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Tag: Chronic Illness

Have You Tried (blank)?

chronic illness

Because I am forthcoming about the health problems I have, well-meaning people often give me unsolicited medical advice. Sometimes, they don’t know what to say so have you tried ________________ becomes the secular version of I’ll pray for you. Other times, the person refuses to believe that what’s wrong with me can’t be fixed. Surely modern medicine, alternative practitioners, and witch doctors can fix anything, yes? Or so the thinking goes.

Many people have a simplistic view of health, sickness, and how the body works. They wrongly think that if I just eat right or takes this or that vitamin/supplement that every health problem I have will be cured. Some people think that doctors deliberately keep us sick so they can make money; that there is a grand conspiracy between doctors, hospitals, and pharmaceutical companies to keep people sick so they can profit from their sickness. According to people who think like this, I should see a herbalist, homeopath, reflexologist, acupuncturist, accupressurist, aromatherapist, chiropractor, or irridologist–anyone but a doctor. Armed with anecdotal, subjective stories about miraculous healing, they are certain if I would just get away from Western doctors that all would be well.

I am all for trying anything that is evidence-based and has a proven track record. What I’m not willing to do is waste my time on woo-woo (pseudoscience, quackery). Every week a family member, friend, or reader of this blog sends me an email with a link to a surefire cure for what ails me. They are certain, based on their superficial reading of an article, that if I will just try __________ I will be cured. Again, if there are peer-reviewed, double-blind-studied treatments that hold out the possibility of helping me, then I am all for  them. Sadly, most of the links sent to me are woo-woo.

When you’ve suffered for a long time and have to deal with unrelenting pain each and every day, it is easy to get upset when someone with good intentions says have you tried _______________. I try to be polite, realizing the person just wants me to be better, but the constant unsolicited medical advice does wear on me.  My health problems are very much a part of the fabric of my life and I think it is important for me to write about them, but I find I am less willing to do so because of the unsolicited medical advice that comes when I do.

I am well read on the subject of Fibromyalgia, auto-immune diseases, and arthritis. When I was first diagnosed with Fibromyalgia 17 years ago, I read every book about Fibromyalgia I could get my hands on. When new studies come out I read them and try to look at the methodology the study used to come to its conclusions. Many studies have come and gone, with most of them offering little hope to people with Fibromyalgia. While doctors and researchers continue to study the various diseases that afflict me, so far there are no cures.

Over the years, I’ve tried numerous drugs, supplements, and treatments, all to no avail (along with tens of thousands of dollars of tests). At this point in my life, I am satisfied that I have done all I can do. For someone like me, hope can be a cruel thing. Better to embrace life as it is than to constantly hope for that which will never happen. It’s unlikely that a new drug or a new treatment for Fibromyalgia will be found in my lifetime (and no, Lyrica is not a cure for Fibromyalgia). Researchers are a long way from definitively understanding what causes Fibromyalgia,  and even further away from coming up with a treatment for it. And even if a cure for Fibromyalgia is found, I would still be left to deal with arthritis, a disease that can be managed but not cured.

I appreciate every one of you who has supported me over the years. Your gentle encouragement and love mean the world to me. While doctors can do no more for me, your support  gives me strength and motivates me to get up in the morning (or early afternoon) and continue to write for this blog.  Thank you for making a real difference in my life.

Bruce

Note

Last night, Polly and I watched the first episode of The Daily Show with Trevor Noah. (It was awesome, BTW.) Comedian Kevin Hart was Noah’s guest. Noah asked Hart about his commitment to physical fitness and Hart told him that running was the most important part of his fitness regime. He then went on to say that he sees himself as an evangelist of all sorts for running.  Hart said, everyone can run!  I hollered, no, dumb shit, they can’t. I can’t run, nor can I walk long distances. I know I will never run again and I have no doubt that I will someday be wheelchair bound. As it is, I can walk or stand on my feet for, at most, an hour. When we go to the grocery, I must hold on to the cart so I can stand upright (it also keeps me from falling).  Fifteen to thirty minutes into our shopping, I will feel warm, stabbing pain in my upper thighs, face, and lower back. A few minutes later, these areas will burn and feel as your foot does  when it  falls asleep. Doctors theorize this has to do with my back and the numerous narrow disk spaces I have, especially in the lower back. So, run? Not a chance. I’m just happy to walk through Meijer without having to bend over the cart or sit down to relieve the pain.

One thing that would help is medical marijuana, but it is not legalized in Ohio.

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Why Are Some Evangelicals Obsessed With My Weight?

bruce gerencser 2015-002
Bruce Gerencser, 2015

Some Evangelicals who stumble upon this blog or find my page on Facebook take a look at my profile picture and, based on what they see, personally attack me by making derogatory comments about my weight or physical features. (see Did You Atheism Will Make You Fat?) Let me give you a good example of this. Several years ago, I received an email from a man named Bill Higgins. Higgins came to this blog via a Google search for “David Hyles Scandal.” His search gives away his religious preference; he is likely a Fundamentalist Baptist, the meanest and nastiest of the Christian species. Here’s what Higgins had to say:

I’m not that good of a Christian so I don’t mind saying this.

Why would you put a picture of you fat face on your website. I don’t respect fat people unless they have an excuse. I think you are just fat because you are lazy and spend to much time on your computer.

I don’t dare respond via email to people like Bill Higgins. To do so means I am giving a low-life like Higgins my email address and once I do that the emails never end.

I want to be clear about a few things. I know I am overweight, I am fat, obese, a lard-ass, whatever term people want to use for people like me. On most days, I am not ashamed of this fact. I don’t try to hide who I really am by using a picture of me taken 35 years ago. I am quite comfortable in my own skin, even if I have a lot more of it these days.

I wasn’t always overweight. When  I was 18 I was 6 foot tall and weighed 160 pounds. I played competitive sports all through school and continued to do so until I was in my early 30s. When Polly and I married in 1978 I weighed 180 pounds. After a few years of marriage, my weight reached 225 pounds and as long as I was physically active my weight stayed in the 225-250 pound range.

I have what people call a fire-plug build. My weight is pretty well-distributed from top to bottom. I don’t have a huge pot-gut like many men my size do. Ironically, because of my physical build, people often underestimate my weight. When I stopped playing competitive sports and started spending more time in the study, my weight began to climb. As I reached middle age, it became harder and harder to lose weight.

24 years ago, I came down with mononucleosis. My doctor treated me for months before he decided to do a mono test. By then, I was in big trouble and I ended up in the hospital. My liver and spleen were swollen, my tonsils and adenoids were white from the infection that was overrunning my body, and the internist told me there was nothing he could do for me. Unless my immune system kicked in and started fighting the infection, I would likely die. Well, it’s 2015, so it looks like I made it.

Mononucleosis in older adults is a serious matter. It can kill you. While I survived, the mono did a number on my body.  Mono left me with a severely compromised immune system and oddly it altered my  normal body temperature from 98.6  to 97.0. A few years later, I began to have widespread muscle and joint pain and I was fatigued all the time.  After a few years of seeing  specialists, they determined I have Fibromyalgia.  I was officially diagnosed with Fibromyalgia 18 years ago.

In 2006, I began to develop neurological problems; numbness in my thighs, face, arms and hands; loss of motor skills; memory problems. After tens of thousands of dollars of tests, several brain scans, MRI’s, CT scans,  and multiple specialists, it was determined that I have “we don’t know what the hell is wrong with you.”   While many of my symptoms point to multiple sclerosis, no doctor has been willing to say I have MS.

Last month, I wrote:

Earlier this week I saw the orthopedic doctor. He told me my body is like numerous wildfires. Put one out and others pop up. He gathered up my x-rays and MRI scans and we looked at them. He was quite blunt, telling me that I have arthritis in EVERY joint and that some of the damage is severe. Knees, shoulders, feet, hands, and back, all have arthritis that is causing joint damage. The why is unknown. Some days, the pain from the arthritis is severe, some days it is tolerable. Added to this is the muscle pain I have from Fibromyalgia. Every day is a pain day with some days worse than others. I haven’t had a pain-free day in almost twenty years.

We talked about options. He was quite frank with me, saying that because the arthritis is so pervasive that I was not a good candidate for surgery. Even with my knees and shoulders, scoping them could actually make things worse, resulting in more pain. I like this doctor because he doesn’t bullshit me. His advice? Live with it. Unless I want to have total joint replacements, surgeries that have a huge risk of complications for someone like me who has a compromised immune system, I must learn to live the pain, debility, and the ever so slow loss of function. All that he and other doctors can do for me is help manage the pain and try to improve my quality of life.

bruce 2015
Bruce Gerencser, 2015

Earlier this year I had an endoscopic ultrasound and a colonoscopy done in the hope that doctors could pinpoint why I have no appetite and why I am losing weight. (I’ve lost 50 pounds since Christmas 2014). While the weight loss has leveled off, I still have days where I have no appetite.  The tests found a lesion on my pancreas, and stones in my gallbladder. Good news? No cancer, though the lesion on my pancreas must be carefully monitored.

And then there’s my battle with skin cancer. Two months ago, I had a squamous cell carcinoma removed from my hip. In 2007, I had a basal cell carcinoma removed from my nose. I am currently going through topical chemotherapy treatment for cancer and precancer on my lower lip. My lower lip is a bloody, ugly mess, but it beats having to have invasive, disfiguring surgery done on my lip. Thanks to being a fair-skinned redhead  and repeated blistering burns as a child and young adult, I suspect I will be battling skin cancer the rest of my life.

As you can see, my health plate is full. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that unless someone comes up with a cure things won’t get better for me. I choose to embrace my life as it is. Wishing things were different doesn’t change how things are. The pervasive pain, muscle problems, and neurological problems, have debilitated me to such a degree that, on most days, it is all I can do to get up, do a little work in the office, and then spend the rest of the day in the recliner.

On the days when I think I am feeling better, I try to do some of the projects that need to be done around the house or yard. These activities tend to wear me out quickly and I often pay a heavy price for overdoing it. A few hours of work in the garage or yard often results in me having to spend a couple of days in bed or sitting in my recliner. Part of my problem is that I have never been good at doing anything halfway. Moderation? Not in my dictionary. Unfortunately, my inability or unwillingness to pace myself often extracts a hefty physical price from me. Like my friend Michael Mock told me, Bruce you are just one of those kind of people who just have to crash and burn. Out of the ashes I rise again only to start the process all over again.

An inability to do much of anything physically means I don’t burn off a lot of calories. I am not a glutton and Polly and I, for the most part, eat healthily. Because I am quite sedentary, it’s hard to have meaningful weight loss. It is not that I don’t do anything physically, but due to the physical problems I have I simply cannot do the physical things I want or need to do. It doesn’t help that I have to use a wheelchair or a cane to get around. I have turned into a slow-moving vehicle. I do what I can, but there are days and weeks that the pain is so severe that all the mind over matter pep talks in the world won’t help me move.

karah and bruce gerencser 2015
Karah and Bruce Gerencser, 2015

Some days, I can’t even bear to have anyone touch me. It just hurts too much. I love it when the grand kids come over, but by the time they are done tramping by my recliner, bumping into me, and jumping in my lap, I feel like the day after a bruising football game. I love having my grand kids around and they are one of the big reasons I get up in the morning and face another day. When they are here I grin, grit, and bear it, giving praise to the gods, of Vicodin, Tramadol, Naproxen, and Zanaflex. I would rather die than not be able to have my grandchildren sit on my lap. (see Please, Don’t Touch Me)

Back to Bill Higgins and his comments about my weight. Yes, I am overweight and there is little I can do about it. I try to watch what I eat, limit my carbohydrate intake, and eat my veggies. Yes, I do spend a lot of time in front of the computer and I watch a lot of TV. I also spend hours a day blogging, answering email, and reading. I would probably do less of these things if I could, but I can’t, so I am grateful for being able to read, write, watch TV, and search the internet.

Of course, Higgins, and others like him, don’t care about any of these things. In their mind, I am a fat, lazy, worthless human being and they enjoy trying to destroy me with their words. Do Higgins’s words hurt? Sure. Like most people, I want to be liked and respected. No one like being verbally assaulted. The internet protects people like Higgins from being held accountable for what they say. There is nothing I can do about this. As long as I am a public figure and write about the things I do, I know I am going to attract people who take great pleasure in demeaning me. Little do they know that their hateful words say more about them than they do me.

Thanks for reading. This is not a plea for understanding or support or a request for links to the latest, greatest cure-all or diet. This is me talking out loud. Maybe someone will find a bit of encouragement or understanding from what I have written.

The Bruce and Polly Fantasy Game

white birch clare michigan 2003
House we rented in White Birch, a wooded community north of Farwell, Michigan. At the time, I was pastoring Victory Baptist Church, Clare Michigan 2003

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House we rented in White Birch, a wooded community north of Farwell, Michigan. At the time, I was pastoring Victory Baptist Church, Clare Michigan 2003
Depression Sea is roiling today, my mind is twisting, turning, and dying.

She knows, she always knows. My face and body language tell a story she’s read time and again.

She worries that this time the story might have a different ending.

I’m at the doctor’s office.

Wasn’t I here last month? I already know the answer, having made the trip eight times and the year isn’t even half over.

As we wait for the nurse to call my name, we play the Bruce and Polly Fantasy Game®.

Playing the game allows me to change the monotonous, deadly channel that keeps playing over and over in mind.

We look at one another, smile, and begin the game.

The game always has the same answers, but we like to play anyway.

In the Bruce and Polly Fantasy Game®, we take shared places and experiences and meld them into one. A fantasy, to be sure, but who knows, maybe we’ll strike it rich, rob a bank, or write a book detailing where Jimmy Hoffa is buried.

Spring in Ohio, with its promise of new life and flowers.

Fall in Ohio, with its crisp air and changing colors.

Winter in Arizona, no snow for us, we survived the Blizzard of 78.

Summer in the Upper Peninsula , nestled as close to our Canadian friends as possible.

Our rented  house from White Birch, Michigan, with a 1970 green Nova SS sitting in the drive.

bruce 1970 nova ss
Bruce putting water in 1970 Nova SS, March 1976, somewhere in Kentucky
Package these things together and magically move them to the eastern seaboard, to a small, out-of-the-way fishing community on the shore of the Atlantic.

Turn the house so it fronts the Ocean, allowing us to sit on our deck and watch the sunrise and the fishing boats making their way to the secret spots known only to those whose hands and face bear the weathered look of a lifetime spent fishing.

Nearby live our children and grandchildren. Not too close, yet not so far as to be beyond an invite to a Saturday night BBQ.

This is Bruce and Polly’s fantasy.

She remains worried, wondering if the slough of despondency will bury the man she loves.

All I want is for the pain to stop.

Is that too much to ask?

I already knows the answer. I always knows the answer.

The nurse calls my name and I  haltingly walk to the exam room.

No weight gain, medications the same, pulse 78, and blood pressure just a little high. Refills ordered, sure is hot, hate the humidity, how’s Bethany, he’ll be in to see you soon.

The doctor walks through the door and sits near me.  Eighteen years we’ve danced to this tune, both of us now dance much slower than we once did.

The doctor thinks I am chipper today, better than last month.  Little does he know what I’m really thinking. We talk about the Reds, Todd Frazier, Johnny Cueto, and the All Star game. I promised the nurse that we wouldn’t do our thing, our thing being shooting the breeze while other patients wait. I lied. He’s behind and I’m to blame.

We shake hands and afterward I put my hand gently on his shoulder.  I tell him, see you in two months. This sounds like a lie, a hollow promise with no hope of fulfillment.

I want to live.

I want to die.

We stop at St. John’s produce tent and buy some local strawberries. $3.50 a quart. We buy some Georgia peaches too, which will turn into pies for Sunday. The strawberries will top the angel food cake she will make in the morning; just like every other June 19th for the past thirty-seven years.

bruce and mom 1957
Bruce and his mom, July 1957
June 19, 1957, in a building years ago torn down and replaced with a new one, at 9:01 AM I drew air into my lungs for the first time. A new life born into poverty in a nondescript rural Ohio community, delivered by a doctor who also worked as a veterinarian.

The path is now long and how much path remains is unknown.

Will the game be called today or will we get to play, for the nth time the Bruce and Polly Fantasy Game®?

I’m still betting on playing the game.

Note

For those who struggle with chronic pain and illness, a birthday can often lead to deep depression, a reminder of all that has been lost. While the healthy focus on all they have, those in pain and who suffer from years of chronic debility can, and often do, focus on how much they have lost. Yes, it is wonderful to have a sliver of life to hold on to, to have a spouse, children, and grandchildren who love you, but nothing can ameliorate the sense of loss.

This is not a cry for help. I am just talking out loud with friends.

Medical Marijuana and Relieving Pain and Suffering

letter to the editor

Letter to the Editor of the Defiance Crescent-News, submitted on June 14, 2015

Dear Editor,

Rarely a week goes by when there is not a letter to the Editor from a fundamentalist Christian demanding their moral code and peculiar interpretation of the Bible be accepted by all.  Even when they aren’t quoting the Bible or reminding local unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of their impending doom, their letters reflect an addled worldview, one shaped by an ancient book they think offers them unchanging truth. If their beliefs were kept in the church house, non-Christians would care little and hope that one day they would see the light. However, their beliefs are not kept in the church house, and because of this people of science, reason, and common sense must continue to push back as Christian fundamentalists try by legal and political means to force people to live by a worldview that is better suited for the dustbin of human history.

Take a recent letter writer who vehemently opposes legalizing the use of medical marijuana in Ohio. Even though they didn’t mention one Bible verse, their letter dripped with the fundamentalist presupposition that suffering and pain are in some way noble and good for us. Numerous Bible verses would certainly lead one to conclude that suffering and pain have probative value and makes us closer to God and keeps us from clinging too closely to this life. If we buy into this kind of thinking and accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior, a life after death that is free of suffering and pain awaits us.

Sounds sublime, right? But, what if there is no life after death, no divine payoff for trudging through life suffering for Jesus and enduring pain because it will make us stronger?  What if the only life we have is this one? Well, that changes everything. If this life is it, and I think it is, then we should try to relieve not only our own pain and suffering, but that of others. As a committed humanist, I would never want to withhold from anyone that which would relieve or end their suffering and pain. Whether it is narcotic pain medications, medical marijuana, or physician assisted suicide, I want every human to have at their disposal the means to lessen their suffering and pain.

Any religion that values suffering and pain is one that should be roundly criticized and rejected. And if Jesus were alive today, I suspect he’d agree with me.

Bruce Gerencser
Ney, Ohio

The Invisible Man in the Chair

wheelchair

Let’s go to the Botanical Garden in Toledo, I tell my chauffeur. I want to photograph the spring flowers.

The sun is shining, the air is cool, a perfect day.

The car is loaded: camera, tripod, cane, and wheelchair. All the necessary tools of an aging crippled photographer.

Are you sure you want to push my fat ass around, I ask my chauffeur. And just like every other time I ask this question, she smiles and says yes.

The Toledo Botanical Garden is 50 miles or so from home. We arrive around 4 PM. Several hours of great lighting left, I tell myself. We pull into the parking lot, finding it full cars, limousines, and small buses. It’s prom night and hundreds of area high school student are at the Garden to get their photograph taken. They are dressed in ill-fitting dresses and tuxes, each trying to outdo the other on their special night.

We finally find a parking spot. Actually, we make a parking spot where there isn’t one.  I ask my chauffeur, are you sure you want to do this? Like always, she smiles and said yes.

The wheelchair is unloaded and I am soon being wheeled along the paved walkways. I made sure before we left home  that the walkways were wheelchair accessible. As we quickly find out, their idea of accessible is very different from ours. From potholes to broken cement to hoses stretching across the walkways, my chauffeur has great difficulty navigating. I hear her breathing become more labored. I turn to her and say, we can go if you want to. And just like every other time I ask this question, she smiles and says no. She knows, thanks to unrelenting pain, I rarely leave home. She wants me to have a good time.

Hundreds of high school students are gathered in groups throughout the Garden. Avoid obstructions, I tell myself. Go this way, avoid the crowd. But, no matter how we try to avoid the clustered students, we eventually are forced to stop and wait for them to move so we can pass.

The invisible man, that is what I am to these students. They stand towering above me and my slumping body. We wait, hoping they will notice we can’t get by them. Few pay attention to the man in the wheelchair. Don’t get upset, I tell myself. They will move.

As we come up one of the walkways, I notice a large group of students standing on the walkway. I say to my chauffeur, let’s go home. She replies, no, they will move. As we close in on the group many of the students move allowing the Moses in the wheelchair to part the Red Sea. One student refuses to move. His girl turns to him and says, hey let the guy go by. He looks at me with eyes I have encountered many times before and moves just enough to let me get by. His girl is none to happy with him. With anger in her eyes, she pushes her man and tells him MOVE! Put in his place, the towering student complies and moves so I can pass by.

Such is life in the chair. I think everyone, healthy or not, should spend some time in the chair. Believe me, the world looks completely different from the seat of the chair. Simple things like navigating the grocery store become an insurmountable task. Are people callous or indifferent to the handicapped? Sometimes, but most people have no frame of reference for understanding the challenges of having to use a wheelchair. (or a cane) They can walk and move at will. Any obstacle can be moved or navigated around. For the  person in the chair, obstacles that are nothing for a healthy person, become a source of frustration.

I do my best to avoid crowds when I must use my wheelchair. But even then, at three in the morning at the local Meijer, shelf stockers often make the aisles impassable. They have a job to do, but I’d sure like to buy some groceries. I’ve concluded that there is no good time to go shopping. I must mentally prepare myself for the indifference of others. I must grit my teeth and ignore the pain inflicted on me by thoughtless shoppers. I think, someday, they will be where I am and then they will understand.  For now, I am just the invisible man in the chair.

One Bump and Bang Too Many

potholes

A week and a half ago, Polly and I took a road trip south, ending up in Delphos, Ohio. In a post titled Luck, Fate, or Providence, I mentioned an event that took place while I was taking some photographs of an old canal:

…Polly and I took a road trip to Ottoville, Fort Jennings, and Delphos. Like most of our trips, I took my camera equipment with me. As we were wandering around Delphos, we stumbled upon a lock from the era of the Miami and Erie canal. Getting down to the lock was a bit treacherous for me. I wanted to get as close as possible, so I gingerly walked down the concrete abutment to the lock. I didn’t fall, slip, or trip. Lucky me, I thought.

After ten minutes or so, I was ready to return to the car. I had two paths I could take. I could retrace my steps or make a big step and little jump to ground level, Polly said she would give me a hand, so I chose the latter. Polly reached down, took my hand, and began to help me up. And then, our world went crazy. Polly couldn’t pull me up completely and I violently fell forward, knocking both of us to the ground. If my weight had been balanced slightly the other way, I would have no doubt went careening down the concrete abutment into the canal. The fall would have likely killed me.

The good news? My cameras escaped damage, though one of them does have a slight scrape. The hood on the lens kept it from being smashed. Polly ended up with bruised knees and I ended up with a twisted ankle and hip and a nasty, bloody contusion on my left leg. It is still oozing slightly today.

I know I was lucky. I should have retraced my steps. This was the safe and prudent choice. However, Polly was standing right there and she said she would help. Why not, right? She helps me out of the recliner and car all the time. What neither of us counted on was how difficult it is to pull up a 350# man. When Polly pulls me out of the car or the recliner I help her. This time? I was dead weight and I almost literally became so…

Yesterday, I had Polly take me to Urgent Care in Bryan. My left leg is swollen, an inch bigger circumference wise than my right leg. The contusion is weeping fluid and has become infected. I am white, the wound is red and yellow, and I am trying to keep it from turning black. (shout out to the Evangelical song, Jesus loves the Little Children, red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight) I am taking an antibiotic. The doctor swabbed the wound and sent it to the lab. The lab will do a culture to determine what is causing the infection. If warranted, the doctor said he will change the antibiotic, but he thinks the one he prescribed should do the trick. This is the same leg, BTW,  that I had a foot problem with last fall.

Last Sunday, Polly drove us to Cincinnati, Ohio to attend the Cincinnati Reds-St. Louis Cardinals baseball game. We had a great time. There’s nothing like experiencing a live baseball game. When the stands are full, as they were on Sunday, the stadium comes to life. The cheers and the groans ripple loudly through the crowd, as Reds fans live and die with their team. In many ways, I find the live baseball experience to be a lot like a revival service. There’s that “feeling” in the air that resonates deeply with me.

That said, we have come to the conclusion that I can no longer take trips hours away from home. Driving to Cincinnati and back meant we were on the road for almost 8 hours. Whether we took the interstate or a state highway, the roads, thanks to a hard cold winter and a lack of infrastructure upkeep, pummeled my body. Mile after mile the roads bumped and banged my body, so much so that even double doses of pain medication couldn’t stop the pain.

As much as I want to cheer the Reds on in person, I know I can no longer do so. My body has issued its decree, cross this line and I will make you pay. As I have said many times before, a time would come that I was no longer willing to pay the price of admission, no longer willing to suffer the brutality of long trips. That time is now.  I hate that it has come to this, but it is what it is.

Now this doesn’t mean that I can take shorter trips to places like Toledo, Fort Wayne, Magee Marsh, or Marblehead. An hour or two from home, along back roads at a slow speed, I can still do. There’s a minor league baseball team in Fort Wayne and Toledo, so I can still enjoy the live game experience. There’s plenty for us to see and do within a few hours of our home. There’s plenty of sites and out-of-the-way places to photograph. Instead of lamenting what I can’t do, I choose to focus on what I can do. This is me adapting to my environment. Shout out, Charles Darwin.

2015 Ford Escape
My chauffeur driving our 2015 Ford Escape. What’s real interesting is the gravel pit in the background. I sure wanted to climb down there and take some photographs.

We recently bought a new car, a 2015 Ford Escape. We made this purchase because I was having difficulty getting in and out of our 2013 Ford Fusion. The Escape sits up higher and has greater head and leg room, allowing me to sit comfortably, even when I have to twist my body to lessen the pain. We are quite pleased with the car. Actually it is an SUV, but we call it car.  Health problems have robbed me of my ability to drive any distance but a short one. This is another thing I’ve had to adapt to. For decades, I did most of the driving and now I must rely on Polly to chauffeur me wherever I want to do. Again, it is what it is.

The nasty injury detailed at the start of this post has proved to be a wake up call for Polly and I. I no longer can afford to push the envelope, risking injury. Since I am diabetic, any type of wound is a concern. I pastored several people who lost their legs due to a cut or wound that morphed into an abscess drugs and doctors could not cure. Despite all our miracle-working drugs, there are viruses and bacteria that can and do kill us. I must take better care of myself, not putting myself in circumstances that could cause physical injury. When I walk with a cane, I tend to ignore my limitations. When using a wheelchair, it is obvious that I can no longer pretend to be Superman. While I refuse to give up, I must face reality and adjust my life accordingly.

The good news is that Polly will still be by my side. We’re in this together until death do us part. Her love and care make the pain and suffering bearable.

Chronic Pain: Paying the Price

st julian wine
Four bottles of inexpensive wine we purchased at St. Julian Winery in Paw Paw. Michigan

She took the day off.

The weatherman says sunny and 55, I hope he’s right.

I busy myself getting ready for tomorrow.

Clean the house, I tell myself. Can’t leave if the house isn’t clean.

House is clean.

I put my camera equipment on the table, tripods behind the door, ready for loading in the morning.

I check the camera batteries and make sure the flash cards are installed.

No need for the GPS, we have iPhones now, so Google maps will direct us to our destination. Just to safe, I put some paper, a pen, a flashlight, and maps of Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio in my briefcase and put it with the camera equipment.

Clothes, shoes, wallet, jacket, and hat, all ready for the morning.

She will be home soon.

She sees that I cleaned the house. She smiles and shakes her head. She knows…36 years of knowing…

I want to be out of the house by 10, I tell her. And I mean 10, I add, knowing that I am fighting a battle I have lost more times than I can count.

A restless night, I get 4 hours sleep before she wakes me up.

The car is loaded, ready to go. Ten minutes late…

She drives. I want to drive but I know I can’t. I am no longer physically able to drive. I know this, but I still want to drive. She ignores me, knowing I will no longer put up a fight.

Off to Fort Wayne first to drop off papers at the hospital. I owe them $5,000.00. I hope they will reduce the amount I owe.

Pain meds.

She wants to go Rome City to see an old, no longer functioning self-sustaining nunnery.

Pain meds.

It’s not long before I start feeling every bump and thump as we ride over roads savaged by harsh Midwestern winter.

Our destination is South Haven, Michigan. Sunset is at 7:45. I want to get there by 6:00. How we get to South Haven is undetermined.

This is a Gerencser road trip, one our six children experienced many times. A general destination with no certain route.

Pain meds.

The assault on my body continues. I complain some, but I know it is not her fault. If I had known this is how painful the trip was going to be, I would have stayed home. I am glad I didn’t.

North and West we travel, meandering down never before traveled roads.

I set Google maps to no highways or toll roads. We want to see what most people never take the time to see.

Amish, horses, buggies, laundry gently blowing in the wind. What a pleasant surprise.

Where’s their school, she asks. Soon, we stumble upon it. Look at all the bicycles and yellow vests.

Countless stops so I can get out of the car and take photographs. It’s not long before my shoes are muddy, muddying up the floor and mat cleaned the night before.

Sometimes, I stay in the car, using the window to steady my telephoto camera lens. We fuss a bit as she tries to maneuver the car so I can take a shot. We’ve been fussing for 36 years. It means nothing, our love transcends anything we could say to one another.

Pain meds.

We finally come to a road we’ve traveled before. Soon we come to Paw Paw, Michigan. Let’s stop at the winery, she says, and I say, sure.

So much wine, so little money. I sure could use a drink. We buy four bottles of inexpensive wine. As we checkout, I tell the young woman waiting on us that we were once part of a religion that forbade the drinking of alcohol. She replies, really? Her face tells me she’s never heard of such craziness. I go on to tell her that we were 50 years old before we drank wine for the first time. I chuckle and say, we are living the 60’s and 70’s a little late in life.

She needs to use the bathroom, so does our daughter with Down Syndrome. I’ll tell her I’ll take the wine out to the car,  She says, OK, and hands me the keys.

I open the trunk of the car, put the wine in, and carefully wrap the bottles with a towel.

I slam the trunk of the car and reach into my pocket for the keys so I can unlock the car.

Panic. You didn’t. You fucking idiot. Surely, you didn’t lock the keys in the trunk? You damn idiot, yes you did.

Soon she comes out to the car and I tell her what I’ve done. I thought I had ruined our day. She calmly reaches into her purse and pulls out the second set of keys. Disaster averted.

I am mad at myself, still upset over the keys. 57 years, and I’ve never locked the keys in a car until today. My self-esteem takes another dive.

Back on the road, time to head to South Haven.

The roads continue to pummel me. She notices that I am writhing in the seat and says,I’m sorry. I say, it’s OK. It’s not, but only death will keep me from reaching our destination.

5:00 Pain meds. She notices I have taken the maximum dosage for the day, but she says nothing. She knows I will have to take extra pain meds to get through the day.

It’s 5:30 as we pull into the parking lot near the beach. She and I have been here many times. It’s our favorite place to be. There’s nothing better than watching a Lake Michigan sunset, especially when the one you love are by your side.

The sun is shining, it’s 54 degrees.

The Lake is frozen, the beach is covered with a mishmash of ice, melting snow, and sand.

People are out and about. One young woman is in flip-flops and a white sun dress. Silly humans, we are, worshiping the warmth of our star.

We make our way out to the lighthouse. I walking slowly, prodding the ground with my cane, making sure the slushy snow beneath my feet is firm.

We finally reach the point, the first time we’ve been here when the Lake is frozen.

People come and go as we stand there enjoying the warmth and the view. What a wonderful view…

A talkative woman stands nearby. Her back is to the sun and Lake. She seems only interested in talking to those who are near her. She’s lecturing a young couple about an upcoming sales tax initiative. She’s against it. She turns to me and asks, do you read? Yes. What do you read? Books. Philosophy? Yes. I’m thinking, really, here I am 3 hours from home, away from my blog, and I am getting quizzed about philosophy? The talkative woman asks, Who? I snap back, Kierkegaard. This satisfies her and she turns to the woman in the white sun dress and tells her she’s crazy for being out there in flip-flops and no coat. I thought, I’ll tell you who’s crazy.

We walk back to the car and drive to the bluff overlooking the Lake. I’ve never taken photographs from this spot before.

I set up my tripod and prepare both my cameras to take photographs of the sunset. The show will be short and sweet, I know I must be ready.

She gets out the portable camera I bought her for Christmas. She is quite proud of her work. I hear her camera beep, knowing she is photographing me going about my craft. I used to object, but I know my children and grandchildren will one day appreciate her photographs. I’m reminded of what my friend Tom told me, photographs are about the memory, the moment. That’s what matters.

Soon the show is over and we quickly load everything back into the car. The temperature is quickly dropping. By the time we get home it drops 20 degrees.

As we make our way down from the bluff, I ask her to stop at the beach. Just a few more shots, I say. She’s cold, so she stays in the car as I setup my tripod and take a few photographs of the lighthouse, now lighted by incandescent lights along the walkway.

It’s 8:15 as we walk into Clementines. All the adrenaline has dissipated and my body now screams for attention. I can barely eat. I use the bathroom before we leave, leaning against the stall, a few tears come to my eyes. Why does it have to be this way? Why does one day with my friend and lover cost me so much?

Pain meds.

More pain meds.

I have a counseling appointment scheduled for tomorrow. She knows, and will cancel it in the morning. Bed is what awaits me come tomorrow and several days after that. It’s the price I pay for living, for experiencing the beauty of my wife and a Lake Michigan sunset.

It’s midnight as we pull into the driveway. We’ve been gone 14 hours and driven over 300 miles. Exhausted, she falls asleep in minutes. I take more pain medication and my normal nighttime meds. I’m so exhausted that sleep comes quickly.

12 hours later, I wake up, knowing that I must now pay for yesterday.

Is it worth it?

She’s at work now and she sends me a text. The sun is shining, want to go to on a road trip?

I reply, sure…

Just Because I’m Fat Doesn’t Mean I Need to Change my Diet

bruce and polly gerencser 1978
Bruce and Polly Gerencser, February 1978 I am a size 30 waist and size 40 suit.

Rant ahead. Raw feelings revealed that might offend others. You have been warned!

I am quite open about my health and my battle with depression, chronic illness and pain. As most readers know, I recently had an endoscopic ultrasound to see if I had pancreatic cancer. I didn’t, which is good news, but the one thing that has irritated me through this whole process is the assumptions that people make about my lifestyle. If I would only do _______________, then all would be well, or so these I’m-not-a-doctor-but-I-stayed-at-the-Holiday-Inn people think.

Let me state the obvious: I am obese. I’ve been overweight for 30 years. Thanks to recent health problems, I have lost 35 pounds. I weigh less than I did at any time in the past decade. I do not feel one bit better for having lost the weight. My feet are still invisible and I can assure you that losing weight does not make your penis longer.

Are you laughing? A pastor told me years ago that he read you gain an inch in penis length for every 30 pounds you lose. According to this dimwit’s advice, if I got down to my BMI chart weight, I would gain six inches. That would certainly be porn-worthy.

Ten or so years ago, I saw an orthopedic doctor about a problem I was having with my left knee. After taking less than two minutes to talk to me about my knee pain, he pronounced that I needed to lose weight. Duh, like I don’t know that? But here’s the thing about my knees. I have a torn meniscus in each knee. I have had these tears since 1981. A doctor wanted to do surgery 30 years ago, but I decided to cut back on the amount of basketball I was playing instead. When I injured my knees, I was quite fit. I played basketball three times a week in the winter and spring and played softball several times a week in the summer.  My weight had NOTHING to do with my knee problem, but all the orthopedic doctor saw was an overweight man and he judged me without knowing the first thing about me. (My first sports related knee injury happened in 1973 when I was 16 years old.)

I am 57-year-old, fat man. Thanks to Fibromyalgia and a host of other problems not related to my weight, I can no longer physically do many of the things I used to do. (I must use a cane or wheelchair to get around.)  People who haven’t walked one step in my shoes or lived one day with the pain I have are quick to offer unsolicited advice about everything from exercise to diet to the latest, greatest alternative medicine. These advice givers take a bare amount of information about me, make some assumptions, and conclude I need to do ______________.

My cancer scare has encouraged people to give me advice about how and what to eat. Everyone has a diet for me, sure to fix what ails me. But, here’s what’s wrong with their advice: they don’t know how or I what I eat to start with. If they did, they would refrain from giving me unsolicited advice I do not need.

What’s the underlying assumption here? If you are overweight, fat, obese, plump, a tall person in a short body, or whatever term is used to describe your largesse, the assumption is you don’t eat right. Over the past few weeks, more than a few people have told me I need to change my diet. Eat this, don’t eat that. Eat less of this, more of that.

Here’s the thing, my eating habits, 95% of the time are fine. I eat lots of veggies and have a varied diet. Most of time, I don’t overeat. I will consume eat a candy bar from time to time, along with a donut here and there, but I don’t drink pop. If we buy cereal, I will eat it and if we don’t I won’t. Most of my meat-eating is fish and chicken. Simply put, my diet is not the problem.

I am never going to be a vegan, vegetarian, or a raw food eater. It ain’t gonna happen. If that’s how you eat, fine, but I have no desire to eat as you do. I try to eat responsibly and healthily, but I have no desire to obsess about food and turn it into a religion. I read labels, count calories and carbs, and try to have a lot of fiber in my diet. I don’t need any more information about food and diet. I know all I need to know.

Here’s the real problem I have with those who preach the change your diet gospel to me. They take what works for them and they assume it will work for everyone. They practice bad science when they equate the health problems I have with diet. I know of no study that equates a bad diet with Fibromyalgia. I have MS-like neurological problems. I know of no study that equates a bad diet with Multiple Sclerosis.

Yes, I have high blood pressure, but even here, is my high blood pressure caused by my weight or diet? I doubt it. I took the time a few years ago to research my medical records all the way back to when I was six years old. I found an interesting thing; my blood pressure was marginally high way back when I was a teenager. I have an aunt on my Mom’s side, along with several other relatives, who have high blood pressure. But, here’s what’s interesting: none of them is overweight.

I have one health problem that is directly related to my weight and diet and that is diabetes. When people hear that a person is diabetic, they assume the person is on insulin. I am not on insulin. I take a small amount of medicine each day. My blood glucose levels are under control and my A1C level is on the high side of normal.

Let me sum up this post. Yes, I am fat but there is little I can do about it. I try to eat well and I don’t, most of the time, over feed. I’d love to run, play ball, and exercise, but I can’t. Those who have the kind of problems I do know this, and they, too, have had to deal with the judgements and comments of the exercise police. I do what I can. I am not a lazy person; if anything, I tend to overdo.

I know this is hard for the physically fit to understand. Through the lens of their personal experience, they judge fat people, concluding they are lazy and indulgent. This may be the case for some fat people, but I know one obese Hungarian for whom that is not the case.

Here’s what I want from family and friends. I want love and support. I don’t need fat shaming or subtle condemnation. I don’t need diet books, diet articles, or personal opinions about my eating habits and diet. I know all I need to know about food, diet, Fibromyalgia, chronic illness, and chronic pain. A lack of knowledge is not my problem.

Why is that people take it upon themselves to offer unsolicited advice about diet and food? The same goes for medical advice from people who have no medical training and don’t know the intricacies of my health problems. I have a good primary care doctor. I know how to read and I know how to properly and sufficiently investigate the various health problems that afflict me. Again, I am well cared for and educated.

I have a great marriage — 37 years to a wonderful woman. Not everyone has a marriage like Polly and I have. I have friends who have challenging marriages. I also have friends and family who have had their marriages end in divorce. Imagine me writing them and telling them, based on my own marriage, how to have a successful marriage. Imagine me writing my divorced friends and telling them how they could have avoided a divorce if they had just read and practiced Bruce and Polly’s 27 steps to a Long Marriage©. Offensive, yes? Why then is unsolicited advice about diet and eating habits any different?

Yes, I could stand to lose some weight. Yes, I could ALWAYS eat less of this and more of that. Yes, I could always make improvements in my diet. I am quite good at self-judgment and I know the difference between lazy and can’t. What I want from my family and friends is love and support, not unsolicited advice and judgment. When I want or need the advice of others, I will be sure to ask for it.

Now, let me get the ice cream out, put  six scoops of rocky road in a bowl and cover it with hot fudge, whipped marshmallow, pineapple, nuts, and a cherry on top. Oh wait, there is no ice cream in the freezer. Damn! I need to get Polly to bring home some healthy ice cream.

Note

Here’s my listing in Conservapedia’s wiki on Atheism and Obesity

conservapedia bruce gerencser

 

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Today

today

My oldest son hugged me and told me he loved me.

My youngest son did the same.

My middle son stops by to borrow my miter saw. I joke…if I die you can keep the saw.

My youngest daughter frowns. Will she ever understand my gallows humor?

Old pictures put on Facebook. Pictures of those who matter to me.

We watch The Equalizer, the one with Denzel Washington.

My sister calls. She loves me and tells me it won’t be cancer.

And then we watch the Mentalist. Will Jane marry Lisbon?

My brother tries to call but the phone dies. He texts and tells me he loves me and he hopes it isn’t cancer.

My last meal, a ham sandwich.

I put my wallet on the table, along with my cane and camera.

Prescription list.

Symptom list.

Current diagnoses.

Past surgeries.

Past diagnostic tests.

Durable power of attorney.

Living will.

Shower and shave.

It’s time for bed.

Polly looks at me and I look at her. Our looks tell the story.

I put on Passenger, in a few minutes Polly is asleep.

I can’t sleep, just like every other night, the pain, oh the pain.

I’m nervous, dare I show weakness and say I’m worried?

I pick up from the nightstand Imagine There’s No Heaven: How Atheism Helped Create the Modern World.

I can’t seem to focus on the words.

I get up and put on my robe.

I sit down and write Polly a letter.

If something goes wrong and this is the last day of life for me, I want Polly to know that I love her and that the 38 years we’ve spent together have been wonderful.

I tell her if the doctor says I have cancer or something else is seriously wrong, we will face it together. I have much to live for, Polly, the kids and grandkids.

I lay out my clothes. Sweatpants, underwear, white socks, orange long sleeved thermal shirt, tennis shoes. And my orange Bengals hat. It matches my shirt.

I feel tired now, the hydrocodone, tramadol, flexeril, and temazapam are doing their job.

Passenger plays on.

I know what lies ahead.

Paper work.

Put on this gown.

Endless questions.

Time to put the IV in. How many times will they have to stick me?

Dr Sharma will come in to talk to me, as will the anesthesiologist.

It’s show time.

A kiss, a hug, and I love you.

Come nine hours from now, what will the doctor say?

I am ready, come what may, I am ready.

If it’s cancer, I’ve made my wishes known, no surgery.

If it’s not, then what?

Maybe it’s just my gallbladder but that doesn’t explain all my symptoms.

I remain my doctor’s enigma, his puzzling hard case.

No prayers.

No thoughts of heaven or hell.

My thoughts go no farther than my lover and friend lying next to me. Our shared experience is the sum of life for me.

Today…

Passenger plays on.

I sure would like to eat another ham sandwich.

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Bruce Gerencser