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The Only Reason I’m Still Alive

gerencser grandchildren 2023 3

Yesterday, I saw a neurosurgeon affiliated with ProMedica in Toledo, Ohio. Over the past three years, I have been dealing with increasing pain in my neck and spine. MRIs revealed numerous herniated discs, arthritis, and other structural deficiencies. While these scans didn’t do anything to help with my pain and debility, they did provide reasons for my suffering.

Three or four months ago, I started having severe pain in my lower back. An MRI two weeks ago — which I had to pay for myself since my insurance company refused to approve the test — revealed that I have disc problems in my lower back too, along with a Tarlov cyst in the sacrum area of my back. From neck to tailbone, my spine is a mess. And it is likely that my disc problems are congenital. Gotta love DNA. As things stand, I am unable to stand straight, or walk more than a few feet at a time, and I have lost bowel and bladder control. Just when I thought things were bad enough . . .

I found the surgeon to be personable, patient, and to the point — traits I admire in a doctor (besides being proficient and competent, of course). He told me that my problem was in the L4-L5 area of my spine. The damage is such that there is pressure on the nerves; the only fix is surgery. Not having surgery is not an option; that is, unless I want to be an incontinent invalid for the rest of my short life.

That said, this 2-3 hour surgery is not without risk. The surgery has a 90 percent success rate, with a 2-3 percent mortality rate. Factor in the fact that I have several comorbidities, my concern about the outcome is warranted.

I have had problems with my lower back my entire adult life. I was 20 when I saw a doctor for the first time about my back, and since then I have seen other doctors who pointed out the narrow disc space in L4 and L5. My mother and father both had back surgery to “fix” low back problems — Dad in 1969, at age 33, and Mom in 1979, at age 43. Both of my siblings have had back surgery, with a varying degree of positive outcomes. My sister is facing more surgery on her neck. Several years ago, we had a friend — who has since died from COVID — who was left crippled and unable to work from low back surgery. It’s hard not to think about these people and their experiences when considering my own back surgery.

Today was my scheduled appointment with my therapist. We talked extensively about my pain, suffering, and prospective surgery. She said, “Bruce you have two choices. Either you have the surgery or you don’t. I replied, “Actually, I have three choices.” I can choose to have the surgery, not have the surgery, or end my life. “Oh, Bruce, that’s not a choice.” Sure it is. It is a choice that I always have as long I am in my right mind and have access to the means of my demise.

There are moments when I want to end my life. I am flat worn out from the constant pain and suffering. (And just because you see me in public smiling or interacting with my family doesn’t mean my pain has suddenly gone away. It hasn’t, and when you see me, I am likely gritting my teeth and crying inwardly as I try to enjoy life and my family as much as possible.) Currently, my pain levels are top-of-the-chart awful. I can, at best, take two or three steps before I feel biting pain in my back, hips, buttocks, hamstrings, and calves; so much so that it doubles me over and takes my breath away.

My therapist asked why I didn’t kill myself, probing for the reason or reasons why I still find life worth living. This question led to a lengthy discussion. My answer was short and to the point; one word, to be exact: FAMILY! The only reason I choose to press forward is Polly, our six children, and sixteen grandchildren. I am ready to die. I am flat worn out from the pain, incontinence, and lack of sleep. I am tired of my wheelchair, my cane, and the struggle to do simple things like taking a shower and brushing my teeth. This sort of life is not worth living, if not for my family.

So why don’t I kill myself?

First, I know what suicide does to those left behind. My mother’s repeated suicide attempts and successful bullet to the heart left deep, lasting scars on my psyche. I would never, ever want to do this to my family.

Second, Polly doesn’t know how to operate the TV or remote control. She needs me. 🙂 (I thought this dark post needed a bit of humor.)

I said to my therapist, “If my family was gathered together at my house and an asteroid hit our home, killing everyone but me, I would have no reason to live.” While it is unlikely that this will happen, my point was this: Family is the reason I get up in the morning. While I love writing and sundry other things, they are not enough to keep me among the living — though $1,000,000 in blog donations might change my mind. 🙂

In recent weeks, I have seen a grandson graduate from kindergarten, and two granddaughters graduate with honors from high school. On Sunday, I am taking my 6-year-old grandson to his first baseball game in Toledo. Two of my granddaughters will be spending the weekend with us, and on Friday, we are going out to eat and then to a baseball game in Fort Wayne with our oldest son and his family. “But, Bruce, what about your pain and other health problems?” Oh, they haven’t gone anywhere. When I do things such as those mentioned above, I take extra pain medication, hoping that will get me through the night. Regardless, I know pain and suffering is the price of admission, and I am willing to pay the price. One thing I know: when I am with family or when they stop by for a visit, I feel better. There are scientific reasons for why this is so, but all I know is that when I see them, I am given strength to push through to another day.

I am not trying to guilt my children into seeing me more often. I know they are busy with life, jobs, and responsibilities. All I am saying is that when I DO see my children, their spouses, and my grandchildren, it makes a difference when it comes to my will to live. I am grateful that I am not a sick, elderly old man whose family never makes time to see him. I always want to see my grandchildren more often, but I am glad that I see them as often as I do. Even when it hurts me to touch or hug them, I still want to see them. When one of my young grandsons runs into the living room to hug me and inadvertently smacks me in the nuts, I still want their hugs and silly words. If you haven’t figured it out yet, pain is not as much of a problem as loneliness is. For me — and I ONLY speak for myself — family matters. I know that may not be the case for some readers. Family can cause pain, and people rightly distance themselves from their families, choosing loneliness or other social connections instead.

As things stand, I plan to have surgery on August 19. I hope when I awake from anesthesia that the first faces I see will be family. If so, it will be another day worth living.

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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26 Comments

  1. Avatar
    TheDutchGuy

    Bruce, I’m a spine surgery survivor and I can testify that it can really improve your life. My spinal stenosis was probably not as disabling as yours but it ruled my life and it took eight years and even more Doctors before I found a GP to diagnose it correctly. It was my good luck this GP knew the head of neurosurgery at UCLA and arranged for him to do my surgery. I had to travel a couple hundred miles to get this surgeon but it was worth it. I was fragile afterwords but in 6 months I was back to normal and never had anymore back pain, now going on 24 years. Other parts of my body are failing under the weight of the years but the spine fix is lasting. You are about the age I was when I had that surgery and it’s an unqualified success. The odds of success are in your favor so optimism is realistic. I’m wishing you the best of luck with it.

      • Avatar
        TheDutchGuy

        I should add, my spinal stenosis (pinched nerves) took 8 yrs to diagnose because symptoms had no apparent relation to the source of the problem. Our wiring being channelled through those little foramina means symptoms of a pinch can manifest in obscure ways and places. I got unexpected benefits like better sleep, better digestion, better balance, and better vitality. Hopefully you will too. Having a good hand doing the job seems to make the difference. I’m convinced getting the most prestigious neurosurgeon you can is worth whatever the cost or inconvenience.

        • Avatar
          Bruce Gerencser

          I told my therapist that my back problem and the location of those nerves makes intelligent design laughable. If God put the nerves where they are, he must have been drunk when he did it. 🤣🤣

          • Avatar
            TheDutchGuy

            My symptoms were 99% in shoulders and arms. In 8 years I had 4 shoulder and 2 elbow (ulnar nerve) operations with no relief. At long last, while traveling, l saw a new doc to get pain meds. He diagnosed me correctly with cervical spine stenosis. It was late 90s before everyone had internet and Google. An internet search quickly reveals unrelieved shoulder pain indicates cervical spine stenosis.
            My bad luck was going to G/Ps who slept through that lesson and surgeons who lacked the ethics to turn down useless surgery.

  2. Avatar
    Kathy Hughes

    Sending you my best wishes for successful surgery. I know what suicide does. I lost my middle sister and youngest brother to suicide ten years ago and four months apart.mi think of them constantly, and we miss them still. You never really forget.

  3. Avatar
    Troy

    I recall Doc T once asked “who cares about Bruce’s health problems?”. My response from somewhere in the back is “I do!” If nothing else a stark lesson in compassion. It’s easy to forget that others have challenges you don’t. Why is it easy to forget? Because we tend to project our own circumstances onto others. I know that I still drop the ball on this. Continuous improvement.
    Best wishes on your surgery. I’d take those odds.
    That is one fantastic benefit you’re getting from your 23andMe test. Find out medical info from relatives you didn’t know you had. Unfortunately in this case the info ain’t great.

  4. Avatar
    Justin

    Bruce, it is posts like this that keep me coming back time and time again. In a society that has gone full “clown,” I very much appreciate your bringing reality back into focus, and your sharing of your very real struggles to just… live. Thank you for going there. Maybe a few of us can take your lead and refocus our lives toward the things that truly matter. I wish you well for you surgery, and hope it brings you relief.

  5. Avatar
    Jeff Bishop

    Bruce,

    It takes courage to share with the public your very personal health situation. Thank you for writing this piece.
    If it helps, your blog is the first thing I read in the morning. It’s important work, and many people appreciate it.

    Regarding Polly, you need to stick around to keep that remote situation under control! (wink)

    Bruce – Quick question, I love that family picture you posted. I was wondering about that flock of young gal’s
    in your picture! Looks like your DNA is skewed to making girls! Congratulations on that, no doubt, the female is the superior of the sex’s! If men would allow them in politics (really allow) there may be hope for America.

    OK – back to reality – I have inflammation issues related to my lower spine, back pain is unforgiving and intense, but my issues are mickey mouse compared to yours. I wish it was different for you friend.

    I send positive thoughts and wishes that your August surgery offers some relief, you deserve to enjoy that wonderful family, now, and well into the future.

  6. Avatar
    ... Zoe ~

    Me too Bruce. I stay. My ideation (due to complex trauma) ended around age 60 but it doesn’t change the pain, especially as the years encroach . . . but, love (family) is what allows me to do what I basically can’t do. And the next day I rest or not. I appreciate the brain’s elasticity in allowing me not to be aware so much of pain when I’m with family. I think before hand, “how will I manage?” I literally can’t imagine it and I know afterwards there will be a price to pay . . . but I manage. I manage so well that I imagine some people think I have experienced a complete healing. Nah. It’s just the brain setting aside the stuff for a bit.

    May your surgery be successful. Cyber hugs for you and Polly and your wonderful family.

  7. Avatar
    BJW

    Hugs, Bruce and Polly. My husband said a day or 2 ago, that he had to start feeling better. Being in chronic pain is wearing enough. Having additional reasons for serious pain is demoralizing.

  8. Avatar
    Karen the rock whisperer

    Joining the cheering section for your successful surgery here! My chronic conditions are not nearly as severe as yours, but I’ve found that having the docs fix even one of the smaller problems (or at least measurably reduce the effect) is a good mental lift. (Not meaning to project that onto anyone else, though.)

    What you’re describing is not a small problem, and I hope the success of your surgery means that your time with family becomes that much more enjoyable.

    Go Bruce! (((Hugs))) to both you and Polly.

  9. Avatar
    ObstacleChick

    Bruce, I am joining the group wishing you a successful procedure and a speedy recovery. Mr Tee may not care about your medical issues, but we do, and we want to see you feel better.

    Whatever it takes to keep you around- family is probably the best reason. I don’t know if you saw Ricky Gervais’ show “After Life”, but it was brilliant – how an atheist copes with grief and depression. Literally what kept his character alive some days was feeding the dog.

  10. Avatar
    John S.

    Bruce wishing you the very best on your surgery. I also have spinal stenosis in the lumbar. A hip replacement actually helped my back issues immensely, even though I still have occasional issues.

    Just my own thoughts- you have positively impacted so many people who have been victimized by fundamentalist theology and narcissistic pastors. These along with your friends and family have all benefitted from sharing their lives with you.

    The fact that you continue to be there for everyone in spite of the physical pain you are dealing with is a testament to your character.

  11. Avatar
    Deacon

    Do not take your own life. Don’t do that. 😢. You are alive because God loves you. He has never threw you away even though you threw him away.

    Jesus Christ died and rose again because he loves you! HE DID IT FOR YOU!

    • Avatar
      Sage

      Yeah, that doesn’t really help in the least. If this is love from a god then I think I can safely say, take you loving god and go fuck yourself.

      In my own personal experience, it is your god and his lovely followers that are the main reason I think about giving it up. If it wasn’t for Christians and their desire to control, manipulate, regulate, and eradicate me then my life would a much happier life.

      Seriously,, what are you thinking? How can you possibly think it is ok to follow up someone’s discussion of their immense suffering with “but god loves you…” then make an attempt to witness to them.

      You could have at least said “wow, that sucks Bruce. It sounds incredibly hard, but I am glad you have family that is close. I will pray for you.” At least that would have shown a mustard seed portion of concern.

      But no…you have to be preachy and judgy. But hey, that’s the modern Christian’s version of love and compassion.

    • Avatar
      ... Zoe ~

      You probably aren’t aware Deacon how cruel this comment can be/is. There are a lot of people who are vulnerable and read here because of Bruce’s story and his compassion for the pain others endure, no matter their religious or non-religious affiliation.

      This part here you stated: “You are alive because God loves you.”

      So, here is how many of us hear what you are saying . . . I will list a few.

      Those who are dead, God did not love. That’s why they are dead now.
      You better watch out and get right with the Lord or he may take your life from you. You are lucky so far because God loves you but, he can only wait for so long.
      You are an abomination to God and your (insert whatever you like here) is because of deep-seeded sin in your heart and if you just confessed said sin you wouldn’t have (insert whatever you like here.)

    • Avatar
      Yulya Sevelova

      Well, Deacon, you can always pray that these heath problems go away. Unfortunately,so many of these types of conditions are inherited, many from just one parent. If God does something positive in this situation, he’ll get the credit for that.

  12. Avatar
    Sage

    You amaze me Bruce. Your ability to keep going for family is really a testament to the family you and Polly created.I guess it shows you are doing a pretty good job!

    I hope your surgery goes well and gives you some kind of relief. I mean, I don’t expect you to be pole dancing anytime soon 😈 but I do hope this give you what your seek.

    I would pray for you, but since I am an abomination I doubt it would help. So I will just send you virtual and mental hugs.

    🤗🤗🥰🥰

  13. Avatar
    MJ Lisbeth

    Bruce, it can be summed up in one word: love. You are surrounded by people who love you, and whom you love. And there are many more of us, whom you’ve never met.

    I hope the surgery goes well.

    • Avatar
      Yulya Sevelova

      Yes, MJ ! It’s amazing and almost laughable that Tee Hee picks at Bruce over his health issues, asking why others care- really,Tee ?? Because other people, including the many Christians who read this blog, DO care,and want to help. I suspect it’s jealousy behind such comments from Tee Hee. He sounds just like the Church Lady from SNL. A cranky old lady, actually. Definitely, Tee Hee has serious issues….

  14. Avatar
    amy b

    🤗🤗 Best wishes for your surgery! You are brave to share these struggles, with all these “loving Christians” ready to pounce on any sign of vulnerability (including the narcissistic pissant who, imho, takes up way too many of your blog posts). Shows what kind of “god” they serve.

    I’m glad you have a big family that brings you joy. ❤️

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