Ancient rituals often include the passing of a sacred object—a shell, stone, sometimes a goat—that may or may not have any inherent magical properties but is imbued with them regardless simply by being part of the moment. The object is passed from one person to another conferring a transcendent quality, or removing one, or sometimes just marking when one participant stops speaking and the next one begins.
I had the great fortune to be engaged in such a ritual about a month ago. Instead of a conch, a chunk of rose quartz, or an unfortunate ungulate, this rite of passage featured a deep red crystal, beautifully formed, like something you would find in Mammoth Caves. It was a whopping 2mm in diameter. That’s 1/12th of an inch, the space between the smallest lines on a typical ruler, including the lines. I was appropriately positioned on my elbows and knees, forehead pressed to the floor, and—oddly enough—facing East. There was unintelligible moaning, which I was surprised to realize was coming from me and the kind of pain that—if it had to happen—I’m sorry to say I wished it had been to someone else. The stone in this case was being passed from my kidney to my bladder, though I didn’t know that at the time. All I said was: “Okay, body. You got my attention. What do I need to know?” Which really is the story behind most rituals, anyway.
As kidney stones go, 2mm isn’t very impressive. I was sure it was at least 8 inches. What was impressive, though, was the other thing the emergency room CT scan showed: a mass at the south pole of my left kidney. The radiologist couldn’t tell what it was, but he could tell what it wasn’t, and it wasn’t a benign water-filled cyst. As kidney masses go, 4.6cm—about the size of a walnut—isn’t all that impressive either; not large, but not small.
So Diana and I find ourselves in a lovely hospital room at the University of Washington Medical Center that overlooks Mt. Rainier if you stand in just the right spot. It is two floors up and two over from the room in which Diana was recovering from her lobectomy not quite five years ago. At that time, I remember sending out an email the day she was unplugged from all the machines, quoting Joni Mitchell: “She’s unfettered and alive!” I am still very much fettered after getting a partial nephrectomy not quite 48 hours ago, with tubes going in and out of places I don’t even want to think about. I have IV set-ups in the backs of both hands that makes it a bit of a challenge to type (I think I’ve retyped every 5th word of this twice, so far…). I also have an epidural that’s automatically providing some of the best opiates modern medicine has to offer, so if this doesn’t track very well, read it again while you’re drugged up on something. I also have Diana’s wonderful healing hands and energy, and those are considerably more effective than the narcotics with none of the side effects.
It’s a different line from a Joni Mitchell song that I find more apt at the moment: “You don’t know what you got ‘til it’s gone.” There is a considerably lopsided chance that the mass is a renal cell carcinoma, but even if that’s the case the 5-year survival rate after surgery is around 95%. Since the odds are way in my favor, there’s no need to doubt them! If Diana can get herself into the .0001% Club, I’m pretty sure I can keep myself out of the 5% Club. Due to its inconvenient location, the mass had to come out whether it turns out to be benign or malignant, hence no biopsy. The surgeon removed only a quarter of my kidney, and I’m grateful for his skill and foresight. The mass was very well defined and it is now at the pathology lab being frozen, sliced, and perused. So it’s gone, but I don’t know what I got… until next week sometime.
The strangest part of this bizarre ritual is that for the time being, Diana and I have switched roles. They have been so clearly defined for such a long time that I’m having trouble wrapping my mind around the idea. That might be due to the Fentanyl dulling my senses, but I suspect it’s more than that. I have passed the stone to her, and she to me.