Wishing for (Medical) Weed in Retrospect

One thing I like about blogging is that topics tend to spill into one another, leading you places you might not have intended to explore, but that you’re glad you did.  This blog is about identity and body image, two broad enough topics, which allow me to travel from the darkest corners of Anorexia Nervosa to the funniest, sweetest moments of parenting.  Writing about my parents interracial marriage led me to post about same sex marriage, a topic about which I feel passionate, even if it is not specifically “my” issue (though I would argue that equality is everyone’s issue).  All my life I’ve known couples—loving, committed couples who’d been together for decades, bought homes together, raised children, cared for one another in time of illness.  It always seemed absurd and cruel to me that these couples weren’t legally permitted to marry.  (Meanwhile, those with the power to allow those couples to legally wed were having affairs and racking up divorces right and left.)   This brings me to another topic that is not my issue (not yet, anyway): the legalizing of Medical Marijuana.

I have a confession to make: I don’t smoke pot.  I tried it in college, yes I inhaled, I’ve sampled it a few times since, but for me, it never quite took.  (Partly what I didn’t like was that it made me talk even more and even faster than I already do–hence not fun for those around me.)  In any case, I didn’t like it; my friends were never into it so it was never around me very much.  When I was in college, alcohol played a bigger role, though when you weigh less than one hundred pounds as I did then, it doesn’t take much to put you over the edge.  Also, as I’ll probably get to in another identity related post, plain old cigarettes were just fine thank you.   In fact more than fine.  In fact heavenly.  But more on my old ex, Benson and Hedges, another time.  (Yes, I quit about twenty years ago.)

So, the legalizing of pot, medical or otherwise was never my issue, though I always thought it made sense.  If something is legal, it can be regulated, and—in theory—be kept out of the hands of kids … or something.  But personally I had no passion about this.

Until last week. I happened to be reading the op-ed page of the New York Times last Thursday and came across this piece: A Judge’s Plea for Pot  

By Gustin L. Reichbach, a Justice of the State Supreme Court in Brooklyn.  Reichbach has pancreatic cancer.  He lives with and suffers from, not only the illness itself but its monstrous treatment.   Though he has already lived far beyond his physician’s initial prediction, between his chemotherapy drugs and radiation treatment, then some drugs that combat the side effects of other drugs, he lives with constant pain and nausea which make it near impossible for him to eat or sleep.

The only thing that seems to make Reichbach’s his life at all tolerable is pot, surreptitiously acquired for him by brave and resourceful friends.   As he explains:

“Inhaled marijuana is the only medicine that gives me some relief from nausea, stimulates my appetite, and makes it easier to fall asleep. The oral synthetic substitute, Marinol, prescribed by my doctors, was useless. Rather than watch the agony of my suffering, friends have chosen, at some personal risk, to provide the substance. I find a few puffs of marijuana before dinner gives me ammunition in the battle to eat. A few more puffs at bedtime permits desperately needed sleep.”   

Reichbach’s article is essentially a plea to Governor Cuomo and the New York State Legislature—now debating a bill to recognize marijuana as an effective and legitimate medicinal substance and establish a lawful framework for its use.   (Sixteen other states have done this.)  Two things stand out about this article: one being Reichbach’s status as a judge—with a public legal voice, unlike many of his fellow cancer sufferers—and two, his amazing candor in describing his personal plight.  The latter touched me on a deeply personal level because of what I saw my father go through seventeen years ago. [1]

I somehow had not associated cancer with pain.  I don’t know why.  I think I’d listened to the old (incorrect) advice that if you found a lump in your breast and it hurt, that was a good sign.  If it didn’t hurt—then you were in trouble.  It was an old wive’s tale, but maybe that was why my father’s physical pain came as such a shock.  For the first three and a half years after his diagnosis—metastatic prostate cancer—he was comfortable and relatively symptom free.  Then the back pain began.  For the last year and a half, he was mostly in bed, almost exclusively for the last six months.  There was chemo (an oral cocktail taken at home, nowhere near as invasive—or, I’ll wager, as effective— as Reichbach’s treatment) and radiation.  There was the loss of appetite, to the point where the most my father could stomach was a few ounces of apple cider into which his morphine was dissolved.  There was insomnia, due to the impossibility of finding a comfortable position now that his body had diminished to almost nothing but bone.  But overall, the dominant feature was pain.  Day and night he would cry out:  Oh, God, no! or  Please!  No one deserves this! almost as if he were pleading with God.  There was more, but I won’t print it to preserve his dignity.  All I could do was sit there and hold his hand.  Cancer was eating him by then; I could see it.  And I understood: cancer, when it is determined to win, is pain.

After Dad died, it took some time to collect old memories and gradually replace the image of the sick, bedridden man with the strong, laughing, vivacious man he was before his illness.  Not that his struggle with cancer wasn’t part of his and, on some level, part of my own identity.  But the healthy, funny, brilliant and sociable Dad is how he would want to be remembered.  Nevertheless, his cries of pain will never leave me.

I believe regrets are pointless and emotionally destructive.  I hate looking back and saying, if only.  But in this case I can’t help it.  I wish it had occurred to me that something could have made him more comfortable than morphine when the medication had done all it could possibly do.  Maybe if I’d been more of a recreational user of weed I might have thought of it.  But if medical marijuana had been legal, I wouldn’t have to have come up with it because his doctors would have prescribed it in a heartbeat.  And, as Reichbach eloquently points out:

doctors cannot be expected to do what the law prohibits, even when they know it is in the best interests of their patients.”

If only, Dad.  If only.


[1] My article, Soul Food Shiva, is the story of losing my father to cancer.

12 responses to “Wishing for (Medical) Weed in Retrospect

  1. Dear Lisa I am so sorry that you lost your dad in such a traumatic way. It must have been a comfort to have you around.

  2. I live in California, where we (for now, anyway) have legalized medicinal marijuana. Although I don’t currently have any “issues,” I could get a Pharm card pretty easy, if I wanted one. Down on Venice Beach, there are doctors standing by, ready to prescribe one for a token exam (no pun intended) and a couple hundred bucks, for everything from tension headaches to irritability.

    I don’t want one, at this time, but it is a comfort to know I *could* get one. My bro-in-law is a Vietnam veteran, with all kinds of ailments. He has a Pharm card – and from what he’s described, the 420 Clinics don’t sell the kind of pot we all smoked in the 70′s and 80′s. It’s like going into a tea shop, there are dozens of blends and varieties (and, in fact, it’s available in tea or edible form – you can get marijuana butter to use in cooking or spread on toast). THIS one works if you are going to be awake, working, and just need pain relief. THAT one to stimulate your appetite. The one over here will help you relax and go to sleep at night; another is good for chemo-induced nausea.

    I know many, many people who now use – and do not abuse – marijuana medicinally, and get great relief from it, in a way that prescription meds – more expensive, less effective, upsetting to the stomach – don’t provide. Can it be abused? Sure. (As if prescription meds and alcohol can’t be?) But there is NO known lethal dose of marijuana – you could sit and smoke it all day, eat a kilo of it (*I* couldn’t, just sayin’) and all that would happen is you would go to sleep.

    IMO, it is ridiculous that we are letting people suffer when they could be helped, out of some ridiculous idea that we want to be “tough on drugs” or don’t want to “send the wrong message.” We are sending the wrong message when we let sick people suffer, IMO.

  3. Thanks Beverly, I knew there were different varieties of pot, but I had no idea that there were so many different forms. Pot butter on toast! Excellent point, by the way about the fact that (legal) prescription drugs and (legal) alcohol are frequently abused.
    One thing I didn’t mention is that medical marijuana is legalized in my current state of New Jersey. I believe my town has the biggest provider in the state.

  4. I just realized as I read this, Lisa, that the dying have no voice. They don’t come back to tell us just how horrible it is to die in pain. My Dad died of liver cancer at 59. I was 18 and away at college. My Mom’s memories of his last days included the haunting sound of his moaning. He had asked my oldest brother to take a gun and put him out of his misery, I found out much later. I’m all for an individual deciding to end his/her own life in such cases.

    • So well said, Scrollwork, the dying have no voice. It sounds like your father used his, but there was no way your brother could comply. I can’t imagine how painful it was to hear the story later. I agree, at that point it should be the individual’s choice.

  5. Wow, what a powerful post, Lisa. Well said. I hope the judge in question gets what he needs. Like Beverly, I live in California where medicinal marijuana is legal. However, Beverly didn’t mention that although California considers it legal, the Federal government doesn’t and often ends up conducting raids on these places that are selling the pot to the sick. It’s absolutely crazy that pot isn’t legal at all. Like you said, it would be regulated if it did, but we are a Puritan society at heart and it is so difficult to effect change. Tobacco is far worse and that’s legal. Go figure.

    Scrollwork, I am moved by your statement, that the dying have no voice. It is an epiphany to read that and realize how true it is. Thank you for saying it. And thanks, Lisa for calling attention to this problem.

  6. Thanks Monica. I did not know that there were fed-sponsored raids on facilities that provide medical pot legally. It is amazing what the country spends money on, when people are only out for some relief and dignity.

  7. I’m so sorry Lisa for the pain your dad went through. Your description is exactly what i would have said about my mother. They are both now pain free, they are both now happy and forgot all the pain. I know how you feel and I understand, but since we can do nothing for them anymore, we can just ask them to help us from above and guide us on what to do to find the best ways to ease other’s pains who are going through what they have both died from. Much love to you Lisa <3

  8. Nikky, thank you for understanding so well. I know you watched your mom suffer the same pain. I am glad they are no longer hurting.

    Love to you too …

  9. I agree that the legalization of medical marijuana makes sense. I don’t understand, however, why a town would want a dispensary on a major commercial street, like Bloomfield Avenue. To me, it would make sense to locate it in a secure medical office in a professional building or at a hospital. What do you think?

  10. Hi Lisa, I just wanted to let you know that I have nominated you on My Blog for the Reader Appreciation Award, Much Love <3
    http://nikkysstrengthandweakness-nikky44.blogspot.com/2012/05/sharing-love.html

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