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Tag: Ulcerative Colitis

2019: A Year of Trial and Adversity

2019

2019 proved to be quite a year for Bruce and Polly Gerencser. In January, Polly spent almost a week in the hospital due to complications from what would be diagnosed as ulcerative colitis. In July, doctors found a fistula between Polly’s colon and bladder. This caused fecal matter to enter the bladder. In August, the fistula led to life-threatening problems for Polly. She was hospitalized for almost three weeks at Parkview Regional Hospital in Fort Wayne. She had major abdominal surgery, and part of her colon and bladder were removed. The colorectal surgeon performed a colectomy. Polly currently has a colostomy bag. Hopefully, the colectomy will be reversed in late March 2020.

In a post titled, An Example of Our Broken, Costly Healthcare System, I detailed the horrific medical costs we’ve had this year:

Late on August 6, Polly was transferred by Williams County EMS — the only ambulance service in the county —  to Parkview. Polly would later have successful bladder and colon surgery. All told, she spent eighteen days in the hospital. Total cost for the January and August hospitalizations? $250,000. And that’s what our insurance paid, not what the various service providers billed. The sheer amount of the billings and various providers is mind-boggling, even to a man who spent most of his adult life handling church and secular business finances.

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

Polly’s March 2020 surgery will quickly escalate our total medical debt. Yes, we have insurance, but that doesn’t change the fact that the out-of-pocket expenses continue to accumulate. So far, we have been able to make payment arrangements. Depending on who gets paid first for Polly’s upcoming surgery, 2020 could be a challenging year. Parkview takes your balance and divides it by 12 — that’s your monthly payment. They refuse to extend payments beyond 12 months, threatening collection action if we don’t pay their demand. So, we shall see what 2020 brings — hopefully a loaded Brink’s truck.

My health remains the same — not good, but better than Polly’s. Woo hoo! Several weeks ago, I had a huge cyst drained. This cyst covered the area above my breast to under my arm, and from my sternum to my collarbone. The cyst is already returning, so I will likely have to have it surgically removed in 2020. Maybe not, if it doesn’t get any larger, but I suspect it will. The radiologist who drained the cyst warned me that it was pressing on an artery that could cause blood clots/stroke. Just one more problem to worry about, right?

Polly’s Fundamentalist Baptist parents are in failing health. I fear that one or both of them will die in 2020. I hope not, but it seems, from my observations, that they are just hanging on, waiting for the end. We will travel to Newark to visit them on Christmas Day. Polly’s aunt has terminal bone cancer. She’s on borrowed time. 2020 could be one of those years. Such is life when you reach our age.

I “retired” and started drawing Social Security in August. The added income has been a big help financially. We continue to have concerns over Polly’s job. The company she works for has been outsourcing parts of her department for the past two years. Oh, they call it strategic realignment, but the bottom line is that the outsourcing company pays its employees less and doesn’t provide insurance. This allows them to do the work Polly and her employees do at a cheaper cost. We would not be surprised if eventually her entire department is outsourced. If I had my way, Polly would retire. However, neither of us is old enough to receive Medicare, so attempting to live without insurance would likely be financial ruin for us. Income-wise, we would be fine; it’s just the damn insurance that’s the problem. It’s ALWAYS the insurance. I am 30 months away from being able to sign up for Medicare. Polly is three and a half years away.

I closed my photography business in 2019. I was operating at a loss, and I saw no way to turn it around, so I closed the business. Sadly, smartphones, Mommys with cheap DSLR cameras, and photographers who will work for next to nothing have pretty well ruined the photography business here in rural northwest Ohio. I continue to do paid work for family and friends. I also continue to do sports photography work for the local school district. This work gets me out of the house several times a week. Getting to watch high school sporting events is an added bonus.

This past year, two regular blog readers died: Steve Gupton and Pat Fields. Steve died suddenly at age 51 from a massive coronary. Pat died from kidney failure. She had been on dialysis for a number of years. Pat commented infrequently. Steve, however, was a frequent commenter. Rarely, did a week go by that I didn’t talk to him. I still have a selfie of Steve on my computer. I see it almost every day. I can’t bring myself to file it away.

There were good things that happened in 2019 too. I just hope in 2020, that on balance, the good things outweigh the trials and adversities. Yesterday, our family celebrated Christmas. Now, if every day could be like that . . .

Have a blessed 2020. May the God of reason smile upon you and your family.

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About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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

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

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

Update on Polly

polly gerencser 2018

My wife, Polly, has had a rough spell health-wise over the past eighteen months. AFib. Surgery to fix a bleeding problem. Surgery to fix a deviated septum. A week in the hospital that resulted in an ulcerative colitis diagnosis. In recent months, Polly has been dealing with a painful bladder problem. Last week, she had a cystoscopy at Parkview Hospital in Fort Wayne. The urologist found two problems: a fistula between the colon and bladder, and bladder cancer. Polly has also been fighting a serious bacterial infection, the result of fecal matter entering the bladder. This means taking antibiotics, which, of course, aggravates her ulcerative colitis.

The cancer was unexpected — as in at age sixty hearing the doctor say, congratulations, you’re pregnant! On Thursday, Polly will have surgery to remove the cancer and close off the bladder side of the fistula. Next week, she will have major colorectal surgery to fix the colon side of the fistula. This will likely result in the surgeon removing some of her bowel. He warned us in January that this was a possibility. That “possibility” has now become a reality.

Polly will be off work for several weeks. This will truly test my ability to, as Polly says, “pull money out of my ass.” We’ll endure, and hopefully, Polly will be on the mend and back to “normal” — whatever THAT means — soon. Polly does have short-term disability insurance. There’s a waiting period, and then it pays fifty percent of her base wage for up to six months.

As for me personally, watching Polly suffer has been difficult. So much of our focus over the past twenty years has been on my health problems. Now, Polly’s health struggles are added to our already full plate. At times, I am tempted to ask, “why me,” but I remind myself of what Christopher Hitchens said when asked that question, “why not me?” We are not special or exempt from the struggles that are common to humankind. Polly breezed through life with very few health problems. Ninety-nine percent of our medical expenditures were mine, not hers. That all changed eighteen months ago. All we know to do is to get up each day and face what comes our way. By the grace of Loki, we will persevere to the end. Why? Because that’s just what we do. We don’t know how to live any other way than by putting one foot in front of the other and stumbling forward.

The one good thing that’s happened in all of this is that Polly has lost almost forty pounds! The bad news is that I EAT when I’m stressed, so I know where some of her weight went. Polly hopes to maintain the weight loss, and I hope to get back to not feeling like I need to eat a whole box of Cap’n Crunch.

Your thoughts and well wishes are appreciated. Polly’s surgeries and hospital stays will likely affect my writing schedule. Thank you for your understanding.

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About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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

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

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

Caremark “Congratulates” Us for Having Lots of Medical Debt

family out of pocketCaremark, the online drug service owned by pharmacy giant CVS, handles part of the drug benefit for Polly’s group health insurance plan. Caremark tracks insurance-approved medical expenditures with a graphic on their website. This graphic shows how much money you have paid in a particular year for out-of-pocket medical expenses. This year, the maximum out-of-pocket is $6,750.

The company Polly works for pays about $18,000 a year per employee to provide each employee with medical insurance. On top of that, married employees with children pay $3,900 a year for insurance — $150 every two weeks. This means that if an employee reaches the maximum out-of-pocket this year, the total cost of health insurance is almost $29,000.

The past fifteen months have been a medical nightmare for Polly. And we are not done. She now has serious bladder pain, and is getting up in the night numerous times to use the bathroom. She’s up more often than I am during the night, and that’s tough to do since my prostate/bladder just love making life miserable for me. In previous years, I have had my own medical nightmares, leading to exorbitant medical expenditures. Over the past decade, we have met the maximum out-of-pocket five times; all while trying to make ends meet on Polly’s income. (That’s why me being able to draw Social Security beginning in June will be a big help to us.)

Polly’s insurance provider finally paid the last of her bills from her January hospitalization for acute ulcerative colitis. This put us over the maximum out-of-pocket for the year. Woo hoo! right? The good news is that everything is FREE — to us anyway — the rest of the year. The bad news is that we have accumulated $6,750 of new medical debt over the first ten weeks of 2019. On top of that is the $50 a month we have to pay for Lialda, a drug Polly will be on the rest of her life. When the gastroenterologist first prescribed Lialda, we took the script to the local Meijer Pharmacy, only to find out it would cost $890 a month. Well, that sure as hell wasn’t going to happen, regardless of its benefit to my suffering wife. We simply couldn’t afford it without being forced to sleep in our car. Fortunately, we found a service that works with lower income families to provide expensive drugs for them at a reduced cost. Prescription Hope was able to procure the drug for $50 a month. Since the cost of the drug is not run through insurance, we will have to the monthly cost regardless of meeting our maximum out-of-pocket for the year. I plan to contact the insurance about being reimbursed for the $50 a month cost. We do have a tax-free HSA account. Polly’s employer kicks in $138.47 every two weeks and we set aside another $100.

As the above graphic shows, Caremark congratulated us for reaching our maximum out-of-pocket. This, evidently, is what Caremark is congratulating us for: in 2019, 30 percent of our net income will go towards medical costs. That’s the “prize” for reaching the maximum out-of-pocket finish line. And this doesn’t include dental costs.

I look towards the future and ask myself, how will we manage? I don’t have an answer. I told my counselor that I had finally figured out how to get our medical costs under control: death. I am grateful that we can still keep our head above water financially, but if medical costs continue to increase (and they have increased every year over the past decade), it leaves me wondering how in the hell we are going to make it. Of course, the answer is single-payer insurance/socialized medicine. While there are a handful of champions of this cause in Congress, Republicans and many Democrats are in the pockets of insurance, medical, and pharmaceutical corporations. Our political leaders actively work against our best interests, health-wise. This leaves the rest of us scrambling to figure out how to pay the price for living.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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

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

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

Life Sucks — Sometimes

life sucks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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

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

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

Update on Polly

blogging

I want to thank everyone for their kind words and thoughts. Polly and I appreciate your support.

Five doctors, a CT scan, a MRI, colonoscopy, endoscopy, and countless blood tests later, two doctors — the surgeon and the gastroenterologist — believe she has ulcerative colitis and the hospitalist believes she has Crohn’s disease. It was interesting to hear each side argue their diagnosis. Biopsies, which are outstanding, will provide a definitive diagnosis. Either way, the initial treatment is the same.

Polly also has a liver/bile duct issue which remains unresolved. We should know more on that issue tomorrow. It may have been exacerbated by the widespread inflammation in her bowel.

As things stand tonight, Polly should be released on Sunday. When she was admitted on Tuesday, I feared she was dying; and left untreated she would have died. Thankfully, the ER doctor quickly narrowed down Polly’s symptoms and determined she needed to be admitted. Her other doctors have provided first-rate care, and, at times, comic relief. The change in Polly’s condition over the past thirty-six hours has been remarkable thanks to modern drugs, especially steroids and antibiotics. I’m grateful we live in a day when such things exist.

Thanks again for your wonderful support.

Bruce