Passing the Stone 23

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.

23 thoughts on “Passing the Stone

  • Reply
    Larry Land

    Hi Kelly – Over the past 10 or 11 months, I’ve really missed your blogs. I’m just sorry it took the excruciating pain of a kidney stone that motivated you to write the next one. I could write how I feel your pain but I’d be lying. In truth I’m very glad I never felt your pain. To date, I’m blessed by the absence of kidney stones in my life. May that one blessing continue. Because I suffer enough perpetual pain just by being an incurable Met fan, I fervently pray against all other agonizing conditions. After reading your blog, I’ll now add “resistance to kidney stones” to my morning meditations. From all I’ve heard about them I wouldn’t even wish kidney stone on a New York Yankee. In sincerity, I’m very sorry for the pain you endured. And thank the Lord for opiates. I’m sure before too long you’ll be stronger than an ox on steroids. I’m also certain you’re blessed with no greater inspiration for recovery than Diana. My wife and I really enjoyed watching her wonderful video on facebook. It was a true inspiration. God Bless!

  • Reply
    Nancy Jo

    I don’t know how you managed to crank out an chapter while recovering from surgery, but more power to ya! Adding some stones to your healing rituals sounds in order! Thanks for calling – am glad you’re on the mend! Love and hugs to you and Diana.

  • Reply
    Shannon Journigan Bolen

    Kelly, I will admit that I have waiting for a new post…but was not prepared for this, as I’m sure you and Diana weren’t either. My prayers for you and Diana are spoken on a daily basis. I will continue to pray and I know you will be in the 95% and that the news you get in the coming week or weeks will be optimistic and healing. As you and Diana now are “passing the stone” in terms of caring and encouragement with her by your side please know you have many many friends and family that are right next to you and pushing along the road to recovery. From all of your posts and through Diana’s journey I know and God knows that you are definately strong enough to beat this and have a quick recovery I hope to hear about in your next blog. I know you are used to being the person giving out the encouragement and caregiving, but now it is Diana who will do the same for you, as will others. Let them be there for you and accept the help when offered and given. It is sometimes very hard to do that when you are used to bieng at the other end of the journey, but believe me it will help you and those who offer their help. God bless you both and I hope to read your next blog soon.

    Shannon Journigan Bolen

  • Reply
    Liz polasek

    Kelly and Diana,
    Thanks for the email update. My prayers to the Spirit/Energy world are with you both.
    I see beautiful light circling and entering and weaving itself with you both. Your lovely writing and good humor are also very inspiring. Sending love and light for healing.

  • Reply
    Elizabeth George


    You and Diana have been living a remarkable story these last few years, and this is another chapter that will add to a body of work (no pun intended) destined to affect the lives of a lot of people. I wish you well in a thousand different ways.

  • Reply

    Dan and I are thinking about you Kelly and wishing you a speedy recovery. So glad to hear that the surgery went well and you are surrounded by the beauty of the NW and Diana’s expert healing hands. We love you both so much, and we like your odds! xoxo
    Taylor & Dan

  • Reply
    Dana Kelly

    Nature has ordered up some pretty wonderful NW spring days in which to convalesce and heal. Nice work Nature. You are in my thoughts and prayers, and in those of hundreds of others, so just channel those vibes, my friend! Love to both of you.

  • Reply
    Dayle Gray

    Love and healing to you Kelly. You guys know how to do this so well. Happy to give a little spiritual assist. Love in anyone? Even without that, the love is on it’s way!

  • Reply
    Ellen collord

    I’m finding it hard to believe you are on pain meds as your clarity of mind, expressed by your words, as always, is impressive. Pretty cool! Speaking of cool, I have a joke for you. I’m limited in remembering jokes, and my main source are my second grade Hispanic children who are telling jokes in the talent show. They are so excited about their jokes that they start laughing before the punch line. Makes me laugh too. So keep that in mind as you read this:
    What do polar bears do on break?
    They chill out!
    Looks like you and Diana have the chilling out part down. Keep the posts coming. We love you guys.

  • Reply

    Dear Kelly and Diana, blessings to kidney stone and returning you to the pen. Life Journeys are certainly mysterious. Love you both dearly. Sending prayers and healing light. And yes, here’s to the 95% club. Much love

  • Reply
    Dave Alden

    Kelly, the “deep red crystal” also delivered you from a world to blogosphere silence back to the elegant, insightful writing that we so appreciate. For that, we should be thankful to the crystal, although perhaps fate could have found a less painful way to tap you on the shoulder. Welcome back, from surgery and to writing. And best wishes for good news next week.

  • Reply
    Targe Lindsay

    Kel, how long have you been on opiates?? I see no difference in this exquisite posting than in all your previous ones… You and your ‘handler’ are in our thoughts. Did you get to keep the ruby?

  • Reply

    Well put and well said, Kel. That just might be the first kidney stone to be awarded credit for a warning and also its place in the history of whateveritwas that you were talking about at the beginning. For a guy who was plugged in to so many devices and receiving a steady flow body and mind numbers and foggers, you are thinking amazingly well, as usual. But then you two are plugged into some pretty amazing sources of clarity yourselves. Plus you have a large experienced and highly effective cheering section. We are thankful for all of that.

  • Reply
    Peggy Taylor

    Kelly and Diana, it was so lovely to spend time with you at the hospital room today. Beautiful to see your resilience Kelly! I’m expecting to see you running down the streets of Langley in a couple of weeks. Love and blessings, Peggy

  • Reply
    Loretta Stromberg

    Yes, it must be strange to be the one receiving care after all the time you and Diana spent in the fight against her cancer. After all the years you two can surely survive and win this battle. Thank you for taking time and making the effort to let us know how you’re doing. Prayers continue as always.

  • Reply
    Isabel Geffner

    I know you’ve known and hope you’ve felt the healing vibes coming from North Carolina these past couple of weeks. Join the partial kidney club (most of my left one came out in 1964)!

    With this one, you’ve shed new light on marital intimacy!

    Big love, boatloads of hugs,

  • Reply
    Joanne Lindsay

    Yesterday you told us you felt drugged…. I see that is not the case today. Wonderful to know you are back on track with your writing and that Diana has easily switched rolls. Much love to both of you. Mom

  • Reply
    Ann Medlock

    I hated having a feed-line into my hand–the skin there is so thin–I fuss now and insist they find another place. If you can type atall with two of those going, you can do anything– obviously making the 95% will be a cinch for you. And how good is it that you that you had a stone? Lumps don’t give off get-thee-to-the-ER pains like stones do, right? The stone led you to the lump. Well done, body!

  • Reply

    Your writing is deep, reflective. And connects us all. How do you do this right after surgery???? Best spiritual writer I know!

  • Reply
    Kathleen Alden

    Dear and Lovely Friends…..we had a hint something was not right in your world but wanted to respect your privacy and let you find the time and place to share whatever news you wanted. We will wish for the 95% club too, Kelly….

    Much love and many, many hugs to you both….

  • Reply
    Carol Kerley

    Our loving thoughts and healing energy are being sent to you at UW: You two are some of the loveliest people we have had the good fortune to meet since moving to Whidbey Island. Your inspiration and hope helped Linda get through her own trip down the road of recovery. WE love you two,

    Carol and Linda


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