It was roughly halfway into a Saturday evening flight from Miami to Boston when I began to wonder if I was going to survive the night. What had started as a sharp pain on the right side of my abdomen now felt as if my gut was being hacked at with a phalanx of rusty chisels. The only explanation I could think of was that my appendix had burst and I was dying of sepsis.
After we landed, I was taken by ambulance to the emergency room at Massachusetts General Hospital. Over the next hour or so, I received five separate injections totaling the equivalent of 29 milligrams of morphine. Sometime around 4 a.m., I learned that my appendix was fine; the cause of my suffering was a pair of kidney stones lodged in my ureter.
One of the stones was roughly twice as long as the ureter is wide, which meant it would require surgery — and the soonest that could occur was at the very end of the following day. I’d need to be injected with a lot more painkillers before then — and I’d likely be sent home with a prescription for more. That was something I’d been dreading for years.