Menu Close

Category: Health

Does Suffering Make Us Stronger?

suffering and pain

Evangelicals often say that suffering makes us stronger. According to them, their God uses suffering to test, try, chastise, and even “save” people. (What a perverse God this deity is.) The goal of suffering, then, is to bring people into submission to God’s purpose and plan; to humble them before God; to make them stronger. Theology aside, does suffering really make us stronger?

I have an intimate relationship with suffering (an abusive spouse if there ever was one). There’s not a moment or day in my life that I don’t suffer from unrelenting pain, fatigue, muscle spasms, and, since my diagnosis with gastroparesis in 2020, nausea, lack of appetite, and vomiting. My body hurts from the top of my head to the bottom of my feet — literally. Yes, I take narcotic pain medications and powerful muscle relaxers, along with a drug for sleep. They “help,” but they don’t make the pain magically disappear. The best these drugs do is improve my quality of life. And some days, they don’t even do that. Some days demand I put a stick in my mouth, bite down, and hope, plead, and “pray” that the pain will recede.

Nights are the worst. It takes from 3-5 hours for me to fall asleep once I lie down. I read, watch TV on my iPad Pro, or get up and walk the well-worn path in the carpet of our home, begging and pleading for the pain to go away. On occasion, I will take a hot bath — and “hot” for me is straight hot water. During the night hours, my body pisses off the fluid that has collected in my legs during the day, requiring numerous trips to the bathroom or the use of a portable urinal. Eventually, I will fall asleep (though I typically sleep 2-3 hours at a time), only to wake up the next day and start the process all over again.

Now to the question: does suffering makes us stronger? For me, no. There’s nothing in my experiences with suffering that have made me “stronger.” I am a weak, frail man, prone to thoughts of suicide, knowing that the medical means to my end are but two or three pill bottles away. I hang on for my beautiful wife of forty-three years, my six wonderful children, and thirteen supercalifragilisticexpialidocious grandchildren. I hang on because I still feel I have important work to do through this blog. I hang on because there are still things I want to see and places I want to go. So . . . I endure. Has my suffering made me stronger? Absolutely not. I endure out of a raw, naked desire to live, to see my grandchildren go to college, graduate, and do great things in the world. I want to hold in my arms my first great-grandchild. And I want to see the Bengals win a Super Bowl, the Reds win another World Series, my book published (no I haven’t given up — yet), and Bethany marry Rascal Flatts. 🙂 I still have reasons to get up in the morning. And the day I don’t?

Early in the morning hours, in a weeping moment of despair, I texted Polly:

I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you or worry you. I love you with all my heart. But, I’m tired. I’m in so much pain — head to toe. Mentally, I’m in Pilgrim’s slough of despondency with, seemingly, no way out. I feel very alone. I know you are right here, yet everyone seems so distant. I feel like I’m being sucked under by quicksand while those who love me stand by and say, “Dad/Bruce/Butch [my nickname, only used by my siblings, aunts and uncles] will figure a way out.” And when I don’t or can’t?

Unrelenting chronic pain and suffering bring depression and despair. How could it be otherwise? That’s why I have been seeing counselors for the past ten years. (I recently changed therapists. I am seeing a woman this time.) These counselors have literally saved my life. I wish things were different for me, but “wishing” changes nothing. I am a realist, a pragmatist. Life is what it is. All I know to do is to endure. The Bible says, “he that’s endureth to the end shall be saved.” And what “saves” us, in the end, is death, not Jesus. As a chronic pain sufferer, death is my savior. Until then, I hang on until my savior appears in the sky.

This post is not a cry for help, nor is it a request for unsolicited medical advice. This is just me talking out loud and being real with the readers of this blog. I am sure some of my Evangelical critics will seize on this post as an example of the hopelessness of atheism or some sort of character flaw in my life. All I can say to them is this: fuck off.

Other Posts on Suffering

Bruce, Your “Suffering” is Nothing Compared to Job’s

Quote of the Day: Theological Beliefs Force People to Endure Needless Suffering

Do Evangelical Beliefs Cause Suffering?

An Argument Against the Existence of God: The Suffering of Animals

Quote of the Day: The Kind of Suffering That is a Problem by Bart Ehrman

Quit Complaining, Your Suffering is Nothing Compared to What Jesus Faced

Bart Ehrman on God, the Bible, and the Problem of Suffering

How Fundamentalist Prohibitions Cause Needless Suffering and Pain

bruce-gerencser-headshot

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

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

And Santa Came A-Tumbling Down

santa fallling

The Friday after Thanksgiving, Polly bought a fresh Christmas tree from the Bryan Lions tree lot and brought it home. We have been putting up a fresh tree most of our married lives, 38 years, to be exact. Last Saturday, Polly, with the help of our oldest daughter, decorated the tree. I am a Lionel O-gauge train collector, a youthful hobby I have revived since I retired in 2019. Typically, I put a circular train track around the tree. In recent years, our youngest son, Josiah, has put the track up for me. This year, I decided to do this myself.

Last night, after Polly went to work, I slowly made my way upstairs, retrieving some train track, a diesel engine, a steam engine, cars, and a transformer. I am not supposed to go up or down the stairs by myself, but I did so anyway. I successfully made it up and down the stairs without incident. “See, Bruce, you can do it.” The Not-So-Good Book says, “pride goeth before a fall.”

I plopped down on the floor and started putting the track together. Once the oval was completed, I put the Santa Fe F3 A-B (A being the powered unit, B the unpowered unit) engines on the track, along with a selection of boxcars, a car hauler, a Gulf Oil tanker, and a lighted 70 year old caboose. I then turned on the 100-watt MTH transformer, powering the track, and the train began to move around the tree. Woo! Hoo!

Proud of my work, I put my hand on the credenza, pulled myself up, and started to pivot on my feet. And then . . . before I could blink — literally — my feet and legs went out from under me, sending me crashing headlong into the Christmas tree. The tree broke, pulling the trunk out of the tree stand and landing the tree on a nearby recliner. Christmas ornaments rained down on the carpet. I landed on top of the cast-iron steam engine that sat inside the track circle. I lay moaning (and cursing) on the carpet for several minutes. Bethany, our daughter with Down syndrome, frantically tried to help me. I suspect she thought I had killed myself. Eventually, I crawled to the couch 8 feet away and pulled myself up, much like my toddler grandson trying to climb on the couch to harass Grandpa. And there I remained until Polly came home from work at 2:30 am.

Damage? Two broken box cars, broken ornaments, a huge bruise on my hip, along with a cut on my side and scrapes on my arm. Today, I feel like someone beat me with a baseball bat. The tree, of course, is ruined. Tomorrow, we plan to go to Menards and buy an artificial tree. That is if I am able to move.

Polly, of course, is upset with me, and rightly so, though she has been compassionate and understanding. I know the rules. I know I can’t do certain (many) things anymore. I know I have a tendency to fall. But, in my mind I still think I can do what I want, that I am healthy, strong, and steady on my feet. Those days are gone — forever. I must embrace this new reality of mine, but damn, it’s hard — and depressing too.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

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

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Four Things I Learned About Shitting After Being Diagnosed with Gastroparesis

santa on toilet

A year ago, I was diagnosed with gastroparesis — an incurable stomach disease. I have battled chronic illness and pain for years, thanks to fibromyalgia and osteoarthritis, along with herniated discs in my upper back and neck. Every day is a painful struggle for me. Gastroparesis is what I call a value-added disease. I was already sick enough before my gastroparesis diagnosis, and now every waking moment is a challenge.

I have lost 110 pounds over the past 18 months, primarily due to constant nausea, vomiting, and loss of appetite. (My weight loss has leveled off in recent months.) Eating food is one of the few joys I still have, yet gastroparesis is doing its damnedest to rob of my love for food. I feel so sorry for my wife. She will cook a wonderful meal which I either can’t eat or throw up after I eat it. Imagine going out to a fancy restaurant with your hot wife, only to not be able to eat or, if I do eat, feeling immediately nauseous — regardless of what type of food I am eating. I have developed coping skills to deal with nausea. Medicine helps too — sometimes. And . . . sometimes, no matter what I do, I end up with my face in a porcelain throne. I do my best to make it home before vomiting. I HATE having to use a public restroom.

For some people with gastroparesis, the symptoms become so severe that they decide to have a feeding tube installed. A drastic choice, to be sure. I know several people in their 20s who have feeding tubes — and will likely have them the rest of their lives.

Gastroparesis, also called stomach paralysis, causes all sorts of bowel problems. What should be a normal, daily activity becomes an adventure — and not a good one either.

What follows are four things I learned about shitting after being diagnosed with gastroparesis.

Trips outside of the home require knowing exactly where store/restaurant restrooms are located

You never know when you are going to have to shit. This past summer, we took a trip to Findlay to eat and hang out at Riverside Park. As we were walking in the park, I told Polly I need to find a bathroom — now. I mean right now. I made it to the bathroom and took care of business. As I walked out of the restroom, I had the most terrible feeling I have bowl-wise: the mother of all shits is coming. I quickly turned, saying no! no! no! Halfway into the restroom, I realized I wasn’t doing to make it. I quickly pulled my suspenders and pants down and boom! shit went everywhere. On the floor, on my shoes, on my pants, on my underwear, on my suspenders — everywhere. After I was done, I cleaned up the floor the best I could, silently saying sorry to the janitor who would later have to clean up after me. I rinsed out my clothes and wiped off my shoes and suspenders. I then walked out of the restroom, underwear in hand. I looked at Polly, handed her the underwear to put in a bag. No words were needed.

Several months ago, I had a similar experience at a Whole Foods store in Toledo. This time, I made it to the toilet, splattering shit all over the stool. I cleaned up my mess the best I could, once again saying sorry to the janitor who would later have to clean up after me.

I can have multiple bowel movements a day and then be constipated for a week

It should be IMPOSSIBLE for me to be constipated. I eat a fiber-rich diet. I take fiber twice a day and use stool softeners every night. Despite all of this, I can have diarrhea one day and then be constipated for a week. After two or three days of constipation, I typically resort to enemas (and cursing) to get things moving. Prior to being diagnosed with gastroparesis, I had normal, daily bowel movements.

I have learned farting can result in shitting

Earlier this week, Polly woke up in the dead of the night to find me cleaning the bed. What should have been an ordinary, routine fart turned into a shit. Insert jokes about shitting the bed here. At least I didn’t stumble and dump my urinal all over myself or on the bed.

I have learned my body will lie to me

I will have cramps, thinking I need to take a shit. Nothing. The next time I have cramps, I will have the mother of all bowel movements. With gastroparesis, there’s no reliable way to know when you should defecate.

And now you know the rest of the story. If you ever see me running through a local store, just remember this post. And . . . avoid the restroom for an hour or so. 🙂

Coming soon, my latest blockbuster book, Adventures in Shitting. 🙂

bruce-gerencser-headshot

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

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

The War on Chronic Pain Sufferers

vicodin

There’s a war going on in America. Law-abiding chronic pain sufferers are caught in the middle of a battle between federal and state laws governing narcotic prescriptions, pharmacy regulations, and medical clinic practices. The war on opiate addiction has caused untold pain and harm for people who dutifully take their medications, refilling them as prescribed by their doctor.

My primary care doctor writes me three prescriptions for Hydrocodone every time I see him. These scripts are dated, meaning they CANNOT be filled before the date on the script. I am required to see my doctor every three months to get these scripts. Thus, my $25 a month prescription actually costs me $85 — almost $1,000 a year.

My doctor electronically sends these scripts to CVS. They remain on file until I call them and ask for a refill. The pharmacy refuses to refill narcotic prescriptions automatically. Every other drug I take is on automatic refill. What makes matters worse, I must call the pharmacy on the day my doctor wrote on the script. Not the day before, but the day of. This means I must remain at home on the day my prescription is refilled.

Today, Polly called CVS, requesting my September 13, 2021, refill. The pharmacy tech said it would be ready in an hour. We arrived at CVS at our appointed time only to find out that the pharmacy did not fill my prescription. Why? They didn’t have enough Hydrocodone to fill the script. Their order will be in on the 15th!

CVS had some Hydrocodone on hand but couldn’t partially refill my prescription because it is against the law for them to do so. I said, “Fine. Send it over to Walmart.” The twenty-something-year-old pharmacist replied, “we are not permitted to transfer Schedule II prescriptions.” I tried to explain to her what this would to do me (I have NO Hydrocodone at home and have been on pain management drugs since 2005), but it became quickly clear to me that no amount of pleading on my end was going to change the “rules of engagement.” This means I will be without pain medication for 48-72 hours.

A year ago, I was taking three drugs for pain. Thanks to policies instituted by my doctor’s practice (a large physician’s group), I had to stop taking two of those drugs. I am now held hostage to an opiate load number (morphine equivalent dose); not whether my pain is adequately treated. Ninety is the magic number. I am currently at sixty. So, like a feral cat, I take what I can get from my doctor, telling myself, “it could be worse.”

After leaving CVS, I called my doctor’s office, thinking he would send a two or three day prescription to Walmart. Unfortunately, thanks to the medical clinic’s “new and improved” phone system, I could not talk directly to my doctor or his nurse. The woman who answered the phone assured me that she would make sure they got my message. I impressed upon her the importance of getting my prescription problem fixed. I am sure I sounded like a drug-seeking addict. Almost seven hours later, no return call, and now the pharmacies are closed. And so, I am left without pain medication, knowing what is coming next. Just ask any chronic pain sufferer what happens when their medications are suddenly stopped.

Sudden cessation of narcotics brings all sorts of physical problems. Everyone in this story knows this, yet I am the one that bears the consequences. Not them; I do. I snarkily told the pharmacist that I might spend the day drinking booze. “Oh, don’t do that,” she replied. I wanted to ask her, “what should I do, then?” I said nothing, knowing that she likely had no real-world experience with serious pain. There’s only one answer to my question: suffer. Or die.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

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

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

The Cart

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

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

A recent MRI report said:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

bruce-gerencser-headshot

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

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Bruce, Have You Tried . . .?

unsolicited medical advice

Every time I mention my health in a blog post — as sure as the sun comes up in the morning — I will receive emails and social media comments from readers offering me unsolicited, unwanted medical advice. These people mean well, but their “advice” is not welcome or helpful. Their advice says I am not doing something right; it is my fault I am sick and in pain. If I would just follow their “advice,” I would no longer be sick, nor would I be in pain.

Often, the “advice” I receive comes from proponents of alternative treatments — unproven treatments purveyors promise really, really, really work (for a price). There seems to be an assumption by the people who send me unsolicited medical advice that I am ignorant; that I have not investigated other treatments for gastroparesis, fibromyalgia, and osteoarthritis.

Last Saturday, I published a post titled, Health Update: I’m F**ked. In this article, I mentioned the results from an MRI I had last week:

I had X-rays. Normal. CT scan. Normal. And now an MRI of my thoracic spine. NOT normal. I have:

Disc herniation (T7,T8)

Disc herniation (T6,T7)

Central spinal canal stenosis (T9/T10, T10/T11)

Foraminal stenosis (T5,T6)

Disc degeneration/spondylosis (T1/T2 through T10/T11)

Facet Arthropathy throughout the spine, particularly at T2/T3, T3/T4, T5/T6, and T7/T8 through the T12/L1 levels.

Hypertrophic arthropathy at T9/T10

I quickly received several emails and comments telling me that I need to try this or that diet or supplement. These people have no idea about what my diet is or what, if any, supplements I take. They assume that because I am sick and in pain, that I must not be doing what they suggest I do. One long-time reader sent me a link to a video and suggested I go on the KETO diet. I tersely replied that I was on the no-food diet (gastroparesis); that I have lost 120 pounds; that my A1c is 5.3. She means well, but her emails and comments are NOT helpful. The same can be said for emails from people saying that if I just became a vegan, all would be well.

Let me be clear: I think Reiki, chiropractic treatment (with a few exceptions), homeopathy, supplementation, essential oils, acupuncture, magnets, faith healers, etc., are unproven, unscientific modalities. The same goes for diets that advocate unbalanced, unhealthy eating. There’s nothing wrong with my diet. I eat lots of vegetables, seafood, and other “healthy foods. Yet, I am still sick. Why? My problems are not diet related. There’s no diet or supplement known to man that will “cure” the structural damage in my back. Go to a chiropractor? Are you fucking kidding me? Think about that for a moment: a chiropractor pushing on my herniated discs. What could go wrong? The only solution is to treat and manage my pain.

I am a proponent of science-based medicine (SBM). I have confidence that my doctors are providing me the best possible treatment. I keep myself informed about the latest treatments and studies for my various maladies. I suspect I am better educated on gastroparesis, fibromyalgia, and osteoarthritis than are any of the people who offer me unsolicited medical advice. I have friends I trust who will send me links to reports or studies they have read. I have no problem with them doing this. What irritates the hell out of me is the unsolicited medical advice that subtly suggests that I am at fault; that if I would just do _______, my decades-long illnesses and pain would magically go away.

If you want to help me, continue to read my writing, leave pithy comments, and support my work financially. Leave my medical care to my doctors and me. Trust me, we have it under control. I know the limitations of modern medicine. I know that no magic treatment that will “cure” me is lurking around the next corner. I expect my doctors to do what they can, but I have never expected them to be miracle workers. Sometimes, life sucks. I am a realist. I know that I will battle chronic illness and pain until I die. Friends, family, and blog readers, genuinely wish I weren’t in pain. They tell me that things will get better in time. “Surely, better days lie ahead for me.” They think I need encouragement or happy visions of a seal bouncing a beach ball on his nose. I don’t. Sure, there are things people can do to help me, but how about asking me what help I need instead of assuming I need ______________?

Let me kindly ask again that readers do NOT send me unsolicited medical advice. And that includes leaving comments on this site, making comments on social media, or sending me private Facebook/Twitter messages. If you truly love and respect me, PLEASE stop.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

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

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Health Update: I’m F**ked

bruce gerencser and jesus

I have gastroparesis, fibromyalgia, and osteoarthritis (I’ve typed these words so many times, autocorrect remembers them). In addition, over the past four months, I’ve had excruciating pain in the middle of my back, left side, and under my left arm, into my shoulder, and down my arm. The pain is so severe that it affects everything I do. Some days, I can hardly use my left arm (and I’m left-handed).

I had X-rays. Normal. CT scan. Normal. And now an MRI of my thoracic spine. NOT normal. I have:

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

I knew I had osteoarthritis arthritis in my spine. I have arthritis everywhere. Why I have these other problems is unknown. Genetics (my sister has similar problems)? Injury? Age-related deterioration? God’s judgment (I already know Evangelicals are thinking this)? Too much sex (you will have to ask Polly)? 🙂 Sports-related damage? There’s no way of knowing the exact cause. And it doesn’t matter. Knowing the cause won’t change the fact that I have excruciating pain in the middle of my back.

My primary care doctor called me this morning to give me the MRI results. I could tell by his voice that the results were not good. He’s been my doctor for twenty-six years. Doc has literally watched me physically deteriorate over the years (he calls me an enigma — something that baffles understanding and can’t be explained). He genuinely cares about me and wants to alleviate my suffering. Unfortunately, there’s little he can do except treat the pain. Doc referred me to a pain management doctor in Fort Wayne. Hopefully, I will get in to see him soon.

After Doc gave me the verdict, I replied, in my gallows humor way, “I’m fucked.” He chuckled a bit — we’re friends — and then he reminded me of a scene in Planes, Trains, and Automobiles; the scene where Steve Martin repeatedly uses the F word.

Video Link

Today, I feel fucked. Hopefully, the pain doctor will help me feel less fucked soon.

It is what it is, but the spinning plate that I call life is overflowing. I’d pray if there were a God, but since there’s not, all I can do is endure. As I ponder my suffering, I am reminded that it could be worse. My friend, Eric, died several weeks ago from pancreatic cancer. In less than a year, he went from enjoying life with his grandchildren to excruciating pain and death. I have another friend who contracted COVID-19 before the vaccines were available. She’s in her forties. She had a stroke, heart problems, and had to have eye surgery. I’m concerned that she could end up blind. It is unlikely that she will ever work again. I have another dear friend, Tammy, who also contracted COVID. She was a spry, outgoing psychiatric nurse, that is until COVID left her incapacitated. She’s now on permanent disability. I could go on and on. Like it or not, suffering is part of our lives. Few people will escape this life without suffering at one point or another. It’s just the way it is.

Oh, did I tell you about the rash I have; that is so itchy I want to get out a butter knife and scratch myself to death? True story . . . years ago, Polly came home from work and found me in the middle of the floor, scratching my arms and legs with a butter knife. I had had a painful gallbladder attack that caused me to break out in hives. Thank the Gods for butter knives. And Benadryl. And corticosteroids.

I do have one bit of good news: I am retaking generic Lyrica. It is quite effective for the nerve pain in my legs. In fact, I now have NO nerve pain in my legs. In the past, taking Lyrica has caused weight gain, so much so that I had to stop taking the drug (twice). Gastroparesis has dramatically altered my physiology. I thought maybe my body would react differently to Lyrica this time. So far, no weight gain. Can I get an AMEN? And for that, I am grateful. Grateful to whom? Not God, that’s for sure. Loki? Maybe. 🙂 It is science that courses through my veins, lessening the pain in my legs. All praise be to science, the only God that makes its presence known.

Thank you for your continued love and support. Your kind words mean the world to me.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

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

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Bruce, You Must be Feeling Better

pain looks good on other people

Yesterday, long-time reader and friend, Charles, complimented me on some of my recent writing, saying:

The several articles you put up today are very timely—-news wise—–and they are some of your best work.

I always appreciate such comments. I have never been a good judge of the quality of my work, so kind, thoughtful comments are always appreciated.

What I want to address in this short post is what else Charles said. Let me be clear, I am NOT taking Charles to task for saying this. I love and appreciate Charles, but there’s a teachable moment here that I think readers might find helpful.

Before complimenting me, Charles said:

You must be feeling better Bruce.

As countless readers, friends, and family members do, Charles sees a connection between “good” writing and how I feel physically. If my writing is perceived as “good,” then I must be feeling better. However, as my editor and my wife can tell you, some of my best work was written on days when I was quite sick, even suicidal.

I no longer have good days. I have no prospect of feeling better. The health problems I struggle with aren’t going away, and, quite frankly, they aren’t, on most days, very well managed. Writing, then, becomes a distraction of sorts, a way to take my mind off my pain and suffering. As I sit here typing this post, my body pulses with pain — and that’s after taking this or that medication. What writing does is direct my mind away from the spectacle of my life. Writing can be, for me anyway, a pain reliever of sorts. Think of it this way: your foot is throbbing with pain. You pick up a hammer and hit your hand. Problem solved. Your foot doesn’t seem so painful. This is exactly what writing does for me; a distraction that, for the time I am clicking away on my IBM keyboard, mentally reduces my pain.

Two weeks ago, I had a procedure done to temporarily lessen or stop the pain I have from gastroparesis. Unfortunately, it did not work. What treatments are left for me? Just do a Google search on “treatments for gastroparesis.” Doing so left me in despair. I have concluded that I must find a way to live with this, or not. Today, I chose to eat lunch, knowing that it would leave me feeling like I had been slugged in the abdomen. I don’t plan to give readers a running commentary on my difficulties. I just don’t have the wherewithal to do so anymore. Know that when you don’t see me post for a few days, it is for one reason alone: I can’t. And when I do post, it’s not because I “feel better,” but I do feel well enough to drag my sorry ass from the couch to the office, turn on Spotify, and write a few words that I hope readers will find helpful.

I know readers such as Charles genuinely want what’s best for me. They want me to feel better or find relief from my pain. I make no judgment on the well-meaning words of others. It beats being told by an Evangelical critic that he hopes I die and burn in Hell for eternity.

There are no more “feeling better” days ahead for me. I have resigned myself to that fact. Unless a revolutionary cure or miraculous healing comes my way, I know what lies ahead for me. And that’s okay. Not really, but hell, what am I going to do about it? Pray? Seek out a faith healer?

When you see another post by me, I hope you will say, “awesome, Bruce, is among the living!” And when the day comes when I can no longer write, please know, I will be forever grateful for your love and support.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

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

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Living with Fibromyalgia

fibromyalgia 2

I thought I would share with my readers a bit about living with fibromyalgia. In 1995, I started feeling fatigued and had a lot of muscle aches and pains — not from overwork or any of the daily physical activities I engaged in. I just felt tired all the time, and my body ached from head to toe. After months of feeling this away, I sought help from doctors; a two-year exercise in frustration and futility. One doctor suggested that it was all in my head; that I was still grieving for my mother who died in 1991. I blew up at this “esteemed” physician, shouting at him in no uncertain terms, IT’S NOT IN MY HEAD!

I was a thirty-five-year-old pastor who, up until that time, could physically do whatever he wanted to do; from playing sports to cutting wood to car repairs to construction work. Why was I fatigued? Why did I hurt all the time? Those are the questions I wanted answered.

In 1997, I saw a new doctor in Montpelier, Ohio. For the first time, I had a physician who actually listened to me. Twenty-five years later, this man is still my primary care doctor, and most all, my friend. Doc wasn’t a miracle worker. He found my symptoms troubling, yet tests came back normal. Of course, the reason for this is that fibromyalgia is a diagnosis of exclusion. Other diseases such as multiple sclerosis and polymyalgia must be ruled out before a doctor can determine whether a patient has fibromyalgia.

For several years, I sponsored and moderated a Christian email discussion list called CHARIS (the Greek word for grace). One of the list participants was a sickly man who was an invalid. After mentioning my health problems to list members, this man contacted me and suggested that I talk to my doctor about fibromyalgia. This “providential” conversation resulted in my doctor diagnosing me with fibromyalgia. Nothing changed for me, per se. Just because you have a diagnosis doesn’t mean that all of a sudden you are on the path to healing. What the diagnosis did say to me is that my pain was not in my head; that what I was dealing with was real.

There’s no cure for fibromyalgia. Symptoms vary widely, and most fibromyalgia sufferers are women. Twenty or so years ago, I drove to the Williams County Fairgrounds to attend a fibromyalgia support group. I felt, at the time, very alone. Few people seemed to understand what I was going through. Even my family was perplexed. What happened to Bruce, to Dad?

I arrived at the support group meeting thirty minutes early. Typical Bruce Gerencser behavior — always early. My children (and Polly) have oh-so-fond memories about my lectures on being on time; that you should always be early. As I sat in the fairground parking lot, I watched as people filed into the meeting. I quickly noticed that there were NO men, I mean none. Every group member was a woman. I thought, “these women will never understand what I am going through.” So, I decided to not attend the meeting and drove home. Years later, I started blogging, and my readers became my support group. I learned that woman with fibromyalgia did, in fact, have a lot to offer me, namely understanding.

No two fibromyalgia sufferers have the same symptoms. On a scale of 1-10, I am on the 10 side of the spectrum. Fibromyalgia has affected every aspect of my life, bit by bit robbing me of the man I once was. People in my life have a hard time accepting that fibromyalgia is an incurable disease; that all that can be done is to manage the symptoms. And yes, I have read the books that suggest otherwise. Just don’t . . . whatever book title you are going to suggest or website you think will really help me, trust me, I know about it. Twenty-five years of dealing with fibromyalgia have helped make me an expert on the disease. I have read numerous books, websites, and studies about fibromyalgia. I have had to deal with well-meaning fools who email me or send me stuff in the mail they believe will cure me. Even when I beg people NOT to do this, they do it anyway. “Just take this or that supplement, Bruce, and your fibromyalgia will go away!” “Have you tried __________?” The ill-informed judgment is that I have not, when, in fact, my primary care doctor and I have tried numerous medications, supplements, off-label drugs, treatments, etc. When I came into the office and said, “Doc, I read about this new fibromyalgia treatment, what do you think?” he always said, “let’s give it a try.” His goal today remains what it was twenty-five years ago: reduce my pain and improve the quality of my life.

Over the years, I developed other health problems, namely osteoarthritis that rages through my body like a wildfire, and peripheral neuropathy that causes numbness and pain in my legs and feet. The unholy trinity of fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, and neuropathy have so afflicted me that I hurt from the crown of my head to the bottom of my feet. There are no pain-free days, just manageable pain days, and raging pain days that make me ponder killing myself (no this is not a cry for help). Throw in a degenerative lower back problem, a tear in my shoulder labrum, and bum knees thanks to abusing them playing basketball for twenty years, and I can safely say that I am a walking, talking train wreck of a man. I wish things were different for me, but all the wishing in the world won’t cure me. So, I accept and embrace what I call my “new normal.” And my “new normal” continues to change over time. I know Doc sees it. There are those times I have heard a brief sigh from Doc as I share a new problem. Not a sigh of exasperation or impatience, but one that says he knows that I am struggling for my life. I have told him numerous times, “I don’t expect you to fix what can’t be fixed.” “All I ask is that you do what you can for me.” And he has done just that over the past two and a half decades.

My treatment has settled into a rhythm of sorts: pain medications, potent muscle relaxers, sleep medications, light aerobic exercises and walking when I am able, and hot — and I mean hot — baths. The goal is decent sleep and the reduction of my pain to a tolerable level. Some days, it’s mission accomplished. Other days, not so much. And then there are those days when the meds don’t seem to work and muscle and joint pain batter me from head to toe for hours on end. The latter leave me in tears, wishing something, anything would make it stop. In these moments, I feel very alone, even though the love of my life is right next to me.

I am sixty-three-years-old. Thanks to the issues mentioned in this post and other health problems I won’t mention lest I sound like Granny Sue at church cataloging her afflictions, what I can do in life is limited. For years, my well-intentioned mother-in-law would ask Polly if I was “feeling better,” as if I had a temporary sickness that would soon disappear. She finally understands that I don’t have days when I “feel better.” Mom used to be a big proponent of “putting mind over matter.” That is until she had her own health problems; diseases that can’t be magically wished or prayed away.

Most days, I walk with a cane, but when we take trips or I am really fatigued, I have to use a wheelchair. I still refuse to use the motorized carts at the grocery. Irrational pride, to be sure, but I would rather slowly go through the store bent over the handle of a cart than ride around the store as an advertisement for infirmity. You see, people with fibromyalgia (and osteoarthritis) often look “normal.” I can’t tell you the times I’ve gotten glares when we pull into a handicapped parking space. I get out of the car and look “normal” so people think I am taking a parking space away from someone who could really use it.

I still struggle with self-worth as a result of fibromyalgia. In my mind, I am supposed to be the breadwinner instead of my wife. I am the one who is supposed to be taking care of everything. Having OCPD doesn’t help either. Fibromyalgia is a cruel oppressor. In my mind, I tell myself, “Bruce, you can do everything and anything you want to do!” Remember the line from the Waterboy? “You can do it!” And then I hear fibromyalgia and his sister osteoarthritis laughing and mocking me. “Sure, Bruce, go ahead and try.” And try I do, often working myself into bed for days on end from relentless pain and overwhelming fatigue. Fibromyalgia snickers and says, “See, Bruce, I told you! I am the boss in this story.”

One of the hardest things I have had to come to terms with is my physical and emotional limitations. When you spend most of your life as a workaholic, a man driven to perfection, it’s hard to admit that you are no longer in control of your storyline. I certainly haven’t mastered dealing with the realities of my life. I can, all too often, overwork, and this frustrates those who love me. I have never been good at finding balance in my life. I am more of an all-in kind of person, charging hell with a squirt gun, only to find out there’s no water in the gun. I want to think I have gotten better, but I suspect what’s really changed is that Polly is now willing to put her foot down and tell me no or suggest that I take off a day or two or four and rest. I also have friends such as Carolyn, my editor, who recognize my character flaws and try to keep me from self-destructive behavior. Carolyn can recount many times that I texted to tell her that I was going to go do this or that. She wisely encourages me to take it easy; to live for another day. And sometimes Carolyn sends see several smile emojis with a message that says, “you are going to do this anyway, aren’t you?” And sure enough, I do, and the next text she gets from me is one saying I won’t be doing any writing for a few days.

I haven’t worked a W-2 job since 2005. In recent years, I have done some web design and site management work for my sister’s trade school in Arizona. This provides me a bit of income, even though I feel guilty about taking her money. This blog, after expenses, also provides me a thousand or two dollars of income. And now that I am drawing social security, I feel as if I am contributing in some small way to our material well-being. That said, I can’t help but think when I see my wife of forty-two years walk out the door to go to work that I should be the one, pick in hand, heading for the coal mine.

This is the first comprehensive post I have written about my struggles with fibromyalgia. I hope you found it helpful, and it gave you a bit of knowledge and understanding about a disease that affects millions of people.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

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

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Bruce Gerencser