Up at dawn, watching the sky turn pink, a great orange sun rising above the East Bay hills. I sleep so fitfully lately, it’s rare to wake up feeling rested, but getting up with the sun is still better than trying to make up for a restless night by sleeping in. Yesterday, I dozed until nine and by the time I’d had coffee and read the paper, the morning had slipped away. I am of an age where I don’t like time to pass that fast.
I wasted time, and now doth time waste me.–William Shakespeare
I am still grappling with the problem of how to have a life that isn’t dominated either by pain or by depression. If I do very little, the pain is minimal, but depression takes over. If I do a lot, my mood’s better but pain soars. I’ve tried taking the pain med my doc prescribed before I leave the house, but half the time it makes me so woozy and sick I have to come home. Since all the pain meds I’ve tried have had the same effect, I’ve been feeling pretty hopeless about it all, but recently a friend told me about medical marijuana. In California, medical marijuana is legal. I’d never explored it because it seemed like a risky strategy for someone with a background of out-of-control drinking. But my friend, who also suffers from chronic pain, found out that strains of marijuana have been developed with little or no THC, the psychoactive agent, and higher amounts of CBD (cannabidiol), which reduces pain and inflammation. I think it may be a solution to my problem.
The first step is to be evaluated by a doctor and get an ID card that allows you to purchase medical marijuana from a dispensary. So yesterday, with a certain amount of trepidation, I drove to a small, modest building in the Mission District, took a small, creaky elevator to the third floor, and began the process. You show your driver’s license, fill out an extremely lengthy form about your medical history, initial countless pages of statements relating to liability and receiving of information, swear you are not currently in rehab for alcohol or drug abuse, return the pages to the receptionist, and wait your turn to see the doctor. He turned out to be a pleasant man who had worked at the same hospital I had. He asked me a bunch of questions, made a bunch of notes, signed at the bottom, and sent me on to stage three: getting a photo ID medical marijuana card and forking over the cash ($70 with coupon–I know, a coupon?? What kind of tacky ‘clinic’ is this? But it saved me $100).
I wouldn’t call it a scam. Exactly. But it definitely had the feel of a high-volume, low-cost operation, and I’d be surprised if anyone is ever turned down on the basis of the evaluation. You could say anything you want on the medical history forms, and they really have no way of checking it. Depression, anxiety, pain, asthma, chronic fatigue, insomnia, loss of appetite are all diagnoses that qualify–as well as cancer, Parkinson’s, MS, AIDS, glaucoma, etc. On the other hand, my fellow travelers in the waiting room didn’t look like a bunch of party animals. They looked like people who were suffering. And it’s not as though recreational marijuana is that hard to lay your hands on around here.
In the 60s and 70s, when I and practically everyone else in the area of my generation or younger was smoking pot, it was a risky business. People got busted regularly and jail terms were common. If you knew where to get pot, you also knew where to get acid, mescaline, hash, and heroin, so the whole scene had an aura of criminality. In the early sixties, a pot-smoking young student I knew had a conversation with her dentist about marijuana. He wanted to try it and asked if she could give him a sample. The dental assistant overheard the conversation and called the police, who, by terrorizing the dentist with threats of losing his license, pressured him into setting up my friend. At her following appointment, she gave him a joint (gave, not sold), and the police hiding next door arrested her. It was a huge scandal in the small, university town we were in–front-page headlines in the local paper. My friend was portrayed as a major drug dealer. The university suspended her, and she served time in jail. Eventually, she was able to negotiate her way back into school, graduated and became a social worker, but it took a long time and a lot of drama. Needless to say, she found a new dentist.
Perhaps partly because of this atmosphere of suspicion and danger, I eventually became paranoid and delusional smoking pot, and quit in the early seventies. Wine became my drug of choice, and the long road to alcoholism. To be returning to marijuana now, at almost 73 years of age and nearly four years sober, seems both funny and ironic.
I won’t be smoking it, however. I’ve quit that, too. The kind I’ve tried was in the form of a tincture. I had no nausea, no mind-bending, and less pain. It gives me hope that my life can open up a bit. Maybe those long walks aren’t over after all. Maybe I’ll want to cook again, garden again, dance again, leap over tall buildings…or at least go out to lunch with a friend without having to suffer for it.
He that lives in hope danceth without music.–English proverb
Hmm. I see that I misread the proverb. I took it to mean that having hope lets you dance whether you have music or not, a kind of freedom. But now, like one of those tests for colorblindness, that meaning recedes and another emerges: don’t simply go through the motions and hope for something better; live the life you have. Something for everyone–take your pick.