I’ve been writing recently about my medical problems. After living a year and a half with prostate cancer, I had surgery a couple weeks ago to remove my prostate. Last week, I blogged about the surgery and the first week of recovery. A few days after my post, I received the pathology report. The cancer had invaded both sides of the prostate, but there was no evidence that any had spread outside that organ. Of note, the lymph nodes were free of infection.

That was good news. I expected the recovery from that point to be a course of incremental improvement–a gradual decrease in pain and increase of strength at the incision sites, a progressive expansion of the activities I was able to perform. The path ahead seemed clear.

I didn’t reckon with complications. Last Friday I started having abdominal cramps that became stronger and stronger. Even when the cramps subsided, I was bent forward with pain. I waited a day, then phoned my doctor’s weekend answering service. The doctor on call advised that I go into the emergency room at Spectrum Butterworth, and I went.

The ER staff began assessing me immediately–urine test, blood test, physical exam, CT scan. The scan revealed fluid accumulating in my abdomen. The level of creatinine in my blood was high, suggesting that my kidneys were not working properly. I was admitted to the hospital. The admitting doctor tried to be reassuring. Perhaps the kidneys would be fine tomorrow; they had been fine less than two weeks earlier, at the time of my surgery. Still, the thought of kidney disease was sobering.

I arrived at my room about 8 in the evening. In the middle of the night another patient was wheeled in to occupy the room’s other bed. He was hospitalized for pneumonia, and had been transferred from a smaller hospital because at Spectrum he could also receive kidney dialysis during his stay. So his kidneys had failed at some point; I was later to learn that they had been destroyed by overly high doses of medication prescribed for his diabetes. I was lying there concerned about the specter of some sort of kidney problem, only to be housed with someone ten years younger than me whose kidneys were already defunct! I suppose that might have increased my fear, but it had the opposite effect. I felt sympathy for someone who had it worse than I did. I realized that my problems paled in comparison to his.

The next day, my attending physician came by. He thought that urine was probably leaking into my gut from an area of the urethra that had had to be repaired during my surgery. A urine leak would explain the abdominal pain, and would also explain the elevated creatinine level. X-rays taken after dye had been injected into the bladder confirmed this hypothesis. I was then hooked up to a couple medical devices that should keep urine from the opening until it heals itself. I and my devices were sent home Tuesday night, so now I’m there recovering.

As it is with healing so it is with life; even when the path forward seems clear and without impediment, circumstances can change suddenly. Fears can then loom; some will be justified, others not. Time and chance happen to us all, says the Preacher. I am no exception to that rule. During the journey, it’s best to hold our expectations lightly, prepared for disappointments along the way, but also for blessings. We will experience plenty of each.

About Bob Ritzema

I am a fourth-generation American of Dutch ancestry and am trained as a clinical psychologist. In 2012, I retired from Methodist University in North Carolina to return to . Michigan to help family, and, in 2023, I started again with a move to Milwaukee to be near my children. I maintain a part-time therapy practice. I can be reached at
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