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An angel distressed…

Tonight Fran had to change our bed. No big deal, in the scheme of Life, the Universe, and Everything, she said, but it’s what got me thinking. That’s what I do, these days, by the way. I think. Fran struggles with underlays and fitted sheets with vomit stains on them, and I get to… think.

Fran works too long every day, and too damned hard to be dealing with my vomit stains on the sheets, on top of everything else she’s in charge of and does flawlessly. But that’s one of the drawbacks of living with a husband like me who has enough medical hardware in his back to buy a a small house. (Personally, I’d prefer the house, but the catch is getting the gear out of me without annoying the neighbours with the blood and my pathetic screams that’s the kicker). I almost literally can’t lift a finger to help her. She’s used to that. I hate it.

Hell, it’s all I could do to get out of bed this morning, remembering to roll first, then push so the fusion doesn’t get twisted, while simultaneously trying (unsuccessfully) to stop the mostly liquified contents of my stomach from spurting painfully out through my right nostril. I didn’t do either task very well, as you might guess. Not that it would be anything I’d like to become good at, if you follow me.

It was interesting, I must admit, in a gruesome sort of way… Blowing one’s nose and filling a tissue with particles of minced steak (and what tasted – and felt – like diced capsicum) from last night’s beef pie, together with a fine spray of bright orange stomach acid, is as revolting as it sounds (and smells (and tastes (and feels))).

Embarrassing for me as well, although there’s no bodily function Fran and I can’t talk about. There’s zero dignity to be had while participating, however inexpertly, in more than a dozen fairly significant operations over nearly 25 years. And Fran was right at my bedside every time as I pissed into frosted plastic catheters and shat on the occasional sheet. I felt moved enough today to apologise for the violent orange colour of this morning’s unexpected wakeup event though. Herbert Adams’ special sauce, I believe. That, and Gaviscon.

And while it’s “only” vomit, it’s the final straw that’s broken this little camel’s back.

Allow me to explain why.

Oh….I’m a hypochondriac, and I’m OK!

My constant gastric reflux is just one of many issues we’re dealing with at the moment. See, I decided (or “we” decided) to not continue seeing our old GP.

Although we were happy with him for nearly 27 years, there comes a time when you decide you don’t want to be shouted at by your kindly doctor, because you took less pain medication than he usually prescribed. Confused? Not as much as I was!

There was also a major issue with a new practice manager (let’s just call her “Sally”, to protect the innocent, since that’s her name) who made life so bad for everyone except herself, that three of the most professional and compassionate receptionist staff I’ve ever known resigned en masse in protest at the new übermistress. Judging by the ample patient parking space available there these days – where usually you had to book years in advance to find a parking spot – it seems that slightly more than half their patients suddenly found other GP surgeries much more pleasant and closer and pleasant and happier and more pleasant. You get the picture…

Still, Sally’s job is safe, just as long as she keeps fucking the senior GP. Sigh. Such is life in the fascinating world of medicine… Cue titles and soundtrack… “The Young and the Restless”…

So. Along with the ever-increasing back pain, I’m finding I’m having to deal with annoying little distractions, which, on their own, would be just annoying. But luckily, some are really frustrating, like

  • the variably deafening bilateral tinnitus (tinnitus is the gift of always having a tree full of cicadas wherever you go, right inside your head!)
  • increasing natural high-frequency deafness (yeah, you’d think I’d cop a break there, but the tinnitus works at the lowest level of hearing transmission, while the deafness is happening at the highest levels);
  • bilateral digital parasthesia (numb fingers, creeping slowly down from the fingertips, which are all numb now, creeping, creeping, creeping towards my hand and wrist);
  • bursitis that would fell a camel;
  • full-on depression (black dog, pit of despair, and all the trimmings);
  • binocular diplopia (each eye sees two images, and the four of them don’t line up – just like watching a 3D film without the Buddy Holly glasses, only it’s real-life 4D);
  • presyncope and vertigo as a bonus side-effect of the anti-depressants;
  • peripheral oedema (fat feet) as a bonus side-effect of the blood pressure medications;
  • inability to sleep on my left side (as it crushes the intrathecal catheter, stopping spinal delivery, and I wake up crying in pain like a little girl with a spinter in her brony);
  • inability to sleep on my right side (I carelessly smashed the muscle pad over that hip in the accident, so it’s excruciatingly like lying on broken glass being warmed by a fire); and
  • the inability to sleep on my back (due to the neural stimulator being placed smack in the middle of my gluteus maximus, like a brick in the pocket of a pair of tight jeans).

So, since I can’t sleep on my front either (it’s like watching a giant beached white wale, truly), my nights aren’t so crash hot.

It’s not the dark. It’s everything else.

Wears the doctor? Yes, doesn’t it.

Unfortunately, sometimes doctors make mistakes. Actually, with me, doctors make just two mistakes – they think I’m as stupid as someone who believes football players make excellent role-models, and they assume that my CYP450 enzyme system is exactly the same as everyone else’s. So the poor old things start off with two strikes, which is unfair, but I try to tell them!

My pain specialist, let’s call her “Suzy”, made two small errors in the programming of my intrathecal pump when she refilled it last Thursday (was it only last Thursday? 4 days? Feels like a month…).

Now, since she can’t be expected to remember everything about every patient (as it was explained to me by her practice manager), and since she was “far, far, far too busy to speak to a patient on the telephone, and since our next appointment for a refill is in two weeks, she’ll fix the problem in two weeks’ time, OK!” (There are never question marks associated with any specialist’s use of the term “OK”. As in, “How’s that feel, OK! Great, see you when the dogs fly north. Next patient!”).

“No”, I was informed, “Suzy doesn’t prescribe dangerous opioids over the telephone”. (Actually, it’s “opiates”, not “opioids”, but who gives a rat’s arse what they’re called. She just doesn’t.)

“Well, tell you what, if it’s as bad as you’re making out, take two panadol – but only two every four to six hours – until the next appointment. Bye-bye for now!” -click-

So that’s how highly-trained Pain Management Specialists manage my special pain. Another story for another day. Bottom line, pump fucked, fucker of pump not interested able to fix fuckup for another ten days. Or so. No breakthrough pain management plan, since it shouldn’t be needed, as the patient has a reliable intrathecal pump, silly!

O yes, it’s the same argument as the holy bible uses; we thinkers call this circular reasoning.

  1. The patient’s pain-managment pump isn’t managing his pain.
  2. However, the patient has a reliable pain-management pump.
  3. Therefore there’s no need to worry, since he can’t be feeling any pain, as he has a pain-management pump.
  4. Take two aspirin and if the pain’s still there in the morning, immediately call someone who cares.

Whew. I was getting worried there. I could’ve been comfortable for two weeks! Lucky me!

Cue Indiana Jones music.

Now, with a new, enthusiastic, if slightly bombastic, GP, you’d think we’d be on top of these issues like white on rice. Well, yes and no.

In between agreeing with his approach in every respect, I keep having to convince him that I’m not selling Digesic or fentanyl patches at the Farmers’ Market every month, and that although I used to be a biker, I haven’t ridden in over 22 years, so the new Queensland bikie laws concerning drugs doesn’t apply to me. Particularly since we’re in Victoria!

I ran to this GP (let’s call this one “Bruce”), because he had handled the slow, excruciating death of my good friend and neighbour, Rob, in a dignified and helpful way. And I figured if he could be as positive and helpful in Rob’s case, he’d be all right by me.

It turns out I accidentally ran to the right guy. He wanted he and I to have a contract, a bond if you will, that we would share the responsibility of getting my complicated applecart back on it’s wheels. I agreed wholeheartedly. This was 21st century medicine, in action!

Cue Monty Python’s “Liberty Bell” music…

So he dumped me on handed me over to to the practice nursing manager, who asked me lots of irrelevant questions (when did I have my last bowel movement? Seventeen days ago), weighed, sampled, and finally (after she saw that the mess of screws and plates and wires and tubes that I described to her were actually in the x-ray films that really had my name on them) smiled at me, scanned all my prescriptions so they’d be permanently on file, asked if I had any other medical issues to speak of, and when I got out my notebook, we got interrupted by a phonecall, then a patient who needed to be sedated, then another phonecall, then it was the next patient’s turn (this is another shipshape and watertight operation, although the staff are permitted to laugh up to 4 times per 8-hour shift), and… well… somehow, my list of all the tiny little things that are slowly curdling my brainstem stayed right there in my notebook – and in my head.

So now, Dr Bruce thinks I have nothing at all wrong with me except a bit of a pain issue with the fusion. Thus, when I sat in front of him this morning, catching my breath from walking 26 paces from the waiting room to his office with my walking stick, he was quite upset that none of this extraneous information was on his file. Neither were my prescriptions, by the way, so that was an hour and 5 minutes wasted by Mandy. (This is the same Mandy who suddenly found other employment last Monday, and who somehow forgot to do a whole bunch of stuff, as you’ll see in the next paragraph. But I digress again…)

You’re a junkie! I’m a what???

When I asked for fentanyl patches, because I couldn’t get in to see Suzy the Pain Specialist to get them from her, I was subjected to much more serious grilling (again, raising points such as that the Pain Management Specialist should have taken care of a backup plan if the pump configuration was wrong, which I agreed with).

“This is not my responsibility, if you remember our agreement”, said Dr Bruce, “which frankly I’m concerned about, because you still haven’t done anything we agreed to. You haven’t provided your prescriptions to us, as I requested on… let’s see… October 27th. That’s… that’s nearly six weeks ago! And instead of going to Mandy’s scheduled appointments for dietician, psychologist, blood samples, and water physiotherapy, you’re turning up here out of the blue asking me for opiates? This is not what I thought we agreed to do together…”

Sigh. I’m so ronery…

There is a point in every conversation where you either interject and explain who was really responsible for follow through, the paid professional employee who told you they would do everything and notify you when it was ready, or the suffering patient, or else you might as well just pack up and go home, which is rude. I took door ‘A’.

Now, it could be argued that if doctors had fewer patients, they would have the time to stay on top of the patients’ histories. In fact, that’s exactly what I’m arguing. Doctors should be responsible for understanding their patient’s context, their history, where they are in the holistic plan, why they can’t attend some things because of someone screwing up their pump programming, and so on. In fact, it’s not an argument. It’s the truth. That’s what doctors should be doing. But they aren’t. Why?

There are a few reasons. But it all boils down to this : GPs are at the bottom of the medical hierarchy. Somewhere between trained macaques and simian idiots, they’re seen as generalists who never get smart enough about one aspect of medicine. (Horse’s mouth, trust me!). Plus, in medical school, it’s common knowledge that as outback and rural populations age and decrease, GPs can be required by the government to spend years practicing in the back of beyond, before coming back to the lucrative metropolitan cash cow. So those who are in it only for the money tend to specialise in areas where their lack of surgical skills won’t show them up – in lucrative consulting jobs, flogging erectile dysfunction pills and handing out the medical industry’s equivalent of beads and mirrors, gaining their Amex Black card soon after they realise they need those erectile dysfunction pills themselves.

Or, if they have no bedside or people skills, and they hate all of humanity but are fascinated by wet, squelchy things, they’ll become brilliant surgeons.

What about the middle of the road?

There are no alternatives. Well, they could become vets, and some do. But they generally don’t do so well with dogs and cats and other empathetic animals, so they come back to the fold, where their godlike powers and quirky bow ties endear them to struggling roofers and lawn mowers and ex-bikers. Hey, it’s a living.

So fewer and fewer medical school graduates want to have anything to do with general practice. It’s too risky, assuming they genuinely want to help people, since if that’s the case they’ll probably stay where they’re sent, and become the beloved local doctor, about whom many quite nasty jokes are made at surgical conferences and pain management get-togethers, but who generally tend to have a much lower overall suicide rate than the joke-tellers. Swings and roundabouts, as my beloved retired pain management specialist used to say.

So while people who can’t be trusted with a hot cup of coffee are breeding like maggots and simultaneously increasing the population while decreasing the average IQ, fewer and fewer GPs are available to cater to their undeniably hypochondriacal tendencies, and cultural mood-swings like fat-conscious people who can’t fit on a weighbridge clog the arteries of GP consulting rooms everywhere, no GP is going to be able to stay on top of patient histories.

Especially patients who, like me, have extremely unusual and interesting interactions with powerful painkillers (i.e. they don’t work, but nobody wants to ask why, except me – everyone else just increases the dose). I’m not saying I should get special treatment at anybody else’s expense!

But I absolutely fail to see why Shazza and Bazza and their 13 biblically-named spawn who take exactly zero interest in why their kids are fatter than pigs and teetering on the brink of adult onset diabetes, while I spend thousands of hours trying to understand how my nerves work, how nociception is effected by the brain and spinal cord neurons, particularly the periaqueductal gray matter, the dorsal horn of the spinal cord, and the limbic system, and how pain transmission is modified by g-protein coupled receptors, high-voltage gated calcium channels, and GABA-a excitatory channels, and why it doesn’t work that way in my body, and why nobody listens to me when I repeatedly tell them that I get none of the benefits of painkillers, but most of the side-effects! (Hint : It’s to do with the link between childhood rheumatic fever and underexpression of CYP2D6 in the cytochrome P450 allelle, I think. But who’s going to authorise a gene test?).

I don’t expect Dr Bruce or Dr Suzy to listen to me, after all, I’m just a patient. But I am disappointed when they don’t. Quite irresponsible of me, I know. But I’m nothing if not a rebel.

Communication is for pussies. Isn’t it?

My brand-new, caring, friendly local pharmacist, who we’ll call “Kristin”, was concerned enough about my consumption of non-opioid painkillers that she raised that issue with Dr. Confucius, my previous GP. Which was, all things considered, the legally correct thing for her to do.

Sadly, while this led to the irreversible demise of my relationship with Mr Dally/ Dr. Confucius, it kinda forced me into the reluctant arms of Dr. Bruce. So that’s a good outcome from a bad decision. Why bad? Well, if Ms Pharmacist had actually been interested enough to discover why the need for an increase in Mr Patient’s oral medication, instead of assuming I was gonna bomb Canberra, she might have been able to discuss alternatives. Sadly, this was a simple case of a flag being raised, which led to a significant loss of professionalism, which led to a fairly inevitable outcome – and the patient loses. BZZZZT. Game over.

It’s not you, it’s me!

I find it really interesting that, in all of this, it was automatically assumed that I am the “bad guy” because my life involves endless pain, therefore endless opioid medications, therefore I am an opioid abuser, QED. Everyone wanted an easy answer, a palatable reason, a clear and obvious target, and it seems I am Spartacus!

Well, forgetting the onstage shenanigans for one paragraph… In over thirty years of much and more pain, not one medical practitioner has taken seriously the possibility, however remote, that my opioid metabolism – which is governed by one single testable genetic marker -has never been tested. Period. Despite quite literally dozens of suggestions, requests, and even squeaky, feeble “demands”.

Who was it that said “Speak the truth, even if your voice shakes!”? Well, my voice shook, alright. Whether correctly or not, I asked the question, and was denied the answer.

I’ve now spent, by my own admittedly dodgy reckoning, around ten thousand hours, close to $200,000, and ten gigabytes of teaching myself how my busted arsehole of a pain system works. I’ve tried to kill myself once, put Fran, my wingless angel, through the wringer, and been butchered, bullied, and ignored.

How did we get here? And how do I fix it? And why is it me who must fix it?

Let’s be perfectly clear. There are many, many surgeons who I wouldn’t trust to find their own arsehole with both hands and a torch. There are many, many more who are gifted beyond words. Unfortunately, like most chronic pain patients, I’ve been operated on by both types. Luckily, the Old Boys’ Club rules means I’ve been lucky enough to forge friendships with the gifted type, who are often more than willing to repair the physical depradations of the butchers. That’s one of the advantages of the Old Boys Club. Well, that, plus no-one talks about the Old Boys Club. It’s just not done, old bean. The compassionate surgeons are bullied into honorary Directorships, the incompetent surgeons are shuffled into private hospitals in view of the mountains, and the rest try to make do.

It still begs the question, though. Why do I have to do someone else’s job, in order to retain some semblance of a normal life?

If this was plumbing, it’s the equivalent of having to learn about hot water systems because the “professionals” we contracted didn’t know there was anything else but cold water – and meanwhile we’re being raked over the coals for suggesting that warm water was a possibility! How dare we mere mortals infringe on the Voodoo of the Mystical Mumblers of Hot Showers! And then the horrid fuckers demand immediate payment, after soaking your house. With cold water.

Enough whining. Here’s the formula:

But On Friday, I’m sitting down with my new GP and ensuring we’re on the right page. I’m not an opiate abuser, any more than he’s an oxygen abuser. He will need to talk with my new pharmacist, to ensure that the scripts are filled promptly and without delay. Finally, both of those will need to speak directly with my pain management specialist, so that they all know the future direction of the reduction of my chronic pain, together with backup plans for when my metabolism or human nature gets things wrong.

That way, I might get my life back after six years of incompetence and ignorance on their part, and I might not have to name names.

That seems reasonable, doesn’t it? Or am I being too hopeful?

I’ll keep this blog updated, one way or the other.

Thanks for putting up with my terrible prose.

It occurred to me recently (courtesy of a wonderful visual image involving William Lane Craig, the fundamentalist Creationist, a stick, and a plastic beachball) that for the past 200 years or so, we sceptics and atheists have been doing not much more than poking holes in the “bubble” of delusion that anyone in any religion lives within.

Blowing Bubbles (not the chimp!)

This bubble they live within consists of all the faery stories, myths, and legends they’ve been taught (explicitly) and absorbed through constant interaction within the cult (i.e. implicitly). It’s invisible to anyone casually observing them from the outside; but it’s opaque to the person within. It’s an awful thing to contemplate.

This bubble then protects the cult follower from the harsh reality of the universe. That is, that we’re the incredible result of known random (or at least undirected!) processes operating over billions of years. We have an unbelievably tiny time in which to try to weave some sense into what is essentially a theme-less process before we are no more, and eventually won’t even be remembered. This is before the heat death of the universe plays out in its interminable hiss of energy loss on a timescale of trillions of years, until the final darkness of eternity sets in.

Think about it for just a few seconds…

Amazing! Incredible! …well, actually, not at all incredible. With a little learning in mathematics, a smidgin of calculus… a tiny pinprick of matrices… oh, and a willingness to concede that the world is a ball and not a tabletop… Then all this information, and more, become both visible and credible. It’s kinda like seeing a planet for the very first time through a telescope – it’s strangely different than you imagined, but then it dawns on you that that’s a real, live, planet, whirling in space not far from you. A stone’s throw, in terms of astronomical distances. Right there, wobbling in the eyepiece. Right next to you, and a billion kilometres away. Amazing, isn’t it?

What a time to live in!

Look, the simple fact is, we’re here, for a far too-short time, and we get to try to figure out what it all means – in other words, we’re a way for the universe to inspect itself!

And we’re priveleged to be right here, right now, as some of the most exciting (and energy-filled) experiments are being run to try and find out the why of why.

I can’t think of a cooler, more fascinating time and place to be alive, than right now, just when we begin to approach the raggedy ends of the universe we’re capable of knowing.

And yet…

And yet, religionists everywhere deliberately blind themselves to this wonderful 3D quantum melodrama unfolding around and even through them!

They build their impermeable bubbles around themselves, and disagree amongst themselves about what aeons-old and impossibly out-dated writings actually mean about their view of some aspect of the same writings.

And then they try to spin their bubbles of sickly sweet, viscidly sticky disapproval of realiity around other people – whether they want that or not.

Seriously. That’s what they do – they spend their lives in capsules, casually calling up images of their holy writings for display as they float around the wondrous universe that lives and breathes and ages and flickers outside their little dark bubbles. Occasionally they bump into another bubble-wrapped follower and either a) disagree with them about some insignificant speck on a fly’s turd that somehow or other was incorporated into their text by a scribe who couldn’t tell a fly turd from an umlaut, or b) threaten to, or actually, kill them for their unbelief in their particular dislike of reality and fear of the end approaching.

Pssst! Wanna feel like it’s your first time?

Hey presto! So a fly shits on a manuscript page in 422 CE, and suddenly, where she was a girl before, now she’s a virgin! And what was “they’re” is now “their”. “His” becomes “he is”, “he is” becomes “he will”, and “he will” becomes “you will not”.

Who can remember all the changes, the corrections, the…the… the polishing needed in order to make the bible make some kind of sense (in the smallest, narrowest sense of the word ‘sense’)?

220 years ago, a very clever Christian decided to certify beyond reasonable doubt that the bible was absolutely inerrant. His final word? After more than thirty years’ work, he counted no less than 17,000 clear and important differences – between just six of the best manuscripts!

Since then, we’ve learned that there are more mistakes in the New Testament than there are words.

So that’s what these bubble blowers do. They spin their blinding web of forgery, fraud, and male domination into bubbles so that, no matter where they look, they see only the inside of their bubble. And any time they read something in their holy and indisputable writings that they disagree with personally, they simply ignore or delete it! Just like that, they don’t have to obey a rule about bleeding on the dovecote or something similar. Oh yeah, and killing your kids if they speak back to to. So nothing troubles them… except when they have to deal with the real world long enough to beg money and life force so they can entrap other wondering souls. What a loathsome, painful, dreary existence they must have…

Sticking it up ‘em

Most of the fun you can have with religionists of every persuasion (see what I did there?) is, therefore, to poke holes in their bubbles – to let a little light into their depressing, regimented, horrible bubble world.

As a simple example, take the gospel according to Mark.

Now, there’s a problem right there – we have no idea who actually wrote this book! It almost certainly wasn’t someone called “Mark” or “Marcus”. It’s just as likely to have been written by someone called Brutus Urbanus, or Biggus Dickus.

In fact, since the writer of Mark’s gospel makes so many mistakes about jewish details in his writing, it’s absolutely certain it wasn’t written by a Jew! Worse, the strangled interpretation of some of the Old Testament passages shows it wasn’t someone even familiar with the Jewish testament!

So the Gospel of Mark is just as likely to have been written by our friend Brutus. Although the “Gospel according to Brutus” has an ominous ring to it…

So even without opening the cover, we’ve been able to poke a sizeable hole in the bubble of inerrancy or infallibility, using the very first book written about Jesus, about 40 or so years after the events that apparently only happened in the bible, apparently happened.

Biblical Battleship, or the “But…” game!

The response of the typical Christian apologists like William Lane Craig is, unsurprisingly, a mental and sometimes logical feat of gymnastry to “patch” the hole our logic and reason has poked in their bubble. (Yes, there was a reason why WLC was mentioned earlier!)

Oh, of course the name of the gospel writer is irrelevant, they say, it’s only a convention anyway. (patch) – but that begs the question, who wrote Matthew, Luke, and John? Certainly not Luke, Matthew, or John! Oh dear, more holes… and more patches…

Forty years after Jesus’ death isn’t long. Some of the people who were alive with Jesus would still be alive (patch) to phone up or get the police records from (patch, patch). Oh, it took weeks to just travel to these places, and there are no records outside the bible itself? Well, that was the way the world worked then, and it would’ve been just as possible then as now! (patch, patch, patch)

It’s possible that the gospel was dictated to an unbeliever, who wrote it down in a hurry (patch, patch).

OK, we ask, so again without opening the book, what about the fact that most Christian scholars believe the book of Mark ended at chapter 16, verse 7 (where Jesus is buried and the women agree not to say anything to anyone, before exiting stage left), and have known this little fact for nearly 160 years? And yet this part of the text that was obviously written 200 or more years after the rest of the book is still included in every modern bible, most without any annotation or comment! What’s the deal?

Well, Bill Craig says, not every Christian scholar believes this is an added extra from the 200th anniversary edition, just the 3 or 4 scholars who, like Bill Craig, can’t get their papers published anywhere outside of the university they attend. (patch, hole, patch)

…and the big one…

God moves in mysterious ways. (BIG PATCH).

…And so the game of ‘Reality Battleship’ commences, with facts poking holes in delusions, before we’ve even opened the damn book up! And the first chapter, and first verse gets ‘em in trouble even worse! (bit of rap there, you see, I’m home with the downies!)

I’ll probably add some to this bubble-bursting if I can find the brain cells. I’d say stay tuned, but that implies someone tuning in anyway! (Canned laughter).

Mind you, I’m happy to chat.

This post was triggered by the discussion of an attempt by a conservative American Republican female, who introduced a bill to criminalise abortion – by the mother. That’s right, if a woman has an abortion – for any reason – she can be charged wit tampering with evidence, which carries a jail term of not less than two, and not more than five years jail.

A Non-Fairy Story…

I’m adopted. I was also the result of one of “god’s gift” – the rape of an under-aged girl.

She was ostracised by her parents, forced into a church-run sanatorium for “wayward girls” (that’s actually what they called rape victims here in the 1960s), give birth at the age of fourteen, and put me up for adoption.

Luckily for her, her parents continued to love her, though the birth process damaged her vagina and uterus terribly.  That’s what religious love will do for your child.

She later married and eventually had two kids of her own.

Luckily for me, she put me up for adoption, and I was placed with a great couple, who  told me most (but not all!) of the story.

Eventually, I was able to track her down with one of the (sadly few) adoption meeting services available in Australia. Then I heard the whole, unvarnished story of my “immaculate” conception.

It wasn’t exactly rape. She had no idea what she was doing, and just let the guy (my shining example of a father) have sex with her half a dozen times or so.

My birth mother was (and still is) an ignorant, unteachable “free spirit” (she hates the word ‘slut’, although she admitted she was the town bike). She wanted to marry my father/sperm donor (although she had so little contact with him, she’s forgotten his name, or what he looked like, or even where it happened – though she does remember it was in the back seat of a “really nice” car).

This puts me squarely in the unenviable position of seeing at least three sides of this situation.  Am I glad I was born? Absolutely. I intend to make a difference to the world. Am I glad my mother was (and still is) the town bike? No. That makes me feel worse than someone’s vomit on the footpath. I was ‘ejecta’, an unfortunate and unwanted side-effect (not her exact words, but close enough). But do I love my birth mother? I’m still thinking about that. So far, no. On the other hand, my desperately hard-working adoptive parents I would gladly die for. My sadness there is that I’m not genetically related to either of them. Luckily, I’ve learned more than I can say from my dad!

But (from my incredibly privileged position as a fully-grown foetus of 49) then do I support religious or conservative views that abortion is ‘evil’, ‘sinful’, or ‘wicked’ in some way? Hell, no! Then do I support a woman’s right to decide what to do with her body? Absolutely, to my dying breath.

Well, having been there, been that, do I believe a foetus is a human being? No, no, no, a thousand times no, unless it can survive outside the mother’s uterus and become a useful human being. Until then it’s nothing but a bunch of cells with no more right to life than a wart. End of discussion. Don’t even think about arguing this point with me.

Would I have written this if my birth mother had been given such a choice as abortion instead of adoption? – unfortunately, I know the answer to this one. When she was “in her cups” one night, she admitted she wouldn’t have gone through with the birth if she’d had an alternative. She later apologised to me if she gave me the wrong impression… But given the physical damage she suffered thanks to her parents being christianists, in hindsight I can’t really blame her. Anyone who does is a monster!

My point is, there will always be people obsessed with ruling over other people. They use anything – lies, deception, holy books written by illiterate goat herders, their own deep sense of disgust at anything to do with someone else having sex or freedom (in other words, the usual conservative and fundamental christianist reasons!) – to gain and maintain control over other people, especially vulnerable people. It’s how they get their kicks.

But they must NOT, ever have the ability to tell anyone, man or woman, what they can and cannot do to or with their body, or who they can or cannot love.

Those people disgust and sadden me even more than my spare mother does.

Billboards for Jesus Will Defeat the Evil Muslims..er..witches

This post was prompted by an article I saw recently about a Christian minister in Nigeria.

What we're talking about...

What we’re talking about…

Dr. Ukadike’s a nice guy, really. And he’s a doctor, so he’s doing things tough, being a Christian and knowing enough about medicine to know how his religious beliefs amount to pretty much nothing when it comes to reality and fixing the badly-engineered human body. Not to mention he almost certainly works in a hospital, with scarcely enough supplies for normal, day-to-day emergencies, let alone a truckload of witches (oops, sorry, I meant “Muslims”) or their victims to be stitched back together every couple of days.

But he’s also decided to tell his fellow Nigerian Christianites that the Muslims who are murdering Christians for no good reason (a.k.a. the Qur’an, the international bestseller by Abū al-Qāsim Muḥammad ibn ʿAbd Allāh ibn ʿAbd al-Muṭṭalib ibn Hāshim, better known to his friends and enemies as Muhammed) aren’t actually people at all – they’re spirits or witches, silly!

And, as any medievalist worth his salt knows, the only way to defeat witches and spirits is to show them the faces of their victims, because that, you know, totally screws up their spiritiy-ness or something. Or is that for stopping devils stealing your soul? Or am I confusing that with the eyes? Anyway, the billboards would show the faces of the victims, or intended victims, of the evildoers, which would totally stop them in their tracks. Right?

You can read the full article here, or just do a search on Wikipedia on Boko Haram (“Westerners are unclean”). You’ll get the gist of these poor idiots pretty quickly. Anyway, here’s what I hammered out (but decided not to post on the site)…

Christians 0, Enemies of Christ, 1

I’m writing about the shocking situation in Nigeria, where Boko Haram members are murdering Christians because, well, because they can, and because “the book Mohammed made up” tells them it’s OK to do that.

It’s actually quite strange, because I’ve read the qur’an multiple times, very, very carefully, back to front (quite literally), and I just can’t see where it says “kill the Christians” (who it calls “the people of the book”, along with the jews). It does say “Respect the people of the book”, multiple times, but the “while you’re at it, kill ‘em too!” bit just isn’t in there!

Maybe I should be reading the “Islam eXtreme” edition or something? See, I can see where ol’ Mo islam is tolerantcalls for jihad, and under what conditions (and he’s quite specific and clear about that), but there’s just nothing even remotely close to “kill the Christians”. Could it be that the muslims in Nigeria (and Kenya, and the Sudan, and….) are just making these things up? That would be terrible, wouldn’t it? That good, god-fearing muslims would just pretend to read stuff that isn’t in their bestseller, and then act on what they pretended to read – that would just be wrong, wouldn’t it?

But then again, considering how the book was written, by an epileptic man, primarily to explain away his fits and seizures as “holy revelations” (which was common practice back then), it wouldn’t necessarily surprise me that I could get much more out of the book by reading between the lines. Hey, it works for the Christians, why not the Muslims too?

So that’s what caused the whole kerfuffle in the first place – the Muslims were practicing their peaceful Islamic skills, and the Christians just happened to get in their way. Hey, it can happen to anyone, right?

Speaking of the two religions, I’m quite surprised that mainstream, “moderate” Christians and Muslims haven’t seen fit to step in and try and rein back their fringe-dwelling rebellious brothers before this. Where’s Archbishop Desmond Tutu when you need him?

That’s the Book, That’s The Book, That’s the Book – The Book Of Love

So you see, we have a very serious situation in Africa, created, fanned, and maintained by believers of the same two “holy” books.

In Kenya, the Christianites used the bible to make them feel good about murdering defenceless old ladies. In Nigeria, the Muslims used the Qur’an to make them feel good about murdering defenceless Christians. And the Christians in Nigeria used the bible to make them feel superior to the Muslims who were killing them. What?

The Christian version of these books, the bible, suggested to Dr Ukadike that his opponents are djinns, devils, spirits, and/or witches, who can be defeated (as any good Catholic or Lutheran knows) simply by showing them the faces of their opponents. Now, that kind of thinking went out before the Renaissance. So why is this bizarre pseudo-psychology still alive and kicking 350+ years later in the Christian and Muslim religions? (Please note, this is not just happening in Africa – in the United States, attacks on “witches” and witchcraft is increasing every year in the most religious communities in the Bible Belt, though it hasn’t yet reached the same levels of depravity as it has in the Christian communities in Africa. Yet.)

That kind of incoherent “witches and warlocks” thinking is uncannily close to the Kenyan Christian community, which just a few weeks ago went one tiny little step further, and began burning their innocent opponents – oops, sorry, “witches” – alive. The smoke from the charred carcases of those poor women hasn’t cleared away yet, and here we see another Christian community taking the same steps, authorised by – in fact, demanded by – the same book.

Why is this behaviour – calling people witches and then murdering them – being permitted by Christian churches anywhere else? Don’t they read the news? Don’t they believe the African Christian churches are Christian enough? What’s the reason for the deafening silence, I wonder?

I’m not, you are! No, you are!

Unfortunately, the Muslim thugs are no better than the Christians – in fact, they’re just as deluded.

I mean, the name they’ve chosen for themselves (Boko Haram) quite literally means “Western society (or people) are unclean”. That should be ringing bells all across Islam and Christendom!

You see, there’s not a hell of a lot of difference between ‘unclean’ and ‘inhuman’, and we all know what happened the last time someone in power thought a race of people were inhuman, don’t we? And yes, I am directly correlating the Holocaust, which was created, fanned, and aided by mainstream Christian sentiments, to the situation in the African Christian and Muslim communities – my question is, why hasn’t everyone else seen the obvious religious parallels?

Let’s Pray It Away. Like in Darfur. Or Kenya.

Are people in the Western world’s major religions just waiting to see what happens? As if, somehow the magick thinking will defeat the Muslim devils without causing any further damage to the already shattered nations? Or do all Christians believe that the “witches” in Kenya deserved to die, screaming as they were burned alive?

What if Dr. Ukedike manages to get all his people’s faces on billboards, only to have them slaughtered by the peaceful Islamic Muslims anyway, since (after all) the Muslims seem to be fairly sure they’re not actually evil spirits. No, the Muslims responsible for the slaughter are just evil people. And anyway, billboards don’t work on people set upon killing other people because of what an unlettered epileptic got someone much smarter than him to copy out in a tent 800 years ago. Or hadn’t anyone noticed?

So what we have is two groups of religious people accusing each other of being evil, based on the same set of man-made books. And they’ve started murdering one another – and other people, just for the kicks – based on those same two books. If that doesn’t cause chronic cognitive dissonance, I don’t know what will.

Man up, you Religious Chickenshits!

When are religious people going to realise that these books are directly responsible for the horrific tragedy occurring before their eyes?
warchessWasn’t the carnage over the centuries of crusades enough? Weren’t the wars between the British and the French, the French and the Spanish, the British and the Spanish, the British and the Dutch, the Dutch and the French, the Spanish and the Dutch, and various combinations of those countries, enough? Weren’t the Inquisitions (you remember, those same Inquisitions that are still very much alive and well in the Catholic church today) enough? Wasn’t the Holocaust enough? Wasn’t Darfur enough? Wasn’t Kenya enough? How much is it going to take before the Christians and the Muslims man up and begin to take responsibility for the incalculable damage their religions have done to the world over the ages – and more to the point, what they’re doing right now in Nigeria and Kenya, amongst others?

Of course, books don’t kill people, people do – but in order for people to kill each other with a perfectly clean conscience, they need to be told that it’s OK to kill the other guy for believing the ‘wrong’ thing in the same books. And that’s what the bible and qur’an are doing, right now, in Africa.

Shame on you, Christians. Shame on you, Muslims.

militant_atheists

I’m writing this down, because its a good day today. The Black Dog is circling because the fentanyl patch is a day and a bit past discharged, but it’s a controlled decrease, and that’s a hell of an improvement over cold turkey!

The Digesic and Oxycodone (4 & 2 tabs respectively, before and after dinner) seems to be just about spot-on – pretty mild nausea (managing without dope OK!), and the brain’s a bit light & fluffy, but some Bill Maher on YouTube and the lolly jar will be my prescription. I wasn’t going to write anything else tonight anyway.

So, dear diary, I can categorically state for the record, that I am officially pain-free for the very first time this year! What a great day. I love the occasional unexpected pleasure!

OK, so what’s “theodicy”, I hear you ask.

(Thanks for asking! That could have been awkward…)

Theodicy (sometimes called “The problem of evil”) is simply the argument that since an all-powerful, truly caring god shouldn’t allow human suffering, there must be some really good reason for such a god allowing human suffering to occur, every day, throughout human history, to billions and billions of innocent people. Mustn’t there?

We call the people who argue that god is behind all this suffering ‘apologists’ – from the greek word ἀπολογία, or ‘apologia’, meaning “verbal defence”, or “speech in defence”.  Although, the modern meaning of the word – someone apologising for the actions, or on the behalf of someone else – works just as well.

You’ve heard the argument a thousand different times, I’m sure : suffering will “build your character”, or “it will make you stronger”, or “it makes you a better person”, or “that will teach those muslims living too close to the sea in Indonesia a lesson”, and so on and so forth. So religious apologists do realise that suffering happens all over the world, that’s beyond argument. From their point of view, from great destruction – hurricanes, fires, earthquakes, plagues, AIDS, cholera, polio – comes great suffering, they argue, and from great suffering comes great good. That’s theodicy in a nutshell.

Now, I suspect that you’ll have spotted the glaring difficulty with this whole concept. It’s not a new difficulty – it’s been a difficulty since the first rational person (most likely just before they were burned at the stake for being such a smartarse, see the various christian inquisitions for more details) asked “Why, if god is so powerful, and so loving, does all this bad stuff happen to all of these people/me?”

Theodicy is, more or less, the list of excuses apologists have come up with, over the millennia, as to why there is so much “evil” (suffering has to have a name) in the world. After all, god is supposed to be omnipotent (meaning he could take away all the evil without any problem or repercussions), omniscient (meaning he knows about all the suffering), infinitely loving (meaning he apparently hates to inflict such suffering on anyone), and infinitely good (meaning he should take away all the evil and suffering in a heartbeat, as any ordinary, non-omnipotent, decent person would). However, it appears that God  doesn’t do any of those things – which begs the question, why not?

The obvious and immediate answer (as any four-year-old knows), he can’t because he doesn’t exist.

Putting the ‘idiocy’ into “Theodicy”

However, people don’t, as a rule, listen to four-year-olds. And since so many people need a religion to make them less scared of death, and since a religion apparently needs a god, and since the god must be all-powerful, all-seeing, and completely loving or he’s not worth the sacrifice, and since those godly virtues are completely incompatible with any deity who’s aware of the extent and depth of human suffering throughout the world but chooses not to intervene, those same religious people rationalise the dichotomy by assuming a) that no-one is truly innocent (the “Original Sin” concept), and b) therefore, that’s the reason why people suffer. That, or people who are suffering must be QED bad people. Either way, they deserve the suffering.

Actually, religious people don’t really think that much about theodicy at all, until something nasty happens directly to them so that they start suffering. However, theodicy is actually inherent in all the major religious belief systems in the world – definitely in the ‘Big 6′ : Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism (which isn’t technically a religion, it just looks like one),  and Mormonism. And it was certainly a problem (though more creatively avoided by less powerful deities and more complex reasoning) in older, dead religions.

But The Devil Made Me Do It!

One of the more asinine and insulting (and therefore one of the most popular!) answers given by religious apologists to this awful conundrum of suffering in the face of a compassionate, all-powerful being, is that it’s not the good guy’s fault after all. No, there’s a kind of anti-god, usually called “the Devil” or “Satan”, who the apologists’ god permits or requires (for some equally asinine and bizarrel reasons) to cause all the suffering in the world. Talk about trying to get a “get out of jail free” card! But that’s the kind of logic people use in order to avoid the terrible cognitive dissonance caused by believing in a great, powerful, invisible being who is apparently unable to affect his creation in any meaningful way except by making people suffer. It’s just such unconvincing logic, and yet it’s persisted for thousands – or even tens of thousands – of years!

Unfortunately for the apologists, this “anti-god” is even more unbelievable than their original proposition  in the first place! I mean, just think about it for a moment. If the “good” god is omnipotent, omniscient, and all-loving, how could he possibly allow the presence of such a powerful, demonic “bad” entity working against him? If you or I had god’s powers, and a milligram of true compassion, we’d cut that crap in a heartbeat. After all, if we were truly omnipotent, we’d be easily able to achieve whatever  religious apologists’ believe the point is for suffering – without actually requiring suffering! Duh. But that doesn’t appear to have occurred to any religious apologists. (It’s actually quite strange when people discuss omnipotence, because they all seem to place their own mental limitations on that omnipotence, as though their god must work and think the way they do. I find that very strange… and very human, if inhumane).

On the other hand, if this devil/anti-god is able to do what he or she wants, and god can’t stop them from doing it, then that god is, by any possible definition of the word, not omnipotent. And if they’re not omnipotent, then why pretend they’re gods in the first place? This isn’t rocket science, it’s logic a four-year-old can master. But apparently religious apologists can’t (or won’t) allow themselves to follow any of their ideas to their obvious conclusion. (I assume it’s because they’re all so scared of dying, or having “no reason” to live – at least, these are the common reasons given for not being an atheist. Which is why I feel genuine, deep, and honest pity for anyone with such limited understanding and poor relationship with the rest of humanity. It must be truly awful to live with a mind like that. But I digress…).

So stating the requirement for an anti-god or devil doesn’t make the argument for suffering any less unconscionable – in fact, it makes the original argument even more insidious, since it introduces so many limitations on the abilities and compassion of the original deity! Not only can the god cause suffering, he needs another god in order to do the dirty work! Anyone who argues that concept any further has a very limited grasp of omnipotence, or has some kind of mental block when it comes to logic and human psychology. Of course, that hasn’t stopped many religions from springing up like maggots on a corpse, claiming that the Judeo-Christian god and the devil/anti-god are just “weak underlings” of a more powerful being. However, that’s even more facetious and bizarre than believing in a “good” miracle-working god who’s unable to work miracles when it comes to pain and suffering!

But then so many of those same people (especially fundamentalists, who seem to be the worst bigots, homophobes, misogynists, and fornicators of the religious world) toddle off to see how many of their religion’s commandments they can ignore in one day. For example, they’ll possibly post hate speech against atheists in online forums, or head off to abuse some gays, or take steps to prevent people in third world countries from receiving food or family planning assistance unless they swear to believe in the same god that allows all the suffering; or perhaps they’ll spend the day brainwashing their children – who don’t know any better – into believing the same unfortunate things they do, before jumping into bed with someone who’s not their spouse. It’s apparently actually quite simple, and a lot of fun, being religious! At least, that’s what the statistics say…

The problems I have with theodicy, as a concept, are both personal and general – and so quite separate from the logical fallacy of imagining an omnipotent, omniscient invisible, being in the sky.

God, killing kids? Surely Not!

Honestly, I find that the thought of any person, let alone an omnipotent omniscient completely loving god, who permits young children (who have no possibility of having sinned), to suffer from diseases like cancer, makes me want to punch religious apologists in the face. I’ve seen too many cancer wards in my interminable hospital stays to think otherwise. And I thought spinal wards gave me reason to be thankful for my (comparatively) moderate physical problems!

And while all cancer wards are heartbreaking, by far the worst are the kids’ cancer wards. All the fluffy toys, motivational posters, cheerful staff, balloons, and Glen-20 in the world can’t mask the smell of children suffering terribly.

And yet, that’s what religion, and specifically theodicy, implicitly demands! It means that people believe there is a perfectly reasonable, logical need for their god to insert deadly cancer genes in the growing cells of young children. They feel that there’s a perfectly acceptable reason why their god watches those kids die, taking their parents’ hopes and dreams with them, destroying dreams, lives, and families. They see this kind of awful disease happening, and because they can’t not believe in an all-powerful, all-seeing, all-loving god, they have to justify that belief in terms of their god inflicting that kind of pain and suffering on innocent people for some reason.

So, as a matter of fact and belief, religious apologists are arguing that young children suffering in cancer wards is a good thing.

Why? Well, because… ah…er… Oh, that’s right, because if you’re a Christian, you believe your little three-year-old daughter is “stained” with a “sin” that some stone age priests concocted three thousand years ago, to justify paying them money and keeping them fed without them having to do any useful work! That’s what theodicy means – the bizarre justification of the incoherent worldview of semi-literate pre-Semitic nomads, used to justify an innocent child’s suffering from any of a multitude of diseases.

You just can’t avoid the conclusion. There’s no justifying or softening or avoiding it, despite the best verbal gymnastics of the glibbest apologists. If you believe in an all-powerful God, then you must also believe that God gives completely innocent children lethal diseases because they deserve it. Otherwise, what is such a God’s excuse for permitting – or causing – suffering in the first place?

Rich or Poor, It’s All The Same

But it’s not just infants and children suffering in the first world that “shows” just how effective the “powerful” and “merciful” and “loving” God is at causing human suffering. Oh no. This God doesn’t discriminate between rich and poor. That would be unethical. That would be, by their own scriptural definition, immoral.

Sir David Attenborough found out during his extensive travels around the world that there are tiny, almost invisible worms in the drinking water in some African countries. Since god apparently makes everything (according to the religious scriptures of nearly every religion, past and present, and in direct contravention of the established facts of evolution), then he must have made these little worms too. Now, any kids who swim in the water get attacked by those tiny, little worms that God made. The worms go for the children’s eyes – they quite literally chew their way through the child’s eyeball and proceed to grow and live in the child’s eye itself (I’m not making this up!), until the child goes blind a couple of months later.

Let me just reiterate. According to the doctrine of theodicy, this suffering is somehow good for the children, who are now blind! This is God allowing children to suffer, because… well… he apparently doesn’t want them not to suffer! But just to make sure they don’t miss out on any of the side-effects, God makes sure those children feel an incredible amount of pain while the worm is growing. This God has had some major problems with attention to detail (for example, the terrible “construction” of the human eye itself, or the shockingly flawed spinal column, or the individual variations in arteries supplying blood down the spine), but not when it comes to children suffering. Then, God really seems to lift his game.

God Gets Personal

Those examples of human suffering caused by god are what apologists call “general (or impersonal) evil”. That’s just part of nature’s way, according to them; just part of the way their God designed the world to work. But general suffering doesn’t just have to be biological in origin, according to the apologists. It can also be purely mechanistic, as in earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, or just traffic accidents. God apparently has fingers in every pie, and is some sort of creative genius when it comes to methods of inflicting suffering on individuals, families, towns, cities, and nations. Especially kids. He really loves making children suffer.

But earthquake or disease, predators or floods, none of that’s really personal, is it? You could argue that it’s just random chance – being in the wrong place at the wrong time. But the religious God likes things to be personal, mano-a-mano. God likes to look you in the eye as he inflicts misery and suffering on you. And he expects you to thank and praise him before, during, and after the suffering (assuming you live through the tsunami, or bushfire). I’m unsure why this God needs to hear people thank him endlessly – despite having thoroughly and repeatedly read the Christian bible, the Qur’an, and most other religious scriptures, it’s not immediately obvious why you’re expected to thank God for punishing you for a mythical sin he inflicted on you thousands of years before you were born, without your consent. I’ve never heard any learned religious scholar make a believable, logical argument as to why that bit of grovelling is necessary. It just is, OK? OK.

And when it comes to attention to detail, how could such an omnipotent, omniscient, all-loving deity possibly miss the opportunity to use his own ‘peeps’, his own officials, to impose the most personal, most grievous bodily and mental suffering on innocent individuals? A god would have to be mad to give up the chance to take advantage of the deep trust placed in his officials by his misguided followers! So he doesn’t miss that opportunity. Oh, no, quite the contrary. He takes advantage of this with both hands. He uses other people to do his dirty work, and when he wants some extra special suffering, he uses his own religious staff!

Religion and Crime : Horse and Carriage, or Hose and Fire?

God could, and does, allow rape, murder, torture, violence, and war, pretty much solely for the sake of religion. At least, that’s what the statistics show – more than 80% of incarcerated criminals are actively religious, while less than 0.1% are atheists, which means that no matter how apologists spin the data, religious people account for at least 4 out of 5 crimes committed. Of course, that only reflects modern religious freedom to claim you’re not religious. Previously, nearly 100% of prisoners were religious, in which case every single crime committed and punished was perpetrated by a follower of God.

This in turn means that either religion isn’t a particularly effective means of controlling crime, or that God has a penchant for using his people to commit crimes and impose untold suffering on other people. Once again, the idea of theodicy means that either God approves of this eternal crime spree – in which case, it begs the question of what kind of God he is – or that this God has no ability or power to stop such crimes, in which case, why is he so revered and seen as all powerful? Or could it be that religious judges and jurors throughout history have it “in” for God’s children? Yeah, right.

Again, irrefutable statistics show that religion is strongly linked to increased child abuse, crime, sexually transmitted diseases, and even negative societal health (in other words, the more religious a society is, the less happy people within that society are). I need only point to theocratic states like Iran, Afghanistan, North Korea (the Kim family was officially declared to be divine, which makes the necrocratic government fully religious in nature), Yemen, most of the African states, the United States of America (which currently has the second-highest infant mortality rate in the world, due mainly to poor education as religious home schooling numbers increase and more religious followers refuse to accept medical assistance because it’s somehow evil), as an unarguable catalogue of countries with strong religious backgrounds (or governments) with many, many fundamental societal problems due in most part to religious beliefs. So if living in a religious country isn’t a definition of suffering, I don’t know what is.

Online, Christian Soldiers!

And let’s not forget the religious followers themselves. After nearly thirty years online, in quite literally thousands of discussions, weblog discussions, and forums for every conceivable aspect of life, I can state without exception or exaggeration that the worst – the very worst – purveyors of vitriol, bigotry, homophobia, hate, foul language, personal invective, misogyny, misandry, and the most disgusting and inappropriate human interactions imaginable are started, prolonged, and/or extended by active, passionately religious fundamentalists, most of whom proudly and loudly call themselves Christians or Muslims.

The astonishingly bad language has to be seen and heard to be believed. Incoherent rants full of swearwords, lots of uppercase letters, and threats of hell, damnation, and murder are fairly typical of the worst examples of fundamentalist Christian and Muslim followers. And the most ardent such religious followers are the very same ones who threaten other people – and even other religious followers they disagree with – with spite, violence, and even death, with a vehemence that is truly frightening in its intensity. Of course, there are many more religious people online who don’t sink to the levels of these psychotic monsters, but the volume and vehemence of the psychotic few swamp the more measured and reasonable members. It seems that most Christians and Muslims go out of their way to break as many commandments and laws of their religion as possible when arguing their point of view. How does this make them good believers?

Here’s a reasonable, peaceable, friendly Muslim. I wonder if he’d like a copy of this cartoon I drew?

I do realise this digression has little to do directly with suffering, except that the targets of the worst of the fundamentalist Christians surely suffer when their lives are threatened! It is difficult to explain the level of fear and suffering experienced by kind, gentle, rational, reasonable adults whose selves and whose children are threatened by Christians with anger issues, but it’s real enough. And it’s not just Christian fundamentalists with attitude problems and difficulties adhering to their religion’s rules. Muslims, Mormons, and Jews can be just as creatively disgusting with their attitudes.

Remember, these are devout followers of the same God(s) we see powerful church leaders, such as George Pell (archbishop of Sydney, and a religious apologist par excellence pictured at left), the Archbishop of Canterbury,the many hundreds of Popes, thousands of Imams, and hundreds of thousands of deacons, ministers, and pastors, representing their religion in public and the media. So it’s not only the same god, but the same religious organisations inflicting suffering on people, now and all down through the centuries.

Of course, it’s not just the Christian god we must discuss here, it’s also the Jewish and Islamic deities. After all, they can’t all be right in claiming a single god for each of them! There’s either just one such imaginary being, in which case at least two of those religions have been wrongfully misguiding and punishing people for century after century; or else they’re all right, in which case there’s more than one imaginary being (or they all share the same deity). And in that case their fundamental understandings are inherently incorrect, since they base their claims to truth on the fact that there is only one god – their own! And, if it’s some kind of a “shared” God, the descriptions and attributes in each of the Gods as clearly and distinctly described by the three religions’ scriptures, are so fundamentally and ethically different in so many respects, that again, they simply can’t all be correct – in which case at least one, possibly two, and probably all three are completely invalid and therefore nonexistent! So any way you cut the cake, they all lose! Of course, the argument and conclusions are only valid assuming a supernatural deity exists, and is omnipotent, and omniscient, and all-loving, and has been solely responsible for deliberately causing mind-boggling amounts of horrific – and completely unnecessary – human suffering and death for tens of thousands of years. Which brings us back, neatly, to theodicy.

But let’s get back to the use of this god’s officials as instruments of torture, shall we?

Child Abuse by Priests – All Part Of God’s Plan!

So if the religious apologists are correct about theodicy – and the existence of their God – then that all-loving and all-powerful and all-seeing deity, having total control over everyone and everything, apparently twists his priests’ thoughts around to fucking little boys and girls who are left under their power, raping them until they bleed. The priests generally rape the children repeatedly, forcing them to suck their penises (because the vast, overwhelming majority of sexual crimes in the religious institutions all throughout the centuries have been men) and perform other, even more violent and indecent acts. And they don’t just do it once – they can prey on the same child for decades!

By the way, I’ll use the word “priest” to mean any religious clergy, whether it be priest, imam, minister, archbishop, pastor, or shaman, since they all perform essentially the same useless function in each respective religion, and every level of every religion’s earthly hierarchy has been implicated in one way or another with child abuse!

Now child abuse is a serious enough problem on its own. It should be more than enough to make the rest of the clergy, in whatever religious order, hunt down these child-molesting perverts and bring them to justice. After all, if you or I knew about such things going on in our organisation, we’d do the same. Right? So why don’t the other priests do just that?

Cardinal Brady, who paid children to keep quiet about sexual abuse by priests in his diocese.

That’s a really good question, isn’t it? Perhaps you should ask church officials, like Archbishop George Pell, why so many child molesters aren’t brought forward for punishment. And those same clergy – and George Pell in particular is a clear example – will stand and argue that their omnipotent, omniscient, ever-loving god approved – and caused! – that suffering to happen, but somehow it’s not their fault.

Timmy’s Story : God Punishes Little Boys Using Priests

And you know what’s even more horrific? Many – if not most – of the paedophilic priests use that same argument of “original sin” in order to take advantage of the children under their care!

“You’ve been a bad little boy, Timmy, haven’t you?” goes one victim’s recollection. “You have to accept God’s punishment for being a bad boy. Do you know what that punishment is, Timmy? Here, let me show you what you have to put in your mouth to show God that you love him and you’re sorry for sinning.”

I really, truly hope you’re as disgusted by this behaviour by religious priests as I am. Because if you’re not, then you’re as bad as one of them. This is the “first fruit” of theodicy. This is what belief in a supernatural being, with no evidence whatsoever to support its existence, does. This is exactly what comes from believing that the invisible, supernatural deity created people with some sort of imaginary and disgusting and inhuman “sin” on their “souls”. This is what arguing that pain and suffering is caused by, or is approved by, that impotent, irresponsible deity! This is what that omnipotent, omniscient, all-loving, all-merciful God causes (or, at the very least, allows) to happen, according to the religious apologists’ views.

Father Shawn Ratigan, a creator and purveyor of child pornography.

This has been happening to Timmies since the first stone-age priest decided he didn’t want to have sex with sheep or his wife any more, he liked the looks of little Timmy’s sweet arse. But how could he convince Timmy to do that horrible thing with him, and yet not tell his parents? “Oh, I know, I’ll tell little Timmy that God wants him to take his pants off and let me fondle him. Since I’m a priest, he’ll believe me! Oh, Lord, thank you! Thank you!”

Tens of thousands, possibly hundreds of thousands, but much more likely tens of millions of little boys and little girls, suffered because their parents told them to trust the priest, and that God allowed suffering, and suffering was good for them. All through the ages, victims of priests and nuns, victims of imams (hell, we already know beyond any doubt that the muslim leader Mohammed, in his 50s, married a nine-year-old virgin girl, a trick the Mormon Joseph Smith took out of that book), victims of rabbis, victims of pre-Neanderthalic thinking, victims of religion, victims of religious apologists and their God phantasy.

What kind of a monster do you have as a God to imagine in order to equate that kind of power and that kind of suffering with religion? Don’t forget, Jesus, Mohammed, and Buddha all wrote that suffering, this exact kind of suffering spoken of above, was to be expected, and even welcomed, by followers of their all-powerful gods. Talk about a perfect plot!

My Own Suffering As a Tool To Uncover Religious Suffering

The personal aspect to my difficulty believing a god like the apologists posit, was closer to home, my own physical situation.

In fact, the knowledge that if a god exists, he’s taken exquisite care to damage my spine to the point where it’s difficult to wake up in the morning, because I know how my day is going to go along in agony, is one of the most powerful arguments against believing in such a being and such an idea as creating or permitting suffering. At least, it’s been that way for me for over 30 years – without missing a single day. Some days the pain is worse, some days it’s not much worse than a bad toothache. I live for those days, when I don’t mentally scream myself awake in the morning, or lie awake at night

My qualifications for discussing pain and suffering.

until 3 or 4 AM because it feels like I’m lying on a bed of superheated spikes.

I prayed for years. I was a devout, fundamental, evangelical believer in God, in Jesus, in the Holy Spirit. I prayed deeply, genuine, heartfelt, passionate, faithful, absolutely accepting, prayers. For over six years. God wasn’t listening, it seems. Either that, or he wanted to teach me something. But what?

Now, I don’t even *begin* to equate my suffering with cancer victims, or victims of religious predators (or anyone else, for that matter), but my own, particular, suffering is something I learned to use as a tool to understand there was no God.

My Mum, to this day, finishes every phone call to me with “You’re in my prayers. I’m praying to god to take away your pain”.

It simply hasn’t occurred to her that her prayers not only haven’t been answered (after 31 years!), but I’m getting worse!

Pissing Into the Wind

I tried -once- to point the utter futility and cruelty of her belief to her. I won’t try it again.

A few months ago, dad had a bunch of heart attacks in a couple of days. He was hurting badly: this hero of a guy, the best, toughest, most laconic man I’ve ever met, was crying with pain, unable to breathe, and couldn’t even take a dozen steps. I eventually got to the hospital (I couldn’t actually walk properly when this happened, so it took a lot of morphine, sufentanyl, oxycontin, and digesic to get me moving well enough to drive home, and I tried to do the little I could to be there for him and Mum. I interpreted the medical jargon (specialists truly aren’t equipped to deal with most normal people like Mum and Dad), and explained what the surgeons were doing, what the tests were for, etc. Trying to be a good son, I guess.

Well, thanks to the truly astounding technological advances we’ve made recently, and thanks to his impressively healthy lifestyle and attitude, he recovered fully (he’s better than ever!).

So he and I both went out of our way to thank all the staff who kept him alive. It was a delicious feeling, being able to express our appreciation and thanks for their dedication. And my Dad, my hero, was back. Oh, he still has terrible spinal arthritis, as well as arthritis in his arms and hands and fingers, but he’s out and about, spraying the fruit trees, mowing the lawn, walking the bush. He’s doing what he wants and needs to do to be himself. And that’s a pretty damn good result. And he didn’t mention God once during this whole terrible time. Who knows, perhaps he’d had enough of theodicy by then too.

But shortly afterwards, during a follow up phone call, mum went on and on about what a miracle her prayers had achieved for him. I couldn’t help myself – I asked her right then who she thought was responsible for his heart problems in the first place? If God fixed him, who broke him?

Oh, that wasn’t God, it was the devil, she replied.

I asked her if she thought her god was all-powerful, and she said of course god is infinitely powerful, he moves the sun and earth and stars. So I asked her why, if God was so powerful, he couldn’t prevent the devil from giving dad such a terrible few weeks and even taking him quite literally to the brink of death, many times? Oh, he could’ve prevented it, she said, you see, it was a lesson!

I couldn’t help myself. “Who was the lesson for, mum? For you? Have you been evil? Was it for dad’s good? And what was the lesson? That you’ve been evil? That you’re being punished for Original Sin? That you’re mortal? That Dad can suffer, so he made him suffer? That’s what a kid does with a magnifying glass on an ant’s nest! Not what a powerful God does to a decent man or to his wife! Have a think about the kind of God who needs to break something that’s working perfectly in order to fix it -just so you’ll remember to thank him for his goodness and power.”

Yeah. I made my 82-year-old Mum cry on the phone, and “took away her meaning of life”. I wish I’d succeeded, but I’m not going to try again.

She still tells everyone who’ll listen about the “miracle”, but not in my hearing. Or, interestingly, in dad’s hearing. That’s new -and hopeful.

But you just can’t argue with stupid.

Conclusion : Theodicy Is For Idiots!

Theodicy, then, is composed of equal parts of stupidity, ignorance, idiocy, cognitive dissonance, and a spectacular inability to accept reality for what it is.

Anyone who argues that their god, or their anti-god, uses suffering for any reason – any reason at all – is the least compassionate human being you will meet today. Why? As I’ve shown in so many ways, inflicting suffering, even for the best reasons in the world, is nothing short of torture. Any rational, intelligent, compassionate God with any power at all would be smart enough to find another way to achieve their goals without resorting to individual or mass torture. Any such being who must be apologised for by devoted followers as an arbiter of pain, in an attempt to rationalise suffering, is not worthy of existing, let alone being relied on to guide or justify anyone’s life! And the more intelligent and omnipotent the being, the more deplorable their actions, and the actions and excuses of their followers.

If push came to shove, not one of these apologists would willingly follow the teachings of an avowed rapist, or child molester, or serial murderer, or child killer, so why do these people willingly and delightedly follow a God with these exact skills? Why is it that religious believers of every persuasion attack and denigrate atheists unmercifully? Could it be that they’re jealous of the fact that we are compassionate, rational, and supremely “moral” by their own standards, while they believe that without their God, their religion, they themselves would turn into child molesters, murderers, or rapists? After all, that’s the most common argument used by religious people against atheists! And yet, more than 80% of the prison population is religious!

Thanks, but No Thanks : I’ll Take My Reality Neat

It is overwhelmingly probable, based on the last few thousand years of advancements in science and human psychology, that those who class themselves as atheists (including myself) are completely correct about supernatural deities. Our sure and proven knowledge that suffering is a by-product of living in a universe ignorant of our existence totally and utterly negates any religious misanthropic justification of suffering as some sort of deserved punishment for a sin concocted by a guy in a tent who thought the earth was flat and had four corners.

We don’t make up causes to blame for suffering, we get on with dealing with it, supporting one another without regard for race, colour, sexual persuasion, or religious illusion.

We understand that there is no afterlife. That is one of the most powerful and reasonable and liberating truths we know as intelligent beings! That knowledge allows us to concentrate on the here and now, on living to our fullest capacity, and of enjoying what we have, while we have it. That makes so much more sense than hiding from the reality of thermodynamic laws and telling ourselves and each other that we’re going to live forever, so we don’t actually need to do more than just the basic requirements for a fictitious and demeaning afterlife.

We do what’s moral, what’s trueand what’s rightbecause they’re the right things to do, here and now. We don’t need to keep a mental scorecard, checking to see if we’ve done enough good to get us to the Pearly Gates, and doing nothing if we’re “in the black”! We do things because they need to be done, not because we’re afraid other people will notice we’re doing nothing at all.

We don’t mutilate our bodies or minds because some stone age holy men thought it would be fun or somehow important to hack the ends of our penises or clitorises off.

We don’t teach our children about our own religious attitudes before they’re old enough to understand that they’ve been brainwashed. We look at the world around us and think, “How marvellous, how beautiful, how incredibly lucky we are!”, not “Ooooh, someone made all this for us, so we should ignore everything to do with learning about it, and try to stop other people learning about it, because we’re going to have it all again, because we’re going to live forever instead of dying!”

We treat each other, regardless of religion, sexual orientation, mental capacity, skin colour, speech or physical defect, as we would like to be treated ourselves – with dignity, compassion, intelligence, and, yes, love. Unlike Christians, we don’t create websites called GodHatesFags.com because we’re so insecure in our own sexuality that we don’t want to, or have the capacity to, understand another person’s point of view. (Isn’t it interesting that the people who declare that their invisible, unknowable, supernatural deity punishes people who are different to themselves, take it upon themselves to instigate the punishment? Wouldn’t that be a self-fulfilling prophecy? Isn’t that just psychological projection?)

And most of all, we don’t look at a major catastrophe, such as the recent earthquake in Haiti, or the Boxing Day tsunami in Asia, or the collapse of the World Trade Centre, and decide not to help the people there because the catastrophe was some kind of arbitrary punishment from an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving supernatural deity incapable of teaching by any other method. No, we roll up our sleeves, get in a plane or boat, or train or car, or just dig in our wallets, and try our damnedest to help the survivors get back to their lives, and mourn their losses, and learn to look forward again to next year.

Instead of finding someone to blame for a disaster, we take reasonable, rational, compassionate, humane steps to ensuring that if it happens again (and it will, because that’s how the universe works) we minimise the loss, the grief, the sadness, and the suffering. My question to religious apologists is this : If we ordinary humans who are powerless can do these great things, why can’t God – who is omnipotent – do the same? Why can’t religious apologists and believers?

As someone who suffers from chronic spinal damage, what I find worst of all is that many people who approve of the idea of theodicy are the people with the least experience of true suffering. Anyone with chronic pain, anyone affected by cancer, anyone who’s the victim of a paedophile, or has first-hand experience with any of the myriad ways humans can suffer in their lives, knows in their heart that any divine being who permitted the least amount of pain or suffering is a being to be scorned and maligned and disbelieved. The kind of all-powerful God who inflicts pain but doesn’t alleviate it, is a disgusting, despicable, psychopathic, homicidal, inhuman construct, and by their own definition is as evil as evil can get.

The universe is a big place. We’re a tiny speck of insignificance. The universe doesn’t care if we live or die, how we live or die, or how much suffering we have to put up with. The only thing that makes a difference is our own lives – the people we surround ourselves with, the people who love us and care about us, who want to help us deal with our suffering, instead of clinically trying to “make sense” of it. Those people, those amazing relationships are what makes life worth living, and worth living well. Not some fantastic imaginary invisible bearded faery in the sky handing out punishment for wrongs never committed: that kind of deplorable faery tale is for the selfish, the childish, those with a fear of loving, and those fearful of living according to our true, compassionate, bizarre, funny, amazing human natures. That punishment from the sky thing’s not for me, and I hope I’ve convinced you it shouldn’t be your hope either.

I’d rather die than believe in such a cruel despicable, and evil God. You see, I like people.

But since that God quite obviously simply cannot exist – hooray! – I can live to the fullness of whatever remains of my life, rich with compassion, love, terrible pain, honour, sadness, honesty, joy, learning, and friendship, and the knowledge that we are far, far better than any Christian, Islamic, or Judaic God(s) has ever been.

Amen.

- Cephas Q. Atheos

So who the hell is this guy?

Your host. Makes me sound like I’m harbouring a virus, doesn’t it?

I’m a semi-retired self-taught polymath, a lover of science, and an passionate student of nature. In other words, a metaphysical naturalist, as was Charles Darwin, Robert Hooke, Leibniz, and (I’m sure) many millions of other rational, passionate, questioning (but far less famous) people.

My original training was in electronic communication systems with Telecom Australia, later branching into circuit design and fabrication. I’ve also had around 30 years of commercial and personal software development. However, I’m also deeply interested in, and pretty damn handy at a fairly eclectic range of activities, including :

  • Astronomy (including cosmology, cosmogony, and stellar physics)
  • Audio digitisation, capture, analysis, and restoration (my day job)
  • Car and motorcycle racing (amateur, at least pre-spinal injury)
  • Car and motorcycle tuning and rebuilding
  • Cookin’ up a storm
  • Database development and management (C/S and tiered, RDBMS and flat)
  • Heraldry (because you never know when you’ll need a bar sinister)
  • Music (playing pretty much anything badly, and some surprisingly good composing)
  • Pain medicine; particularly neurophysiology and neuroanatomy, as well as neuropharmacology
  • Poetry (improving every year)
  • Religious textual criticism (because you need to know where the BS comes from to kill it off)
  • Robotics (again, surprisingly good ideas, but without much mechanical engineering skill)
  • Roman history (Gibbon’s three volumes are so cracked and dog-eared, but it’s such a hoot!)
  • Website design and development (since 1992!)
  • Whitegoods repair; and even
  • Wildlife photography (Australian fauna & flora, astronomical stuff, and some really weird shit)!

I’ve been lucky enough to gain experience with many of these subjects as paid work, for which I’m eternally grateful! There’s nothing that will hone your skills like people expecting a bit more than they paid for, which is always a great way to learn stuff!

Basically, you can give me a non-functioning car, television, tractor, aeroplane, robot, or hovercraft, and I’ll probably be able to fix it, and I may even have some bits left over at the end!

I’ve actually spent most of the last decade working as an audio restoration specialist. This combines a few of my passions, notably music, a rather good ear for noise and distortion, bleeding-edge computing (including RAID 5 storage systems, liquid cooling, and 64-bit OSes when RAIDs, liquid cooling, and 64-bit OSes were a bit of a novelty), and customer interaction. It turned out that I was great at what I loved, so again I lucked in.

Unfortunately, a medical issue has cut back my hours of formal work sitting up, but with wifi and laptops, I can almost keep in touch with the world just as well lying down for 20 hours a day.

From mechanical… …to anatomical!

I’m also learning to properly and fully understand how the human body (particularly my human body) works, at the level of the individual cell mechansims, cellular DNA structure and replication, gene expression, organ function and dysfunction, pharmacological intervention, and most particularly (because of my spinal problems) pain and neurophysiology. I understand (and I’m growing quite familiar with) the various structures and features of human anatomy and physiology, such as the most “popular” organs and tissue types! (Brain, central and peripheral nervous system, liver, and colon-related stuff, mainly due to the impact on all of these and the side effects of all the painkillers I’m on).

I actually understand (roughly at the equivalent of a third- or fourth-year medical student, and improving every week) how neurones work, how pain helps and hinders us physically and emotionally, and how pain is detected, transduced, transmitted (electrically and chemically), how it’s relayed, and how it’s perceived and integrated within various brain regions. This includes intercellular (and extracellular) signalling, various protein and amine synthesis, hormone traffic, gene expression, upregulation, and various cascade sequences. It’s surprisingly fun to learn just how complex and sophisticated our neural system is. We take so darn much for granted, awake or asleep, and there are so many layers and feedback loops and scatter/gather circuits that it’s amazing it all works at all, let alone grows, self-maintains, and does it’s best under terrible damage. Just incredible.

The Pain Train

Surprisingly, pain medicine is one of the last great outliers of our medical understanding. You’d be shocked at the immense number of processes and functions we have absolutely no idea as to how they actually do stuff, in terms of signalling, modulation, perception, transmission, and reflection, at the atomic all the way up to the macroscopic! So many chapters in all the textbooks finish off with the words “we don’t fully understand the regulatory process interaction”, or “This is an area of great opportunity to up-and-coming researchers”, or “How does this happen? We just don’t know”! I guess it’s a really exciting time to be a neural researcher – a bit like the 1960s were the new frontier in space technology and exploration.

Areas that are changing with each new discovery range from ion channels and ligand-gated cascades, to exactly what a pain receptor looks like. We actually have very few clear images, believe it or not, although that is now changing month by month, at long last, as gene synthesis allows some of these structures to be grown or duplicated away from the live cells.  We know there are about 5 or 6 different major neural cell membrane receptor types, but there seem to be more subtypes every time we get close to a definitive list! Mostly, what we have is guesswork and estimations that rely on the massive advances in physical nerve imaging, functional brain mapping (PET, MRI, fMRI, CT, and so on) and single-channel current measurements. Yes, you can actually take a single G-coupled protein receptor (GCPR) on the surface of a single nerve cell, isolate it, and turn it on and off like a light switch! Naturally, this is a gross and clumsy oversimplification of how the body fine-tunes absolutely everything, but it’s becoming just a little easier to get closer to controlling and characterising individual structures almost as cleverly as the body does. But it’s still a jungle in there!

Worth the hard work? Yep.

As I said, this means that neurology is one of the most fascinating and exciting areas to have an interest in right now. Oh, sure, there are plenty of other areas of medicine that are growing and expanding almost as quickly as the neurosciences, but when you think about it (pun intended), pain and neural signalling defines what we are, and how we perceive reality. So learning this stuff is like looking into your own mind from behind. Unfortunately, as I’m not a medical person, I’m looking over the shoulders of many, many researchers and specialists, and the medical arena is one of the last bastions of the “old school” privy groups and ancient orders of chirurgeons and so on. And even more sadly, I know that’s unlikely to change in any way that helps me learn more. But at least I can cheer on the teams, and learn something new and exciting every day. What’s not to like?

Unfortunately, I have to focus on one area, because I’ll never have the time and resources to understand everything! So I’m primarily interested in understanding – and contributing to in a meaningful way – opioid pharmacology, as well as alternatives to pharmaceutical interventions such as hypnosis, stimulants, depressants, molecular agonists and antagonists, breaking the cycles of internal cascades, NO (nitric oxide) synthesis and the terrible damage that does, and so on. Unfortunately though, everything that we can point to as a byproduct or enhancer of pain also tends to be critically required for the smooth functioning of the rest of the nervous system! So it’s not an easy thing to find a way in that won’t render you retarded, congenitally blind or deaf, or worse (and there are worse things than those when your nervous system goes off the rails, let me tell you!).

Unfortunately, my inability to comprehend higher-order mathematics (I can just barely integrate and differentiate, but it hurts!) severely limits my understanding of the deepest underlying explanations for many of my most passionate interests (astronomy in particular). Luckily though, at the moment the requirement for the level of competence I’m at doesn’t need much more than basic maths and a bit of statistics. So far, so good…

So why pain and neurology, exactly?

I have a really badly damaged spinal area, right between the shoulder-blades. This is usually called the thoracic spine. In my case, only a very few thoracic vertebrae (T8, T9, and T10) were damaged by a number of accidents I “participated in” while I was a motorcycle rider (1981-1995).

This area of the spine was “fused” (a laminectomy) by fixing two vertical plates along the damaged part of my spine, and these are screwed to the vertebrae using 35mm (about an inch and a third) titanium bone screws into two bony columns (the pedicles) that extend from the front of the spine – where the discs go – to the back of the spine, where the bony spines stick out that you can feel in your own back. A part of my iliac crest (the left pelvis) was chipped off and pulverised and then placed around the metalwork, after grinding off some of the surface of the joined vertebrae. This bone material acts something like living cement – the bone all grew together, so it’s a living part of the “repair”.

Here’s what it looks like under x-ray fluoroscopy (like a shadowed version of plain x-rays):

Thoracic fusion (bars and screws) plus the old mechanical pump

And just so the context is clear, this is more or less the full spinal image, below. You can also see the scoliosis (bend in the spine from the left to the right) that’s giving me some curry at the moment.

What stays up…

Pumps One through Five

The fusion was done in 1992, by Mr Graeme Brazenor at Epworth Hospital in Melbourne. While it helped the pain tremendously, it didn’t completely fix the problem (plus, the damage is spreading as the top and bottom joints of the fused clump have to work much harder than when the whole spine could articulate). And I’m not getting any younger, sadly.

So in 2000, I had a device called an intrathecal pump implanted in my chest, which delivers painkilling drugs via a tiny tube (catheter) that runs over my ribs and down my back to near the base of my spine. This ends in a tiny pair of beautifully-crafted tubes which are inserted between the spinal cord itself and the complicated “wrapping” around the cord (called the “subarachnoid space”, because the “arachnoid mater” – the outer part or sleeve around the spinal cord itself – looks a hell of a lot like a spider’s web!).

After running through the normal opioids in quick succession (morphine, pethedine, midazolam, then a bupivacaine and marcaine cocktail, then fentanyl), my own research turned up stuff called sufentanyl, which is a morphine-like synthetic drug that’s around 3,000 times stronger than morphine. My pain management specialist agreed it was worth a try, and it seems to be working reasonably well.

That little pump (a Medtronics Synchromed II 40) consists of an expandable reservoir (40ml, as you’d guess from the model name!), plus a small management computer and an incredibly engineered rotary compression pump. The pain management specialist (an anaesthetist by trade, due to the type of drugs used) fills the reservoir by using a special “non-coring” hypodermic needle that goes in through my chest wall, through an extremely robust self-healing silicone “bung” (you can see it in the very centre of the image below, the whitish looking translucent circle), and into the reservoir. Then they can program the pump using a small hand-held computer with a RF antenna that works through the skin. I’m also able to use a device called a PA (patient administrator) to tell the pump to give me an extra “surge” every now and then, when I need extra pain relief.

The intrathecal pump – an internal view

When is a pump not a pump?

The original pump was installed in 2000, and it’s been replaced five times. The first two times, the pump was replaced (by one of Australia’s best neurosurgeons, Graeme Brazenor) because the battery ran out. The pump typically runs for about 4-5 years limited by the internal battery. The battery life depends on how much drug needs to be delivered, how hard the pump has to work, how hot I get,  and so on.

Unfortunately, after my long-term pain management specialist retired, things started to go terribly wrong.

The pump was replaced a third time – and then had to be removed and reinserted a fourth time, two months later, because the new specialist (an anaesthetist who, it turned out, had delusions of surgical adequacy) screwed up the operation. Twice. The first time, he destroyed the catheter – which meant that he didn’t actually test the new pump before sewing me up! Not only that, but he was a lazy son of a bitch, so instead of using the correct tools, he took a shortcut – which resulted in my getting another scar, which was unexpected (to say the least!). I had terrible problems from the moment I woke up postoperatively. The nursing staff were beside themselves, as they could see and hear how much pain I was in, but the new pain specialist didn’t listen to or believe me (or the nurses).

In fact, it took me nearly three months to finally convince him that he and his little protégé had botched what was an extremely simple operation. And then the same incompetent idiot left too much of the replacement catheter curled up around the pump, instead of trimming it to length as specified by the manufacturer. You can begin to understand what kind of a professional this guy was, can’t you?

So shortly after the ‘fixup’ operation, the catheter got twisted and intermittently crimped itself off, a bit like a garden hose that’s been bent too much! (That’s why the manufacturer recommended that the catheter be cut to suit). It took me another two and a half years to convince anyone that there was a real, serious problem AGAIN.

Tweedledum and Tweedledumber

Meanwhile, I’d had a fairly robust disagreement with Dr Courtney after I recommended that he hospitalise me to radically increase the medication level – which he did (hospitalise me) but then didn’t increase the medication to anywhere near the recommended level! I was frustrated, in awful pain (the pump still wasn’t working properly, although I didn’t know that it was the crimped catheter that was making things difficult for me), and he refused point-blank to increase the dose to an equivalent of about 10% of the pre-operative (pre-the first operation he bunged up, anyway) dose. I was in tears, on my knees, literally begging him to give me some pain relief…but he stormed off in anger and left me there like a fart in a bottle.

Well, I had nowhere else to go, so I discharged myself from his clutches (that’s the first time I’ve ever done anything like that!), a couple of nurses who’d overheard the “conversation” dropped by to give me a hug and a kiss goodbye – once again, the professional nursing staff could see how much pain I was in, while the pain specialist shouted at me to be quiet because I didn’t know what I was talking about!) That’s the kind of bullshit chronic pain patients have to deal with here in the Middle Ages of Pain Medicine in Australia. I kid you not. So I got home, filled a couple of prescriptions for pethedine, and self-administered that until it ran out, and I could get the sufentanyl in the pump via the new, improved pain specialist. That’s what I was reduced to. I shudder to think what other patients without my kind of medical knowledge would do…

But the saga didn’t end there. Oh no! Courtney’s sidekick, Andrew Muir, (who’s apparently a technically brilliant anaesthetist) contacted my wife shortly after the hospital discharge SNAFU, and asked us to meet him at a different suite of offices to where we usually went to see him. We did so, expecting his usually chatty, humorous self… but this time, he flew into a rage, furiously accusing me of faking my injury and pain, then he advised me to seek psychiatric help, as I didn’t have a physical pain problem (!!) Then he took a nasty verbal swipe at my original pain management specialist, accused him of operating outside medical safety limits, then told us to leave. Now, the pain manager he abused had retired (hence our dependence on the new hero), and he was one of the most compassionate men in pain medicine in Australia. Hell, he became a bit of a friend to Fran and I, as you’d expect after 16 years of treatment!

I’m not making any of this shit up. This is what happened, almost verbatim. You can see what we have to put up with here in Australia. And believe it or not, Andrew Muir is regarded (probably rightly) as one of Australia’s leading edge anaesthetists! Pity he didn’t have a bit of compassion for his patients…

So, after all that crap, for the past three years, I’ve been in terrible daily pain, over and above what the pump used to manage, while the various specialists refused to believe that anything was wrong with their surgical work, then hurriedly covered it up after I rubbed their noses in it, then they retaliated like little kids in a playground. So there we all were, waiting patiently to find another pain manager, and hoping like hell we found one with a human heart. Fingers crossed!

I guess the moral to the story in this case is that when the technology works, it works really well; but when less than competent people are involved in such delicate and difficult work, it’s very easy to get a spectacularly terrible result!

But wait – there’s more!

So after all the embarrassing bullshit from the two twits, we eventually found another pain specialist who installed a neural stimulator in my buttock. This is kinda like a TENS machine (transcutaneous electronic neural stimulation) that you see people using to help with muscle sprains and so on, only in my case, it’s installed under the skin and directly attached to the muscles under my shoulders and around the thoracic spine. The control unit is recharged through the skin, using radio-frequency energy transfer to recharge, which is pretty cool technology!

OK, truthfully the stimulator doesn’t help directly with the pain – after all, it’s actually masking one pain with a slightly less intense one! – but it does give me much better flexibility and movement, as it seems to reduce the muscle spasms a little, and that’s good enough for me!

Unfortunately, I couldn’t convince this new surgeon to put it in my right pectoral (chest) wall, like the pump that’s on the left, so it’s been shoved under my gluteal muscle. Unfortunately, as I’m the patient and I have to charge it, the placement makes it incredibly difficult to charge, as the charging plate (antenna) has to be pressed hard up against the muscle. That makes it fairly uncomfortable to recharge for more than a few minutes, and since it takes around 3-4 hours to fully recharge, I don’t use it as much as I’d like. But it’s there in an emergency, as long as I remember to part charge it each day.

And for the sake of completeness, here’s what I currently look like in x-ray images :

All three devices – fusion (upper middle); Intrathecal pump (upper right); and neural stimulator (lower left and dotted lines in top half of the image)

So there you have it. That’s the whole reason I’m so interested in pain and neurology – it’s my raison d’être, if you will. The terrible treatment I received over the past three years has just given me the courage and determination to take something positive out of the whole shitfight.

The way I figure it, is that I have to live with it, day after day, so why not learn what’s going on, so I’m teaching myself the required medical knowledge, and maybe I can help other people who are in the same situation, but who, for whatever reasons, can’t take the opportunity to learn all this fascinating stuff. That’s my hope, anyway.

And I’d rather have interested people be able to see what is possible, and why it sometimes goes wrong, than to just mumble something about computers, and pretend that it’s always perfect. Because I can assure you, it’s not. But it’s a hell of a lot better than the alternative.

Again, thanks for reading all this, and I hope it gives some readers some hope for their own pain management, as well as the sort of things to look out for, and the sort of medical practitioners to avoid like the bubonic plague!

If you’ve got any questions or comments, feel free to ask, I’ll be happy to explain anything that seems confusing, or if I’ve missed out anything. I’m happy to help out if I can!

- Cephas Q. Atheos

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