sedentary lifestyle may be the cause in others.

Later, sitting alone I mull over these morbid crystals a little more. I recall a line from a novel where the protagonist speaks about an experience that is too agonizing to be overlooked ‘I could no more lie about noticing it than I could unknowingly pass a kidney stone.’*

* Mother Night by Kurt Vonnegut
mayoclinic.org, onhealth.com, southernlithotripsy.com, INLIFE Healthcare