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Category: Health

Living with Gastroparesis

gastroparesis

Two years ago, I had my diseased, inflamed gallbladder removed. I had put off surgery for years, but my primary care doctor insisted I have it removed, fearing it could rupture at any moment. After my gallbladder was removed, the surgeon told me that my gallbladder was so large that he had to enlarge the incision to get it out. Not long after, I started having serious stomach and bowel problems. After spending several days in the hospital — a nightmare experience — Dr. Matt Cooley, a local gastroenterologist, determined I had gastroparesis. I had several endoscopies and colonoscopies to make sure that some other problem was causing my symptoms. These tests confirmed Dr. Cooley’s diagnosis.

Since then, I have lost 110 pounds, dropping ten inches in my waist and three shirt sizes. My weight loss has leveled off thanks to me (and my drill sergeant wife) forcing myself to eat. I rarely have to drink Ensure these days. I am nauseous every day, without exception. I wake up with nausea and endure it throughout the day and evening hours. As you might imagine, it is hard to eat when you are nauseous. At times, I have bouts of vomiting. Thanks to taking Zofran, a drug that is often given to chemotherapy patients, I have been able to largely control the vomiting. Yet, there are days when Zofran doesn’t work and I end up vomiting. I retch when I vomit. This causes all sorts of other problems thanks to the herniated discs in my back and neck. Not a fun experience.

Since being diagnosed with gastroparesis, I have had to deal with several physiological changes. I am now anemic. Two years of B-12, iron, and vitamin C supplementation have helped, but blood tests show I am still anemic. The biggest change was to my vision. I got my first pair of glasses fifty years ago. I was decidedly nearsighted, with dramatically different vision in each eye. Over the past eighteen months, I have been dealing with blurred vision and aching eyes. I first saw my optometrist. After numerous eye exams, it became clear to me that she was incompetent. I then saw an ophthalmologist. He quickly determined that my body was having a hard time adjusting my glucose levels due to me being diabetic. This was affecting my vision. This doctor determined that I am now farsighted. I have, for the most part, stopped wearing glasses. I have an appointment with a new ophthalmologist later this month. I am hoping my eyes have settled down enough that I can get a stable prescription for glasses.

Outside of the non-stop nausea, the biggest problems I have are bowel related. I take fiber supplements and oral fiber medications twice a day, yet I have bouts of horrific constipation. My general rule is that if I haven’t had a bowel movement in 48 hours, I give myself an enema to get things moving. I will also have bouts of loose stools, including diarrhea. There’s no rhyme or reason for my bowel problems. I closely monitor what foods I eat and how they affect my bowels, but I have yet to find any food or foods that make a difference. Typically, my bowels are sluggish, with food often taking 3-7 days to traverse my intestinal tract. I track the speed of elimination by eating certain foods that I know will show up in my stools.

One positive effect of having gastroparesis and losing 110 pounds is that my blood glucose levels have dropped thirty percent to around 5.5. A side effect of this is that I have an increasing problem with low blood sugar levels. I have had several instances where my levels dropped to fifty, near diabetic coma range.

On occasion, I am asked what “caused” my gastroparesis. Did having my gallbladder removed play a part? My gastroenterologist believes that my gastroparesis is diabetes related. Determining the “cause” doesn’t matter that much to me. The treatment is the same, regardless of the cause.

I had a procedure done early on where the doctor using an endoscope (under anesthesia) injected the muscle at the bottom of the stomach with botulism, hoping that this would paralyze and relax the muscle. The procedure did not work. There are other procedures that are experimental in nature that can be tried, but after reading the literature on these procedures and their risks/complications, I decided against having them. I have reached the “live with it” phase of my battle with gastroparesis. I know there might come a time that I might have to have a feeding tube put in (if I choose to do so), but so far I have been able to manage my symptoms with medications, diet, and cognitive behavior therapy. There’s no cure for gastroparesis, so the only thing I can do is figure out how to live with the disease.

Recently, a friend of mine asked me for tips on how to deal with gastroparesis. His wife was recently diagnosed with the disease. What follows are my suggestions. This should not be construed as medical advice, though, quite frankly I know more about the disease than some of the doctors I have interacted with since my diagnosis. Gastroparesis is a rare disease. Many doctors are not educated on the disease, which I can easily spot when I have a consult with them. Nothing worse than a medical professional trying to bluff their way through an appointment.

What is gastroparesis?

According to the NIH:

Gastroparesis, also called delayed gastric emptying, is a disorder that slows or stops the movement of food from your stomach to your small intestine. Normally, after you swallow food, the muscles in the wall of your stomach grind the food into smaller pieces and push them into your small intestine to continue digestion. When you have gastroparesis, your stomach muscles work poorly or not at all, and your stomach takes too long to empty its contents. Gastroparesis can delay digestion, which can lead to various symptoms and complications.

How common is gastroparesis? According to NIH, gastroparesis is not common. Out of 100,000 people, about 10 men and about 40 women have gastroparesis.

It is essential to have competent medical care. Don’t be afraid to seek out a new doctor, one that has a working knowledge of gastroparesis. Doctors cannot be all things to all people, and their knowledge in one area doesn’t mean they are knowledgeable in another. At a bare minimum, you need to have a gastroenterologist on your medical team. Over time, you might find that your primary care doctor can handle your ongoing care and prescription refills. Don’t be afraid to change doctors, if necessary. Your care comes first.

There are various medications that are used in the treatment of gastroparesis. I tried several medications before landing on a regimen that works for me. Your mileage may vary. Untreated nausea will wreck your life, so don’t be afraid to ask for drugs such as Zofran, Phenergan, or Reglan. I have taken all three. Zofran works the best for me. You will likely have to use these drugs for the rest of your life.

Food. Before being diagnosed with gastroparesis, I rarely thought about the food I ate. Having gastroparesis forces me to think about food all the time. How will eating ________ affect me? I am nauseous every waking hour, so my goal is to make sure that I am getting sufficient nutrition. On days when I simply cannot bear to eat, I try to drink two Ensure drinks per day. This is not a long-term answer. Two shakes = 700 calories. This will help short-term, but the typical person needs about 1,200-1,600 calories per day. You might need to take supplements, but don’t do so without having your blood levels checked. Taking too much of a vitamin or mineral can cause you problems. Have your doctor do baseline tests to determine your blood levels. Once you have these numbers in hand, your doctor can then prescribe the proper supplements. I take B-12, iron, vitamin C (to increase Iron absorption), and potassium. I have my blood levels checked several times a year to make sure the supplements are doing their job.

Only eat what you can. You might have to push yourself on some days to eat, but don’t feel guilty if you can’t eat all of the scrumptious meal your spouse made especially for you. There are days when I can only eat 25-50 percent of the food Polly puts on my plate. There are days when I will take one or two bites and I am done. I encourage Polly not to take this personally. This is truly one of those “honey, it is me, not you.” I used to feel guilty over this, but my counselor has helped me to understand that this is not my fault. It still upsets me when we go out to a nice restaurant on a date, only for me to leave most of the food on my plate. Ugh, but there’s nothing I can do about it. The psychological price of not going out with Polly is much higher than the cost of food not eaten. Change what you can, and live with the rest. It’s not your fault.

Do whatever you need to do to maintain regular bowel habits. This, by far, is the most frustrating and challenging problem for me. If you are having problems with constipation, take fiber supplements. Don’t be afraid to up the dose until you have a normal “shit.” You might have to take fiber supplements for the rest of your life. I use psyllium husk powder twice a day. I hate drinking this stuff. Sometimes I gag, but I know if I don’t drink it, I will be constipated for sure. I also take a stool softener and laxative twice a day. All these things taken together give me tolerable bowel movements — most of the time. And when they don’t cause a bowel movement, I use enemas, either pre-filled Fleet bottles or a bulb syringe. During times of diarrhea, I stop taking fiber supplementation. Over time, you will learn how you read your body. You will become an expert in “shitting.”

Having gastroparesis will wear on you psychologically. It’s a disease you can’t get away from. It’s an ever-present reality in your life. It is not uncommon for gastroparesis sufferers to battle depression. It’s important that you seek out a competent secular counselor who has experience in helping people with serious health problems. I see a psychologist weekly. She is literally a lifesaver. Her first question every week is “how are you feeling?” She doesn’t let me get by with saying “I’m fine,” “super-dooper,” or “present and accounted for” — my typical responses. She presses me for all the gory details of my past week.

While there are gastroparesis groups on the Internet you might find helpful, be careful. As with all such groups, you will find a lot of woo and bad advice. I found this to be true with both gastroparesis and fibromyalgia groups. People mean well, but consider the source. Educate yourself about gastroparesis. Check out well-regarded medical sites. Read the scientific studies. Your goal is to know everything your doctor knows, and then some. Ask questions. Talk to fellow sufferers. None of this will “cure” you, but knowledge is power.

If I can ever be of help, please let me know. I am not a doctor, but I do know “stuff.” And as someone who has an intimate relationship with gastroparesis, I understand what you are going through. I want to help you in any way I can.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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.

Connect with me on social media:

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.

Humor: How You Know You Have Gastroparesis — Part Two

gastroparesis

Humor: How You Know You Have Gastroparesis β€” Part One

Warning! This post talks about bodily functions, especially vomiting and shitting.

Two years ago, I was diagnosed with an incurable, debilitating stomach disease called gastroparesis. As a result, I have lost 110 pounds. Constant nausea, lack of appetite, fits of vomiting, erratic glucose levels (mine dropped by 30 percent, changing my vision from nearsighted to farsighted), and chronic bowel problems are a few of the common symptoms. (Many gastroparesis sufferers end up on feeding tubes.) Bowel movements are often life’s greatest adventures. Will today be the day I shit? Gawd, that was the mother of all turds. Diarrhea? Really? I was constipated yesterday. Bowel movements every day for a week, and then no bowel movements for days. Gastroparesis, also called stomach paralysis, slows the movement of food from your stomach through your intestinal tract. Sometimes, food takes 4-7 days to make it through my system. My problems are further complicated by the fact that I also had my gall bladder removed several years ago.

I am nauseated all the time. There’s not a day when I am not nauseated. The nausea is such that there are days when I don’t want to eat. Polly is a superb cook. She will whip up awesome meals, only to have me say “I can’t eat” or after eating a bite or two I say, “I’m done. I can’t eat anymore of this.” Typically, I apologize to Polly for my lack of appetite, for making her “feel” like she’s to blame for my lack of appetite. I remind her, “it’s me, not you.” We will go out to eat at an upscale restaurant, only to have me not be able to eat my meal. Or worse yet, I will eat a $20 to $50 meal only to rush to restroom and throw up. There’s nothing worse than throwing up in a “pristine” public restroom. I mean nothing . . .

Late last night, I became increasingly nauseated. I’ve become good at judging my nausea, whether I can just tough it out or whether I will end up face down in the toilet. As my nausea became increasingly “challenging,” I took 4 mg of Zofran — a drug given to chemotherapy patients to combat nausea. Zofran is a quick-acting sublingual drug. Typically, Zofran lessens my nausea in 5-10 minutes. Not this time. I decided to take 4 mg more of Zofran. “Surely, this will tamp down my ‘nausea’ to tolerable levels,” I thought to myself. Unfortunately, my nausea only got worse. Soon, I knew it was time to head to the bathroom.

As I haltingly shuffled to the bathroom, I put my left hand over my mouth, hoping to quell the gag reflex that was telling me to vomit right then and there. I made it to the bathroom without incident, knelt down, and violently vomited. And I mean “violently.” After ten or so minutes, I got up off the floor, washed out my mouth, and washed my face. I also had to wash my beard since it’s long enough that it drops into the toilet water when I am vomiting. Gastroparesis, a gift that keeps on giving.

I shuffled back to the living room, plopped down in the recliner, and started watching the Big Ten Men’s Basketball Conference Tournament again. (Ohio State lost. Damn you, God.) I had Bethany get me a glass of room temperature water, hoping to remove the taste of regurgitated food, stomach acid, and bile from my mouth and ward off the dehydration that was sure to come.

Typically, once I have vomited I do not vomit again. Unfortunately, on this Mother of Gastroparesis Day, I repeated my first bout of vomiting. Afterward, I checked my blood pressure. It was 180/100 and my pulse rate was a racing 120. People can and do have heart attacks or die from violent bouts of vomiting. I took 100 mg of Hydralazine to drive down my blood pressure. Worse, the muscles in my abdomen, chest, and back were screaming. The muscles in my abdomen were so stressed and inflamed they were protruding. I saw and felt numerous knots in my abdomen, the direct result of the toll the two bouts of vomiting took on my body. Today I feel as if Polly beat me with a baseball bat.

What I have shared above alone would be a top-of-the-charts day. This night, however, was only getting started. Earlier in the day, I had a bowel moment. Somewhat normal, not too much work. Yea! A couple of hours later, I had another bowel movement, and a while later yet another one. These shits were looser, but still within the normal range. (People with gastroparesis spend a lot of time thinking about eating and shitting.) In the early morning hours, things changed. I had two successive bowel movements that were watery, smelly, and oily. Not a good sign. Thinking things were somewhat under control, we headed for bed. It was 4:00 am. Polly had come home two hours early from work to care for me. I was weak and unstable. I rarely ask her to come home, but I needed her help.

Polly quickly fell asleep. Damn, I am so jealous. I would not fall asleep until 10:00 am, six hours later. Thanks to the herniated discs in my upper back, I have to lie on my right side, with my head propped up with four pillows. Typically, I put my iPad Pro on the nightstand on my side of the bed — 12 inches away. I put on my MPow Bluetooth headphones, turned on the Apple+ app, and started watching The Mosquito Coast series (which is nothing like the 1980s movie with the same name — one of my favorite movies). Two episodes in, I felt a sudden urge to use the bathroom. I stood up, and as I did, my bowels exploded. I shit all over the bed and floor. As I made my way to the bathroom — twenty feet away — I plopped shit on the carpet and on the bathroom floor. My backside and legs were covered with smelly oily shit. I sat down, said WHAT THE FUCK, and emptied my bowel. Or so I thought I was emptying my bowel, anyway. Once I was done, I reversed my steps, cleaning up the mess I made. Thirty minutes later, this happened all over again. Then, at 8:00 am, I would have the mother of all bowel explosions.

After my second mess and clean-up, I brought two bath towels to bed and put them on my side of the bed. Back to The Mosquito Coast. Around 8:00 am, I felt an overwhelming urge to shit. I mean right now, do not pass go, do not collect $200. I stood up and then it happened. I said NOOOOOO!, grabbed one of the bath towels and put it up to my ass, trying to stop the mess that was coming. I ended up with shit on the bed, floor, wall, curtain, nightstand, and iPad charging cable. along with shit on the dining room carpet, bathroom floor, and toilet. I later washed up my backside.

I finally fell asleep around 10:00 am, waking up at 4:00 pm. Polly came into the room and said she needed to strip the bed so everything could be washed, including our electric blanket. I am washing our bedding now. The oily shit permanently stained our padded bed cover. It now smells clean, but it sure looks like shit — literally. πŸ™‚

I asked Polly to take a look at my backside to make sure I was shit-free. She started laughing. River Shit had cut a course down the back of my right leg. In between my toes and on the bottom on my feet were covered with shit too. Polly said, “Buddy boy, you need a bath.” I replied, “ya think?” We both laughed, and off to the bathroom I went to take a steamy hot, bubble-filled bath.

My life is back to “normal” today. Outside of a stained bed cover and lots of abdominal muscle pain, all is well. Or as I tell my counselor when she asks how I am doing, “I’m fine, wonderful, awesome, super, present and accounted for.” πŸ™‚

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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.

Connect with me on social media:

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.

Why I Write About My Health

garfield pain

Occasionally, I write about my health problems and the struggles I have in my day-to-day life. Doing so, of course, will attract people who perversely revel in my pain and suffering or love telling me that my health problems are God’s judgment on my life, a precursor to the pain and suffering I will experience in the Lake of Fire after I die. Some commenters such as Tom/James/John/Joe go into graphic detail describing what God will one day do to the atheist named Bruce Gerencser. Yet, these same miscreants want me to join their Jesus Club and worship their God on Sundays. Even if God is real, and he’s not, I would never, ever worship such a deity. Such a God is a psychopath, as are some of his followers.

Most readers of this blog don’t have a problem with me writing about my health. I recognize that this site is not a blog about gastroparesis, fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, or hemorrhoids. People read my writing because they are interested in what I have to say about religion and politics, especially Evangelicalism and the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Church movement. For the record, I have mentioned fibromyalgia thirty-three times, gastroparesis eleven times, and osteoarthritis twenty-one times in my writing. My health problems are an insignificant part of my writing, yet according to one Evangelical preacher I won’t mention by name, mentioning these things more than once is unnecessary (and evidently irritates his hemorrhoids). Of course, I could say the same thing about his writing. He’s mentioned God/Jesus thousands of times in his writing. Surely, mentioning the Big Kahuna and his sidekick Jesus once is enough. πŸ™‚ Right?

There are several reasons I write about my health problems.

First, many readers want to know how I am doing.

Second, I am homebound. Due to declining motor functions and vision problems, I stopped driving in March 2020. I must now rely on Polly to chauffer me where I want to go. She works full-time, so there’s not a lot of time for me to be out and about. We go to the grocery and out to eat, but the rest of the time I am homebound. We do take short road trips occasionally, and when it gets warmer, I will wander out into our yard to do a bit of yard work, but most of my days are spent within the four walls of our two-story home.

Writing about my health problems and life in general allows me to connect with people outside of my claustrophobic world. The Internet allows me to maintain human connections with family, friends, and acquaintances, relationships that would have been impossible in a pre-Internet world.

Third, I want to be an advocate for people who suffer from the same diseases I do. I want them to know that I understand. Until you have actually had, say gastroparesis or Fibromyalgia, you can’t understand how these diseases affect humans. Much like reading the experiences of former Evangelicals, reading the stories of chronic pain and chronic illness sufferers resonates with people who are walking a similar path. When Polly, who has ulcerative colitis, had to have part of her colon and bladder removed three years ago and had a colostomy for eighteen months, she found it helpful to hear from readers of this blog who have had similar experiences. When Polly was diagnosed with A-fib, she appreciated talking to people who had A-fib too. There’s something comforting about knowing that you are not alone; that if others can make it to tomorrow, so can you. Don’t underestimate the power of a kind, thoughtful blog post, email, comment, or social media message. When you are suffering, sometimes, it’s the little things that often mean the most. Money helps too. πŸ™‚

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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.

Connect with me on social media:

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.

Humor: How You Know You Have Gastroparesis — Part One

gastroparesis

Also titled, “talking shit about shit.” πŸ™‚

Two years ago, I was diagnosed with an incurable, debilitating stomach disease called gastroparesis. As a result, I have lost 110 pounds. Constant nausea, lack of appetite, fits of vomiting, erratic glucose levels (mine dropped by 30 percent, changing my vision from nearsighted to farsighted), and chronic bowel problems are a few of the common symptoms. (Many gastroparesis sufferers end up on feeding tubes.) Bowel movements are often life’s greatest adventures. Will today be the day I shit? Gawd, that was the mother of all turds. Diarrhea? Really? I was constipated yesterday. Bowel movements every day for a week, and then no bowel movements for days. Gastroparesis, also called stomach paralysis, slows the movement of food from your stomach through your intestinal tract. Sometimes, food takes 4-7 days to make it through my system. My problems are further complicated by the fact that I also had my gall bladder removed several years ago.

As I typically do, after watching Around the Horn and Pardon the Interruption — two sports news programs — between the hours of 5:00 pm and 6:00 pm, I propped myself up on the couch so I could do some writing. Due to the herniated discs in my back and neck, I am no longer able to sit in my chair in the office and work, so the couch has become my new “office.”

I always hope that my bowels (or bladder) will leave me alone while I am writing. It’s no small feat for me to get situated on the couch to write, so I prefer not to move until I am done writing. Today would not be one of those days. All of a sudden, I had painful cramps, urgently calling me to the bathroom to make a delivery. I painfully got up from the couch, grabbed my cane, and shuffled off to the bathroom.

Before sitting down, I grabbed the latest issue of Orion Magazine that was sitting nearby. I always like to read something — anything, including the ingredients in the air spray — when I am taking care of business. My cramps suggested that I was fixing to give a massive offering to the porcelain god. Surely, I thought, this won’t take too much work. Boy, was I wrong! This day’s bowel movement took a lot of pushing, straining, and swearing (keep in mind that I take soluble fiber and bowel medication twice a day), causing increased pain in my upper back. Have painful herniated discs in your back and you will quickly learn how often you use your back for the basic daily functions of life.

After five minutes or so and one short Orion story, the deed was done. I turned around to look at what took so much effort, only to find a golf ball-sized turd. With nary a thought, I said out loud to the turd: that was a lot of work for that! πŸ™‚

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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.

Connect with me on social media:

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 Genesis of My Battle with Pain

garfield pain

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

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

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

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

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

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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.

Connect with me on social media:

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.

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. πŸ™‚ 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 β€œSuffering” 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

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Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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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.

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Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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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. πŸ™‚

Coming soon, my latest blockbuster book, Adventures in Shitting. πŸ™‚

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Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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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, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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.

Connect with me on social media:

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