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Tag: Chronic Illness

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 contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

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

Giving In When It’s The Only Thing You Can Do

If you are a sports fan, you have likely heard the late Jim Valvano’s speech at the 1993 Espy Awards. Valvano had terminal cancer. He died six weeks after giving his speech at the Espy’s. Valvano started The V Foundation for Cancer Research. Its motto is “Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.” The idea behind this motto is that life is always to be valued above death, that we must keep fighting until the very end, that we must never give in or give up. This sort of thinking is on prominent display on social media and in countless books; a sentiment I can’t embrace.

Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America, had this to say about the positive thinking culture that permeates our society:

In other words, it [positive thinking] requires deliberate self-deception, including a constant effort to repress or block out unpleasant possibilities and ‘negative’ thoughts. The truly self-confident, or those who have in some way made their peace with the world and their destiny within it, do not need to expend effort censoring or otherwise controlling their thoughts.

Speaking of having breast cancer, Ehrenreich wrote:

Breast cancer, I can now report, did not make me prettier or stronger, more feminine or spiritual. What it gave me, if you want to call this a “gift,” was a very personal, agonizing encounter with an ideological force in American culture that I had not been aware of before—one that encourages us to deny reality, submit cheerfully to misfortune, and blame only ourselves for our fate.

Read your local newspaper’s obituaries, and you will find references to the dead battling, fighting, and persevering to the end. We know differently. Most people die with a whimper; the life sucked out of them by the diseases that afflict the human race.

I am dying. Maybe not today or tomorrow, but I am nearing the end of my life. Well-wishers tell me to keep fighting. Preachers of positive thinking tell me that I need to think good thoughts. It seems that people want me to deny reality and construct a false narrative, one of rainbows, puppy dogs, and happiness. People mean well, but as I become sicker, I find their cheerful, syrupy words unhelpful. In fact, I often find their words irritating and depressing. I find myself thinking, “can’t you see me?” Perhaps they can’t bear the thought of me dying. They can’t imagine their world without me. And so, the mass delusion continues.

Even if I were a healthy sixty-four, I am still nearing the time when I join Toto over the rainbow. If I lived to be 70, my life is 91% over; if I live to 80, 80% of my life is in the rearview mirror. I am not, however, healthy, and I never will be. I see no magical treatment on the horizon, no drug that cures me of what ails me. All my doctors can do is treat my symptoms and try to reduce my pain. Yesterday, I saw my primary care doctor. I had an EKG, a chest X-ray, and blood work. I will likely have a CT scan soon.

Four months ago, I started having pain in my left side. Typically, when I have such pains, I think “fibromyalgia.” However, such pains typically ebb and flow. This excruciating pain has, instead, spread to the middle of my back and under my arm. I spend most of my waking hours on the couch, trying to lie just right to lessen the pain. Pain medications are not effective with this pain, so I endure.

As you may know, I was diagnosed with gastroparesis — an incurable disease — earlier this year. I have lost 115 pounds, have little appetite, and frequent bouts of vomiting. I take medications that “help” to some degree with the symptoms, but there’s no cure for gastroparesis, so this is my life.

And then there’s Uncle Arthur — osteoarthritis. The X-rays I had done yesterday showed more arthritis in the spine. I am beginning to wonder if it would be simpler to list the places where I DON’T have arthritis.

I write this post, not to solicit sympathy, but to make a point about why it is okay to give in when it is all you can do. A week or so ago, we went to Whole Foods in Toledo. As I haltingly walked in the door, I veered to the left, away from Polly to the motorized carts. Polly watched as I stood there for what seemed the longest time. She came over to me and asked, “what are you doing?” I replied, “I am thinking about using a cart.” You see, I have never used a motorized cart or my wheelchair in a store. Whether due to pride or some sort of warrior complex, I refuse to use a cart.

I know that the no-cart/no-wheelchair days are over. No amount of positive mental thinking will change the fact that my body is broken beyond repair. IF I want to go to the store with Polly, I must use a cart. The battle, then, is psychological, not physical. I must embrace life as it is. I must be willing to give in.

I choose to embrace my life as it is, not how I might want it to be or how others want it to be. I choose to be a realist and a pragmatist. Bruce, this post is so damn depressing. Yep, and so is life. All I know to do is accept what comes my way. Unlike Jim Valvano, I have come to see that it is okay to give in; that I am not weak or a failure if I do so. In the end, Valvano and I will end up in the same place.

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 contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

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

I’m Tired . . .

My vision is increasingly blurred. Short distances, long distances, it matters not. I stopped wearing my glasses months ago. I’ve been to the eye doctor twice in the past month. She’s been my doctor for years. Yet, she doesn’t understand my health problems. This is the doctor who showed how clueless she was when she told me that the “cure” for fibromyalgia is removing my amalgam (mercury) fillings. Her source? Her aunt, who had fibromyalgia, was miraculously cured after having her amalgam fillings replaced with resin fillings.

On my first visit last month, I told her that I was recently diagnosed with gastroparesis — an incurable disease. She had the same level of understanding about this disease as she did fibromyalgia. No big deal. She not a medical doctor, a neurologist, or a gastroenterologist. It would be nice if she educated herself on gastroparesis and fibromyalgia, but she’s busy, and these diseases aren’t health problems she typically deals with. However, when attempting to explain why I’m having blurry vision and my prescription has dramatically changed, she suggested that these things could be caused by, you guessed it, the gastroparesis and fibromyalgia she knows nothing about.

What astounded me most was when she told me that she hoped I got better soon. I am used to such well-wishing by non-medical professionals. People feel the need to say “something,” so they send good thoughts my way or tell me they hope I will be better soon. However, when I’m paying doctors good money to provide me competent, educated care, I expect honesty, not meaningless well-wishing.

I’m sick, I’m tired, and I’m tired of being sick and tired.

I love Polly.

I love my six children and their spouses.

I love my thirteen grandchildren.

I love my friends.

I love watching the birds at our feeders.

I love watching wildlife stop by at night, eating whatever food scraps we have put out for them.

I love watching the feral cats frequent our yard, eating the food we put in the “cat” house for them.

I love writing for this blog.

I’ve even grown to love some of you.

Yet, no matter how much I love others and want to live another day for their sake, I’m increasingly tired. There’s no hope of better days — just better bad days. A good day is one when I don’t throw up.

Every day, and I mean EVERY day, is a struggle. The pain, nausea, and debility, never go away. There’s no “better” tomorrow for me. No miraculous healing forthcoming. I’m a pragmatist, a realist. I see things as they are, not as I wish them to be. Maybe I’ll live a year or two or even ten years. Maybe not. Maybe I will die of “natural” causes or maybe I will die by my own hand. Or maybe, I will trip over the damn cat and break my neck on the way to bathroom.

Love is what sustains me. Today, that is enough.

But, I’m tired . . .

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 contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

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

Retired Pastor? How Does THAT Happen?

Bruce Gerencser, April 2021

Several years ago, I saw my primary care doctor for a two-month check-up. I have been seeing the same doctor for twenty-five. We’ve become friends, and my appointments are often just as much catching up as they are treating me. My doctor is an Evangelical Christian. While I am sure he has noticed that I don’t talk about God/Jesus/Church anymore, we have never had any sort of discussion about my current beliefs and way of life. We are Facebook friends, so he’s read that I self-describe as an atheist.

For this visit:  scripts were written/called in, CT scan scheduled, blood tests ordered, bitching about how bad the Browns/Bengals are, time to go home. The nurse — also an Evangelical — came into the room with several reams of paper (or so it seems) detailing everything we talked about during my visit. My doctor said to his nurse, Bruce, is a retired pastor. Before I could say a word, the nurse said, Retired pastor? How does THAT happen? Again, before I could say anything, my doctor said, He’s a retired pastor. (This nurse was a fill-in. I have not seen her since.)

I outwardly smiled, and much like Trump changing the discussion from “pussy-grabbing” to Bill Clinton’s dalliances, I said, how many games do you think the Browns will win? My doctor shook his head and laughed, knowing that his Browns suck (and my Bengals weren’t much better).

For whatever reason, when it comes to my medical treatment, I wall myself off from my atheist and humanist beliefs. I don’t disown them, I just don’t talk about them. I do, from time to time, act like a devout, proselytizing Jehovah’s Witness, leaving copies of the Freedom From Religion Foundation or Americans United For Separation of Church and State newsletters in the waiting room. Even with this low-key act of godlessness, I make sure my name and address are blacked out before placing the newsletters among waiting room reading materials.

What did the nurse mean when she said, Retired Pastor? how does THAT happen? Evangelical thinking on this subject goes something like this:

  • God calls men to be pastors.
  • The work of the ministry is far above any other job. In fact, it is not a job, it’s a calling.
  • This calling is irrevocable. For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance. (Romans 11:29)
  • Pastors should die in the pulpit while preaching the gospel. Going to Heaven with my boots on, old-time preachers used to say.

Thus, being a retired pastor does not compute. God saved and called me, so I should still be preaching. But wait a minute. I am no longer a Christian. I don’t believe in the existence of the God I at one time worshiped and served. My salvation and calling were the results of social conditioning, the consequence of spending fifty years in the Evangelical church. At age five I told my mother that I wanted to be a preacher someday. At age fifteen, I put my faith and trust in Jesus Christ. Two weeks later, I went before the church and told them I believed God was calling me to be a preacher. The congregation praised God for his selection of the redheaded Gerencser boy, and a week later I preached my first sermon. Thirty-three years later I preached my last sermon.

Someday, my obituary will be published in the Bryan Times and Defiance Crescent-News. On that day, my doctor will know the “truth” about my life and loss of faith. Until then, I am content to talk about football, baseball, or family, leaving my godlessness for another day. While I don’t think the fact of my atheism would affect my medical care, I prefer not to complicate my professional relationship and friendship with my doctor. If I Iive longer than expected — which is increasingly doubtful — and my doctor retires before I die, perhaps then we will talk about my journey from Evangelicalism to atheism. Or maybe he’ll stumble upon my blog or read one of the articles I have written for other blogs. I don’t fear him knowing. I just know there’s not enough time in a fifteen-minute office visit for me to explain why I am no longer a Christian.

Do you have certain people you haven’t shared your deconversion with? Why do you keep this to yourself? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

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 contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

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

Short Stories: A Man and His Wife

polly gerencser 2013
Polly Gerencser, 35th Wedding Anniversary, 2013

Repost from July 2013, edited and corrected

It is a warm summer day in Manistee, Michigan. A man and his wife of thirty-five years get out of their black Ford Fusion to view Lake Michigan. They love the water, and if their life’s journey had taken them on another path, perhaps they would live in a cottage on the shore of one of the Great Lakes or in a small fishing village on the Atlantic coast.

But as fate would have it, Ohio has been their home for most of their marriage. No matter where they moved, be it Texas, Michigan, or Arizona, they always came back, like the proverbial bad penny, to Ohio.

For the past six years they have lived in rural northwest Ohio, in a small community with one stoplight, two bars, two churches, a grain elevator, gas station and 345 people. They live in a town where nothing happens, and the safety and stillness that “nothing” affords is fine by them.

They have made their peace with Ohio. After all, it is where their children and grandchildren live. This is home, and it is here that they will die some moment beyond their next breath.

But from time to time, the desire to dip their feet in a vast expanse of water, to hear the waves crashing on a shore and to walk barefooted on the beach calls out to them, and off they go.

They can no longer travel great distances; four to six hours away is the limit.  The man’s body is used up and broken, most days he needs a cane and some days a wheelchair to get from point to point. Long trips in the car extract a painful price from his body, a toll that is paid weeks after they have returned home.

But today, the water calls, and on a warm July day they travel to South Haven, Michigan and then up the eastern shore of Lake Michigan to Manistee. Their travels will later take them to Sault Ste Marie before they return home to Ohio.

Few people are at the Manistee beach, so unlike South Haven, where the beaches and streets are filled with pushy, bustling, impatient tourists. The man and his wife have been to South Haven many times, but as they see the scarcity of people and the quietness of Manistee they say, I think we have found a new place to stay when we vacation.

plovers manistee michigan 2013

The beach is owned by thousands of Plovers. It is an amazing sight to behold. The man and his wife are mesmerized by the birds, and the man, ever possessed of his camera, begins to take pictures.

Soon the serenity of the place is ruined by a stupid boy who sees the birds as worthy of his scorn and derision. The birds are covering the landscape of HIS beach, and he will have none of that. So he runs through the mass of birds screaming and waving his arms. This put the birds into flight, complaining loudly about the stupid boy.

The man and his wife turn their attention to the pier and lighthouse in the distance. She asks, Do you think you can make it? He replies, Sure. So off they go.

As they begin their slow, faltering stroll on the pier, they notice a sign that says, No Jumping or Swimming off the Pier. The man smiles quietly to himself as he sees four teenage boys doing what the sign prohibits.  He remembers long ago when he, too, would have looked at the sign and proceeded to do exactly what the sign prohibited. He thinks, the folly, wonder, and joy of youth.

As the man and his wife pass the boys in the water, one of them calls out and says, How are you today, sir? The man thought, Sir? Am I really that old?  He knows the answer to the question before he asks. For a few moments the man talks with the boys, then haltingly continues to walk down the pier with his wife.

Not far from the boys, the man, and his wife come upon a pair of ducks: a male, his female, and their brood of ten young ducklings. New life. The man wonders: How many of the ducklings will survive their youth? He knows the answer and this troubles him a bit. A reminder, that, for all its beauty, life is harsh, filled with pain, suffering, and death.

The man and his wife turn back to where the boys are swimming. The man thinks, as he looks at the shallow water with its rock-filled bottom, this is a dangerous place to be diving into the water.

But the boys are oblivious to the danger. The man’s mind races back to the days of his youth, remembering a time when he too lived without fear, enjoying the freedom of living in the moment.

One of the boys climbs back up on the pier and prepares to jump into the water. The man, a hundred feet or so from the boy, points his camera toward him. The man quickly adjusts the shutter speed, focuses the lens, and begins to shoot.

boy manistee michigan 2013 (2)
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boy manistee michigan 2013 (1)

The man and his wife laugh as they watch the boy. Collectively, their minds wander back to a hot summer day in July when they joined their hands together and said, I do. Thirty-five years ago, they embraced one another and jumped off into the rock-strewn water of life, and survived.

Together they turn to walk back to the car. As they pass the boys, the man shouts, I am going to make you famous. The boys laugh and continue on with the horseplay that dominates their day.

The boys will never know that their innocence, their sign-defying plunges off a pier in Manistee, Michigan, warmed the heart of the man and his wife.

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 contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

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

Bruce Gerencser