Tag Archives: New York Times

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.