Something in common with Ashcroft: excruciating pain |

Something in common with Ashcroft: excruciating pain

Rich Mayfield

It is terribly hard to admit but I’m feeling deep sympathy this week for John Ashcroft.

Our U.S. attorney general is in the hospital after suffering a gall bladder attack that I suspect involved the excruciatingly painful movements of the innocuous sounding gallstones.

I had a similar episode a few years back with my kidneys, and I can tell you, there is nothing innocuous about these calcified monsters.

When they finally do make their way out of your body, they appear as bony versions of those sticky things that lodge in your socks every time you go off trail.

Just imagine one of those little buggers, hard as, well Š stone, running a road course through your urinary tract. “Ping!” goes the sound when it bangs against the urinal wall. “Bong” goes your head after you faint dead backwards onto the bathroom floor.

Although gallstones are normally removed surgically, thus sparing Mr. Ashcroft the pain and humiliation of waking up in a public lavatory with a large knot on the back of his bean and his fly wide open, I suspect his discomfort was as dramatic as mine.

Well, maybe not. The attorney general would have had to enter the emergency room as hunched over as Quasimodo and alternately screaming at the top of his lungs and twisting his head around in a rather remarkable imitation of the demon-possessed young girl in “The Exorcist” to actually be as dramatic as mine.

I tried to be brave, but instead I wailed like a banshee. I know this because my wife later told me she spent the entire time I was in the examining room explaining to the other patients that I normally don’t use that kind of language and I really didn’t believe that the doctor was Satan incarnate.

Eventually, I calmed down after effectively utilizing the spiritual disciplines of prayer and meditation. The massive dose of morphine seemed to help as well.

When it finally ended with my standing/falling at the urinal and with a few kidney stone-free years in between, I’ve managed to get some perspective on it all and thus sympathy for a man I normally would have very little sympathy for.

It is a curious thing how pain can bridge the gap in philosophy. Although this may be somewhat presumptuous on my part, I believe I can say that we are now both veterans of an experience we wouldn’t wish on our own worst enemy.

Such camaraderie resonates with the reported scenes from the front lines in France during World War I, when soldiers from both sides sang the same Christmas carols from their respective trenches. Shared misery transcends even the deepest of doctrinal divides.

So, in that spirit of unity, I publicly want to acknowledge my brother-in-pain and to wish him the speediest of recoveries.

In addition, I would like to suggest that our painful commonality may provide an avenue of understanding that our political differences could not bridge.

While Mr. Ashcroft recovers, I shall try to comprehend his statements on abortion rights, civil disobedience and a host of other still confusing declarations now with the sympathy of a fellow-traveler Š although I suspect John wouldn’t want to use that exact terminology.

In any case, get well soon Mr. Attorney General and let’s both hope that our future understandings have less to do with painful shared experiences and more with just plain sympathy.

Award-winning columnist writes a Saturday column for the Summit Daily News. He can be reached at

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