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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