Menu Close

Chronic Pain: Paying the Price

st julian wine
Four bottles of inexpensive wine we purchased at St. Julian Winery in Paw Paw. Michigan

She took the day off.

The weatherman says sunny and 55, I hope he’s right.

I busy myself getting ready for tomorrow.

Clean the house, I tell myself. Can’t leave if the house isn’t clean.

House is clean.

I put my camera equipment on the table, tripods behind the door, ready for loading in the morning.

I check the camera batteries and make sure the flash cards are installed.

No need for the GPS, we have iPhones now, so Google maps will direct us to our destination. Just to safe, I put some paper, a pen, a flashlight, and maps of Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio in my briefcase and put it with the camera equipment.

Clothes, shoes, wallet, jacket, and hat, all ready for the morning.

She will be home soon.

She sees that I cleaned the house. She smiles and shakes her head. She knows…36 years of knowing…

I want to be out of the house by 10, I tell her. And I mean 10, I add, knowing that I am fighting a battle I have lost more times than I can count.

A restless night, I get 4 hours sleep before she wakes me up.

The car is loaded, ready to go. Ten minutes late…

She drives. I want to drive but I know I can’t. I am no longer physically able to drive. I know this, but I still want to drive. She ignores me, knowing I will no longer put up a fight.

Off to Fort Wayne first to drop off papers at the hospital. I owe them $5,000.00. I hope they will reduce the amount I owe.

Pain meds.

She wants to go Rome City to see an old, no longer functioning self-sustaining nunnery.

Pain meds.

It’s not long before I start feeling every bump and thump as we ride over roads savaged by harsh Midwestern winter.

Our destination is South Haven, Michigan. Sunset is at 7:45. I want to get there by 6:00. How we get to South Haven is undetermined.

This is a Gerencser road trip, one our six children experienced many times. A general destination with no certain route.

Pain meds.

The assault on my body continues. I complain some, but I know it is not her fault. If I had known this is how painful the trip was going to be, I would have stayed home. I am glad I didn’t.

North and West we travel, meandering down never before traveled roads.

I set Google maps to no highways or toll roads. We want to see what most people never take the time to see.

Amish, horses, buggies, laundry gently blowing in the wind. What a pleasant surprise.

Where’s their school, she asks. Soon, we stumble upon it. Look at all the bicycles and yellow vests.

Countless stops so I can get out of the car and take photographs. It’s not long before my shoes are muddy, muddying up the floor and mat cleaned the night before.

Sometimes, I stay in the car, using the window to steady my telephoto camera lens. We fuss a bit as she tries to maneuver the car so I can take a shot. We’ve been fussing for 36 years. It means nothing, our love transcends anything we could say to one another.

Pain meds.

We finally come to a road we’ve traveled before. Soon we come to Paw Paw, Michigan. Let’s stop at the winery, she says, and I say, sure.

So much wine, so little money. I sure could use a drink. We buy four bottles of inexpensive wine. As we checkout, I tell the young woman waiting on us that we were once part of a religion that forbade the drinking of alcohol. She replies, really? Her face tells me she’s never heard of such craziness. I go on to tell her that we were 50 years old before we drank wine for the first time. I chuckle and say, we are living the 60’s and 70’s a little late in life.

She needs to use the bathroom, so does our daughter with Down Syndrome. I’ll tell her I’ll take the wine out to the car,  She says, OK, and hands me the keys.

I open the trunk of the car, put the wine in, and carefully wrap the bottles with a towel.

I slam the trunk of the car and reach into my pocket for the keys so I can unlock the car.

Panic. You didn’t. You fucking idiot. Surely, you didn’t lock the keys in the trunk? You damn idiot, yes you did.

Soon she comes out to the car and I tell her what I’ve done. I thought I had ruined our day. She calmly reaches into her purse and pulls out the second set of keys. Disaster averted.

I am mad at myself, still upset over the keys. 57 years, and I’ve never locked the keys in a car until today. My self-esteem takes another dive.

Back on the road, time to head to South Haven.

The roads continue to pummel me. She notices that I am writhing in the seat and says,I’m sorry. I say, it’s OK. It’s not, but only death will keep me from reaching our destination.

5:00 Pain meds. She notices I have taken the maximum dosage for the day, but she says nothing. She knows I will have to take extra pain meds to get through the day.

It’s 5:30 as we pull into the parking lot near the beach. She and I have been here many times. It’s our favorite place to be. There’s nothing better than watching a Lake Michigan sunset, especially when the one you love are by your side.

The sun is shining, it’s 54 degrees.

The Lake is frozen, the beach is covered with a mishmash of ice, melting snow, and sand.

People are out and about. One young woman is in flip-flops and a white sun dress. Silly humans, we are, worshiping the warmth of our star.

We make our way out to the lighthouse. I walking slowly, prodding the ground with my cane, making sure the slushy snow beneath my feet is firm.

We finally reach the point, the first time we’ve been here when the Lake is frozen.

People come and go as we stand there enjoying the warmth and the view. What a wonderful view…

A talkative woman stands nearby. Her back is to the sun and Lake. She seems only interested in talking to those who are near her. She’s lecturing a young couple about an upcoming sales tax initiative. She’s against it. She turns to me and asks, do you read? Yes. What do you read? Books. Philosophy? Yes. I’m thinking, really, here I am 3 hours from home, away from my blog, and I am getting quizzed about philosophy? The talkative woman asks, Who? I snap back, Kierkegaard. This satisfies her and she turns to the woman in the white sun dress and tells her she’s crazy for being out there in flip-flops and no coat. I thought, I’ll tell you who’s crazy.

We walk back to the car and drive to the bluff overlooking the Lake. I’ve never taken photographs from this spot before.

I set up my tripod and prepare both my cameras to take photographs of the sunset. The show will be short and sweet, I know I must be ready.

She gets out the portable camera I bought her for Christmas. She is quite proud of her work. I hear her camera beep, knowing she is photographing me going about my craft. I used to object, but I know my children and grandchildren will one day appreciate her photographs. I’m reminded of what my friend Tom told me, photographs are about the memory, the moment. That’s what matters.

Soon the show is over and we quickly load everything back into the car. The temperature is quickly dropping. By the time we get home it drops 20 degrees.

As we make our way down from the bluff, I ask her to stop at the beach. Just a few more shots, I say. She’s cold, so she stays in the car as I setup my tripod and take a few photographs of the lighthouse, now lighted by incandescent lights along the walkway.

It’s 8:15 as we walk into Clementines. All the adrenaline has dissipated and my body now screams for attention. I can barely eat. I use the bathroom before we leave, leaning against the stall, a few tears come to my eyes. Why does it have to be this way? Why does one day with my friend and lover cost me so much?

Pain meds.

More pain meds.

I have a counseling appointment scheduled for tomorrow. She knows, and will cancel it in the morning. Bed is what awaits me come tomorrow and several days after that. It’s the price I pay for living, for experiencing the beauty of my wife and a Lake Michigan sunset.

It’s midnight as we pull into the driveway. We’ve been gone 14 hours and driven over 300 miles. Exhausted, she falls asleep in minutes. I take more pain medication and my normal nighttime meds. I’m so exhausted that sleep comes quickly.

12 hours later, I wake up, knowing that I must now pay for yesterday.

Is it worth it?

She’s at work now and she sends me a text. The sun is shining, want to go to on a road trip?

I reply, sure…


  1. Avatar
    Becky Wiren

    Choosing to do things and yet, it becoming so hard. So poignant. You’re braver than me, I prefer not to take trips that cause me pain. But we all choose what we feel we must do as humans, and pay the price. I’m so sorry.

    • Avatar
      Bruce Gerencser

      You, of course, know how it is. I have been blessed to meet fellow sufferers. Our stories and diseases vary, but we all still have a love for life, such as it is. It’s our family and friends that matter. I love reading stories like yours. In the midst of great difficulty you find a way to live and love.

      I suppose if I was still a follower of Jesus, God, and heaven, I might think differently. But, this is the only life I have. When I draw my last breath I know I will never see Polly, my kids, my grandchildren, or siblings again. Knowing this changes everything. No, see you in heaven. No, we’ll be together again some day. This is it and I want to live every moment of my life to its fullest. The pain will end when I am dead. Until then, I bite the proverbial stick and do all I can for myself and others.

  2. Avatar

    Solidarity, my friend.

    Often times I’m forced to forgo days like this if there are too many in any one month. DEA laws and restrictions on pain meds have doctors in a panic about writing prescriptions for these meds and pharmacies are restricted on what they will and can stock in what quantities. Then there’s the Insurers who won’t cover anything over a certain dosage per day.

    So much for “Medical decisions are between a patient and their Doctor” … all these regulations force chronic pain sufferers to make very difficult choices and skip out on life events to manage their restricted medications. As I read this post, I couldn’t help but cringe at the thought of you having to short yourself a couple days of relief in the near future because you went over your daily allotment of medication. I know this scenario all too well.

    Daily NORMAL dosage is X … this get a person through a normal day of normal activities while managing pain levels to a degree that one can focus on the tasks instead of the the pain

    On long days that involve more than normal physical activity, (to most people, these are the real fun perks of life like, nature hikes, carnivals, festivals, going to sporting events, and yes – even sex, etc.) the added physicality requires more pain medication over a longer period of time so chronic pain sufferers with take X+2 or X+4 or even X+6 on rare occasion … mind you, this is just to keep up with a normal able bodied person doing normal stuff … we’re not talking about rock climbing or actually PLAYING sports or riding rides at the fair (which is absolutely out of the question) .

    After these days/events we must then “make up” for the overage … so depending how much extra medication was taken, one must DECREASE the normal dosage over a day or 2 or 3 which, of course, inhibits the ability to function during a NORMAL day!

    If it’s just a couple pills that’s not THAT big a deal … X-1 two times or a single day of X-2 … but it’s rare that a month is limited to a single day of one slight overage that can easily (as far as medication mathematics is concerned) be made up the next day. Simple task like raking leaves can call for an X+2 day but what gets forgotten by the able bodied is that the chronic pain sufferer has caused ADDITIONAL pain and suffering that lasts more that a couple days AFTER the event. SO not ONLY do we have to take less medication the next day or so … but we actually have MORE pain during those days.

    It’s vicious … and our government exacerbates the problem with unnecessary laws, regulations and “recommendations” on top of the propaganda that anyone who takes these powerful medications is in “danger” of a SERIOUS addiction and that people take these medications are only a single pill away from going on a 3 state crime spree to “fuel” their addiction.

    Sorry for the rant, Bruce. I guess, I should have just said I empathize with your situation all too well. I look forward to seeing the Lighthouse pictures 🙂

    • Avatar
      Bruce Gerencser

      Rants are welcome. 🙂

      You raise an important issue. If you take extra meds one day, you have to reduce what you take on subsequent days. Usually this works out for me, but there are weeks where every day is pain level 10 day. Do I tough it out or do I take extra pain meds, knowing that I might have to do without a few weeks later.

      I take several medications, so I can tailor my daily use according to my pain levels.

      • Avatar
        Becky Wiren

        I guess I need to go back to the pain clinic. My meds are all right for daily pain. For flares…not too much. I’ve actually purchased legal pain herbs that help. Why can’t the doctors do more? Feeling pretty upset right now. 🙁

  3. Avatar

    I totally get this, my old friend. It happens to me with my asthma and it’s not a happy thing. Take care of yourself and rest when you need to.

    Trying on this end to work out and walk more and more in preparation for my big trip to Central America next month. It makes even thinking about traveling a challenge.

  4. Avatar
    Yulya Sevelova

    Wow, this post sure describes how getting around is for me ! And when I think of these corrupt 3- letter agencies, how it’s been common knowledge here, at least, that they DO push drugs in communities, even as they outlaw medications for the most insane reasons ! Oh, the stories I could tell here. Even worse, quite a few insurance plans refuse to cover things like acupuncture and other alternatives that can do some good. I found that out the hard way. I just turned 63 myself. I never used to think of the 60+ age group as old, but, thanks to 2018 to the present, I feel older, way older. I always loved walking, and did it for the sheer joy of it. And it kept my weight down. Now I move too slowly to burn much as calories go. I know sugar aggravates my condition s, but for the moment, it’s one of my few enjoyments in life. By the way, I have heard about those legendary Midwestern sunsets.

Want to Respond to Bruce? Fire Away! If You Are a First Time Commenter, Please Read the Comment Policy Located at the Top of the Page.

Bruce Gerencser