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Chris Dahlen with Julie Kovash responding

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Chris Dahlen covers music, technology and pop culture for Paste, The Onion AV Club, and Pitchforkmedia.com, where he writes the monthly column “Get That Out Of Your Mouth.” He lives in Portsmouth, NH.

Josie Kovash is a painter. Originally from Moab, UT, Kovash now lives Arlington, VA with her family.



I was planning to write about the Republican Debate tonight. But I lucked into a better story! This afternoon at my day job I was halfway through a really dull meeting, when a sharp, stabbing pain in my lower back grew so severe that I thought, “Hey, I should go call a doctor.” Turns out, thanks to the helpful staff at Lawrence Memorial in Medford, MA, that I have a kidney stone! Actually, I have two: a 2 mm in my left kidney that hasn’t budged, and a 3 mm that’s making its way down to the bladder. Ouch!

The pain actually went away before I left the hospital, but I’m told it will be back. Oh, will it be back. But right now? I’m excited. I’m ready for some sick days—a couple years ago I had my wisdom teeth pulled, but I was out of work for two days. I call that a good deal! Yeah, I know, you can’t believe that any job is worse than passing a 3 mm stone through your urethra. But did I mention I’m getting out of at least two scheduling meetings?

So I’m gonna liveblog this turkey, starting in my next post. I think this is going to be a lot of fun for all of us and when the thing passes, I’ll see if I can photograph the toilet for you. Oh wait, should I have put a spoiler alert around that?


10 PM Okay. So I’m ready for a couple of sick days. (Or more, if it takes longer. The doctor said it could be a week.) I’ve got books. I’ve got television. I have Puzzle Quest for the DS. I have some stuff to work on, like my next Pitchfork column. I’ve been reading a manuscript by my pal Marc Masters about noise music, and Marc, let me tell you that nothing could set the stage better for reading about this ass-spanking nihilistic woo-ha music you write about than sitting in an E.R. and wondering if they’re going to tell me I have cancer of the butt. You’ll get my comments in the morning.

I have two drugs: Percoset for the pain, if it gets that bad—and it will—and some nausea medication that comes in suppository form. Makes sense to take an anti-nausea drug some way other than orally, but then again, have you ever tried to shove a pill up your ass while you’re puking out your guts? Through the power of WordPress, I will take you there.

Seriously though, it’s been nothing but laughs so far. I’ve gotten a modicum of attention and compassion from my wife. The kid doesn’t care one way or the other. Only the cat has any sympathy, but that’s fine, because like I said, I’m in “stay home and play video games” mode and I have no doubt that I can power through whatever’s about to happen. 3 mm? Why don’t you make it 6, so we really have something to talk about?

11:45 PM About to go to bed. I caught the season finale of The Shield—kind of light on the fireworks. But can you imagine Vic Mackey passing a kidney stone? He would man his way through that for sure: he’d just stand there and grunt it out. I can picture the expression on his face.

Also had a disagreement with the Mrs. about which is worse, passing a kidney stone or having a kid. I’m sure that giving birth is much harder and more painful. But I also hear that men have less tolerance for pain. I’ll bet it evens out.


9:45 AM Last night I woke up at 3 nervous and feeling strange sensations in my bowels that could have been gas, but suggested something more dire. I got nervous. As much as this thing is going to boil down to the physical contest of Man vs. Stone, the lead-up is an entirely psychological process: how nervous will I get? Am I going to worry that every gurgle in my belly means I’m about to pop like a balloon?

That’s why I’m staying so chipper. I will not let this thing get me down. I’m going to treat it like a big ol’ party, until we have to get down to business.

I had a lot of dreams about Scrubs last night. I don’t know why. I’ve pretty much stopped watching it.

1:30 PM Not much to report yet. The stone stopped moving (maybe it’s in my bladder?) so I don’t feel it at all. The doctor yesterday told me, “I won’t lie, it’s really gonna hurt.” But then, taking pity, he said, “Well, maybe it won’t hurt—you might just feel a pinch.” Who knows? Maybe I already passed it!

5:00 PM No excruciating, toe-curling, hair-yanking, throat-wrenching pain yet. But I’m getting tired. Around 3 I felt like I was sandbagged, and I wound up lying in bed playing Nintendo for a couple hours. If I feel any worse, I might have to settle for reading.

My kid is incredibly unsympathetic. Yeah, I know he’s only two. But it’s all, “Daddy, let’s do this” or “Daddy, where’s my that.” Daddy’s hurting, kid. Daddy’s at the threshold of old age and he’s realizing it’s all downhill from here. I mean, Daddy actually knows what his prostate is. So, you know. Don’t bug Daddy.

8:20 PM You’re probably wondering about my stream. Is it weak? Am I experiencing a burning sensation? Funny thing is, I’m not. I was just sitting downstairs with my laptop, typing up my next Pitchfork column and drinking some coffee, and by the time I stopped working I had to pee like a racehorse. My stream was mighty and proud. In fact, I should drink more coffee. It’s a hell of a diuretic, right? A friend at work calls coffee “the Black Snake.” Like, whenever we hit 3 PM and the office air conditioning has just about sucked us dry, we IM each other and go, “sssssssss.” I think more coffee might really do the trick here.

That said, I have no clue where the stone went. I woke up in some pain this morning around 6, but that’s the last I’ve heard of it. It can’t be near the kidneys anymore, but how long can it hang out in the bladder before it gets stuck in something? Like, you know, my urethra? I’m picturing one of those kid’s puzzles where you roll and tilt the toy until the little ball bearing finally lands in the right place. Is that how this works? I haven’t had this many questions about my body since I was 13.


12:25 PM The pain just started again, in almost the same place as two days ago. I keep thinking this thing has moved to my bladder but now I don’t know what’s going on. Last night I went to bed and started shaking. I don’t know if it’s psychological: the fear that at any minute I’m going to get slammed with a bowling ball in my most sensitive area – or maybe, my body’s just saying, “I don’t know what the hell this is. Should I try shaking?”

I’ve been fine all morning but just now I feel like hunching over, walking to the bedroom and curilng up for a while. I’ve been gulping water and coffee all morning and maybe the pressure is working. You’re not the boss of me, Stone. (I’m calling the little guy Stone.)

10 PM The aching still comes and goes, and I’m too woozy to do much but watch all this Paris Hilton coverage. I’ve gotta say though, it hasn’t been unbearable.

In fact, so far, it’s been nothing but upside. Usually I spend my days stressing myself out about one dumb thing or another. But this kidney stone has sucked up all that anxiety. I don’t have a care in the world aside from passing Stone. I mean, I’ve kept up with work, I spent some time with the kid, I finished this book I’ve been reading since Christmas—hell, I’m three columns ahead for Pitchfork! But that’s all bonus. All that matters now is Stone.

Side note: I keep Googling accounts of kidney stone passage, and finding all kinds of war stories from people who were green from the pain or spent three months in agony or whatever else. I’m learning some useful stuff. Apparently, the pain doesn’t come from the stone but from the pressure of the backed-up urine. Well, hey, that doesn’t sound as bad. It’s not so much about the jagged stone digging a rut through your genitals as it is the kind of feeling you get when you don’t want to leave the line at Ticketmaster because you might miss your chance to see Pink Floyd. This sounds easier all the time.


11 AM Sorry no updates yesterday. Nothing much happened. I’m feeling worn out: tired of aching, tired of feeling suckerpunched, tired of drinking 15 glasses of water a day. All I can say for this is that I’m getting a lot done. I finally finished Final Fantasy III. I finished reading What is the What.

Today in Portsmouth is Market Square Day, and all the parents and kids are strollering into town to check out the booths, the live entertainment and the fried dough. I’m going to let the wife and kid do this one without me. I don’t want to wander too far from my animal lair.

3 PM Ugh, pain’s getting worse. I just popped my first percoset and it still feels like it’s off to the right, so it’s not even at the bladder …

Didn’t they make an ultrasound device that’ll pound kidney stones into powder? Where can I find one of those? Or how about nanotechnology? A little robot could be done with this in no time.

But then I’d have to pass the robot.

5 PM Hey, so does it make me a killjoy if I think Puzzle Quest is a really stupid game? Okay, the RPG/Bejeweled combo is sorta addictive. But on the RPG side, it’s some of the dumbest writing and art I’ve ever seen. I know I’m alone on this, but style, design and writing matter to me. I gave Darwinia and DEFCON high marks for being wickedly cool-looking and well-conceived. The aesthetics and most of all, the sound effects, are part of the reason Half-Life 2 stands so tall over the competition. This stuff matters. You don’t get to half-ass it, no matter how much fun you are.

Still playing though.

6:30 PM I was enjoying a mellow Percoset high, when I got queasy, and, hey turns out percoset makes me nauseous! Okay, so much for using painkillers. And so much for the three pints of water I just drank. And the cookies.

Now that my gut’s empty, I have a craving for a burrito.

9:10 PM Okay, the nausea wasn’t going away, so I went for the medicine that the doctor prescribed, which came as a suppository. I thought it would be a pain in the ass, but it’s actually easy to use. Feels kinda waxy and cool, too.

Hell, at this point, I’d put Harvey Fierstein in there to make all this go away.

Now where the hell’s my burrito?


11:45 AM I woke up feeling achy, sick, and muddled. Two hours (and a cup of coffee) later I had a second wind: played with the kid, banged out some work, ate an English Muffin. I’m on a physiological rollercoaster.

As I continue to tear through all the half-read books on my nightstand, I’m making serious headway through Lawrence Wright’s The Looming Tower, and I’m really enjoying it. Just read the part about Osama Bin Laden’s fight against the Communists in Afghanistan. This guy’s a total weakling – chronic health problems and infirmities, plus all the other guys kept falling ill to malaria or whatever else they picked up down there. Not sure why any of them decided to suck it up and live in the wild like this. I’m amazed he’s lasted this long.

2 PM Okay, new meds, new plan. The local doc prescribed codeine, which will suit me fine. I’ve had a lot of good times on codeine. I’ll be sending the wife out to pick that up soon.

Doc also said that most of the pain actually comes right now, when the stone’s digging its way from the kidney to the bladder. Once it’s in the bladder, he said I’d feel a twinge and it would shoot right out Ol’ Smokey, and in fact, I should pee in a jar or something so I don’t miss it on the way out. Here I thought that would be the turn-green-and-puke moment! Maybe he was just telling me that to relax me, but as I always say: “Worry is interest paid on a debt that never comes due.”

3 PM The wife made me drive out and get the meds. Nothing like feeling hunched over and hobbled while you’re standing by the condom display of a Rite-Aid, hissing for drugs.

10 PM Just watched the finale of The Sopranos. I loved the ending.


This whole season has felt so uneasy, from (as the Mrs. pointed out) that strange, choppy water when they were “relaxing” by the lake in the first episode, to this final scene where everywhere you turn, there’s another potential threat.

At first I was bummed that the slow dread of the penultimate episode went poof in the finale. But this was so much better. People were waiting for David Chase either to punish or redeem Tony, but – as others have pointed out – he managed most of all to deromanticize the whole mob thing, and to take the epicness out of violence. (Phil Leotardo’s death? Genius. Haven’t laughed that hard since that scene in Pulp Fiction – you know the one.)

Tony Soprano is a sociopath. He doesn’t deserve redemption, and he doesn’t deserve an ending. By removing himself from civil society, he disqualifies himself from a dignified narrative. The Godfather gave the mob an epic; in The Sopranos, criminals get what they get – not what they deserve or what karma metes out, but whatever shitty thing happens to happen to them. Whether Tony Soprano eventually ends up in jail, or in an asylum, or with his head crushed by the tire of an SUV in a Long Island gas station, it doesn’t matter. There’s no grand scheme, and no grace for him; he’s exiled himself from it.


BTW, this codeine’s good stuff. Haven’t eaten more than a sandwich all weekend and the stone’s definitely still there, but I’m feeling fiiinnne.

10:40 PM Do you ever keep a pile of stuff for a rainy day, like, all the books and games that you would finish if you had all the time in the world, for example, if you were sick? Well, I finished my pile.

That leaves TV. Someone made a show called Pirate Master? WTF?


11:30 AM Ugh. My stomach feels like a Japanese watercolor. I haven’t gotten out of bed all morning. No sign of the stone—not even in the ureter—but something keeps tapping on my prostate when I take a whiz. But that could be anything.

I wanna say this is “endgame” but who the hell knows where the stone went. I’m so mystified by this process and by how many times I’ve gotten it wrong that I wouldn’t be surprised if it comes out my nose.

12:15 PM Wow, I just threw up three pints of water, but I feel much better! Time to check in with work.

Side note about The Sopranos finale – does it strike anyone else as funny that some of the best minds in journalism are so wrapped up with this show? From David Remnick editorializing about it in The New Yorker to this thread in Slate, where The New Yorker’s Jeffrey Goldberg and NBC anchor Brian Williams and some other guy are going back and forth on the ending, (and not getting anywhere that I didn’t see on the Televisionwithoutpity forums last night …) I mean, I know The Sopranos was thinking man’s television, and many op-eders (and not just Dowd) made hay out of comparing one politician or another to Tony. But come the fuck on.

3 PM So much puking today. This is more like hangover territory, but I’ve had hangovers. I’m actually glad I’ve had bad hangovers; they put stuff in perspective. I understand a little better why so many primitive peoples have initiation rituals and ritualistic scarring. It makes the later stuff seem trivial. “Yes, I hate that a tiger bit my hand off. But did I ever tell you about the time the chief of my tribe buried rocks in my penis?”

Pardon the language, but this whole experience is feeling really “real” today. I had one of those bathroom moments where everything in my stomach came up, and then more stuff came up, and then some stuff I had in reserve for a rainy day finally showed itself and that came up too, and then I felt a hell of a lot better. Still no idea where the stone went, though.

10 PM I’ll be honest, this is as bad as it’s been. I’ve barely eaten in three days, I’m woozy and I can’t get off the couch. I thought the stone might be good and ready, but now I feel it off to the right again, still making its way down. How fucking long is a ureter anyway?! Don’t have much energy so I’m going back downstairs to watch TV.


I think we’re done.

I think somewhere in all the puking and lying around and fitful spurting bathroom sessions yesterday, the stone just slipped by me. This is a Sopranos-level anticlimax but it makes sense. The ureter is narrower than the urethra. You can feel it crawling to the bladder but it can jump right by you on the final stretch. It’s about the journey, not the ending.

I’m starting to feel healthier, and I’m getting my appetite back. Even got some work done this morning. Maybe I can even stand to drink a few more pints of water. So frickin’ sick of water ….

But I think I beat this thing. Does that make me a hero? No. But sometimes ordinary life calls on us to go a little beyond what we’re used to. Instead of the get in the car, go to work and come home and watch TV of our normal routines, life says, “I’m gonna throw you a curveball. I’m gonna stick a tiny jagged stone in your groin and see what you do with it.” And you suck it up and deal with it. And you know what? Sometimes you learn a little something along the way.

Like what a “ureter” is.


----- ------ writes in response:

My mother’s father committed suicide when she was eight. It made her a strong woman in denial. In turn, I’ve rarely been reminded of the fact that my grandfather is a blood substitute. Which is fine.

When Jim and I decided to attempt to reproduce, it was a calculated matter.

Neither of us were the type to procreate. It took us seven years to become engaged. Admittedly, then, the gesture was not without family pressure.

I’m a careerist commercial fine art painter. Jim is a non-union metal working tradesman. Until the time of the pregnancy, the lucrative work mandated that he spend much of his time traveling. This made it possible for me to focus on my practice, as well. I’m not sure why, but when Kelly was born, this changed, and Jim organized his work around our home.

Jim’s younger sister had two children before I became pregnant. This took some family pressure off of us and allowed us to focus on outdoor recreation activities, et cetera. As I reached my late 30s, Jim started to relay to me how much he enjoyed his sister’s children. What ensued was a collection of conversations about a potential diversion in our life path.

Jim was convinced that most of the “conversation” was based around convincing himself that he wanted to become a father. He believed that I would be happy with whatever outcome we decided.

A home pregnancy test proved positive just three months before I turned 38.

My boobs looked incredible in the second trimester. I remember that. Sure, they drooped a little and the rest of my body felt weird and bloated. Nevertheless, my breasts looked great.

There were the hackneyed limitations: not being allowed to drink wine was shitty. I felt guilty about how much I was eating at times. Generally, I had trouble with not being stable.

I soon became the person I’d previously despised: waddling in and out of yoga studios in comfortable clothing. I wore flip-flops for the first time in my life.

We found a good midwife. I still didn’t really ever “feel” Kelly until midway through my 3rd trimester. She told me that this was not normal.

Labor lasted 18 hours. It was painful.

Remember when Zidane head butted Marco Materazzi in that World Cup final match? Go to his history link at Wikipedia, trace it back to that day: July 9th, 2006. Next, track the changes that were made directly following 20:19.

My notes tell me that these antipodal opinions were not unlike my reckoning of the birthing process. It was a monumental event in my life, potentially the largest. It was nothing different from the experience that was happening in the birthing room next door. Little people like Kelly are born by the hundreds every hour. Not unique. Human life is very sacred.

Even though it existed, I actually enjoyed some of the pain. It was not a psychologically traumatic pain, the kind that most women paint over the experience. Rather, it was a pain of secretion. My mind equated it with a painful male orgasm, if those exist.

Truth be told, it was not a process that was overlooked. It was definitely a climax. The nine months of anticipation prepared for such a display of fireworks. I knew when it was over. No more foreplay. It had happened. There had been a release.

And, it was not over. The release was temporal: I soon was plagued with having to practice my intentions. The production had ramifications.

Post-partum depression. It happened. Initially, the mere presence of Kelly plagued me with abject misery. I went with these medications: Citalopram, Sertraline and later I took Estrogen. Jim did much of the mothering. Slowly, I started to turn toward Kelly and show affection.

I could never really tell what Jim’s true feelings toward his child were. I tried to separate Jim from Kelly in my mind. This was easier because never did I see a resemblance to either Jim or myself in the early development of Kelly.

Inked footprints, stool samples, visits to the doctor’s office; this all happened. In those early years Kelly was healthy, quiet.

Kelly never objected, but was never excited either. Lifeless? No. Kelly was simply stable.

Jim spent more time with Kelly than I did. As the characteristics of his career changed and allowed him to spend time at home, I proceeded to enjoy the space of my studio even more than I had previously.

I trust our decision to do this. This choice that Jim struggled with was a good one. Kelly is a great child. I love Kelly.

Kelly is now 7½-years-old. Like I said, I’m proud of our decision. Life didn’t change too much for me.