It’s 11am on a Friday at Williamstown Hospital and patient Lennard Sturt is wringing his hands.
His body is about to get blasted with 3000 shock waves to shatter a large kidney stone, and the prospect is making him queasy.
It doesn’t help that his first experience having a kidney stone surgically removed using laser technology left him traumatised, and suffering ongoing medical problems.
But this time around, the postman, 40, from Mount Cottrell, won’t feel a thing.
Lennard will have a general anaesthetic to keep him still and ensure the ultrasonic sound waves hit their mark – an 8mm stone lodged in his kidney.
The procedure, called a lithrotrispy, is a non-invasive alternative to surgery, and he’ll be rolled out to recovery in just 45 minutes.
Best of all, he’ll be home for dinner, unlike the conventional approach which requires an overnight admission.
“I am ecstatic that they don’t have to cut me up to get it out this time,” says Lennard as he waits outside the operating theatre.
“I got an infection the last time and it took about four weeks from go to whoa, so this time I asked for something far less invasive.
“Hopefully they will just do their thing, wake me up, then send me home.”
Although it’s a relatively simple procedure, a team of seven people gather around Lennard’s bed: a surgeon, technician, ultrasonic technician, anaesthetist, anaesthetist assistant and anaesthetist nurse and a nurse unit manager.
The stone is visible to the trained specialists as a white, shadowy mass on the screen through real-time X-ray technology.
As the team begin, it sounds like a bug zapper causing mass mosquito carnage.
Using a state-of-the-art machine called a lithrotripter, the kidney stone is blasted in time with his heartbeat to avoid disrupting its natural rhythm.
The beams gradually reduce the stone to dust particles which easily pass through the urine.
Nurse unit manager Paul Buso says the lithrotrispy – lithro meaning stone in Greek, and tripsy translating to crush – is not only less daunting, but helps free up beds.
It’s performed about twice a week at Williamstown Hospital across a range of age groups, through a partnership with St Vincent’s Hospital.
“No man wants to have the surgery if they can help it, with a foot-long stent inserted in the urethra, so this is often the preferred choice,” he says.
“It’s also a day procedure therefore in most cases there’s no overnight stay, there’s less risk to the patient as it’s non-invasive, and less risk of infection.”
A second kidney stone is identified halfway through the procedure and doctors make the decision to obliterate that one too while Lennard is under sedation, to avoid him having to return a third time.
Surgeon Manny Saluja says the technology evolved from World War II, and the discovery that the sound of Nazi planes flying a low altitude would break windows.
“It was developed from there, and has been in use for about 34 years around the world,” he says.
“If the patient wasn’t under sedation they would feel a bit of a jolt, and that’s all. But it’s important for us to make sure they don’t move. There is a small risk of the kidney bleeding if you don’t get the right area, or the stone being stuck on the way down from the kidney.”
Lennard says his two experiences over the past six months were like night and day.
In November 2016, he was overcome by stabbing pains and vomiting before the first large, 1cm-wide kidney stone was identified.
The stone was lodged near his bladder and was blocking his urethra, forcing the urine to travel back up the kidney and causing a condition called hydronephrosis.
He still shudders at the memory of the experience, particulary the foot-long stent that was inserted in his genitals, which led to another infection and ongoing medical issues.
He said he would opt for the lithrotripsy any day.
“I’d suggest the external blasting for anyone,” he says.
“There was a little bit of pain in the kidney area for a couple of days after, but that’s to be expected after being ultrasonically pounded.
“I woke up beautifully and felt fantastic, and went home that night.”
The Greatest Need Project is an online story-sharing website with two major goals – to help patients facing significant hardship and disadvantage, and to facilitate research, at Western Health.
As a patient, Lennard Sturt is sharing his story in bid to help those at Western Health who need it most.
By making a donation on Lennard’s behalf – and sharing his story on social media – you are making a difference too. Thank you.