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Category: Health

A Note From Bruce

note from bruce

I have received a number of emails and messages of late from people wondering if I am okay. They have noticed my writing volume has reduced, and this is usually a sign that something’s up in my life. 

Polly had major abdominal surgery on June 30. This surgery, five hours in length, reconnected her bowel to her rectum. You may remember that in January 2019, Polly landed in the hospital with ulcerative colitis. In August of that year, she had to have emergency surgery to fix a fistula that developed between her colon and bladder. This left her with a colostomy bag. The latest surgery reconnected her plumbing. To put it bluntly, she’s back to shitting normally now.

Polly is doing well, and after six weeks off of work, she will return to her job on August 11.

I am scheduled to have surgery on August 10. Yes, boys and girls, it never seems to end at our house. I will have my gallbladder removed. I have had a gallbladder problem for years, but the pain would wax and wane. A few months ago, the pain moved in and decided to stay. Just what I needed, more pain, right? My primary care doctor warned me that I had reached a point where I had to have my gallbladder removed. Not doing so could cause serious, life-threatening problems. So, surgery it is.

Late last year, I had to have a large cyst in my chest aspirated (drained). Three months later, I had the have the cyst aspirated again. And . . . you guessed it, my third breast cyst has returned. Getting someone to drain the cyst has proved problematic. Thanks, COVID-19. (The last time it was aspirated, the radiologist removed 360cc – about 12 ounces — of fluid.) I have yet another ultrasound scheduled for this week. Hopefully, this will jump-start the process. The cyst is in a place where, as it grows, it pushes on a nerve bundle that affects the functionality of my right arm. This is not something I can ignore.  That is if I want to continue to use my right arm.

Finally, I am in the throws of a bout of depression — deep, dark depression. Driven by my health problems (and Polly’s), the non-stop bullshit emanating from the White House, and COVID-19, I am finding it increasingly difficult to stay on top of my to-do list, including writing for this blog. This, of course, as a Type A workaholic, only makes my depression worse. 

All of this shall pass, or I will. 🙂 Now you know the rest of the story. I appreciate your concerns. Better days lie ahead, just not today. I will continue to foist my writing on the world, but it may not be in the volume readers have become accustomed to. I hope you will understand.

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Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so. Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Please Do Not Offer or Send Me Unsolicited Medical Advice

chronic illness

My health is very much a part of my story. It is impossible for readers to understand where I have come from and where I am today without me telling them about my struggles with chronic pain, fibromyalgia, and osteoarthritis. Over the past decade, I’ve not been shy about sharing with readers my health history. Unfortunately, in doing so, I have opened myself up to unsolicited medical advice from people who have diagnosed me from afar. In recent years, I have received emails, letters, telephone calls, texts, packages, and personal visits from people who are certain they know the cure for what ails me.

One woman — a former church member — would stop by my house every few weeks hoping to sell me super-duper, cure-all shakes that she was certain would return me to perfect health. I had to hide in my bedroom and have Polly lie to her about my availability. After months of attempts to evangelize me, the woman finally took the hint and stopped. At the time, she was on the shakes. Today? She has abandoned this miracle cure and continues to face debilitating health problems.

Well-meaning people have told me that this or that drug, this or that supplement, reiki, spinal adjustment, surgery, acupuncture, iridology, yoga, chakra alignment, mindfulness, homeopathic concoctions, essential oils, Native American rituals, magnets, diets — need I go on? — would infallibly cure me. Today, I received in the mail a list of books from a blog reader — some of which I have read — that, if followed, would supposedly put an end to my chronic pain. The gist of the books is this: your pain is all in your head.

I go out of my way to avoid interaction with readers when they put on lab coats and play doctors. I either ignore them altogether or I quickly say “thank you” and change the conversation. Yet, it seems no matter how many times I say, PLEASE DO NOT OFFER OR SEND ME UNSOLICITED MEDICAL ADVICE, people continue to ignore my request and offer advice anyway. What is it that says to some readers that they are free to disrespect me as a person? Is there anything ambiguous or unclear in PLEASE DO NOT OFFER OR SEND ME UNSOLICITED MEDICAL ADVICE? Do some readers think I am stupid or ignorant or lacking competent medical care?

I get it. I am the kind of writer who has swung open the door of his life, inviting such advice. However, I have politely asked that people not give me unsolicited medical advice. How hard can it be for readers (and family members) to respect my wishes and leave me alone? Can they not see that their tactics are no different from those used by Jehovah’s Witnesses or evangelizers from Independent Fundamentalist Baptist churches? “Sir, we are here today to offer you something that will change and transform your life!” Never mind the fact, that I am not ignorant about what they are peddling, be it Jesus or a “cure” for Fibromyalgia.

Let me be clear. I am under the care of a team of competent medical professionals. I am well-educated concerning my afflictions. Unless researchers come up with new treatments, I am going to die “Just as I am.” I have resigned myself to the fact that a combination of what ails me will eventually lead to my demise. And I am okay with that. I do what I can to manage my symptoms. If I read of something that “might” be helpful, I bring it up to my primary care doctor. In the twenty-three years he has cared for me, he has NEVER said no to me; never refused an off-label drug or treatment that “might” alleviate my pain and suffering. “Let’s try it and see if it works.”  My orthopedic doctor treats me in a similar manner. He knows, based on x-rays, CT scans, and MRIs, that I have arthritis from head to toe. He knows that surgery is not a good option for me, so he does what he can to alleviate my pain. The scans tell him that the pain is not in my head.

unsolicited medical adviceI know that writing this post and making it prominently available will do little to stop certain readers offering unsolicited medical advice. It is not like I can ban them or anything. As long as I have a widely read blog and make it easy for people to contact me, I am going to receive emails, letters, telephone calls, texts, packages, and personal visits from pretend doctors. That doesn’t mean, however, that I can’t bitch about it. Praise Loki for the power of bitching, amen? Amen!

Let me conclude this post with several excerpts from articles that address the issue of unsolicited medical advice. The first article is titled, Your Unsolicited Health Advice Isn’t Just Irritating. It’s Damaging. Sarah Blahovec writes:

You may be thinking, “These people [people who offer unsolicited medical advice] sound irritating, sure, but why are you making such a big fuss? They’re just trying to help!”

Of course, I get that they’re trying to help, and in some cases, it really is just a pet peeve that I’ll politely accept or decline and move on. But the thing is that constant unsolicited advice, questioning, and imploring to try something different becomes very invalidating. You don’t just hear a helpful tip to try, you hear that you aren’t trying hard enough, that using medication to treat your condition means that you’re giving up or aren’t willing to seek out a non-medicinal alternative. You hear that all of the work that you and your doctors have done, the tests, the procedures, the trial and error of different combinations of medications and treatments aren’t enough, and that you need to try a different path. You hear that if you did give these suggestions a shot in the past, you didn’t try long or hard enough, you weren’t following it correctly, or you bailed and took “the easy way out.”

It is frustrating to constantly hear the message that not only are you not trying hard enough to improve your own health, but that you and your doctors are not the most knowledgeable about your medical and lifestyle needs. A stranger or acquaintance took it upon themselves to say that they know more about your condition from a bit of Googling and a few books than your doctor with their experience and education, and you with your everyday, lived experience of actually having the medical condition. It is emotionally damaging to not only hear that you aren’t living with your disease correctly, but to always have to educate others on why their unsolicited advice is unwanted and harmful. Unfortunately, they usually just they reply that you’re overreacting and become offended that you won’t take their suggestion. This only adds to the emotional pain, and very often, the physical pain of a medical condition that can be triggered by stressful situations.

My message is this: please, please do not give advice when it is not specifically requested. If someone wants information about your lifestyle, your choice, or your product, they will ask you and they will do the research. If you do give advice and somebody says that they aren’t interested or asks you to stop, just respect their wishes. Nobody should be coerced into trying something they don’t want to try, and if you push forward with your advice, not only would they not listen, but they may become stressed, hurt, and invalidated by your inability to respect their wishes.

Trust that disabled and chronically ill people and their medical teams are the most knowledgeable about their own health and their medical and lifestyle needs. Trust that they will seek out you or the proper sources if they’re interested in what you have to offer. And out of respect for disabled and chronically ill people everywhere, please stop forcing your unsolicited advice upon those who don’t want it.

In an article titled, Please Give Me Your Support, Not Unsolicited Medical Advice, Megan Klenke writes:

I would rather spend the rest of my days banging my head against a wall than to continue trying to explain to people that their essential oils and kale will not cure me. OK, I’m being dramatic, but not as much as you might think!

If you’re anything like me, when you first became chronically ill (if you’re reading this as someone who’s sick), you possibly went through a naive stage early on in your illness. The stage where you believed the random person in an elevator who’s known you for two whole minutes who said that snake oil was God’s gift to the ill, or your aunt’s cousin’s brother’s half-sister who swears by this new detox where you only eat eggs for a month and every illness ever will be reversed, or some crap like that.

But seriously, there was a period of time at the beginning of me being sick that I desperately held onto the belief that I had control and would get better, so I tried anything and everything anyone presented to me. The worst was this “joint juice” concoction my dad ordered off an infomercial that tasted worse than words can describe. Yuck.

After awhile, it became something I did out of spite. Eventually there were few things left that I hadn’t tried, but when someone offered me something new, I would try it to prove to them how wrong they were.

When people constantly offer up these things, especially after I’ve spent time telling them my story, it doesn’t come off as helpful. I know, I know. People generally mean well. Sure. I’d like to say I believe that. But there’s condescension there almost always. And disbelief. And disrespect. It’s a smack in the face. It’s basically people saying to me that I just must not be doing enough or else I’d be better.

We as humans don’t like to lose control. We don’t. I certainly don’t. It’s not fun. We try to control every aspect of our lives. We love to plan out how every minute of everyday is meant to be spent and we think we can control that.

But the truth is, we can’t control everything. We cannot always control our bodies and our health. I know it’s scary to realize this, but it’s true. And I think that’s a big reason why one of the most common reactions people have to finding out that I’m chronically ill is to give me advice (that I didn’t ask for) on how to get better (from my incurable diseases). They want to help, but they want even more to keep up the illusion of control in their world. They’d rather believe that it’s essentially my fault that I’m not better because I’m not doing something right, because I don’t have the proper self-control, than to acknowledge the lack of control we have over our lives.

So what all of this unsolicited advice says to me is, “I didn’t listen to anything you just said because I’m scared of facing our lack of control and my mortality. I think you just don’t know what you’re talking about. I know better.”

That’s the truth of it. So the next time you’re thinking about offering up unsolicited advice to someone who’s chronically ill, it’s probably best to just…not.

Thank you for your love, kindness, and support. Many of you have come alongside me and brought understanding and encouragement during difficult times. It is enough for me to know that people care.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve 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. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Are you on Social Media? Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Health Update for Polly and Bruce

health news

Regular readers know that my wife, Polly, has had a lot of health problems this year. I won’t go into all the details, but currently, she has a colostomy bag. Several weeks ago, Polly had another colonoscopy. The purpose of this test was to determine if she was a candidate for reconnection surgery. As things currently stand, Polly will have her colectomy reversed in late March 2020. (She will be off work for a month.) Left unaddressed is how best to treat her ulcerative colitis. Polly sees a gastroenterologist tomorrow.

Last week, I had a CT scan done of my chest. For the past year, I have had increasing pain in my underarm area and chest. A few weeks back, the pain was so bad that it doubled me over in the grocery store, and I lost use of my right arm. The CT scan revealed that a have a large — and I mean LARGE — cyst running from my sternum to my underarm and from collarbone to right breast. (I  told the surgeon that I was growing a third breast and joining the circus. Better to laugh than cry, right?)  When I am walking or standing, this cyst is putting pressure on the nerve bundle in my right shoulder area. This is causing my arm to turn numb and lose function. As of today, I plan to have the cyst drained on December 2. If the fluid returns — an all too common problem with cysts — I will have to have surgery to correct the problem.

This diagnosis does NOT address my ongoing weight loss, changes in bowel habits, sweats, periodic low-grade fever, and abdominal pain. I will likely have to see a specialist in Fort Wayne. If this has a déjà vu sound to it, you are right. I had similar problems a few years ago. Doctors found inflammation, along with a lesion on my pancreas. Is this round two? Time will tell.

That’s it, for now. Thank you for your words of kindness and financial support. Your love and charity are greatly appreciated.

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An Example of Our Broken, Costly Healthcare System

healthcare system

Last January, my wife was admitted to the hospital and later diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. In July, she was told she had bladder cancer and a fistula that had created a path between the colon and bladder (resulting in feces in the urine). A urologist and colorectal doctor planned to do surgery sometime in August. On August 1, I rushed Polly to the emergency room. Her catheter had come out — more precisely, blown out — and she was, to put it bluntly, shitting all over herself and the floor. After six days at the Community Hospital and Wellness Center (Bryan Hospital), the surgeons decided Polly’s surgery would have to be done at Parkview Regional Medical Center in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

Late on August 6, Polly was transferred by Williams County EMS — the only ambulance service in the county —  to Parkview. Polly would later have successful bladder and colon surgery. All told, she spent eighteen days in the hospital. Total cost for the January and August hospitalizations? $200,000. And that’s what our insurance paid, not what the various service providers billed. The sheer amount of the billings and various providers is mind-boggling, even to a man who spent most of his adult life handling church and secular business finances.

Our annual insurance deductible is $3,400. Our maximum out of pocket is $6,750. On top of that, we pay $84 a week for family medical coverage. Polly’s employer pays another $19,000 a year to provide our family insurance.  This means that we personally paid $11,118 this year for medical expenses. Add what Polly’s employer pays to this amount, and our total medical costs exceed $30,000. And, all praise be to the God of American Capitalism, this starts all over again come January 1. Well, with one change: our insurance premiums go up again, as they have most years over the past two decades! (Some years, premiums remained the same, and deductible and out of pocket maximums were increased. Over the past two decades, our deductible has increased 1,000% and our family maximum out of pocket has increased over 500%)

Polly’s surgeries were a success. Last Friday, she had a colonoscopy to determine whether her colectomy could be reversed. The surgeon reported that her colon was free of inflammation and that the colectomy could be reversed. Surgery is planned for March 2020. The bladder cancer? The pathologist made a “mistake.” Polly doesn’t have cancer. The pathologist’s negligence caused untold grief for us. His error triggered a hospital-level tumor board review. The urologist who resected Polly’s bladder sent tissue samples to the University of Michigan for examination. The samples were cancer-free.

Polly having surgery in March 2020 means, of course, that we will have to meet our annual insurance deductible and maximum out of pocket again. This means that, once again, we will spend $11,118 for medical costs. Of course, this has been the norm more years than not for us over the past decade. The only difference this year is that it is Polly’s medical bills, and not mine, that are running up the tab.

And, that’s not all . . . (think of Billy Mays doing a late-night OxiClean infomercial).

We have almost $3,000 of medical bills that the insurance company didn’t pay. I spent several hours on the phone today, trying to figure out why these bills weren’t paid. Right now, my emotions run the range of going postal and weeping, wondering when we will get out from under the weight of medical costs. The EMS bill balance of $965 is ours to pay (the total billed amount for transport was almost $1,900). Polly’s transport was medically necessary and Williams County EMS was the only provider in the county. What were we to do, right? I asked both the hospitalist and nurse to make sure that the transport was covered by our insurance. They assured me that it was. And it was, with one big fuck you. Williams County EMS accepts our insurance, BUT they do not accept insurance adjustments and assignments. Polly’s insurance company paid what Medicare customarily pays, leaving us with a substantial balance. I am also dealing with pathology and radiology bills that were rejected by the insurance company due to incomplete paperwork, lack of reports, etc. Trying to find someone who could actually “fix” these problems for me proved futile. It’s up to me to contact the various players and make sure proper documents are submitted to the insurance company.

The American healthcare system is broken. And it will remain this way until our government leaders are willing to overhaul the system and take the profit out of medical care.  As long as insurance companies and large “non-profit” health care providers are in the driver’s seat, we shouldn’t expect change. In the meantime, all I know to do is send out monthly checks of $25, $50, and $100 to service providers as payment for our outstanding balances. One provider, Parkview Hospital and Physicians Group, refuses to accept payments for more than a twelve-month period. Owe them $2,400? Your monthly minimum payment is $200. Yes, they offer bill reduction if you are poor, but unfortunately, we are just over income line they use to determine eligibility. Our local hospital, thankfully, did provide us a partial bill reduction (and was, overall, substantially cheaper than Parkview). They also don’t demand exorbitant monthly payments. We have been paying them $100 a month for, it seems, forever.

I know our story is not any different from those of other Americans facing serious medical problems. We are held captive by a system that prioritizes profit over care; a system that is almost impossible to navigate. Until government leaders put the healthcare needs of their constituents first, we shouldn’t expect things to change. While the Affordable Care Act was a step in the right direction, Congress, along with the Federal Courts, are going out of their way to burn “Obamacare” to the ground. President Trump and Republicans promised Americans awesome health insurance if the Affordable Care Act is invalidated. I can safely say that no such “awesomeness” is forthcoming. For the Gerencsers, 2020 will be yet another year of mounting healthcare costs; just as it will be for millions of Americans. We are all dying, one medical bill at a time.

On October 2, 2019, Michael Hicks. professor of economics and the director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at Ball State University, wrote an editorial in the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette castigating Parkview and other Indiana Hospitals for their excessive medical care costs. (We live in rural northwest Ohio. Toledo and Fort Wayne are our “big” cities, 40 miles or so in either direction.) Here’s what Hicks had to say:

Several weeks ago, a concerned citizen sent me a financial summary of Indiana’s not-for-profit hospitals. He asked that I look into the issue of excessive profits by these systems.

I was skeptical that the issue would be relevant. Profits are critical to an economy; they serve as a guide to pricing and investment decisions and reward the men and women who create value. The demonization of profits is a sure sign of unformed thought. Moreover, not-for-profit hospitals have explicitly chosen to forgo profits as part of their operations, so I doubted the financial summary would reveal anything important.

I was mistaken.

What I discovered will deeply anger every Hoosier and should embarrass most hospital administrators and board members. I also expect it to cause significant changes to state policy with respect to these hospitals. This is likely to change the way we tax them, regulate their competitors and enforce antitrust laws. It will surely lead to civil litigation involving billions of dollars of excess profits.

It turns out the not-for-profit hospital industry and its network of clinics is the single most profitable industry in Indiana. These profits are so large that, when accumulated, they account for roughly 9% of the state’s total economy. As of 2017, this industry had accrued more than $27 billion – yes, billion. Yet, the not-for-profit industry in Indiana pays virtually no taxes and invests almost none of those profits locally. That money is invested in Wall Street, not Main Street.

However, they do charge Hoosiers a premium to access health care.

Earlier this year, a Rand Corporation study found that hospitals in Indiana were charging among the highest prices in the nation. While the hospital association has been fighting this excellent study, it is surely correct. I am confident the Rand study is right because I mapped these hospitals and compared the Rand price data with the lack of competition in each health care market.

In places where there is little competition, such as Fort Wayne, consumers pay more than twice the cost for a typical medical treatment as they do in places with the most competition. This is how these hospitals accrued excess profits that are roughly 12 times larger than the entire state of Indiana’s Rainy Day Fund.

This windfall of profits has happened fairly recently. In 1998, the typical Hoosier spent $330 less than the average American for health care. We now pay $819 more per person than does the average American. The only factor that can explain this is growing monopoly power among our not-for-profit hospitals.

If you are not shocked by this, nothing can shock you. In a typical post-recession year, these excess profits were so large that they shaved almost 30% off economic growth in the state. Let me highlight some particularly egregious examples.

Parkview Hospital is the most blatant example. In one recent year, Parkview Hospital in Wabash earned a 48% profit rate. By comparison, Walmart, which also has a store in Wabash, had a profit rate of 3.12% that year. Parkview Hospital’s profit absorbed a full 4.1% of the county’s gross domestic product.

Using data from a ProPublica investigative website, I found IU Ball Memorial Hospital enjoyed a lavish 23.8% profit in that year. This was more than $100 million, or a full 2.5% of the county’s GDP. Despite this, the president of Ball Memorial recently begged the city of Muncie to subsidize new luxury apartments so his doctors could live downtown.

That subsidy will cost Muncie Community Schools more than $2 million, which just so happens to be about two days of profits at the not-for-profit IU Ball Memorial Hospital.

There are literally dozens of other outrageous examples reflecting an appalling lack of governance at not-for-profit hospitals.

To be fair, there are a few hospitals that choose not to participate in this plunder of their patients and communities. These good actors, along with the not-for-profit community as a whole, are hapless victims of this outrageous monopolization of health care in our state. I feel especially sorry for the faith-based community which will surely be linked unfairly to some of these institutions. They should be among the first to call for legislative intervention and governance change in these hospitals.

Local governments are also victims. The most profitable industry in our state pays no property tax and no income tax, but overcharges schools, and city and county governments for health care. There is almost certainly a tax reckoning coming for not-for-profit hospitals, which will add much to the coffers of local government.

Maybe the only good news in all of this is that this situation is a plaintiff attorney’s dreamscape. There is a $27 billion settlement pool alongside the most abundant evidence of anti-competitive behavior I have ever seen. If you lead a school, business or municipal government that has paid health care expenses in Indiana, find a good trial lawyer, or better yet a class-action specialist.

This news about Indiana is now attracting national attention as an example of a health care system run amok. This is the most shocking thing I have seen in more than two decades of public policy research.

Monopoly pricing at hospitals is likely a contributor to our state’s nearly 10-place decline in health rankings over the past two decades.

The most similar modern phenomenon I have witnessed is the effect of strip-mining on many Appalachian communities.

To place this in historical context, the profit rates at Indiana’s not-for-profit hospitals are larger than anything the Gilded Age robber barons were able to secure. In this observation is a final lesson.

In the process of vetting this study with several colleagues, I shared it with one lifetime Republican and veteran of two GOP administrations. His response was simply that this is the single best argument for Warren/Sanders-style health care reform he had ever seen. He is not wrong, and that alone should prompt quick legislative, regulatory and legal action.

Hicks’ editorial, along with my plight, demonstrate some of the greatest reasons for a major overhaul of our nation’s healthcare system. But let us not hold our collective breaths waiting for that to happen. It seems the health of constituents is not a priority in Congress.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve 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. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Are you on Social Media? Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Local Southern Baptist Pastor Steve Eyers Opposes Helping People Suffering From Chronic Pain

medical marijuana suffering new jersey
Cartoon by Drew Sheneman, featuring anti-marijuana crusader Chris Christie

Yesterday, the Village of Hicksville banned the establishment of medical marijuana facilities within its borders. The Defiance Crescent-News reports:

On Monday evening the Hicksville Village Council passed an ordinance prohibiting the establishment and operation of medical marijuana facilities within the village limits.

This is in response to previous sessions in which the possibility of such facilities coming to town was addressed, although no definite plans had been revealed to council by any such entities. Council had received strong support against these facilities by Police Chief Mark Denning and pastor Steve Eyers; no one has spoken out in their favor at any recent council sessions.

In February 2019, Hicksville village council held a hearing on the matter. The Crescent-News reported at the time:

Pastor Steve Eyers of Lifeline Connect Church stated he has done sizeable research on medical marijuana since the last meeting and believed the jury to still be out, with no solid documentation existing substantiating positive claims about such facilities; he did observe that medical marijuana is not on the “approved” list of the Food and Drug Administration.

Eyers suggested council speak to state lawmakers and those in other municipalities which have approved medical marijuana production facilities about the results of such places, noting, “Once you open the door it will be difficult to close.”

As readers will note, the main objector to medical marijuana was Steve Eyers, pastor of Lifeline Connect Church. At a previous council meeting, Eyers, a Fundamentalist Southern Baptist, used the “slippery slope” canard to argue against medical marijuana. In Eyers’ world, every perceived negative (sinful) behavior is a step farther down the slippery slope that leads to Hell. I am sure Eyers believes that marijuana is a gateway drug, and once people start toking mary jane they will soon be hooked on crack, cocaine, heroin, or other highly addictive drugs. Funny how Eyers’ “sizeable research” didn’t turn up any evidence to the contrary:

The “gateway hypothesis” or theory refers to the idea that one substance — marijuana, in this case — leads to subsequently use and/or abuse other drugs. If [Governor Chris] Christie’s point is simply that the use of marijuana tends to precede the use of other drugs, then he is correct — but that’s not the whole story.

Though studies of large populations of people have indeed found that those who smoke marijuana are more likely to use other drugs, these studies show a correlation without showing causation — a commonly misunderstood phenomenon in science. In short, just because marijuana smokers might be more likely to later use, say, cocaine, does not imply that using marijuana causes one to use cocaine.

A 1999 report from the Institute of Medicine, which is part of the National Academy of Sciences, laid out this issue clearly (see pages 100-101): “In the sense that marijuana use typically precedes rather than follows initiation into the use of other illicit drugs, it is indeed a gateway drug. However, it does not appear to be a gateway drug to the extent that it is the cause or even that it is the most significant predictor of serious drug abuse; that is, care must be taken not to attribute cause to association.”

We spoke with several experts and reviewed the available scientific literature on gateway theory. Christie’s definitive statement is unsupported by evidence — there is some evidence in favor of a gateway effect, but the scientific community shares no consensus on the issue and there is little evidence on the underlying cause of that effect. — Factcheck.org.

Evidently, the good pastor was absent the day his teacher covered correlation and causation in science class.

There is no question that medical marijuana can and does help with many medical maladies, including chronic pain. Numerous readers of this blog can testify to medical marijuana’s efficacy and how it has improved their quality of life. It is absurd to oppose any drug (or treatment) that will reduce pain and suffering. But, Bruce, people might get “addicted’ if they start using medical marijuana. So what? Should it matter that a drug is “addictive” IF it’s helpful? Shouldn’t the goal be reducing pain and improving quality of life? Besides, moral crusaders such as Eyers usually confuse addiction with dependency. Addicts misuse drugs, using them for the sole purpose of getting high. Most people who use medical marijuana (and opioids such a Hydrocodone and Oxycontin) are not addicts. They use the drugs as prescribed to relieve pain and improve the quality of their lives. Long-term users can become dependent on such drugs, but, again, why does that matter? I have been on narcotic pain management drugs for fifteen years. Does this make me an addict? Of course not. I take the medications as prescribed by my family doctor. I have taken a variety of pain relievers over the years, but I have not, one time, abused them. Using these drugs for long periods have certainly made me physically dependent on them. If I were to stop taking Hydrocodone, for example, I would go through withdrawal. And believe me, that’s not fun. Last year, I stopped taking Tramadol. I had been using Tramadol on and off for managing mild pain for over a decade. It took months of suffering to successfully wean myself off of the drug. The withdrawal symptoms were so severe that I had to sleep in the living room so my thrashing and crying wouldn’t keep my wife awake. Yes, I survived, but at no time was I addicted to Tramadol. Dependent, yes. Addicted, no.

Count me as one person who is fucking tired of moralizing preachers such as Steve Eyers. First, they are hypocrites. Why did Eyers decide to take a stand against medical marijuana and not the drugs that are widely abused by Hicksville residents, including nicotine, caffeine, alcohol, and religion? Alcohol, in particular, causes all sorts of physical and social problems. Yet, crusading preachers are eerily silent on the subject — outside of an occasional anti-booze sermon. Why is that? Second, they attempt to force their personal or sectarian moral codes on others. There are times I wish that the Steve Eyerses of the world would come down with a debilitating, painful disease; one where relief could only be found through using narcotics or marijuana. Then, and only then, would they understand why chronic pain sufferers need drugs. Of course, I wouldn’t actually wish that on anyone, but there’s nothing like first-hand experience for revealing ignorant beliefs.

If Eyers and others like him want to live in pain, have at it. Taken literally as a moral prescription for living, the Bible encourages enduring pain and suffering. Just pray to God and trust that Jesus will be with you every step of the way, right? No thanks. As a humanist, my goal is to reduce suffering and pain, not only for humans, but all living animals. The greater goal is happiness and well-being for all. While suffering and pain can and do teach us valuable lessons, only Evangelical/Catholic sadomasochists think pain is desirable or necessary. Of course, when you believe the world is a shit hole ruined by sin, that all humans are born sinners/haters of God, that life is to be endured until the rapture, and that the grand goal is eternal life in Heaven, it should come as no surprise, then, that you don’t put much emphasis on the here and now.

Medical marijuana sale and use is legal in Ohio, and there’s movement towards making all use of weed legal. All praise be to Shiva. However, Republican state legislators — who are overwhelmingly Christians — and regulators have gone out of their way to impede the opening of medical marijuana growers, processors, and sellers. Currently, there are only a handful of facilities open, and the cost of the medical marijuana is astronomical — putting it out of reach financially for most Ohioans. Illegal street marijuana is far cheaper, but people such as myself refrain from purchasing it this way out of fear of arrest and prosecution. Further, here in the Land of God, Guns, and Republicans, most doctors refuse to write prescriptions for medical marijuana. The insane government war against opioids has scared the shit out of medical professionals — fearing the loss of their licenses — so they refuse to act in the best interest of their patients. Ohioans can go to one of the few doctors approved to write medical marijuana prescriptions, but this could cause them all sorts of problems with their primary care doctors — including the refusal to treat in the future. (Please see How the War on Opioids Hurts People With Chronic PainPlease Stop the War on Chronic Pain SufferersMedical Marijuana and Relieving Pain and SufferingHow Fundamentalist Prohibitions Cause Needless Suffering and Pain,  and Understanding and Helping Those Who Live With Chronic Pain.)

Years ago, I helplessly watched a devout Evangelical man suffer horrific pain as he slowly died of bowel cancer. He refused to take pain medications because he believed Jesus was better than morphine; that his suffering had some sort of redemptive value. My eighty-three-year-old father-in-law often goes without pain relief because he believes drug “addiction” — in vain I tried to explain to him the difference between addiction and dependence — is sinful. He would rather writhe in pain than risk pissing off God. As a pastor, I watched countless dying congregants forgo narcotic pain management because they wanted to be clear-headed when they entered the pearly gates. They needlessly suffered, and for what? Remove God and the afterlife from the equation, and I suspect most people will say YES to anything that reduces their pain.

If Steve Eyers wants to suffer for Jesus, have at it. All that I ask that he not stand in the way of other people getting the help they need. Jesus is called the Great Physician. The gospels detail the many of the healing miracles the Son of God purportedly performed while walking the dusty roads of Palestine. Be like Jesus, Steve, Be like Jesus. If you can’t heal people Steve, at least let the sick and hurting among you have access to people who can.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve 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. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Life Sucks — Sometimes

life sucks

In a few months I will draw my first social security check. My oldest son will turn forty in May, the same week my oldest granddaughter graduates from high school. Illusions of youthfulness no longer cover the reality that I am officially old, a curmudgeon whose best days are in the rear-view mirror. If I live to age seventy, six-sevenths of my life is gone, and if I live to eighty — not likely — three-fourths of my life has wafted away as steam rising from a radiator heater — the steam that used to entertain me fifty years ago as I stared out the school window, hoping for spring’s soon appearance. I am a pessimist by nature, choosing to see things as they are. My counselor and I were talking about people who love to point to spry, healthy, all-jacked-up-on-Mountain-Dew people in their eighties and nineties as examples of what any of us could attain if we would but do ___________ (fill in the blank with the latest, greatest health/fitness/lifestyle tip). While such people are well-intentioned, they are, in fact, delusional. The human race is a pyramid, with the Jack LaLannes of the world standing on the pinnacle. Most of us will not have such lives, and will, instead, face a variety of health problems as we age. And for some of us, our health problems will have begun long before we got old. In my case, I was fifteen.

At the age of forty, I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia, and over the last two decades osteoarthritis has attacked my spine, neck, shoulders, hands, and feet. My orthopedic doctor says arthritis is like a wildfire spreading through my body. Throw in high blood pressure, diabetes, nerve pain, a torn meniscus, and a torn shoulder labrum, and, well, life sucks. Tonight, I photographed a local high school’s junior varsity and varsity basketball games. This required me to stand on my feet for an extended period of time. It was not long before the years-old ritual began: pain in my lower back, pain in my shoulders, pain in my feet — even with orthotics — culminating in burning numbness in my thighs and face. At half time, I sat down as I have done countless times before, rocking forward and back, relieving the pressure on L5 in my lower back. The pain subsides and the numbness dissipates, that is, until the buzzer sounds, telling me it is time to stand once again, camera in hand, ready to photograph young, athletic men who remind me of myself forty-five years ago.

I am sure some of you are thinking, if photographing the games cause so much pain, why do it? Simple. Yes, life sucks, but I have two choices. I can either rot away in my recliner watching M*A*S*H reruns, or I can force myself to get out of the house, knowing that the price of admission is pain. I choose the latter, having no desire to spend my days mindlessly watching TV. I take narcotic pain medications, NSAID’s, and muscle relaxers, hoping they reduce the pain enough that I can gut out whatever it is I want/need to do. This is not me whining or complaining. I don’t seek your sympathy. But I do have a point I want to make . . .

My wife, Polly, was, until last year, destined to be one of those eighty-somethings standing of the pinnacle of life. She rarely got sick, and the only time she was in the hospital was to give birth. Polly has worked at Sauder Woodworking for twenty years. Up until recently, she had never missed a day of work. Never, not one day. Polly expected to live a healthy life all the way to the finish line. Naive? Perhaps, but past experiences suggested she had “good health” genes. One early morning, however, everything changed. Polly woke up me up, saying her heart was racing. Sure enough her pulse rate and blood pressure were quite high. Off to the emergency room we went, and hours later it was determined Polly had AFib. Two months later, Polly started bleeding internally, requiring two outpatient surgical procedures. A month or two after that, Polly broke a molar. The dentist could not fix the tooth, so it had to be surgically removed. A few months after that, Polly had to have surgery for a deviated septum. By then, both of us were singing the LIFE SUCKS tune. Surely, better days lie ahead, we thought. Unfortunately, the worst was yet to come. In January, Polly began having severe bowel problems. This eventually landed her in the hospital. Numerous tests later, it was determined Polly has ulcerative colitis — a diagnosis that explains some of the problems she has had in recent years. Six days later, Polly left the hospital, her life changed forever. Life sucks.

And then, our water heater quit working. A small thing, to be sure, but I thought, doesn’t the shit ever stop flowing our way? I want to think that better days lie ahead, but I don’t know what tomorrow might bring. All I know to do is to endure, believing that there will be moments and days when life doesn’t suck. Sometimes you have to look really hard to find them, but they do exist. I remember a particularly painful day last summer when the family was over for dinner. Quite frankly, I just wanted to be left alone, but this event had been scheduled for a long time so I put on my weary fake smile and endured. But there came a moment when I was sitting in my lawn chair outside watching my younger grandchildren play. So full of life, filled with energy and silliness. I found myself, in that moment, enjoying life; a brief respite from pain and suffering. It was a reminder to me that, yes, life sucks, but there are the joys of life, the reasons for which you continue to get up, breathe deeply, and live.

Earlier this week, I attended band concerts for my fifth-grade grandson and my seventh-grade granddaughter. The fifth-grade concert was, well, good job, kids. Keep practicing! The seventh-grade concert, however, was phenomenal. My granddaughter plays in the jazz band, and I was quite impressed with their skill level. She has come a long way — talent-wise — in three years. I sat on the front row. This made me an easy target for thoughtless, careless people. Three times, people plowed into me. One teenager knocked my cane out of my hands. I wanted to scream, I am a big man! Can’t you people see me? I said nothing, choosing instead to endure their punishment. And it was worth it. Once the music began, I found myself in one of those “life is good” moments. I have the privilege of watching my grandchildren grow into teenagers and young adults. My dad died at age forty-nine and my mom committed suicide at age fifty-four. None of my children or grandchildren ever got to know my dad. He was dead by the time they were born. My oldest two sons remember my mom, but that’s it. I have often wondered what my mom would have thought of my redheaded daughters or my grandkids. Alas, heart disease and mental illness ended my parents’ lives on a “life sucks” note. I wish it could have been different. I wish my children and grandchildren had the opportunity to know my parents. But all the wishes in the world won’t bring them back from the dead. All I can do is try to keep their memories alive through stories and photographs.

Yes, life sucks, but I am grateful for those moments in time when it doesn’t. I am blessed to have a wonderful wife and family. And even though the pain is unrelenting, I continue to try to look for those times when I am reminded that life is good; that even in the midst of suffering, there are moments of joy. All I know to do to is get up each day and hope for the best. I don’t know what any one day might bring, but I remain hopeful that in the midst of stormy weather, the rain will cease and the sun will shine — that is until a meteor wipes me (and you) off the face of the earth. 🙂

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve 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. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

How NOT to Talk to Someone With Chronic Pain or Debilitating Illness

new pain schedule

Several days ago, I received an unsigned letter from a sixty-four year old atheist woman. After reading my member introduction in the September 2017 Freedom From Religion Foundation newsletter, Freethought Today,  and rooting through my blog looking for personal health information, this woman decided to send me a typed two-page letter detailing her uneducated, ill-founded opinion of my weight and health, along with numerous paragraphs detailing what I should do to regain the Bruce of the 1970s.  At the end of her deconstruction of my physical being, she spent thirty-eight words complimenting me on my beard and thanking me for my story in the newsletter.

I sat on this letter for several days, waiting for my anger to calm before answering it. Yesterday, I talked to my counselor about the letter and why it is that people who don’t know me and don’t know my health background think it is appropriate to send me letters such as this one. It would be one thing if someone who was close to me talked to me about this or that health matter, but even then, no one, not even my wife, knows the depth and complexities of my health problems. People only know what I tell them, and trust me, there is a lot I don’t talk about. That I am willing to talk about my struggles with chronic pain and debilitating illness at all is deemed by zealots and nuts as an opening for them to preach their gospel — complete with shaming me for “sin” and using my children and grandchildren as bait to attract me to their particular way of life or “cure.”

I have received numerous letters from people offering unsolicited medical and lifestyle advice. Over the years, I have been told that the following will “cure” me or transform my pain and illness to a mere afterthought: essential oils, chiropractic care, magnets, acupuncture, reiki massage, homeopathic remedies, meditation, getting my chakras aligned, drinking magical shakes, and taking this or that supplement — more times than I can count. According to many of the people offering advice, Western medicine is evil, drug companies are out to kill me, and medical professionals are deliberately withholding care and treatment  that would cure me because they want to make money off my pain and health.

My latest letter writer takes a more simplistic approach, albeit she is every bit as ignorant of the latest science related to my health as the purveyors of the woo mentioned above. She contends that if I would just exercise more, lessen calorie intake, and not drink soda pop my life would be transformed. She assumes, of course, that I am NOT already doing these things, choosing instead to look at my photograph, seeing that I am fat/overweight/obese, and conclude that I am not following her prescription for having a born-again experience. The letter writer assumes that what worked for her will work for everyone else. She ignores the fact that human bodies are complex and what may work for one person won’t work for others.. She also ignores genetic and environmental factors, choosing instead to focus on my body size. In many ways, she is much like Evangelicals who attempt to deconstruct my life, refusing to allow me to tell my own story. Instead she takes her atheistic religious health experiences and uses them as a standard by which to judge me.

Simply put, the letter writer is not in the position to make ANY judgments about my health or offer ANY advice as to proper treatment. I have a primary care doctor, along with medical specialists who provide me necessary and adequate care. I am satisfied with their care, knowing that the health problems I have, for the most part, cannot be cured. All my doctors can do for me is try to improve my quality of life and lessen my pain. I have told my primary care doctor several times that I don’t expect him to fix what can’t be fixed. I have accepted that this is my life — live with it, Bruce! I know that my health problems began when I was a slim, trim athletic fourteen-year-old teen. Genetics, exposure to dangerous chemicals that landed me in the emergency room, and communicable diseases set the stage for how things are for me today. A near-death experience with mononucleosis in 1991 and two bouts with pneumonia left my immune system wrecked beyond repair. The letter writer understood none of these things, choosing instead to just see a fat guy who, she thinks, eats too much.

The letter writer is offended by my stoic, matter-of-fact approach to my life and health. I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia twenty years ago, and with neurological problems in 2007. For a time, doctors thought I might have multiple sclerosis. The symptoms fit, but the tests, so far, are inconclusive. Over the past two decades, osteoarthritis has slowly marched its way through my skeletal system. A visit to an orthopedic specialist last year revealed osteoarthritis in my hands, knees, feet, lower spine, neck, and shoulders. In other words — everywhere. The combination of these three diseases (and joint injuries) has left me disabled — another word the letter writer hates. Tough shit. That’s what I am: d-i-s-a-b-l-e-d.  Most days, I walk with a cane, steadying myself so I don’t fall and break something. Sometimes, I use a wheelchair — a sign to the letter writer that I am giving up. (Want to guess how many times I wanted to say go fuck yourself as I read her letter? You will need all your fingers and toes.)

The letter writer spends most of her sermon preaching about my weight. Evidently, she doesn’t care for fat people, nor does she understand that body shaming is no longer considered acceptable conduct in polite company. Friends accept people as they are. I know I would never, ever write someone a letter like the one this woman wrote to me. Perhaps she thinks that because she is in her sixties, she has earned the right to say whatever she wants. I want to give her the benefit of the doubt, but it is hard to do so when I view her letter as a personal attack — an assault on who and what I am.

The letter writer reveals that she really doesn’t understand current scientific evidence about body weight and weight loss. She wrongly says that weight loss is as simple as reducing caloric intake. This thinking is patently false, and can, at times, be dangerous or even life-threatening. She also assumes that I don’t manage caloric intake and eat healthily. I do, about ninety-five percent of the time. Since last November, I have lost forty pounds. Massive bowel movements? Fluid loss? I don’t really care. I try to eat healthily, and when I do not, I don’t lose one moment of sleep over it. Life is too short. If eating ice cream is going to be the end of me, so be it. Praise Jesus, I will leave this life with the sweet taste of rocky road ice cream on my lips!

The letter writer tells me in capital letters, DO NOT EAT IN RESTAURANTS. This must be one of her religion’s commandments, and if it is, NO THANK YOU. Polly and I spent the first twenty-five years of marriage rarely eating out. We couldn’t afford it. Now we can, and me and the Mrs. plan on enjoying as much good food (and wine) as we possibly can. At home, my wife is a first-rate gourmet cook. She has the pans, knives, oven and cookbooks to prove it. Only food zealots would have a problem with what we eat.

The letter writer also shows a lack of understanding about pain and how narcotics work — wrongly believing that narcotics make pain go away. Sorry, but that’s not how it works. Massive amounts of narcotics might take pain away, but they also render people unable to do much of anything but sleep. I have been on a pain management regimen for twelve years. The goal is to break the pain cycle so I can have a better quality of life. Pain levels, rise and fall, but the pain never goes away. I haven’t had a pain-free day in years.

The letter writer tells me that a pain-free life is overrated, that I shouldn’t take narcotics (take aspirin or ibuprofen instead), and that since I AM taking narcotics I shouldn’t need to use a cane or wheelchair. According to her, if I would just lose weight, exercise more, all would be well and I would no longer have to use my cane or wheelchair. Calling my pain medications a crutch, she implores me to let pain have its way with me. This woman has serious health problems herself, including a major bout with cancer. I wonder how she might have felt had I come into the room after her surgery and told her what she had told me about pain. No need for morphine! Own your pain! Just take Aleve!

I am of the opinion that there is little value in ignoring pain or embracing it because there is some sort of nobility gained from not taking pain medications. Sorry, but I choose to live as pain-free of a life as possible. I choose to embrace my pain, but I am sure as hell not going to let it ruin my life by reducing me to an old man curled up in a fetal position wishing he could die. By properly managing my pain (and other aspects of my health), I have the ability most days to do the things I want to do. Some days, the pain meds simply don’t work. On such days, I endure, knowing that surely better days lie ahead. And if they don’t? Then I will embrace the present as my new normal.

you can do it

Finally, the letter writer should have plumbed the depths of my personality before sending her sermon my way. Had she done so, she would not have taken the motivational YOU CAN DO IT, OH YES YOU CAN approach. I loathe such approaches to life, and when someone tries to “motivate” me this way, their attempt always fails. I am a rationalist who approaches life in a matter-of-fact way. I don’t need anyone to cheer me on. I am quite capable of determining for myself what I need to do, and then doing it. And if I do ever need a bit of Richard Simmons-like motivation, I look to my wife, children, and grandchildren for reasons to get up in the morning and keep moving. I drove my ex-daughter-in-law crazy (as did her husband) because I wasn’t happy as a seal with a ball at parties and family events. I tend to be quite reserved emotionally, choosing to show my gratitude or praise with words such as fine, that’s good, good job, thank you, or I appreciate it. I don’t get all wide-eyed and slap-happy. People who know me understand that when I say something is fine, that is a high praise coming from me (except when I say fine when answering, How are you doing? Then, I am usually lying). I, for one, am quite tired of being treated as if there is something wrong with me if I don’t have excitable emotional outbursts when expressing my approval of people or events. Who decided that being all jacked up on Mountain Dew is the only proper way to respond to things?  (Please read Bright-sided: How Positive Thinking is Undermining America by Barbara Ehrenreich.) Fuck that. I am who I am, and I am quite happy with being the one and only Bruce Gerencser on planet earth. Woo! Hoo! Ain’t I a special snowflake!

Let me be clear, when it comes to my health and the medical treatment I receive, please keep your thoughts, opinions, sermons, and dogma to yourself. You may have stayed in a Holiday Inn, but you are not my doctor. I’m fine with close friends or family members sending me links and asking me if I have read this or that report or study. Most often, since I am an INFORMED sufferer of chronic pain and debilitating illness, I have already read the report/study. I appreciate that they genuinely care about me and hope that something will come along and improve my lot in life (money, lots of money – that will work). For everyone else? Please don’t. Don’t email me, don’t write me letters, and don’t post on my Facebook wall whatever it is you think will transform my life. Chances are it won’t, or I have already tried it without success. Love me as I am and when you hear of my demise, be it today, tomorrow, or ten years from now, I hope you will remember me for the good I have done. Like everyone else, I want acceptance and respect from others. This letter writer demonstrated neither.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 39 years. He and his wife have six grown children and eleven 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. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Facing Life and Death Without God

life

Christianity offers its followers the promise of life after death. No matter how difficult and painful this life is, Christians are promised wonderful lives after death living with Jesus and their fellow Christians in a perfect, pain-free heaven. While I wonder how heavenly it is to spend your life prostrate before God worshiping him, Christians live in the hope that someday they will take possession of a room in the Father’s house, built especially just for them. (John 14) Without the promise of life after death in heaven, I wonder if most Christians would still be willing to forgo the pleasures of this life? While some Christians would argue that living according to the laws, teachings, and precepts of the Bible is still a good way to live, I suspect most Christians — without the promise of eternal life and bliss — would quickly abandon their houses of worship, joining people such as myself at the local pub or the church of the NFL. After all, even the apostle Paul said, If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable. (1 Corinthians 15:19) Evidently, Paul thought that in this life only Christianity had little to offer. And so Sunday after Sunday, Christian preachers promise parishioners a home awaits them in heaven. According to the Bible, God promises some day to give Christians the desires of their hearts. Wait. Does that mean there will be booze, porn, cigars, dirt track racing, and hunting in heaven? Will heavenly citizens spend their days playing Nintendo or Xbox games? Will God really give Christians the desires of their hearts? Hmm, this got me thinking about the whole going-to-heaven thing. I know a con job when I hear it. What better way to get people to buy what you are selling than to promise them that they will have a wonderful life if they will just sign on the dotted line. A wonderful life, that is, someday, after you have made the 666 monthly payments and died.

Atheism offers no such promises. Atheism is rooted in a humanistic and secularist view of the world. No promises of a divine life in the sweet by and by. Life is hard, and then you die. No promises of blessings in this life or the life to come. Some have argued that atheists have a cold, sterile outlook on life. To some degree this is true. Atheists are realists, knowing they only get one shot at life— best get to living it. Life is what we make it, and even when hard times come (and they will most certainly come), atheists find a way to make the most of it. I could spend my days whining and complaining about my health problems, but what good would that do? Instead, I turn my pain and suffering into a platform for helping others. I can look at the five decades I spent in the Christian church and say, what a waste, but I choose to use these experiences as an opportunity to help others. I know that this is the only life I have, and it is up to me to make the most of it. Spending time wondering about what might have been accomplishes nothing. As my family has heard me say many times, it is what it is. Sure, if there were some magical way to redo certain things from my past I might do it. But maybe not. Polly and I will celebrate our 38th wedding anniversary this July. We met at a Fundamentalist Bible college. If nothing else good came out of our past, both of us would say — on most days — that our relationship was the best thing about our years in Evangelicalism. I would not want anyone to follow the same path we did, yet we do have six wonderful children and 11 awesome grandchildren. They indeed are the bright spots of the years we spent working in God’s coal mine. I have learned, or perhaps I am learning, to reflect on the good of the past, and use the bad things to fuel my writing and my attempts to help others avoid similar paths.

I will celebrate my 59th birthday in June. I have lived 12 years longer than my mother and five years longer than my dad. There are days when my body is so overwhelmed with pain that I wonder if I can live another day. The means of my demise are always nearby, yet despite my suffering I choose to live. Why? Because this is the only life I will ever have. I only have one opportunity to love Polly, Jason, Nathan, Jaime, Bethany, Laura, Josiah, my grandchildren, my brother and sister, and Polly’s mom and dad. I know that when I draw my last breath, there will be no family circle meeting in the sky — sorry Johnny! This is why I want to live each and every day to its fullest. This is not a cliché to me. This life matters. My wife, children, grandchildren, son-in-law, daughters-in-law, siblings, extended family, and friends matter to me. I know that I am only going to see them and enjoy their company in this life. There are places I want to go to and see. I want to enjoy and experience the fullness of what it means to be human. And since casting off the shackles of religion, I have been free to drink deeply of the human experience. No longer fearful of God’s judgment or hell, I am free to see, touch, taste, and hear the things I desire. Yes, there is that dirty word that dare not be spoken in Evangelical churches — desire. I spent way too many years denying passions, desires, wants, and needs, all for the sake of God, Jesus, the church, and the ministry. No more. It is wonderful to do something just because I want to. I do not have to pray about it or see if the Bible approves of it. Bruce approves, end of discussion.

When I write posts such as this, there are always a few horse-bridled Christians who let me know that there is coming a day when I will regret not bowing to the will of the S&M master, Jesus. Someday Bruce, Evangelical zealots tell me, God is going to make you pay for your attacks on Christianity. Someday, God is going to judge you for your wanton living and rejection of the Bible. Sometimes, I think Christians such as these people relish the day when God is going to give atheist Bruce Gerencser an eternal ass-whipping. I am sure they will be standing among the crowd cheering and saying to God, hit him again! He deserves it, Lord.

I have been blogging now for going on nine years. I left Christianity in 2008, and since then countless Evangelicals — along with a few Catholics — have attempted to win me back to Jesus through the use of Pascal’s Wager. The basic premise is this, Bruce, what if you are wrong? Good question. Since I am not infallible, nor do I have at my disposal the sum of all human knowledge and experience, all I can do is make reasoned, knowledgeable decisions based on the evidence at hand. I can tell readers this much: I have been wrong many, many times. Not only that, I have made enough mistakes that if you piled them up they would reach to the International Space Station. I am, after all, a feeble, frail, and at times contradictory, human being. I can, like all people, be led astray by my passions, judgments, or incomplete information. I am not immune to irrationality and cognitive dissonance. However, when it comes to Christianity and its promises of eternal life in heaven or judgment in hell, it is my educated opinion that the claims of Christianity are false. Trying to get me to choose Jesus just in case I am wrong makes a mockery of intellectual inquiry (and Christianity). Having spent most of my adult life in the Christian church and 25 years studying and preaching the Bible, I think it is safe to say that I know a good bit about Christianity. I cannot remember the last time that some Christian presented me with something I have not heard before. I am not being arrogant here — as I am sure some Christians will allege. I spent decades reading and studying the Bible — devouring countless Christian books. I immersed myself in Christianity and its teachings, so when I say I am no longer a Christian because I think the claims of Christianity and the Bible are false, my conclusions — unlike many Christian opinions of atheism — come from an educated, reasoned, well-thought-out position. Do I know everything there is to know about Christianity? Of course not, but I sure as hell know more than most the Christians (and preachers) I come in contact with on a day-to-day basis. My point is this: I am an atheist today, not out of ignorance, but because I weighed Christianity in the balance and found it wanting.

If Christians come up with new evidences for the veracity of their claims — and I doubt they ever will —  then I will gladly consider them. Until then, I am content to number myself among the godless. And when I die, I hope to leave this life knowing that I did what I could to be a help to others. I hope, on the day that my ashes are scattered along the shores of Lake Michigan, that my family and friends will speak well of me. I hope that none of them will have to lie, but that they will truly believe that my good works outweigh the bad. This is why I think that is important to finish well. I am sure Polly and my children have less-than-complimentary stories they could tell at my wake, but I hope, because I have made a concerted effort to be a better man, that they will share stories about a good man who just so happened to be an atheist.

I am often asked if I fear death. Yes and no. Since no one has died and come back to life — including Jesus — I do fear the blackness that awaits. There are been those times, late at night, when I have pondered being alive one moment and dead the next; going to sleep and never waking up. But this fear does not overwhelm me. I know that I cannot do anything about dying. It is, to quote the Lion King, the circle of life. We are born, we live, we die. End of story. All I know to do is to live a good life and be a good husband, father, grandfather, friend, and fellow citizen of earth. I have had the privilege of living at this time on humanity’s calendar, and when it comes time for me to draw my last breath, I hope my dying thoughts will be those of love. Love of family, love of friends, love of writing, love of photography, and love of all those who have made my life worth living. Will that not be what all of us desire? To love and to be loved? As dying pushes away all the minutia of life, what remains is love. For me, that will be enough.

A Few Thoughts on Abortion and the Planned Parenthood Videos

planned parenthood

I’ve been asked to give my take on the Planned Parenthood videos.

When it comes to Planned Parenthood’s mission, to provide healthcare to women, I am 100% in their corner. Providing abortions is a small part of Planned Parenthood’s services, and defunding Planned Parenthood would have a deleterious effect on the health of poor women. Attempts to defund Planned Parenthood are driven by religious belief and bad science. We live in a secular state, one that supposedly separates church and state and one that values science; yet, when it comes to abortion, the debate is framed by religious claims that result in skewed interpretations of science.

Strident pro-lifers, based on their religious beliefs, say that abortion is murder. I have written about this before in a post titled 25 Questions for Those Who Say Abortion is Murder. The abortion-is-murder view is irrational and is a denial of what science tells about fetal development and life. Just last week, Mike Huckabee, a Baptist preacher and a candidate for President, said he supports personhood for zygotes (see Personhood USA). That’s right, Huckabee wants constitutional protection conveyed the moment a man’s sperm unites with a woman’s egg. This means that Mike Huckabee, along with those who support personhood for fetuses and believe abortion is murder, think that the following should be considered a person protected by the constitution and those aborting them are murderers:

3 day old human embyro
Three Day Old Human Embryo.

4 week old fetus
Fetus at 28 days

human fetus
Fetus at 56 days, 1/2 inch long

Fact: 63% of abortion take place within eight weeks of pregnancy.

This is what a fetus looks like at 12 weeks:

12 week fetus
Fetus at 12 week

Fact: 89% of abortions take place within 12 weeks (first trimester) of pregnancy.

When I look at the science along with the aforementioned photographs, I see potential life. I don’t see a person, one deserving constitutional protection. (Please see Abortion Facts, Lies, and Contractions.) All the religious posturing and moralizing in the world won’t change my view on this matter. Why? Because it is rooted in scientific fact and reason.

As the fetus continues to grow it moves from being potential life to actual life. Usually this is around weeks 20-24. Fetuses can and do survive when born prematurely, and it is for this reason I support greater protection for them under the law. The state has a vested interest in protecting human life, not potential life. I do not agree that abortion after viability should be a decision made between a woman and her doctor without any regard to the fetus. Once viability is reached there is a third party — the baby — who should have rights. Not absolute rights, mind you. There are times, due to health concerns or fetal abnormality, that is it medically prudent to terminate a pregnancy after viability. Since the overwhelming majority of abortions occur before viability (98.8%) or post viability as a result of health concerns or fetal abnormality, I see no reason to oppose abortion.

Why is it that pro-life groups rarely use the aforementioned photographs to make their case? Why do they always graphically display fetuses aborted late in a pregnancy? Shock value. I wonder if some who say abortion is murder would think differently if they were presented with a picture of a zygote and not a picture of a full term fetus?

The recent videos concerning Planned Parenthood are disturbing. The group behind the videos are using highly edited footage, releasing them over a long period of time in hopes of maximizing the damage, inflaming passion, and bolstering the campaigns of pro-life candidates for President. (Please see People of the American Way post  The Activists and the Ideology Behind the Latest Attack on Planned Parenthood.)

Despite my opposition to the group behind the videos, I do find the videos troubling. Is Planned Parenthood selling fetus parts? Yes and no. Yes, in the sense that they are selling at cost various fetus parts to researchers, but no in the sense that it isn’t a huge revenue stream for Planned Parenthood. What Planned Parenthood is doing is legal, no different from harvesting organs for transplant.

I am sure someone is going to say, but Bruce, look at how nonchalant the Planned Parenthood people were on the videos. I agree, this is troubling, but is their crassness any reason for the government to defund Planned Parenthood or for abortion to be outlawed or criminalized? Of course not. Again, I go back to the science. Like it or not, in most cases, the aborted fetus is a blob of developing cells. Since these developing cells are potential life, not human life, why shouldn’t researchers be permitted to use these cells and developing organs to find cures or treatments for diseases that are afflicting and killing humans?

I think the crassness displayed on the videos is troubling, but explainable. Take doctors. Doctors are around sickness and death every day. Imagine a group of doctors sitting around a table talking shop. How do you think the discussion would go? A bit of morbidity, humor, and deflection? This is their way of coping with the work they have been called to do (and yes, I think many of the people who work in abortion clinics have a sense of calling, a deep desire to help women in a time of great need). The same could be said for coroners, morticians, homicide detectives, crime scene investigators, CDC investigators, and crime scene cleaners. As someone who lives with the ugly specter of death lurking in the shadows, I have a gallows sense of humor about death. Some family members and friends are appalled by my humor, yet it is how I cope with the reality that death is stalking me and will ultimately seize me as its prey. People who are around death often use humor to cope and often seem detached from their work, and I think that is exactly what is shown on the Planned Parenthood videos.

What Planned Parenthood has is an optic problem. They allowed themselves to be snookered by ideologically driven religious nut jobs who want to make abortion, along with birth control, illegal. Planned Parenthood needs to do a better job of vetting whom they are talking to. They also need to put some of their workers and executives through sensitivity training. We say that getting an abortion is a monumental decision for a women. If this is true, then our behavior and demeanor should reflect this, not unlike our response to someone who is dying and has decided to stop medical treatment.

I am sure those on either side of this issue will disagree with me and that’s why I have been hesitant to write about it. My position on abortion is informed and quite developed, so I don’t waste my time arguing about it. I recently had several dust-ups on Facebook with people who think anyone who is pro-choice or supports Planned Parenthood is a sick, vile, evil, murderer. Rather than continue to read such drivel, I unfriended 30 or so people, including family members (and yes, I tried to educate them before I unfriended them).

I find it interesting that the same people who are so ardently pro-life are very same people who are pro-war, pro capital punishment, anti-homosexual, anti-same sex marriage, anti-immigration, and anti virtually anything that has to do with care and compassion post-birth. It seems the only life they care about is the one in the womb. These same people say they are anti-abortion, yet they oppose free birth control and standardized sex education, two things that we know reduce the need for an abortion. There’s one word for people who think like this: hypocrite.

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Dear Parkview, I Know I Am Fat

parkview physicians

Snark ahead

My primary care doctor is associated with Parkview Physicians Group in Fort Wayne, Indiana. He works out of the Bryan, Ohio office. I’ve had many of my recent tests done at the Bryan office or Parkview Regional Medical Center in Fort Wayne. Last Wednesday, I had a colonoscopy done at Parkview Regional. Good news, no cancer.Bad news, I am still sick.

With every office visit and procedure, Parkview generates reams of papers that are given to patients to educate them about their health. Last Wednesday was no exception. While I am sure Parkview desires to have an educated patient base, I find the papers a waste of time. Most  often, they tell me what I already know. Take the last batch of papers; here’s part of what was printed:

parkview hospital

OMG, I am overweight. RED ALERT! RED ALERT! Obesity Ahead!

Most fat people know they are fat, and putting their weight in red with an explanation point is only pointing out the OBVIOUS.

My blood pressure was great, as was my pulse, respiration, and O2 levels. Why no star beside these? Come on Parkview, encourage your patients instead of always pointing out their failings. I want to be affirmed not fat shamed.

This is what technology has given us; reams of paper that do little to improve or change our health. I suspect most people don’t even bother to read the papers. I usually glance at them, looking for something I don’t already know, and then I put them through the shredder.

I love my doctor and the treatment I receive at Parkview so I don’t want them to think I am an unhappy patient. But, I am tired of warnings about my weight or the other medical deficiencies I have. I get it, I should weigh less. Move on…and stop putting my weight in red.

 

 

What I Want to Know is What is IN the Nightstand?

nightstand

Warning, Snark ahead.

In a post titled FREEBIE Friday! What’s on Your Night Stand?, Erin Davis, a writer for the Lies Young Women Believe website, asked readers “what’s on your nightstand?”  Davis wrote:

What’s on your nightstand?

No, I don’t mean that pile of rubber bands and bobby pins. Not the layer of dust either. (I sort of collect dust bunnies. I don’t judge). I want to know what you’re reading.

Here’s what’s on my nightstand.

The Insanity of God by Nik Ripkin. This is one of the best books I’ve read in years. It’s the only book I ever remember getting to the last page and immediately flipping back to page one and starting over again. The stories of how God is moving in countries where there is persecution (like the kind that costs believers their lives) expanded my view of Him and encouraged me to pray like crazy for Christians around the world.

The ESV Journaling Bible. This was a gift from my handsome husband. It’s beautiful, with a rich leather cover, and it has wide margins with lines for taking notes. Perfect for a Word loving, doodler like me.

Fear and Faith by Trillia Newbell. I haven’t read this one yet, but I can’t wait to. Using stories of real women, it gives a roadmap for how to find security in the Lord when we are afraid. (Which is pretty often for me!)…

Ah yes, what’s on Davis’s nightstand is two religious books and a Bible. What I want to know is what is IN Davis’s nightstand? You see, in the Evangelical world, it  is all about what is on your nightstand rather than what is in your nightstand. It is all about perception, making sure that one appears to be the right kind of Christian who believes the right kind of things.

When someone walks into Davis’s bedroom, and perhaps her whole house, what one sees is the trappings of Evangelical Christianity. My wife sees this where she works. Evangelicals have their offices adorned with the latest, greatest Jesus Junk®. She can quickly tell what Christian book and author is popular by the number and name of the books found on desktops. Years back, The Purpose Driven Life and The Prayer of Jabez were on prominent display, but now offices display the latest, greatest book written by whoever Evangelicals are fawning over this week. In six or so months, signs will go up reminding passerby’s of the real meaning of Christmas or warning fellow believers about the War on Christmas.  These outward demonstrations are meant to say to fellow Evangelicals: hey, over here, I am a Jesus Lover just like you!  The books, wall hangings, stickers, and pictures are the Evangelical equivalent of a gang tattoo.  When someone sees an open Bible on a desktop they know that that person is part of the Jesus gang.

I wonder what we would find if we began opening drawers? What do people like Erin Davis and her fellow Evangelicals keep hidden from the watchful eye of their fellow believers? I wonder if the bedroom nightstand drawer might have handcuffs, dildos, or vibrators, along with strawberry tasting lube? Perhaps it is time for Pew or Lifeway to conduct a study on what is IN the Evangelical’s nightstand. We already know what is ON the nightstand.

I suppose inquiring minds want to know what is ON my nightstand:

And IN the nightstand?:

  • TENS unit
  • Dish remote control
  • Universal remote control
  • Bluetooth headphones and charger
  • Proctozone-HC 2.5%
  • Meijer Muscle Ultra-Cream (Bengay Ultra Strength)

Now, what’s in other drawers? I’ll never tell.