Drugs, Pain, and Marijuana: My wife’s journey

Around the turn of the century, Heidi Hooper (my wife of thirty some years) had a cancerous tumor growing in her arm and didn’t know it. She thought it was just a muscle spasm. Since we had no medical insurance at the time, we didn’t go to see a doctor until it was too late.

Dozens of operations and radiation treatments later, she ended up with her upper arm removed completely and a muscle from her back spliced into her arm solely as protection for the bone. (Fortunately, we had health insurance by then.) She has no feeling in that spot, and is in constant pain.

After the operation, the doctor had her on oxycodone for the pain because, you know, that’s what doctors do. When Heidi complained that they weren’t working after a while, he explained to her that your body becomes addicted to these things and needs more, because your body stops fighting the pain on  your own. That scared Heidi so much, she went cold turkey. There were many sleepless nights with sweats and pain as she forced her body to adjust. The doctor then placed her on gabapentin, a less harsh painkiller which worked well enough.

I love this picture of Heidi with Mel Brooks when Heidi was a guest on ABC TV’s “To Tell the Truth”

Her arm had developed lymphedema since she has no lymph nodes, and it would get inflamed and send her to the hospital a few times a year. Finally, the insurance company agreed to give her a machine that would massage the liquids in her arm to keep them from building up and causing the infections.

In the meantime, the body adjusted to the gabapentin and each few years, she would need the dosage to be upped.

Last year, the lympehdema machine finally broke down, having lasted longer than originally guaranteed.  The insurance company took months to replace it, and perhaps because of that, Heidi ended up in the hospital four times and her arm progressed to stage two lymphedema. She now has to get into that stupid machine three times a day for an hour each time.

However, there is good news.

Medical marijuana became available in Pennsylvania. I had previously written about my skepticism of this so-called wonder drug, but thought it was at least worth checking out. We finally found a doctor willing to prescribe it down in Allentown (about 45 minutes away) who, coincidentally enough, graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University the same year we did (although from the medical college there). He gave her marinol pills and if the pain was really bad, she could use a vape (which she hates because of the smoke). Pennsylvania now also has the liquid drops which she prefers.  She takes enough to kill the pain and doesn’t get high from it.

She slowly reduced her gabapentin dosages and went through a month of feeling like she had the constant flu. After a while, she was only on the medical marijuana, and what a difference.  As I wrote before, it was a huge change for her. The pain was much less, and more importantly, her mind was not clouded by the gabapentin. She used to complain about not remembering things and losing her train of thought, and now, finally, I can have long conversations with her for the first time in twenty years.  “All the friends I made over the past twenty years must think I’m an airhead,” she worried to me recently.

But here’s the best news:

For the last few weeks, she has felt absolutely great. She has not needed the vape or the drops at all. She says she hasn’t felt that good since before the operations.

I emailed the doctor to ask him about it, and here’s what he replied:  “I would certainly bet on the Gabapentin.  I think this is one of the worst drugs ever perpetrated on the public.  The fact that Heidi continues to do better and better by your account and every time I have seen her would dovetail with the continued absence of this drug and the longstanding side effects.  That is just unbelievable news and I am just thrilled beyond anything you can imagine.”

So here’s another affirmation of the dangers of all these drugs Big Pharma throws at you while fighting against legalizing a drug that actually works much much better. And let’s hear it for Heidi!

(Plug:  If you want to support Heidi and encourage her after all she’s been through, why not become a patron of her art? Even a dollar a month means a lot to her!)

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This is 3 feet by 4 feet and made entirely out of dryer lint

 

To Tell The Truth!

My award-winning artist wife Heidi Hooper will be a guest on the ABC TV show “To Tell the Truth” this Sunday, June 17th, 10 pm EST.  Heidi makes art out of dryer lint! Consumer Reports has called her “The Andy Warhol of Dryer Lint” and To Tell The Truth flew us out to Hollywood (all expenses paid!) to film the show last summer — and it’s finally going to be on!

Please watch and support her!

1134728318_10157404840883306_7148639091830030336_n34813378_10157404841648306_4230411089977802752_nHeidi and Mel

I was wrong about medical marijuana

I’ve always been a skeptic and a cynic, so when I saw all the people saying marijuana was a miracle drug, I didn’t believe them — especially when they’d make outrageous claims like it cures cancer. (It doesn’t.)

I just assumed it helped with pain in the same way drinking enough wine kills the pain, and that people who wanted medical marijuana were just looking for excuses to use it legally.

Mind you, I always thought (and still do think) that marijuana should be legal for recreational use anyway. I just didn’t believe all the hype.

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Now let me tell you about my wife, award-winning artist Heidi Hooper. Heidi studied metalsmithing for her Master’s Degree and taught courses at the Massachusetts College of Art. Her work was shown in galleries all over the country.

Then she got a cancerous tumor that ate away her right arm muscle. After years of operations and radiation treatments, they saved her arm but the muscle was removed completely and in order to keep the bone from being exposed, they took a muscle out of her back and laid it over her arm, just for protection. She doesn’t feel a thing on that flap of skin, but for a dozen years or so now, she has been in constant pain overall and has to get into a lymphedema machine every once in a while or her arm swells up and we have to rush her to the hospital.

Since the operation, they’ve had her on gabapentin which deadens the nerves. It still doesn’t help when the weather is bad or when she uses her arm too much. She’d often have to drink wine or rum on top of it just to kill it enough to get some sleep at night.

However, she refused to give up her artwork and eventually found her niche with dryer lint art. She’s won awards for it, sells it for thousands of dollars, has it in galleries, and is in Ripley’s Believe it or Not Museums (and their books). She’ll be a guest on ABC TV’s “To Tell the Truth” soon (“Which one is the real dryer lint artist?”).

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Here she is with Mel Brooks on the “To Tell The Truth” set

But here’s the thing: Medical marijuana is now legal in Pennsylvania, and if anyone is eligible for it, it’s someone like her. The doctor put her on marinol pills and then she has a vape that she uses when the pain is really bad. They weaned her off the gabapentin and there were a few weeks of withdrawal where she did little but lie in bed because she said she felt like she had the constant flu.

The withdrawal symptoms have subsided but not left completely, but the amazing thing is how well the marijuana is working without making her feel high. As someone explained to me, when you’re at -5, it raises you to zero so you feel normal. And that’s what she says — she hasn’t felt this “normal” in years.

Even better, she’s thinking clearer, as if a cloud has lifted. “I used to lose my train of thought in the middle of a sentence, or walk into a room and not remember why I did so. It’s so great to be able to be aware and clear.”

I know, I know, that goes against the pot cliche, but it’s true — and compared to the other medication she was on, it’s practically a miracle.

So I’m a convert. I was wrong. It doesn’t just make you high to the point where it kills the pain. It really works.

Now let’s hope the Governor can convince the legislature to legalize it. Although her marinol pills are covered by insurance, the vape is not and it’s expensive!

(Plug:  If you want to support Heidi and encourage her after all she’s been through, why not become a patron of her art? Even a dollar a month means a lot to her!)

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This is 3 feet by 4 feet and made entirely out of dryer lint

My fun with an artist scam artist

My wife Heidi Hooper is an award-winning artist who specializes in, believe it or not, dryer lint art. Seriously, she’s in Ripley’s Believe it or Not museums around the world (and in their books) and will soon be seen on a major TV show that we can’t tell you about yet.

So she sometimes gets people emailing her to buy her artwork or to ask for a special piece made just for them. But since I’m the lawyer and the writer, she often asks me to answer her email for her when these transactions come about.

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“Docs Playing Poker” by Heidi Hooper

So today she received this request:

Hello,

My name is Rob Carter from Virginia.. I was looking for some artwork online and I found your contact and works while searching and I must tell you, You are doing a great job, I would really love to purchase some of your works for my wife as a surprise present regarding our forthcoming 20th anniversary, I would like to receive further information about your piece of work and what inspires you..Also, kindly email me back with some images and price list of your inventory that is ready for immediate sales within my price range ($2,000- $13,000).. Hope to hear from you soon..

Thanks and best regards.

I was immediately suspicious. No mention of her unusual work? No description of the art? Just “Hello, I want art. Please sell me some.” But just in case it really was a legitimate offer, we sent this response:

You can see all my work on my web page (www.HeidiHooper.com) with the prices.  Just let me know what you like. And if you want a special order, let me know that as well. – Heidi

Soon the response came in:

Hello Heidi, thanks for writing back it’s nice hearing from you… Well, Can you please let me know the availability and pricing of this painting (Docs Playing Poker)? Kindly confirm the availability and pricing asap. Hope to hear from you soon, Rob.

Well, at least he looked at the website. But “Docs Playing Poker” is hardly a “painting” since it’s made out of dryer lint. And you’d think he’d make some comment like, “I want that one because my wife loves Dr. Who.” So we replied:

One of my favorites, as I’m clearly a Dr. Who fan. They’re all cheating, too.  That’s one of the larger pieces, 24 x 36 (not counting the frame, which is of course included). It sells for $5500.  Shipping would be extra, and I usually send them overnight because then it’s all insured and everything. That way you could get it for Christmas.  Where in Virginia are you?  I’m originally from Richmond and got my undergraduate degree in sculpting from VCU. I look forward to hearing from you. – Heidi

Note that since he mentioned Virginia, we did too just to see if he knew anything about Virginia. His response did not mention that, but he did start to run the scam now, thinking we were all excited about making that much money:

Dear Heidi, Thanks for writing back it’s nice hearing from you.. I must tell you I intend to give my wife a surprise with the immediate purchase of the piece. Also If you’d like to know, I’m relocating to the Philippines soon and our wedding anniversary is fast approaching. So I’m trying to gather some good stuff to make this event a memorable one.. I’m okay with the painting and price (Docs playing poker $5,500) I think it’s worth it anyway, so I’ll be sending a Check..

As regarding shipping, you don’t have to worry about that in order not to leave any clue to my wife for the surprise, as soon as you receive  the check and it clears with you, my shipping agent (who is also moving my personal effect) will contact you to arrange pick-up..

I would have come to purchase the piece myself but, at the moment, am on training voyage to the North Atlantic Ocean (I’m an ocean engineer) with new hires who are fresh from graduate school and won’t be back for another couple of weeks..

Regards!

PS: In the meantime, kindly get back to me with your full name (you want the check payable to) cell phone no. and mailing address (preferably for USPS or FED-EX not P.O box) where a check can be mailed to so I can get the check prepared and have it mailed out to you asap..

Here’s where it’s clear, and I’m mostly sharing this with you so that you don’t fall for these kinds of scams. Usually, it’s done when people are selling things through ebay or something, but they only want to send you a check and they want your phone number (because it’s easier to con you by phone) and your address.

So we responded as follows:

If you want to rush this, you can PayPal me at HeidiHooper1@gmail.com. Thanks!

Check payable to Heidi Hooper, PO Box 349, Tannersville, PA 18372

You can call my husband at his office if you have any problems:  570-629-6322

Note that we specifically did not give out our home address, and that phone number? Goes right to my law office.

This is how this scam works: They give you a bad check, usually from a fake bank or a bank far away, and they overpay and ask for you to refund them. Then the check bounces and you’ve just lost not only the money you gave them but the item you sold them as well. (Here’s a detailed article from Snopes on how this scam works.)

So, predictably, the next email from him was a bit more emphatic about how he would have someone come by to pick up the art and all we’d have to do is pay that person for picking it up — from the check he was sending, of course.

Dear Heidi, Thanks for the details which I’ve noted down, My wife handles the family credit card/bank issues, and in order not to leave any clue to her for the surprise,  I’ve contacted a client of mine to issue out a check which will include my shipping agent fees to you, But courtesy demand I must first appeal to your self interest and ask for your help in remitting the overage (after deducting your fee for the piece) to the shipping agent as soon as the check clears..

I would have handled this much differently if I’d been at home but am a bit pressed for time as our anniversary is fast approaching and do not have access to a lot of cash over here to expedite this transaction…. trying to kill two birds with a stone. kindly deduct any tax incurred on the overage before giving the balance the shipping agent, they are not sending any bill or holding you responsible for the payment of my shipping contract with them..

I am really sorry for the mix up and will appreciate if you get back to me asap to know if i can entrust you with this transaction..

Many thanks and talk to you soon..

To which we replied:

No, sorry, you need to take care of paying your shipping agent yourself.  I can arrange for the piece to be able to be picked up at my husband’s law office for you though so it can be done quickly. If you use a money order, then we don’t have to wait for it to clear. 

And then it was quiet. Perhaps the mention of the “law office” made our art collector change his mind.

So please beware of this very common scam.