Thoughts of Mary Jane

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Last Christmas I visited my 25-year-old son, who lives in the Mile High City. He picked me up in his car at the airport terminal. After we settled into our seats, he tossed an innocuous looking paper sack in my lap. “Welcome to Colorado,” he said, in his characteristic deadpan manner. I opened the bag and pulled out a long, white cigarette. I didn’t need to ask what it was.

“Memories are made of this!” I laughed, echoing an old Dean Martin song. If you’d have told me 25 years ago that my boy would one day present me with a welcoming gift that, in some parts of the U.S., is still a felony to possess… I’d have suggested you were smoking something.

Ohio is not Colorado, and not only because it lacks mountains. Recently, however, my home state waded a few centimeters beyond the shallow end of the gene pool when it passed a law permitting use of cannabis sativa (marijuana) for medical purposes. Pardon me for sounding derisive. But this is like America finally determining that, after 250 years of colonial and post-colonial slavery, emancipation of humans might be a good thing.

I’m perplexed why it’s taken so long for government officials (some of them, anyway) to concede that ingesting a plant may provide relief to people undergoing chemotherapy or suffering chronic pain. Maybe these politicos have been too preoccupied with weakening gun laws and deregulating industries that spew pollutants into our atmosphere. Again, pardon me for sounding derisive.

Marijuana plants contain a chemical called tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) that can reduce pain, induce relaxation, and heighten one’s senses. For you free-market conservatives, THC also promotes capitalism by expanding the tax base and helping to sell Big Macs and records like Pink Floyd’s DARK SIDE OF THE MOON.

Unlike many foods legally sold in grocery stores, marijuana contains no toxic preservatives like MSG, BHA, BHT, or sodium nitrite, not to mention trans fats. It’s been a popular “vegetable of choice” amongst musicians since the early days of jazz.

Marijuana has not yet been proven to be physically addictive. There is some evidence of psychological dependence. But I’m betting there will always be people who have a predisposition toward overdoing things. My wife is psychologically dependent on low-fat fudgsicles. I’m psychologically dependent on watching Lawrence Welk reruns.sticker

There’s also no evidence that marijuana leads to harder drugs, despite decades of critics trying to prove otherwise. I smoked pot in college. I had opportunities to drop LSD and snort cocaine, but I turned them down. Just my opinion, but if a person wants to do hard drugs, he or she will find ways to do them, whether or not marijuana is involved.

Here’s another thought: morphine, a highly addictive opiate derived from the poppy plant, is a prevalent painkiller used in hospitals. Codeine, another addictive poppy product, is used in cough syrup, and sold over the counter. Why has it taken so long for non-addictive marijuana to be considered a therapeutic drug? Was REEFER MADNESS that powerful a movie? Was Nancy Reagan that influential?

Pardon me for being derisive about Nancy Reagan’s simplistic and failed Just Say No campaign.

And with apologies to my fellow inebriates, but no argument in defense of pot can ignore discussion of our one legal recreational drug. Our favorite social lubricant and liver enhancer was at one time used as a medical anesthetic. That’s the good news. During this same period in U.S. history, it was also doled out like candy to mollify the natives of this country so we could more easily steal their land. This popular recreational and physically addictive drug is now instrumental in exacerbating statistics for vehicular fatalities, divorce, homelessness, depression, and suicide. Other than contributing to temporary stupidity, marijuana doesn’t come close to creating this kind of societal havoc.

From my own experience, the worst thing about using marijuana is that it may cause mild anxiety, lethargy, and caloric escalation from eating junk food. And poor grades. Take it from me, it’s hard to study organic chemistry when flowers are blooming, the sun is smiling, “Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys” is in stereo, and McDonald’s is serving. And since marijuana affects the nervous system, it’s probably good that people are tested for specific dangerous professions, or where employees are assigned to protect public welfare.

But I can’t shake the nightmare of being tested by a certain squalid employment agency and being mistakenly accused of having pot in my system. It was shameful enough submitting to their breathalyzer b.s. in the first place. But after being accused, and even after they apologized and suddenly altered their erroneous “findings,” I swore off drug tests forever. I may have compromised most of my youthful ideals by this point in life, but I do have a little dignity left.

One final thought: there are pockets of people who still believe, despite tangible evidence to the contrary, that our government knows what’s best for us. For example, I know a very sweet but naïve and hyper-religious woman whose daughter has struggled with polycystic kidney disease. Despite having a successful kidney transplant, the girl still experiences pain. Recently, I ran into both at the grocery store. After hearing about the poor girl’s suffering, I suggested the possibility of medical marijuana. I forget what the mother said. But her look told me “Well, we don’t care for hippie drugs and would never do anything dangerous.”

Ok. Fair enough. We ended the conversation with smiles and a hug. I wished them the best of luck, as I headed to the checkout line, and Mom rolled their grocery cart toward the wiener section.

Not to sound derisive, or anything.

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Waiting for Dr. Godot

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I received the phone call at work. It was a notification from my mom’s Life Alert system. She was at the hospital. I later learned she’d experienced a sudden and intense tightening in her chest. The EMTs had whisked her to the hospital emergency room.

Fortunately, it wasn’t a heart attack. It was “aortic stenosis,” and Mom needed a TAVR (Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement). She’s now safe at home, on the path to recovery. But her ordeal brought me face to face with two 21st century medical phenomenons. First, doctors and hospitals these days are “fantastic.” And second – like the mysterious title character in Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot” – your doctor may not even exist.

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When Mom arrived at Med-Central, she met with Dr. Ahmed. He explained that she probably had aortic stenosis, a narrowing of her aortic valve. But before he could replace the valve, he needed to verify by doing a cardiac catheterization.

infusionWe looked up Dr. Ahmed on the internet. Wow… fantastic reviews! And even better, Betsy Babcock, Mom’s bridge partner who “knows everything,” verified that Ahmed was, indeed, “fantastic.” Nothing to worry about.

So it was a shock when I learned that the catheterization was done by Dr. Evans.

“Dr. Evans is on the same team as Ahmed,” explained Mom. I looked up Evans on the internet. Wow… no reviews.

But the catheterization did show that Mom had aortic stenosis, and a TAVR was scheduled. “They’re going to do the TAVR at Rivercliff Hospital in Columbus, not Med-Central,” she said. “Dr. Evans said that the surgeon will be Dr. Rabokov.” I asked her why Dr. Evans wasn’t going to do it at Med-Central, but she didn’t know.

Betsy Babcock lit up when we mentioned Dr. Rabokov’s name. “Oh, he’s fantastic! His team did Bob’s TAVR!” This made me feel a lot better.

Then my wife, an Ohio State graduate, offered her two cents. “It’s a shame she can’t have it done at Ohio State Med Center. They did fantastic things for my dad.”

I hesitatingly looked up Rivercliff Hospital on the internet. Wow, fantastic reviews!

“Look at this, Buckeye nut,” I countered. “Fantastic reviews for Rivercliff.”rod and snake

“That’s fantastic!” said my wife. “Yeah, they’re probably just as good as Ohio State.”

We arrived at Rivercliff for testing and initial consultation. We looked forward to meeting with Dr. Rabokov afterwards.

But the nurse said that Rabokov was in surgery. Instead, Dr. Wilson would be meeting with us.

“Who’s he?” I asked.

“Oh, he’s on the same team as Dr. Rabokov,” she explained. “Don’t worry, though, he’s fantastic!”

After the testing was finished, Dr. Wilson met us in the waiting room. He seemed very knowledgeable. Mom later asked Betsy Babcock about Wilson.

“Don’t know him,” she said. Uh-oh.

I didn’t look up Dr. Wilson on the internet. I figured since he was on the same team as the “fantastic” Rabokov, then he was fantastic, too.

When surgery time approached, my brother drove Mom to her preliminaries and blood work. Dr. Rabokov was in surgery all day, so they met with the Rivercliff nurses instead. Mom has nothing to worry about, they said. Rabokov’s team is the best there is for TAVRs.

The operation itself lasted just a couple hours (it’s hard to believe how far we’ve progressed with cardiac surgery. They’re becoming so smooth, and routine, it’s unbelievable).

doctorAlso unbelievable was the guy who came out to meet us in the post-surgery consultation room. It wasn’t Rabokov. It was a Dr. Vasquez. And he looked like he was 17 years old. He was so young-looking, a couple times I almost called him “dude.”

Dr. Vasquez said the surgery went fine. I wanted to ask him if Dr. Rabokov was guiding his training. But I held off.

While Mom was in recovery, I noticed a line of portraits on the wall. They were all Rivercliff cardiac doctors. Wilson was front and center. His academic and training credentials were boldly displayed. There was no portrait of Rabokov.  I didn’t see Vasquez, either, but I assumed he was still in medical school when the photos were taken. Or perhaps grammar school.

The nurses said that Dr. Rabokov would be making rounds the next morning, and I could then ask questions about things like pacemakers and day of release. But the following morning, when I asked how soon Rabokov would arrive, the RN said “Who? Ahh. Well, Dr. Rabokov’s in surgery. Dr. Vasquez will be here, though.”

I finally realized that there is no Dr. Rabokov. Like the Wizard of Oz, he’s a mythical creature, a chimera composed of pieces of all the cardiac M.D.s associated with the hospital, and intended to dazzle us plebeians with his brilliance.

I figured that Messrs. Ahmed, Evans, Wilson, and Vasquez had cooked up Rabokov over a few martinis at the country club. The periodic intercom announcements of “Dr. Rabokov to recovery, Dr. Rabokov to recovery” were designed to keep the patients in suspense, and to provide entertainment for the overworked nursing staff.

Rabokov was also a convenient foil. If anything went wrong during surgery, the staff could always blame fictitious Rabokov.

Yep, Dr. Rabokov was, indeed, “fantastic.”

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NOTE: the names in this story have been changed to protect the innocent, and also to protect me.

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