Sunday, October 31, 2010

Medical Marijuana

When I was an Intern I took care of an elderly gentleman who was dying of lung cancer.  Mr. Washington had spent much of his life as a sharecropper in the deep South.   Mr. Washington was alone without family and his cancer had spread to his bones and his brain.   He no longer had a wife and his grown son had died several years ago. He had stopped eating and was just skin and bones.  I could see that he had once been a robust black man.  It was pretty clear that this would be his last admission to the hospital.  If I knew then, what I know now, I would have pushed for him to be in a hospice program.  But I was just an Intern and I didn't know much at all.

I had a full caseload and many patients coming and going each day.  The workload for Internal Medicine was extreme and I worked my first 35 days without a day off.  Mr. Washington was my favorite patient.  He was elegant and charming and polite.  He cared more about me and my education and my state of mind than his own.  It was clear he was in a great deal of pain but he didn't complain.  He didn't want to be knocked out with pain killers.

One day on rounds I asked Mr. Washington if he had ever tried smoking marijuana.  "Oh, honey, I've certainly had my share of weed.  Do you think it might help?"  I replied that I didn't know but it might help with his anxiety and take the edge off.  I admitted I didn't have any access to it and couldn't really prescribe it.  This was 1983.

When I rounded on him the next day, Mr. Washington looked a lot more comfortable.  He had a sly look in his eye and he reached under his cover and offered me a tightly rolled joint.  "This is for you if you want it", he said. "It was a splendid idea and I had a friend bring it in to me.  It is helping a lot."  I laughed at his ingenuity and told him he should save it for later.  I got the distinct impression that he wanted me to stay and chat awhile but I had a new admit and was running from patient to patient.  "I'll be back later", I said and I meant it. "I want to hear all about your life."  I just knew it would be a fascinating story and I thought I would learn something about life from him.  He seemed at peace with his cancer and his dying.

The next day I walked into his room and he wasn't there.  Mr. Washington had died that night.  The nursing notes said he didn't require pain medication and that he was comfortable.

I never heard his life story and I regret that. 

photo is taken in 1935 of an unknown sharecropper.

21 comments:

KM said...

What a beautiful, touching post,but somehow I sensed it would have that sad ending of timing. It was a wonderful gift you gave him to be able to die in peace and comfort and know you genuinely cared and saw the value of who he was as a person in the essence of the richness of the life he lived. I really like your perspective wanting to know what he could teach you about life. That is an unusual extraordinary, personal quality to be able to have that special bond as a doctor patient relationship,and see who the person is.

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Bev said...

This post gave me goosebumps. Thank you for recognizing marijuana for the medicine that it is and can be. Mr. Washington sounds like an inspirational man who taught you what you needed to learn despite never getting to tell you his life story.

Sunnydalai said...

Beautiful Dr. Toni! We all have to go one day, and it seems that with the current direction of medicine and science, more and more of us will be dying a slow and miserable death. That's when doctors and nurses should be able to keep a patient as comfortable as possible. Thank you, an important post indeed!

tracy said...

My dad is dying of cancer. i have thought of bringing up maryjane, however, he is very religious, to the point of avoiding coffee. Too bad. :(

rlbates said...

Lovely post.

"Guppy" Honaker said...

That was touching, and I'm glad he didn't experience pain the night of his passing.

I'm a "Mormon" with to types of cancer. (And very, very painful Marfan Syndrom - some joint dislocates nearly every day now.)

Were it legal here in AZ, I'd smoke it (but still shun tobacco which does nothing but kill) without hesitation if my Dr. prescribed it to me. One of my doctors suggested that I should - but it's illegal here.

Some years ago the good people of Arizona voted in favor of Med. Mar. but our glorious governor (now the failing Secretary of Homeland Security) vetoed the people's choice. It's on the ballot again this year, we'll see.

- David

Aloe Vera Juice Benefits
Holistic Nutrition and Health

Anonymous said...

Mr. Washington was fortunate to have you as a doctor who cared as much as you did, it is hard to find. With a recent problem with my own physician I'm thinking of not even addressing it with my doctor and finding a new one.

abendkleider said...

That is an unusual extraordinary, personal quality to be able to have that special bond as a doctor patient relationship,and see who the person is.

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printed lanyards said...

It was a wonderful gift you gave him to be able to die in peace and comfort and know you genuinely cared and saw the value of who he was as a person in the essence of the richness of the life he lived.

sim so dep said...

Some years ago the good people of Arizona voted in favor of Med. Mar. but our glorious governor (now the failing Secretary of Homeland Security) vetoed the people's choice. It's on the ballot again this year, we'll see.

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