The Kindness of Shockwave Lithotripsy

By: Robert Wakulat

After a number of years of intermittent pain in the lower abdomen area, I finally asked my family doctor to probe for potential causes mid-2013. X-rays came back indicating I might have a kidney stone but further exploration would be required before confirming this was the case. After a subsequent ultrasound it was determined that I should see a kidney stone specialist to provide me with my options.

Turns out my stone was too big to pass but small enough to be a candidate for shock wave lithotripsy, which involves sound waves pummelling the stone for about 30-40 minutes. While some dietary changes appeared to end the earlier waves of pain, the specialist felt that I was at risk of having the stone get dislodged and cause serious damage to other parts of the kidney or urinary tract. The best way to avoid this was to undergo SWL.

Three months after this diagnosis, I spent a full day collecting my urine, which was to be brought to St. Mike’s Hospital in Toronto where the first of three SWL facilities in Ontario was established. Eight hours after my last urine collection, I was taking a final pre-op ex-ray to confirm the stone had not been dislodged and as fate would have it, they discovered a second stone in the other kidney!

The plan remained to tackle the first stone and within the hour I was lying on my back listening to the nurses joke about this being their first procedure when the general anaesthesia started getting pumped into my system. I quickly lost consciousness and woke up after my first stone had been pulverized into submission. I was given some very sour cranberry juice and what I supposed was meant to be a turkey sandwich.

Still the kindness and professionalism of the staff, nurses and doctors was all I really cared about. I felt extremely comfortable from registration to discharge. Of course, not even the staff at St. Mike’s could crack the riddle of finding a usable vein on my arms to extract blood samples. Three or four needle pokes later, they managed to get what they needed and I could walk out. The next few days were dedicated to drinking considerable water and catching stone particulate in my urine for later study and analysis.