Kidney Stones at Sea

Okay, I’m in Italy; a little drama is permitted… But, trying to pass kidney stones while sailing alone is no laughing matter. This fashionable model for the anti-spasmodic tonic Schoum Forte clearly shares my pain. Illustration credit: Soluzion Schoum Forte

There was that full horizontal knockdown from a rogue wave roaring out of the Southern Ocean. Also during these travels around the globe aboard Flying Fish: I cleaved open my scalp on a sharp edge of fiberglass, I broke a tooth, I nearly severed a toe. And, by the grace of God, I somehow avoided COVID-19 despite being in a crowded market in Langkawi during Chinese New Year in February 2020. Yet, no drama I have experienced compares with trying to pass a kidney stone alone on this boat.

I am on the island of San Pietro in Sardinia today. Carloforte is a lovely town, even through this lens of pulsating pain emanating from the area of my kidneys. There are no internists or urologists here, so I am self-diagnosing. I sought confirmation from a local pharmacist who winced at my Italian and then recommended an anti-spasmodic kidney detox tonic called Soluzione Schoum Forte. The tonic looks like a local Vermentino, but unfortunately, it doesn’t taste like one. First failed lesson: Understand the dosage: I thought, “due cucchiai da tavola, quattro-sei volte al giorno” meant, “take four to six spoonfuls twice a day.” Wrong. I got it backward. In the aftermath of that first triple dosage, I thought I would see that little girl with the spinning head from the Exorcist

It is estimated by the National Kidney Foundation that one in ten people will have a kidney stone at some time in their lives. Hopefully it won’t happen on a boat in a distant port-of-call. Kidney stones form when certain chemicals become concentrated enough in the urine to form crystals. These crystals grow, and as they make their way through the urinary tract, it hurts.

“Is this what killed Popeye?”

Peta Owens-Liston, ARUP Laboratories Science Writer

There are a lot of myths about what causes and prevents kidney stones. They can be caused by various conditions, including diet, dehydration, medications, infections, and genetics. Foods rich in oxalate, such as spinach, can contribute to stone formation. One thing is sure, passing a kidney stone is memorable. “It woke me up in the middle of the night. It left me gasping and sobbing. Screaming. Someone was sticking a knife in me and slowly turning it,” medical correspondent Petra Owens-Liston writes.

Preventative measures include changes to your diet. I don’t drink enough water when I am on the boat, I use too much salt, I enjoy coffee and good wine. Those can all lead to dehydration and, ultimately, kidney stones. Remedies can include medically blasting the kidney with sonic waves to break up stones. As a last resort, kidney stones can be surgically removed. One friend suggested a more straightforward solution. Her brother had a kidney stone and he felt the pain move down his back as the stone proceeded through the urinary tract. “Jump up and down a lot,” she said. “Gravity is your friend.” My Plan B to help move things along is to try a massage therapist; my happy ending would be the exorcism of this demon that lives in my plumbing.

Those are not seashells. A collection of kidney stones from ARUP Laboratories

With all seriousness, I realize that passing a kidney stone is a “first world problem.” To those who are truly suffering from more severe events in their lives, I mean no affront. We tend to focus on our own little orbit, especially when we are alone. Still, it is helpful to remember that there are more serious issues outside of our personal bubble.

Sailing is not just about the wind and the sea; equally important are the places to which this boat takes me.

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Text and Photography © Jeffrey Cardenas 2021

Let this be a time of grace and peace in our lives   –Fr. John Baker

19 thoughts on “Kidney Stones at Sea

  1. Jeffery…consider anti inflammatories (a shot of toradol brings relief and diagnosis…although a man on his knees coming into the er is also a good clue) Flomax (Rx here in states) and rum ..
    Xoxo Dar

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh Wow! Ed has been through this so I know how painful it can be. So much worse without easy access to doctors and meds. Hope you are ok!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Omg 🙏🙏🙏🙏The most painful thing ever ….I feel for you!😢 FYI When Gary & I were married he passed 13 kidney stones in 27 years!!!!Always excruciating pain…nothing helped.Not even straight morphine in the hospital.The last stone was bigger than his thumbnail and had to be broken up by Lithotripsy…It was like a big sand burr that ripped everything in its way when it moved.One stone was on our boat just the two of us at the Tortugas and I’m trying to get us back and docked…We always joked, Too bad these stones aren’t Diamonds 🙂 we would be rich… I pray you only have one and done 😇Safe sailing loving your adventures. Cindi Blum

    Sent from AT&T Yahoo Mail for iPhone

    Liked by 1 person

    • OMG is right! The size of his thumbnail??? I have new respect for Gary (I will always be thankful to Gary; he and Jack and Buck were the first customers of The Saltwater Angler, and in a way that is what has made it possible for me to be here.)


  4. Jeff, couple of things. There are other things (worse) that you could have. So to be sure, you must have (100%) blood in your urine for it to be 95% sure. Microscopic blood you can’t see by looking. They sell diagnostic urinalysis strips in the drug store with no prescription needed. It will show microscopic blood. Sometimes the stone doesn’t pass. It gets hung up in the ureter and after a few days the pain stops and the kidney dies. Not good. If you pass the stone all is well but if not you need an X-ray to see what’s going on. Drinking lots of water will help flush it out. Mike Whitley, MDY

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mike, you are right, there are things much worse than this. I have to remember that. Thank you so much for your suggestions (above and beyond). I will sail back to Cagliari where there are urologists and scanning ability. I need my kidneys.


      • I would get you an X-ray ( an IVP; Intra-venous pylogram) ASAP to verify that the stone is gone or it possibly is hung up. MW


  5. Oweeee! I can’t imagine how you are able to keep going, but I guess there’s really no choice. Sending a prayer that you can find the help and relief you need quickly. And don’t entirely rule out jumping—when I lived in Japan the doctors there recommended using a jump rope several times a day for a friend trying to pass stones, and at least for her it worked. But maybe not so easy to do on a boat!
    Take care, Jeff!


  6. Oh Jeff how painful! I have taken care of many a patient who has passed a stone! Please drink more Water! Also, lemonade made from real fresh lemons is good as it contains citrate which inhibit the formation of kidney stones. Also tea, especially black is high in oxalate so avoid a lot of that to drink! Glad you survived that painful nightmare. Prayers and thoughts as always my dear Jeff! ❤


  7. A foreign adventure not noted on any brochure. As you say it is a first world problem, but it is your VERY painful problem. Prayers that it has been expelled without further complications and you are soon enjoying the beauty around you. Safe journey.


  8. CAPT. Stop eating refined white flour YOUR Heath will be dramatically changed . JUST that one dietary change will increase your life by 10 years.


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