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The Genesis of My Battle with Pain

garfield pain

In the spring of 1971, my dad took me to see a female doctor. I was having pain in my elbows, legs, and feet. The doctor gave me an exam, including checking me for a hernia. Asked to drop my pants so she could check my testicles, I briefly passed out when she touched my genitals. She was the first and only woman who would ever see/touch my genitals until I married my wife, Polly, at age twenty-one (I did not pass out then). 🙂 The doctor concluded my pain was nothing to worry about. I had “growing” pains.

The pain in my elbows became so bad that I missed part of my freshman baseball season. The pain later went away, but I view this experience as the genesis of my pain problems. The next year, I missed weeks of school because I had mumps and chickenpox. That summer, I was exposed to chemicals in a swimming hole frequented by my friends and me. Chemical barrels had been dumped in the water, exposing us to harmful substances. Several of my friends ended up in the hospital. I was fortunate. I had large blisters on my skin, much like the blisters fair-skinned people get from a bad sunburn. A year later, I started having a problem with painful, debilitating swelling in my big toes. A doctor in Sierra Vista diagnosed this as gout — elevated uric acid levels. I took Zyloprim for several years and the gout went away. A rheumatologist would later cast doubt on my gout diagnosis. His explanation? I don’t know.

By the time I was in my twenties, I was having widespread joint pain, especially in my feet, legs, and back. My primary care doctor at the time blamed my pain on arthritis and sports injuries. I played competitive baseball, basketball, and softball until my early thirties. I also played racquetball and tackle football (without pads/helmets). I have injured every joint in my body — or so it seems, anyway — numerous times. I would walk out the door in fine shape, telling Polly I was going to the Y to play basketball, only to return home crippled and beat up. Some of these injuries required medical attention, including drawing fluid off my knees. I stopped playing competitive sports after an orthopedic doctor told me my knees were so bad that I was going to end up in a wheelchair if I didn’t stop playing basketball.

Over time, my pain problems became more pervasive. In 1997, I was, after two years of doctoring, diagnosed with fibromyalgia (widespread fatigue, pain). In the early 2000s, I was diagnosed with osteoarthritis (pain in the spine, feet, neck, shoulders, hands, knees), and in 2020, after extensive testing, I was diagnosed with gastroparesis (nausea, vomiting). In 2021, after seeing a doctor for excruciating pain, a CT scan and MRI revealed four herniated discs in my upper back.

Today, pain is my ever-present “friend.” I accept that this is my lot in life. I have two choices in life, keep moving or roll over and die. I choose, at least for today, to take narcotic pain medications, potent muscle relaxers, and other drugs that help me to keep moving forward. The goal is an improvement of quality of life. There’s no miraculous healing forthcoming — Jesus, you had your chance and did absolutely nothing — so I choose to embrace life as it is. Sure, I wish I didn’t live with constant pain. Sure, I wish I could sleep through the night. Sure, I wish I didn’t have to use a wheelchair or walk with a cane. Sure, I wish I could play with my grandchildren and not feel like I’ve been assaulted in a dark alley by an MMA fighter. But wishing and hoping change nothing, so I choose to accept my life as it is. What more can any of us do?

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 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.

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  1. Avatar
    Yulya Sevelova

    It sounds like you inherited a compromised immune system. This especially plagues redheads of various kind, my mother also was one. Strawberry blonde. Doctors often test babies at birth for this now, but in the 50’s, neither mother, nor the baby were tested, and if you looked healthy, you’d never get tested. Kids do get arthritis, these other things listed. No one ever told us or warned us about our genetic crapshoot. I’d love to find out how to actually ‘ edit’ my genes. Doctors were so chauvinistic and dismissive of those childhood red flags of yours. Yes, growing pains were thought of as necessary part of getting older, I was told.

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    You know, people just can’t understand pain until they have it. I’ve reiterated to my brother-in-law numerous times over the decades, that I hurt all over, all the time, and am crippled with fatigue also. (This is a shorthand for all that plagues me, but illness is boring.) And yet he can’t retain it in his mind that I am this way.

    I’m glad you’re still fighting the good fight. I was somewhat disgruntled the latter part of 2021, as I have reformed my eating, been taking my meds, taking healthy supplements, and doing some mild exercise at least. And yet…I don’t think I’m going to get much better. All of my fights are to try to stay in the place I am. Anyway, I tremendously admire you for what you are enduring. And we can still hope that 2022 will be a better year (okay, maybe wishful) and that we will still get to enjoy life with our loved ones.

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    Brian Vanderlip

    Thank-you for continuing to be honest. We have endured a system of harm called Western Christianity that does everything it can to convince us to be all we are not… finally, after years of self-abuse using the black book manual, we come to the knowledge that we have been fighting with ourselves to be be something other than who we simply are, as painful, as humanly harmed as that may be. The biggest struggle is to give up false hope, Jesus-hope, shallow American patriotism, the bitter pain cooked in denial.
    I believe that you have walked that hard path, Bruce and that you have become more than ever before, yourself. It sure sucks to be you sometimes; that is very very clear but I read your words because you are brave and good enough to share just who you are, here on this blog. Your words help me to confirm my struggle to depart from the bullshit faith of my family origin and to be with the self I had to hate for so long. Now rather than hate myself with God-worship, I can offer disdain for that Jesus whose sick puppy churches still fester across the land, who take hurting humans and tell them they are filth and dung and need to lie and be someone other than themselves, who tell the sigh-makers to vomit out their ‘saving grace’ manure as if it was perfume, those who regularly stop by here to recite their nonsense about God(s).
    I had never, at least i don’t remember ever hearing of your exposure to toxic chemicals as a youngster but you are wise to seek out whatever knowledge you can of exactly the toxins you were exposed to… Your body has been through so much over the years, a difficult family life of origin, years of self-abuse via ‘Jesus saves’, rough sports, moving to and fro, back and forth, and so much illness that needed doctoring. What can we do except endure what must be endured, as you say… We can ‘enjoy’ whatever life brings us only by being there for it and not somewhere else.

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    MJ Lisbeth

    This post, and the comments, brought tears to my eyes. People do not understand your pain, whether it is physical or mental, and tell you to, as Brian says, to be what you are not.

    Bruce—Did anyone tell you to “be a man” or “man up.? (You know how well that advice worked for me!)

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    Bruce, I am sorry to hear about your pain. You may never know the causes of all these issues – environmental, genetic, viruses, who knows – but they sure do affect you. Thank you for all the work you put into this site. Thank you for shining the spotlight on harmful fundamentalist religion. Thank you for your brilliant take-downs of evangelical know-it-all people. I wish I could send you something that would take all the pain away. Many if my relatives do or did have some of the issues you mentioned, or others, and I remember that a common pastime was their wistful conversation about how their bodies would be perfect in heaven. I guess that’s all they had since Jesus didn’t see fit to heal them. 😕 So I get that hanging onto religion for what might be one day…..

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Bruce Gerencser