Love Sealed in (Kidney) Stone

Larry and I were married on September 8, 1974, at Agudat Achim, with our reception immediately following at the synagogue. Our memories of the wedding are a blur, most contained in the beautiful wedding album that sits on our bookshelf. However, our honeymoon is one of the most memorable…and unusual…on record.

Our first night as man and wife, we stayed in a hotel in Glens Falls. The next morning, we headed up to Quebec City for what we planned to be a romantic week in one of the oldest cities in North America.

Larry had made the arrangements to stay in a brand new hotel that had opened just weeks before. Our room was large and lovely, with a huge king-sized bed and a lovely view of the city. Once we finished checking it out, we went out to dinner a restaurant in the Old City, a lovely old place with stone walls and a fireplace. We both enjoyed French onion soup and steak and returned to our hotel.

At two o’clock in the morning, Larry woke up in agony with severe pains and cramps in his lower back. He thought he had food poisoning, maybe the French onion soup? He tried walking around the room, but in the end he just curled up in a ball on our king sized bed and moaned. After an hour of no relief, we realized we needed medical help.

The hotel was so new that the phone in our room didn’t work. So I threw on some clothes and went down to the front desk to ask for a doctor. He showed up at four o’clock and quickly diagnosed Larry’s pain as a kidney stone. The doctor gave Larry a shot of morphine. He gave me the name and address of the closest hospital with instructions to take him there first thing the next morning. Larry fell into a drugged sleep, and I watched him from the couch. Kidney stones? I knew nothing about kidney stones. I figured that he would be on dialysis the rest of his life. I stayed up the rest of the night trying to envision life taking care of an invalid.

Early the next morning, I packed up our bags, checked out of our beautiful hotel, and drove Larry to the local hospital’s emergency room. His X-ray confirmed that he, indeed, had a kidney stone, a hard, crystalline mineral material formed within the kidney or urinary tract. While kidney stones are painful—described by sufferers even worse than the pain of childbirth or broken bones— we were assured that they are not life threatening. No, he would not be on dialysis for the rest of his life. However, since he was in a great deal of pain and far away from home, the doctor recommended that Larry stay until he either (1) passed the stone; or (2) had surgery to remove it. So Larry checked into his $400 a night hospital room. Once I knew he was settled, I checked into a $9 a night boarding house across the street that was recommended by the hospital staff.

Outside of our doctor, everyone else in the hospital and boarding house spoke French. I had taken the language for five years in high school and a semester in college. Surprising even myself, I was soon able to carry on limited conversations with the nurses, the patients, and their families. By the end of the week, we were engaging in long chats in French, punctuated by broken French —moi!—and broken English —the native Québécois.

My poor husband, however, didn’t remember any of his two years of high school French. I walked over from the boarding house each morning, and we spent the day together—when I wasn’t chatting with “mes nouveaux amis”—holding hands and watching French television. To add insult to injury, his roommate’s doctor’s prescription to pass the stone was for him to drink beer—lots of it. So every night, a group of his family and friends came over with several six packs of Molson’s, and they had a grand old time. Unfortunately, the beer didn’t flush out the stone. Larry’s roommate had surgery on Wednesday to remove it.

The same fate was to befall Larry on Thursday. The surgery was considered ‘minor,’ but it required ‘retrieving’ the stone. Ouch! Not a great way to start off married life.

On Friday, Larry, now stone-free, was released from his “honeymoon suite.” We began our drive back home. Of course, Larry couldn’t drive, so I took the wheel. As I was going down the highway keeping pace with the numerous trucks heading for the border, Larry yelled out, “You’re going ninety miles an hour!” Whoops. Larry had me pull over, and he drove the rest of the way.

As originally planned, Larry and I stopped over at my parents’ cottage on Lake Champlain on the way to Albany, two days earlier than expected. My mother took one look at our sad faces and immediately assumed the marriage had already tanked. We quickly explained where we had spent the last five days. Our marriage was still intact, although our honeymoon was definitely a disaster.

Larry and I tried to make up for our lost honeymoon several times before getting it right. The next summer we headed to Nantucket, only to be delayed a couple of days by a hurricane. The next trip was to Washington, DC, where gale winds closed down the National Zoo and knocked out all the electricity in our expensive hotel. We certainly got past all those vacation missteps, as we are celebrating over forty years of marriage. Yes, our marriage is written in stone, partly in kidney but mostly in love.

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