Life

Dear Parkview, I Know I Am Fat

parkview physicians

Snark ahead

My primary care doctor is associated with Parkview Physicians Group in Fort Wayne, Indiana. He works out of the Bryan, Ohio office. I’ve had many of my recent tests done at the Bryan office or Parkview Regional Medical Center in Fort Wayne. Last Wednesday, I had a colonoscopy done at Parkview Regional. Good news, no cancer.Bad news, I am still sick.

With every office visit and procedure, Parkview generates reams of papers that are given to patients to educate them about their health. Last Wednesday was no exception. While I am sure Parkview desires to have an educated patient base, I find the papers a waste of time. Most  often, they tell me what I already know. Take the last batch of papers; here’s part of what was printed:

parkview hospital

OMG, I am overweight. RED ALERT! RED ALERT! Obesity Ahead!

Most fat people know they are fat, and putting their weight in red with an explanation point is only pointing out the OBVIOUS.

My blood pressure was great, as was my pulse, respiration, and O2 levels. Why no star beside these? Come on Parkview, encourage your patients instead of always pointing out their failings. I want to be affirmed not fat shamed.

This is what technology has given us; reams of paper that do little to improve or change our health. I suspect most people don’t even bother to read the papers. I usually glance at them, looking for something I don’t already know, and then I put them through the shredder.

I love my doctor and the treatment I receive at Parkview so I don’t want them to think I am an unhappy patient. But, I am tired of warnings about my weight or the other medical deficiencies I have. I get it, I should weigh less. Move on…and stop putting my weight in red.

 

 

The Man With No Butt

Bruce Gerencser, early Spring 2015

Bruce Gerencser, early Spring 2015

I’m a big guy. 6 foot tall, just north of 350 pounds. Thanks to my current battle with Zeus only knows what, I have lost 40 pounds since last November. No one who knows me has asked if I’ve lost weight. I have an odd body size for a man my size and unfortunately weight loss or gain goes unnoticed. Unlike most men my size, I don’t have what is commonly called a beer gut. Instead, from my size 8 head to my size 10 1/2 feet, I am shaped like a fire hydrant. I do have some belly fat, but I am pretty much a cylindrical mass of human flesh. I have the beard color to play Santa, but I’d definitely have to add a pillow or two to give me that rotund Santa figure.

Most men my height have a 32-35 inch inseam. Not me. I have a 29 inch inseam. Even worse, I have no butt. No woman has ever complimented me for having a nice butt; mainly because my shirt is usually hanging out the back. I have spent much of my life tucking in shirts that are not long enough. Buying XXXL shirts are a challenge because clothing makers assume that every XXXL man has a big gut. The shirts are long enough, but often they are way too big in the chest. Last year, I finally found a tee-shirt that fits me well. Made by Key Industries, I can buy them for less than $11 on Amazon. (Short Sleeve, Long Sleeve)  The tee shirts are well made, don’t feel cheap, and have a pocket on the front. This pocket works well when I need someplace to put my lens cap or cellphone.

Even when I get shirts that fit, I still have a problem keeping my pants up. Most people have hips and a butt they can hang their pants on. Not me. Since I don’t want to make the local news, Atheist Moons Shoppers at Meijer, I not only wear a belt but I also wear suspenders. Wearing only a belt is an invitation for embarrassment. Especially now that I have lost so much weight. I put two new holes in my belt so I can cinch it up tighter, but even then, my pants tend to work their way down. If you are a local reader and have seen me at Meijer with my hands in my pockets, it’s not because my hands are cold. When I feel my pants following the path of least resistance, I pull them up Grandpa-style and put my hands in my pockets to keep them from sliding back down.

perry suspenders

Perry Suspenders

A few years back, I found the perfect suspenders for a guy like me. Most suspenders have a clasp that is snapped on the pants. Over time, these snaps get weak and tend to come unsnapped. Not good, especially for those who might be behind me. Thankfully, I found Perry Suspenders. Perry Suspenders hook on your belt, providing a second layer of butt exposure security. You can buy a pair of Perry Suspenders for $12.99 on Amazon. Since wearing Perry Suspenders, I no longer fear being the subject of a YouTube video shot by a local resident at Meijer. Nothing like fame for having your pants drop down to you knees in the middle of the store. It’s never happened to me, but I have caught them well on their way to embarrassing me.

So there ya have it. All you ever wanted to know about the man with no butt.

 

Elvis Came to Church

elvis

What follows is a humorous and tragic story of a man I met in church.

In 2003, my family and I moved to Clare, Michigan so that I could assume the pastorate of Victory Baptist Church. (a Southern Baptist church) I pastored Victory Baptist Church for seven months. This would be the last church I pastored. While at Victory, we lived in a beautiful home north of Farwell Michigan in a gated community called White Birch.

One evening, my family and I drove to Mt Pleasant to do some shopping at Meijer. When we returned home I noticed that the red light on the answering machine was flashing. I clicked play and I heard the following:

Hello, this is Elvis. I am staying and the Doherty Hotel in Clare. I would like to talk to you. Please call me back at ______________.

I thought, yeah right. Elvis? I thought one of my preacher friends was trying to put one over on me.  So I called the number expecting to reach a jokester on the other end, but come to find out it really was Elvis.

Well, actually it was a man named Barry and Barry believed he was Elvis.

I don’t remember how Barry got to Clare, but he was on disability and lived in a rented apartment.

Barry wanted to attend our church. And so he did…

Barry didn’t come to church every week, but when he did he came dressed in bright colors, scarfs, and spangles just like Elvis wore. When Barry arrived…everyone paused to look, not saying a word.  He definitely stood out among the more “normal” people who attended the church.

Barry had mental health problems, and quite frankly a lot of church members didn’t know how to handle him. He was “different” and “different” is not something the church understood. Barry and I got along quite well. I found out that he had been abused, misused, and taken advantage of by several Pentecostal churches and a homeless shelter in the South. They mentally and emotionally crushed Barry and it is a wonder he didn’t end up in a mental hospital.

I tried to be Barry’s friend. I knew he needed people to love and encourage him. Unfortunately, Barry had a tendency to say whatever was on his mind, and a lot of church members found his verbal outbursts upsetting. One Sunday, we were sitting around the table in the Adult Sunday School Class, also known as the Heresy of the Week Class, talking about the Sunday School lesson. The Sunday School teacher, a man by the name of Steve, asked if anyone had anything to share. Barry did:

I need prayer, I have a problem with masturbation.

Dead silence. Instant offense showed on the faces of many at the table. The teacher didn’t know what to say so he said nothing. I quickly told Barry that we would talk about this after church.

Barry definitely spiced up the church. I have often wondered what happened to him. I hope he found someone to help him, love him, and accept him for who he was, even if he thought he was Elvis.

Who Comes Before What

who what

What are you?

What am I?

How can you know what I am until you know who I am?

Who I am explains what I am.

But we have little time for knowing who anyone is.

Labels please.

Declare yourself.

Christian.

Atheist.

Agnostic.

Spiritual.

Buddhist.

Muslim.

Republican.

Democrat.

Libertarian.

Liberal.

Conservative.

Shall I go on?

Busy. Busy. Busy.

Facebook.

Twitter.

Blog.

Texting.

Quick, immediate.

In a 140 characters or less what are you?

But I told you that you can not understand what I am until you understand who I am.

Who I am requires far more than 140 characters.

More than a Facebook comment.

Far more than a blog post.

Who I am requires time.

And effort.

And patience.

Too much work you say?

Then I feel no compulsion to tell you what I am.

The who comes before the what.

What is all people seem to want to know about me.

Pigeonhole.

Classify.

Categorize.

Label.

Dismiss.

I am far more complicated than your attempts to what me before you who me.

So  pigeonhole, classify, categorize and label me

but by no means know me.

Bruce, Were You Happy in the Ministry? Part One

bruce and polly gerencser 1978

Bruce and Polly Gerencser, in front of first apartment in Pontiac, Michigan, Fall 1978, With Polly’s grandfather and parents.

When I write posts like Leaving the Ministry: Dealing with Guilt and Regret, I am always concerned that someone might conclude that I was unhappy while I was in the ministry or that felt I was trapped in a job I didn’t want to be in.  Neither of these conclusions would be an accurate assessment of the twenty-five years I spent in the ministry.

I was fifteen years old when I went forward at Trinity Baptist Church, Findlay, Ohio and informed the church that I thought God was calling me to the ministry. A few weeks before, I had made a public profession of faith and was baptized.  I had no doubts about God’s call on my life. In fact, my desire to be a preacher went all the way back to when I was a five-year old boy in San Diego, California. My mother asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I told her I wanted to be a preacher. Not a baseball player, not a trash truck driver, or fireman. I wanted to be a preacher. Unlike many people, I never wondered about what I wanted to do with my life. God called-preacher, end of story.

In the fall of 1976, I enrolled at Midwestern Baptist College, a small fundamentalist college in Pontiac, Michigan. Polly Shope, my wife to be, started taking classes at Midwestern in the spring of 1976 while she was finishing her senior year at Oakland Christian School. At the age of fourteen, Polly went forward at the Kawkawlin River Baptist Church, Bay City, Michigan and let the church know that she believed God was calling her to be a preacher’s wife. When Polly enrolled at Midwestern, she had one goal in mind, to marry a preacher.

polly gerencser, pontiac, michigan 1978

Polly in front of our apartment, Fall 1978

Polly and I were immediately drawn to one another. She was quiet, reserved, and quite beautiful. I was outspoken, brash, with a rebellious spirit. According to Polly, I was her bad boy. We started dating in September of 1976 and by Christmas we were certain that we were a match made in heaven. Unfortunately, Polly’s parents thought we were a match made in hell. My parents were divorced and Polly’s mom thought that divorce was hereditary. Though she did her best to quash our love, in the spring of 1978, we issued an ultimatum: give us your blessing or we will get married without it. (a few weeks earlier, we had seriously considered eloping) On a hot July day in 1978, Polly and I exchanged vows at the Newark Baptist Temple, Heath, Ohio. As Mark Bullock, the soloist for our wedding, sang the Carpenter’s hit, We’ve Only Just Begun, Polly and I had thoughts of the wonderful life that awaited us in the ministry. Little did we know how naïve we were about what being in the ministry really entailed.

Polly’s idea of the ministry was quite idealistic. In her mind, we would have two children, a boy named Jason and a girl named Bethany, and live in a beautiful two-story house with a white picket fence. She saw herself as the quiet helpmeet of her preacher husband.  My idea of the ministry was a bit more realistic. Preaching, teaching, winning souls, visiting the sick, all in a church  filled with peace, joy, and harmony.  No one had prepared us for what the ministry would really be like. I still remember a time when I was standing in a three-foot deep hole partly filled with sewage trying to repair a broken septic line. Polly came out to see what I was doing and I said to her, well, they certainly didn’t teach me this in college. No one told us that the ministry would far different from our idealistic expectations.

Two months after we were married, Polly informed me that our use of contraceptive foam had failed and she was pregnant. Not long after her announcement, I lost my job at a Detroit area production machine shop. Financially, things quickly fell apart for us. We went to see Levy Corey, the dean at Midwestern, and told him that we needed to drop out of college. He told us we just needed to trust God and everything would work out. While I was able to find new employment, it was not enough for us to keep our head above water. In February of 1979, we dropped all of our classes and prepared to move to Bryan, Ohio. Several of our friends stopped by before we moved to berate us for not having faith in God. One friend told us that we would never amount to anything because God doesn’t bless quitters. Years later, at a Newark Baptist Temple preacher’s conference, Dr. Tom Malone, the president of Midwestern, mentioned that I was in the crowd. He said that I had left Midwestern before graduating, but if I had stayed, they (the college) probably would have ruined me. He meant it as a joke, but I took his comment as a vindication of our decision to leave college.

polly bruce gerencser cranbrook gardens bloomfield hills michigan 1978

Polly and Bruce Gerencser, Cranbrook Gardens, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, Spring 1978, two months before wedding.

In February of 1979, we moved to Bryan, Ohio, the place of my birth and the home of my sister Robin. After living with my sister for a short while, we found a house to rent on Hamilton Street. I began working at ARO, a large local manufacturer of pumps and air tools. ARO paid well, but I still desired to be a pastor. As I would view every job, secular work was just a means to an end, me pastoring a church. My sister attended the Montpelier Baptist Church in Montpelier, Ohio. When we first moved to Bryan, we thought that we would attend First Baptist Church, the church I had attended before enrolling at Midwestern. Though I knew everyone at First Baptist, we decided to go to Montpelier Baptist, a young, growing GARBC church pastored by Jay Stuckey. This decision did not sit well with the people at First Baptist. One of the matriarchs of the church told me, Bruce you know you belong at First Baptist!  At the time, First Baptist was pastored by Jack Bennett. Jack was married to my uncle’s sister Creta.

I had previously preached at Montpelier Baptist, so I knew a bit about  Stuckey and his ministry philosophy. Stuckey was a graduate of Toledo Bible College, which later moved to Newburgh, Indiana and became Trinity Theological Seminary.  After attending the church for a few weeks, Stuckey asked me to help him at the church by becoming the bus pastor and helping with church visitation.

The church had one bus route. It brought in a handful of children every week and little was being done to increase ridership numbers. Enter hot-shot, get it done, Bruce Gerencser. In less than a month, on Easter Sunday, the bus was jammed with eighty-eight riders. I vividly remember arriving at the church with all these kids and the junior church director running out to the bus and frantically asking me what I expected him to do with all the children. I replied, that’s your problem, I just bring them in. Needless to say, this man was never very fond of me.

A short time later, the church bought a second bus. I recruited bus workers to run the new route and before long this bus was also filled with riders. On the first Sunday in October 1979, Montpelier Baptist held its morning service at the Williams County Fairground. A quartet provided special music and Ron English from the Sword of Lord preached the sermon. 500 people attended this service and about 150 of them had come in on the buses. Less than two weeks later, I was gone. Polly and I, along with our newborn son Jason, packed up our meager household goods and moved to Newark, Ohio.

What Motivated Me to Work so Hard for Jesus

working for jesus

It all started with my belief that the Bible was the inspired, inerrant Word of God. I considered the Bible the road map for navigating through a Satan dominated. sin plagued world.

The Bible taught me that every person is a sinner under the just condemnation of God and deserves to burn in hell for all eternity. The Bible also taught me that God graciously provides a way us to have our sins forgiven and avoid hell. God sent Jesus Christ, the son of God, to earth be the final atonement for our sin. Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sin and three days later rose again from the dead, conquering death and the grave. Our salvation and eternal  destiny rests squarely on the merit and work of Jesus. He is the way, truth, and life.  Through the preaching of the Word and the work of the Holy Spirit, God calls out to us, saying repent and believe the gospel. Those who do are gloriously saved and made part of the family of God.

The Bible taught me that I, as a God called, God ordained minister of the gospel, had the solemn obligation to preach the gospel to everyone.  Work for the night is coming. Leave everything for the sake of the gospel. Only one life twill soon be past, only what’s done for Christ. These clichés were not mere words to me. They were a clarion call to forsake all and follow Jesus.

Every Church I attended, every youth group I was a part of, and  every summer youth camp I went to, reinforced the truth that God wanted (demanded) 100% of me. All to Jesus I surrender, All to Him I freely give.

I went to college to train for the ministry. Every class, every professor, every chapel speaker shouted for all to hear:

Souls for Jesus is our battle cry.
Souls for Jesus is our battle cry.
We never will give in while souls are lost in sin
Souls for Jesus is our battle cry.

My wife went to college to marry a preacher, a God called, God ordained, preacher of the gospel of Jesus Christ. She knew that she would have to make sacrifices for the sake of her husband’s call. She was taught that Jesus, the ministry, and the church came first. She was taught her husband was specially chosen by God to proclaim the good news of the gospel. She was encouraged to read biographies of great men and women of faith to learn how to deal with being married to a man of God. Polly and I entered marriage and the ministry knowing God had called us to a life of self-denial and devotion to the work of the ministry. Hand in hand, we embraced the work God had set before us.

I consider 1983-1994 to be the high point of my ministerial career. I pastored a growing, busy church. Sinners were being saved and baptized and  joining the church. God was smiling on our work. Not only was this my observation, but it was the observation of my colleagues in the ministry. God was going something special at Somerset Baptist Church.

I did a lot of preaching.  A typical week for me looked something like this:

  • Jail ministry on Tuesday
  • Nursing home ministry on Wednesday
  • Midweek service on Thursday
  • Street preaching 2-3 days a week
  • Taught Sunday school class
  • Preached twice on Sunday

We also had a tuition free Christian school, open only to the children of church members. In addition to my busy church preaching schedule, I held revival services and preached at bible conferences and pastor’s fellowships. I was motivated by what I believed the Bible taught me about the work of the ministry.  I looked at the life of the apostles and thought that they were a pattern to follow. Run the race, Paul told me, so I ran. I was 100% committed to what I believed was God’s calling on my life.

Some Christians object and say “you are the one who worked yourself to death. Don’t blame the Church or God. OUR pastor doesn’t work this way. He takes time for his family. Blah. Blah Blah.” Even now, as an atheist, I find such objections lame. If the Bible is true, if what it says about God, sin, salvation, death, hell, and heaven is true, how dare any preacher, or ANY Christian for that matter, treat the gospel of Jesus Christ so carelessly.  How dare any preacher not burn himself out for the sake of those in need of salvation. No time for pastor busy work. No time for golfing with your fellow preachers.

There are a lot of lazy hirelings in the ministry who do just enough to keep from getting fired. They pastor a church two or three years, wear out their welcome, and then move on down the road to another church. I have no respect for pastors who defend their laziness by stressing the importance of balance in their lives. Where do they find such a notion in the Bible they say they believe? Jesus doesn’t  call  them to balance. He calls them to forsake all and follow him.

One of the reasons I see Christianity as a bankrupt religion is the lackadaisical approach Christians and their spiritual leaders have towards matters that supposedly have eternal consequence. Most of what goes on in the average church is meaningless bullshit. Call a business meeting to decide on the color of the paint for the nursery walls and everyone shows up. Implore people to come out for church visitation and the same three or four people show up.

Why should I take the Bible, God, Jesus, salvation, heaven or hell seriously when most Christians and pastors treat these things as of no more importance than “what’s for dinner tonight.” It took leaving the Christian church and leaving the ministry for me to realize that most of what I was chasing after was nothing more than a fool’s errand. Many of the ex-ministers who read this blog know what I am talking about . So much of life wasted, and for what? Too bad I had to be fifty years old before I realized what life is all about. Too bad I sacrificed my health on the altar of the eternal before I realized that there is no eternity, just the here and now.

From a psychological standpoint, I understand that my type A, work-a-holic personality made it easy for me to be the preacher I was. Whether it was the ministry or managing restaurants, I worked day and night, rarely taking time for family or leisure. I still have the same tendencies. The difference now is that the list of things that matter to me is very small. Polly matters. Family matters. My neighbors matter. The future of humanity matters. But matters of eternity, heaven and hell? Nary a thought these days. If the Christian God exists then I am screwed. A lot of readers of this blog are going to be my roommates in hell. However, I don’t think the Christian version of God exists, so I am investing all my time, money, and talent on the only life I have. I will leave it up to the gods and my family to do what they will with me after I am dead. Of course, I could come back from the dead and write a book, “Heaven is Real and Boy are the Atheists In Trouble.”   

Understanding and Helping Those Who Live With Chronic Pain

garfield painRegular readers know that I live with chronic, unrelenting pain. No not Polly, the physical kind. There’s never a day that pain is not my close, personal friend. The last time I can remember a pain-free day was somewhere in the mid-1990’s. Every day, like the sun coming up in the morning, I have pain. Some days are less painful, other days are more painful, and then there are what I call the please let me die days where the pain, no matter what I swallow or do, is off the charts. From the top of my head to the bottom of my feet, I hurt. New pains come and go, often returning months or years later. Some pains move in and stay, just like an adult child who says, I just need to live here until I get back on my feet. This is my life. I accept it as it is, doing what I can, and embracing what I can’t.

Friends and family often have a hard time figuring out how to interact with me. Some avoid me, out of sight out of mind, I suppose. Some stand on the periphery of my life watching as chronic pain and illness destroy the man they love. Some dare to venture a little closer, perhaps even offering to help, but I often push them away not wanting to burden them with my problems. They have a life, I tell them, no need to be burdened with a dying old man.

Since November of last year, I’ve had to deal with new health problems that so far have doctors perplexed. First, they thought maybe it was pancreatic cancer or my gallbladder. After $25,000 of tests, procedures, and office visits, my symptoms remain unabated and the only thing I know is that I don’t know. In fact, they’ve gotten worse. For six weeks now, the left upper side of my chest/abdomen has throbbed with pain. I told my doctor that it feels like I have been hit in the ribs with an Aroldis Chapman fastball. For those who are not baseball fans, Chapman is a pitcher for the Cincinnati Reds. He throws the ball over 100 miles per hour.

This pain is not my lungs, and a set of back x-rays last week revealed arthritis, no shocker since I have osteoarthritis in many of my joints, but no fractures or compressed discs. Tomorrow, prior to going to the Dayton Dragons-Fort Wayne Tin Caps baseball game, I have an office visit with a colorectal doctor. The plan is for me to have a colonoscopy done as soon as possible. Sometimes,  colon cancer can cause the type of pain I am having. In the mean time, I try to deal with the pain the best I can, tasking extra medication and using moist heated pads. Since I can only sleep on my right side, this pain has turned my attempts at sleep into one long fight to find just the right spot to lie so the pain is less severe.

I know family and friends love me and want to be “there” for me, wherever “there” is. Some of the readers of this blog, dear folks who have over the years become my friends, offer up their love and support and I deeply appreciate their compassion. I know, as people watch the spectacle, they are frustrated and discouraged, knowing that this may not have a good outcome. I have resigned myself to this fact a long time ago. If not today, it will be some other day, sooner rather than later, that will be my last. Like you, I want to live until I die. While I may have moments when I contemplate the final solution, most days I try to live the best life possible.

A month or so ago, I read an wikihow.com article titled How to Understand Someone With Chronic Pain. I thought the points in the article might be helpful for my family and friends and for others who are intimately connected to someone with chronic pain. Here’s some of the points and a highlight quote from each. I encourage you to read the entire article.

Remember that being sick does not mean that the sufferer is no longer a human being.

Chronic pain sufferers spend the majority of their day in considerable pain. If one visits or lives with a chronic pain sufferer, the chronic pain sufferer may be unable to enjoy things they used to enjoy. The chronic pain sufferer remains aware, and desires to do what they used to perform. The chronic pain sufferer feels as if they are stuck inside a body in which they have little or no control. They still want to enjoy work, family, friends and leisure activities, however much pain puts that enjoyment out of reach.

Learn the code.

Chronic pain sufferers will often talk differently from people free of constant pain. A numeric pain scale is used as a quantitative measure for identification of intensity for pain so the health care providers can measure effects of treatments. The measure describes pain on a scale from 1 to 10; the 1 is “no pain at all, feel wonderful” and 10 is the “worst pain ever felt.” Do not assume the chronic pain sufferer is not experiencing pain when they say that they are fine. The chronic pain sufferer attempts to hide the pain due to lack of understanding in others.

 Recognize the difference between “happiness” and “healthy”.

When you have the flu, you probably have felt miserable. Chronic pain sufferers have experienced pain from 6 months to many years. Pain has caused them to adopt coping mechanisms that are not necessarily reflecting the real level of pain they feel.

 Listen.

The previous two steps made it clear that chronic pain sufferers can speak in code or make their pain seem lighter than the reality. The next best thing that you can do is to listen to them properly, and to make it clear that you both want to hear what they have to say and that you really have heard it. Use your listening skills to decode what they’re hiding or minimizing.

 Understand and respect the chronic pain sufferer’s physical limitations.

Being able to stand up for ten minutes doesn’t necessarily mean that the sufferer can stand up for twenty minutes, or an hour, or give you a repeat performance whenever. Just because the person managed to stand up for thirty minutes yesterday doesn’t imply that they will be able to do the same today…With chronic pain however, it is confusing to both the sufferer and the onlooker, and their ability to cope with movement can be like a yo-yo. The sufferer may not know, from day-to-day, how they are going to feel when they wake up, and each day has to be taken as it comes.

 Leave your “pep talk” for your kids and your gym buddies.

Realizing that chronic pain is variable, keep in mind that a pep talk can be aggravating and demoralizing for the chronic pain sufferer. As already noted, it’s quite possible (for many, it’s common) that one day they’re able to walk to the park and back, while the next day they’ll have trouble getting to the next room. Therefore, it’s vital that you don’t fall into the trap of saying: “But you did it before!” or “Oh, come on, I know you can do this!”

 Never use throwaway lines.

Assuming you know best by making such statements as “Ah well, that’s life, you’ll just have to deal with it”, or “You’ll get over it eventually. Until then, you’ll just have to do your best”, or worst of all, “Well, you look well enough”, etc., are lines that might make you feel done and dusted with the topic but they are both a form of distancing yourself from the person and making the sufferer feel worse and out of hope.

 Check your own patience.

If you’re impatient and want them to “just get on with it”, you risk laying a guilt trip on the person who is suffering from pain and undermining their determination to cope. They probably have the will to comply with your requests to go out and about with them but have neither the strength nor the coping capacity as a result of the pain.

 Be sensitive when suggesting medicines or alternative treatments

Some may not appreciate suggestions, and it’s not because they don’t want to get well. They may have heard of it or tried it already or some may not be ready to cope with new treatment that can create an additional burden on their already over-burdened lives. Treatments that haven’t worked carry the emotional pain of failure, which in and of itself can make the person feel even lower.

 Don’t be put off if the chronic pain sufferer seems touchy.

If that’s the appearance, it’s probably because they are. It’s not how they try to be. As a matter of fact, they try very hard to be normal. Just try to understand. They have been going through a lot. Chronic pain is hard to understand unless you have had it. It wreaks havoc on the body and the mind. It is exhausting and exasperating. Almost all the time, they do their best to cope with this, and live their lives to the best of their ability. Just accept them as they are.

 Be helpful.

The chronic pain sufferer depends a great deal on people who are not sick to support them at home or visit them when they’re too sick to go out. Sometimes they need help with shopping, cooking, or cleaning. Others may need help with their kids. They may need help getting to the doctor, or to the store. You can be their link to the “normality” of life.

The Invisible Man in the Chair

wheelchair

Let’s go to the Botanical Garden in Toledo, I tell my chauffeur. I want to photograph the spring flowers.

The sun is shining, the air is cool, a perfect day.

The car is loaded: camera, tripod, cane, and wheelchair. All the necessary tools of an aging crippled photographer.

Are you sure you want to push my fat ass around, I ask my chauffeur. And just like every other time I ask this question, she smiles and says yes.

The Toledo Botanical Garden is 50 miles or so from home. We arrive around 4 PM. Several hours of great lighting left, I tell myself. We pull into the parking lot, finding it full cars, limousines, and small buses. It’s prom night and hundreds of area high school student are at the Garden to get their photograph taken. They are dressed in ill-fitting dresses and tuxes, each trying to outdo the other on their special night.

We finally find a parking spot. Actually, we make a parking spot where there isn’t one.  I ask my chauffeur, are you sure you want to do this? Like always, she smiles and said yes.

The wheelchair is unloaded and I am soon being wheeled along the paved walkways. I made sure before we left home  that the walkways were wheelchair accessible. As we quickly find out, their idea of accessible is very different from ours. From potholes to broken cement to hoses stretching across the walkways, my chauffeur has great difficulty navigating. I hear her breathing become more labored. I turn to her and say, we can go if you want to. And just like every other time I ask this question, she smiles and says no. She knows, thanks to unrelenting pain, I rarely leave home. She wants me to have a good time.

Hundreds of high school students are gathered in groups throughout the Garden. Avoid obstructions, I tell myself. Go this way, avoid the crowd. But, no matter how we try to avoid the clustered students, we eventually are forced to stop and wait for them to move so we can pass.

The invisible man, that is what I am to these students. They stand towering above me and my slumping body. We wait, hoping they will notice we can’t get by them. Few pay attention to the man in the wheelchair. Don’t get upset, I tell myself. They will move.

As we come up one of the walkways, I notice a large group of students standing on the walkway. I say to my chauffeur, let’s go home. She replies, no, they will move. As we close in on the group many of the students move allowing the Moses in the wheelchair to part the Red Sea. One student refuses to move. His girl turns to him and says, hey let the guy go by. He looks at me with eyes I have encountered many times before and moves just enough to let me get by. His girl is none to happy with him. With anger in her eyes, she pushes her man and tells him MOVE! Put in his place, the towering student complies and moves so I can pass by.

Such is life in the chair. I think everyone, healthy or not, should spend some time in the chair. Believe me, the world looks completely different from the seat of the chair. Simple things like navigating the grocery store become an insurmountable task. Are people callous or indifferent to the handicapped? Sometimes, but most people have no frame of reference for understanding the challenges of having to use a wheelchair. (or a cane) They can walk and move at will. Any obstacle can be moved or navigated around. For the  person in the chair, obstacles that are nothing for a healthy person, become a source of frustration.

I do my best to avoid crowds when I must use my wheelchair. But even then, at three in the morning at the local Meijer, shelf stockers often make the aisles impassable. They have a job to do, but I’d sure like to buy some groceries. I’ve concluded that there is no good time to go shopping. I must mentally prepare myself for the indifference of others. I must grit my teeth and ignore the pain inflicted on me by thoughtless shoppers. I think, someday, they will be where I am and then they will understand.  For now, I am just the invisible man in the chair.