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The Cart

bruce gerencser august 2021
Front Yard of Our Home, August 31, 2021

The old man and his wife pull into the store parking lot. The ride to Toledo from their home in Ney was excruciating for the old man. Wracked with pain, the old man felt every bump, thump, and bang as they drove down Toledo’s neglected streets. Narcotic pain medication helps, but nothing takes the pain away. Healthy people are often ignorant about how pain meds work. They wrongly think that taking drugs such as Hydrocodone or Oxycontin makes pain go away. Two Vicodin, thirty minutes, and voila! pain magically disappears. Or so people think. People with chronic pain know better; pain meds reduce pain, but don’t make it disappear. The old man had taken extra pain medications, preparing for the hour ride to the Glass City and back.

A recent MRI report said:

  • Disc herniation (T7,T8)
  • Disc herniation (T6,T7)
  • Central spinal canal stenosis (T9/T10, T10/T11)
  • Foraminal stenosis (T5,T6)
  • Disc degeneration/spondylosis (T1/T2 through T10/T11)
  • Facet Arthropathy throughout the spine, particularly at T2/T3, T3/T4, T5/T6, and T7/T8 through the T12/L1 levels.
  • Hypertrophic arthropathy at T9/T10

These diagnoses gave voice to the excruciating pain the old man had in his thoracic spine for months. Yet, this diagnosis drove the old man further into the throes of depression. Fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, gastroparesis, and now serious back problems. “Does it ever end?” the old man wonders, knowing that the answer to his existential question was “no.” No cure. No pain-free days. No better tomorrow. Just pain, suffering, and struggling with death in the hope of living another day.

The old woman parked the car, opening her door, and walking to the raised hatch on the back of their SUV. The old man no longer drives, so it’s up to the old woman to drive them everywhere they go. The old man partially opens his door, pushing it open with his cane. Then, with great difficulty, he stands up and then haltingly walks to the back of the car.

The old man and woman knew this day would come, the day when the old man finally gave in and gave up, resigning himself to using a wheelchair full-time. The old man’s pain and debility is such that walking is difficult and dangerous (risking falls and injuries). Unable to pick up more than a pound or two, the old man cannot remove his wheelchair from the trunk of their car. The old woman carries so much of the old man’s weight these days, yet she never says a word. Forty-three years ago, she stood before God and man and said to her husband:

I, Polly Shope, take thee, Bruce Gerencser, to be my wedded Husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love, cherish, and to obey, till death us do part, according to God’s holy ordinance; and thereto I give thee my troth.

Little did she know what these words would mean in the years to come.

The old woman has her own health problems. Two major bowel surgeries, A-fib, knee problems, all in the past three years. She needs to retire, but she can’t. The old man needs health insurance. Without it, medical bills would bankrupt them. Even with insurance, they paid over $40,000 over the past five years for health care.

The old woman pulled the wheelchair from the car, pushing on the wheelchair’s arms to expand its seat. She puts a gel cushion on the seat and a bedroom pillow she brought from home where the old man will soon put his back. “Where are the feet?” the old woman says to her thirty-one-year-old daughter with Down syndrome. She already knows the answer to her question. The feet for the wheelchair are sitting on the dining room floor, fifty miles away.

Without the feet, the old man can’t use the wheelchair. “I’ll just walk,” he tells the old woman. “I can do it,” he says, seeing the doubt and worry in the old woman’s eyes.

Sure enough, by the time the old man reaches the front door of the store, he knows he will be unable to walk its aisles. “Fuck,” the old man says in the way only the old woman understands. Not far from the couple is the answer to the old man’s inability to walk. “Nope. I am not going to do it. Goddammit, no! What will people think of me? I’m not a cripple. Dammit! I’m just as strong as I was in my athletic days.” The old man struggles in his mind with accepting things as they are, and not as he wishes they were. He lives according to the mantra, “it is what it is.” The old man knows he is facing yet another “it is what it is” moment.

Finally, the old man walks over to the battery-powered carts. The old woman had begged him to use one of the carts when they were shopping for several years. He refused, too prideful to ride around the store in a beeping advertisement that screamed he was a cripple. Today, it was the old man’s Waterloo. Either the old man will sit in the car while the old woman shops, or he will swallow his pride and use a cart.

The old man sits down on the cart, and soon he’s driving the store’s aisles. While using a cart solved the old man’s “walking” problem, its sudden starting and stopping only increased his pain. The wheelchair with its feet attached will be his chariot the next time he and the old woman go shopping. What changed this day was how the old man viewed and understood his future. Sometimes, giving in is the only thing you can do. The old man learned that he would have to sacrifice his pride if he wanted to “live.”


Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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  1. Avatar

    Your writing is gut-wrenching. I wish I knew how to express how sad I feel hearing this. Honestly? I’d prefer you and anyone else’s suffering would end. I’d take my youngest son’s pain and fatigue in a heartbeat, even if it meant I stayed in bed. Thank you for being willing to open yourself up in this way.

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    Ann Lo

    Touching and relatable story. I hate that you’re suffering from this much chronic pain. The relatable part is that I’ve learned that I have both hypertension and possible gum disease if I’m not very, very careful. Aging is not for wimps. I so admire the way you keep going, but I get the feeling of loss and the blows to one’s pride that comes with it.

  3. Avatar

    Do what you need to do, Bruce. Whatever enables you to expand your horizons and do more of what you like, do it. I understand the limitations pain sets on a person’s mobility, but don’t let pride set further limits. Nobody really sees people in those mobility carts, I promise–considering the number of oblivious people who walk out in front of mine when I’m using one. It turns out that my mother was right: Old age is not for sissies.

  4. Avatar

    It really sucks that you’re in so much pain. It has to take a ton of courage to get out there when you’re in so much pain.

    My stepdad had a really bad back and used ro use the cart in Walmart. He used to try to have fun with it – like pretending to try to run over my mom just to get her to squawk at him lol.

  5. Avatar
    Charles S. Oaxpatu

    Eventually, I suspect aging doth make wimps of us all. I was diagnosed with prostate cancer last week, and my right rotor cuff is killing me with shoulder pain. It came on like a lightning strike from the blue and is not related to any sort of recent trauma to that particular shoulder. However, it is a shoulder that was bothered by arthritic bones spurs about 20 years ago. Maybe the spurs have become knives over the past 20 years. Sleeping has become a difficult proposition. Tennessee medical doctors are unwilling to give patients pain medications such as Oxycodone because of a new, Draconian state law affecting the medical dispensation of such medications to patients. Basically, the state legislature is practicing medicine without a license and and saying to patients:

    “Hey!!! You in major pain? Life no longer worth living because of the pain? Well, fuck you!!! We would rather you suffer in agony than risk getting addicted to one of these awful pain medications. And if your doctor prescribes it, we might just kick him in the ass for it. This is our highly enlightened, conservative Republican contribution to making your life better here in Tennessee.”

    Governor Bill Lee and the Tennessee legislature are just like those conservative Republican politicians out in Texas. You know. Abbott, Paxton, and the demented legislature from Hell. Did anyone catch the news on that new Texas abortion law? Sure you did. It is the kind of law that is right up there with Tennessee’s pain pill law. If you are in pain, I recommend that you do not retire to Tennessee. Bruce would be shit out of luck and in even more misery from pain if he lived here in Tennessee. How crazy is it? Last time I looked, a doctor can only dispense two weeks of Gabapentin to a patient with chronic diabetic nerve pain, and Gabapentin is not even a narcotic or an addicting medication. This is just crazy!!!

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    MJ Lisbeth

    Bruce, I wish I could take away your pain. I also hope that I face whatever comes my way with the kind of courage you have.

    Polly sounds like an amazing person.

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    Jeffrey Broiwn

    We are both 1957 babies and am so sad for what you have endured and are continually going through. While I am still relatively pain free it’s hard to put myself in your place and imagine everyday 24/7 unrelenting pain.
    But I do have a ‘Cart’ story. I was working in Orlando, FL about 17 years ago and had a severe flair up of gout. I went to a grocery store with a co-worker and was in so much pain walking that when I saw the cart I said, “That’s for me today”. I recall I was even wearing a slipper on the foot because a shoe was to painful.
    Keep blogging as long as you are able as so many of your posts resonate to my growing up IFB.

    Jeff (say hi to Polly for me)

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Bruce Gerencser