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!)

sd.jpg

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

 

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.

marijana-map-01-22-2018

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?”).

v

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!)

sd.jpg

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

Editorial cartoon of the day