AGE: 21. Student, rock climber, retail health food. Condition: osteosarcoma (bone cancer) survivor; amputee; prosthetic leg; one year of weekly in-patient chemotherapy.
I met Sprite through her doctor. He called one day to tell me of a beautiful girl who had been living half-wild outdoors in the Sierra mountains with her boyfriend, rock climbing, panning for gold, hiking, skinny dipping in cold mountain streams and lakes. She was suddenly diagnosed with osteosarcoma, bone cancer, which made it necessary for her to move to San Francisco to be close to medical treatment.
Sprite didn't know anyone from the Bay Area. Her parents were on the east coast. They were separated. And each had a different kind of substance abuse problem. So they weren't much interested in Sprite's problems. Sprite had no friends, family or support in the Bay Area. No job, no income. No shelter. No marijuana. A friend of her doctor had let her and her boyfriend stay in an unused apartment while they were traveling. But it was temporary. Meanwhile, she was scheduled for immediate surgery and a year of chemo at UCSF Hospital.
I joined her at the UCSF Hospital in San Francisco just before her surgery. Her parents showed up the day after her surgery. Her mother stole her pain medication. That evening, in tears as she lay in her bed, with her leg removed just the day before, Sprite told her parents they were making things worse and asked them to go away, to go home and leave her alone.
For the next year, every week for one or two days, she had to check into the hospital for chemo treatments. For convenience, a plastic port is installed in the upper chest of chemo patients, to attach the chemo tube, which drips toxic chemicals into the patient's bloodstream. There is a wide range of toxicity in the treatments. Some chemo patients visit their oncologist's office for an hour to get their treatment, then return home. For patients needing stornger treatments, they keep you in the hospital, often for just a day or two, in case the chemicals are too toxic and cause complications. If the cancer doesn't kill you the chemicals might. The worst case I've seen was kept in the hospital for a full month.
Sprite and her boyfriend stayed in the loaned apartment, recovering between chemo treatments. When she was in the hospital, the boyfriend and I would stay with her. We slept on hospital chairs or made pallets on the floor. I brought marijuana to smoke, and bags of brownies made with marijuana or hashish for eating
A kind Pakistani donor familiar with my work provided the money for a vaporizer, an electric device that vaporizes and extracts the pure THC vapor from marijuana without burning it and creating smoke and odor. The patient gets pure medicine in vapor form, with no smoke. The best one to use is the Volcano, at $400. Second best is Vapor Brothers, at $125.
In hospitals, there is often oxygen in use. Open flames, as from a Bic lighter, could create a fire hazard. So patients either go out of their rooms to garden or patio areas within the hospital to smoke, or they smoke in their rooms with vaporizers or in their private bathroom. To clear the odor of marijuana smoke, you can use Ozium, a commercial air deodorizer available in small purse size aerosol cans at pharmacies or shops that sell pipes and smoking supplies. It works. A one or two second burst of spray will instantly deodorize a smoke filled room.
The doctors and staff in the UCSF Hospital have been open minded. They have seen the benefits the patients receive from use of the marijuana. And seeing, they have supported its use and have not interfered.
When staying with Sprite for chemo treatments, each time she checked into the hospital, she would put on her gown and sit in the bed hugging her remaining knee and lamenting the loss of the other. Moaning, she would rock back and forth, saying how much she did not want to be there, wishing she was anywhere else. But once she was settled in, we brought out the vaporizer and had a few puffs of marijuana.
The next time the nurses came into the room, there might be a Dylan or Lucinda Williams album playing softly on the CD player, and Sprite would be painting the toenails on her remaining foot and talking on the phone, placing an order for sushi or chow mein from a local restaurant, and asking if they deliver to the hospital. If not, the boyfriend or I would have to take a walk.
Nurses would often comment on the mellow, relaxed atmosphere in the room and sometimes wished they could stay and hang out awhile. And some of them would comment that in some of the other rooms on the floor there is such tension and fear that it would be nice if this atmosphere could be shared.
Attitudes in the UCSF Hospital are the most enlightened and supportive I've encountered. I have not seen any doctor or nurse there object to the use of marijuana or interfere with a patient's use of it.
Kaiser policies are less enlightened, more restrictive. Patients are discouraged from using marijuana in the hospital. And Kaiser doctors generally will not issue a prescription or letter of support for patients using marijuana. Reportedly, some will, in some Kaiser hospitals. But in my experience, I've never met a Kaiser patient who did not need a referral to another doctor to request a marijuana recommendation. At other hospitals in the Bay Area, attitudes range from narrow minded to "look the other way" to tolerant, supportive and even appreciative.
In one Bay Area hospital, the nurses in the children's cancer wing, seeing the benefits one of my own patients received from the marijuana, asked me for a supply of marijuana laced brownies to keep in the freezer for other cancer kids who might be having a bad day. God bless them!
In another hospital, the head nurse on the children's cancer floor asked me to show her how to grow, bake with, administer and dose medical marijuana. She took it on herself to learn how to provide marijuana laced baked goods for the cancer children under her care. God bless her, and all the other staunch medical people, such as doctors like Tod Mikuriya and Molly Fry, who have put their careers and sometimes their lives on the line by putting the welfare of their patients ahead of their fear of the government.
When Sprite could no longer use the apartment, she stayed with me while recovering from the effects of the chemo treatments. Then as she regained her strength and health, she decided to return to the mountains. Today she rents a house on a river, where she pans for gold and swims and floats in the sunshine in a big truck innertube. Since her recovery, she has returned to climbing rocks with her bionic leg, finished an A.A. degree at the community college, and has a job cooking in a health food restaurant. She is now at California State University working on a B.A. degree. She has a life again, and we remain close.
Patients have a right to use medical marijuana in California, by following the law. Even in the hospital. It is medicine. It is part of your protocol. If your doctor approves your use of marijuana, you can use it. Exercise your rights.
If you are in the hospital and wish to continue your marijuana therapy, go for it. If you are discreet, no one should smell or suspect a thing. If staff pick up on it, they will often look the other way. Doctors at UCSF report that they have been looking the other way with regard to marijuana use for at least 30 years. If you have problems, call Pier 5 Law Offices.
UPDATE: More than a year after returning to her home in the mountains, Sprite was stopped one night by a CHP officer as she was driving home from work. He illegally searched her car and found her medication. She identified herself as a patient and showed her medical i.d. The officer arrested Sprite and jailed her for the night, in direct violation of guidelines in the CHP training manual instructing officers not to cite or arrest legitimate patients or confiscate their medication. The case, though costly, was dismissed. Such behavior by law enforcement engenders fear in legal patients and caregivers, and seriously undermines public trust.