Robert Clayman: Stone Cold Crazy
The pain comes on very quickly. A twinge that grows into a searing stomach ache that then dulls and settles in, moving round to the side, a deep-seated knife, at once specifically located and yet nebulous and evasive. Within minutes, you’re either in a blind panic because you have no idea why this visitation should have arrived while you were happily sitting on a train, minding your own business or in a blind panic because you’ve been here before and you know what you’re about to face without any serious pain relief for at least the next hour stuck on this bastard train. Kidney stones are no fun at all, let me tell you. A small crystallised mass – anything from 2mm to 10mm and formed from coalesced minerals due to lack of hydration – drops from the kidney through the tiny tubes of the ureter and makes its merry way towards whichever outlet you pee from. To quote a popular internet meme of our epoch: ‘Ain’t nobody got time for that!’.
Gout used to be called the rich man’s disease, a sure indicator of one’s appetite and financial capacity for meat and cheese and the commensurate thirst for dark, expensive liquors to wash it down. The pain from those uric acid crystals in your joints would drive you insane, it was said. How could one little big toe render a man to simpering pitifulness? The old cure was colchicine, a charmingly toxic extract of crocus that the Egyptians first utilised in 1,500BC. Its effects are similar to arsenic, but it does cure a gout attack. Though not before giving you waves of nausea and the galloping shits. Still, what price a continuing ability to tap dance?
Kidney stones, though, also have a long history, recorded in mummies from Luxor and actually mentioned in the Hippocratic Oath by Hippocrates himself, saying: ‘I will not use the knife, not even on sufferers from stone, but will withdraw in favour of such men as are engaged in this work.’ And the renal colic roll call from history is long as it is studded with nobility – pardon the metaphor. The Athenians lost the Peloponnesian War’s Sicily Expedition (and ultimately the entire venture) because their general, Nicias, was basically doubled up the whole time.
“I personally choose a 50mg anal suppository over philosophy”
The father of the modern essay – and all decent modern men – Michel de Montaigne, among his positive observations of tribal cultures and how to live in harmony with the same woman for a lifetime, was compelled to note in the 1580s: ‘I am at grips with the worst of all maladies, the most sudden, the most painful, the most mortal and the most irremediable. I have already experienced five or six very long and painful bouts of it.’ Shit, even his own father had died from the stone. But when he went on to note that if he could face that pain he was free from the fear of death itself, it revealed a noble soul that when given lemons made ‘Mike’s Unbitter Philosophical Lemonade’. Bearing in mind that, again, a rich diet, lack of hydration, stress and generally being a bit of sybarite brings on the little bastards, we must come to the conclusion that good living can be as much a source of pain as it is pleasure.
As has been mentioned in these pages before, just because you live an epicurean life, it does not render you epicurean in the slightest. Epicurus himself was a near contemporary of Aristotle, who in the fourth-century BC, was teaching the good life in his garden in Athens.
His formula? To live a life of pleasure, two states must be achieved: ‘ataraxia’ – peace and freedom from fear – and ‘aponia’ – the absence of pain. Pleasure must be maximised and pain negated, but to Epicurus pleasure was merely measured as a simple, tranquil life, surrounded by like-minded friends. Food was something to share with them and to fuel you. To Epicurus, a pot of cheese was the highest indulgence and, by all accounts he was stingy in stretching that pot out to last as long as possible. There was no cote de boeuf sizzling on the barbie in the Garden.
He believed that we cannot be rational or wise if we allow pain to get the better of us and so it was advisable to avoid all sources of it where we could. Bad relationships, bad business, food and drink that causes us to be sluggish, fat or ill – in the end, we lose ourselves if we can’t cut out the stuff we know is killing us. But inevitably, sooner or later pain will get us in its myriad forms and, like his later admirer Montaigne, he decided that as long as you don’t fear it, but accept it, it can be tolerated and even enriching. On his deathbed, at the age of 72, he wrote to a friend: ‘I have written this letter to you on a happy day to me, which is also the last day of my life. For I have been attacked by a painful inability to urinate, and also dysentery, so violent that nothing can be added to the violence of my sufferings.’
“You know what you’re about to face, without any serious pain relief, stuck on this bastard train”
The symptoms, as I’m sure you now recognise, point to only one diagnosis. Ain’t nobody got time for that – but when the stones strike, unlike the great thinkers of antiquity, I personally choose a 50mg anal suppository of turbo-charged painkiller Diclofenac over philosophy. Call me a Barbarian. Actually, sod it, call me an ambulance.
Robert Clayman is Lusso Editor. Is there anything else that could possibly be of relevance when judging him as a man? He is currently a brand ambassador for HËSS – the leading German orthopaedic foot insole company.