Greg Schwem


I prefer to keep my health maladies separate from the lines of my weekly humor column, but when a medical professional says your excruciating pain is the result of something “about the size of a period in 12-point font,” I had to make an exception.

Staring at my computer screen, eyes fixated on the period that just completed the previous sentence, my gaze drifts to the urine strainer on my desk, now in a sealed Ziploc bag, its contents awaiting examination from a urologist. A dark object that could be mistaken for a paprika flake is wedged in the strainer’s grooves. It’s a kidney stone. At least, it had better be.

I had all the classic symptoms: Back pain, followed by severe stomach pain, followed by uncontrollable retching, followed by a mad dash to the emergency room where, naturally, the pain subsided as I was handing my medical insurance card to the receptionist.

“It’s probably gas,” my wife said, as we waited for my name to be called.

If only it were that simple.

An IV ensued, along with a CT scan of my abdomen. As I lay in a tube, I wondered what it was going to cost to hear a random voice say, “Take a deep breath and hold it … you may now breathe.” Twice.

I have yet to receive that answer but I’m certain it won’t be a laughing matter. Meanwhile, a CT technician is arriving home somewhere, telling his or her significant other that today was a normal workday, one that involved telling lots of pain-wracked strangers to “breathe.”

Twenty minutes later, a nurse pulled back the curtain to my exam room to share with me, “good news and not so good news.” The good news was no appendicitis. Then he produced the urine strainer, along with a detailed description of a kidney stone.

He pulled out a Sharpie from his scrubs. “What you have here…” he began, before I stopped him with a loud gasp.

“Something wrong?”

“I have to pass something the size of a felt tip marker?” I said. “That explains the pain.”

Then he produced a piece of paper and touched the Sharpie’s point to it.

“It’s about that size,” he said, adding the “12-point font” description.

My wife, seated in a chair next to me, was trying hard not to laugh and, I’m certain, trying even harder not to remind me that, were it not for Caesarean sections, two human heads would have eventually passed through her vagina in hospital delivery rooms.

“Take the strainer home and try and catch it,” the nurse said. “Shouldn’t take more than two days.”

It took less than four hours. Pain free, I triumphantly emerged from the bathroom and announced my victory.

“Want to see it?” I asked my wife.

That question now occupies first place in the “biggest regrets of my life” category. Up until then, “failing to purchase Apple stock at $20 a share” was the victor.

“Well, he was right,” my wife said, as she squinted while, I’m certain, bypassing the urge to put on her reading glasses to see the strainer’s contents. “It is about a 12-point font size.”

“Are you crazy?” I replied, incredulously. “That sucker is at least 16 points. Maybe 18. Maybe 20.”

“Whatever you say, honey,” she said. “Which font? Do you think it’s a ‘Times New Roman’ stone or is it more of the ‘Arial’ or ‘Tahoma’ variety? Our insurance carrier will probably need to know.

“Very funny,” I said, retreating to the couch and realizing any sympathy I hoped to garner had disappeared the moment I produced the stone. My male friends were more compassionate when I shared the story; many had also suffered from kidney stones. Ladies, I know you can get them too, but they are more common in guys. Please admit that before you bring up the childbirth thing again. We have very fragile, very large egos.

Greg Schwem is a business humorist, motivational corporate comedian, corporate emcee, nationally syndicated humor columnist for Tribune Content Agency and creator of the web series, “A Comedian Crashes Your Pad.”



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