Medical Marijuana

4 Dec

About 20-odd years ago, a ninety year-old orthodox lady stepped down from opening the Ark at her great-nephew’s Bar-Mitzvah in Jerusalem and said to us as an aside “If you live to my age, you get to do everything”. It was also the first time that Pam and I had sat together in a Reform Synagogue. Years earlier, growing up in London in the swinging 60’s, I was at Wembley Stadium to witness England winning the World Cup and even saw The Beatles live at Hammersmith Odeon. But I’d never taken drugs – not even smoked pot. Then last year, I got cancer – and my life over-turned.

Things deteriorated very rapidly at the beginning. But I don’t think I was desperate. My kids still ask whether I was, or perhaps whether I still am, in some sort of denial. I said “no” then and still say “no” now. I lost of lot of weight, couldn’t eat and was in an unfair amount of pain. Retching had become a routine. I was receiving radiotherapy almost everyday and chemotherapy once a week. Our search for a better solution continued. Tel Hashomer offered alternative medicine as well – acupuncture and medical marijuana.

I acquiesced to acupuncture amicably, but medical marijuana? Me? Go for it Dad – the kids urged me on. This is your chance to get with it. Did they know something I didn’t know? Were they using substances without having told me? We were certainly in new waters. And I’m no great swimmer. You have to try everything – what do have to lose?

I don’t know what made me change my mind but I agreed. Like everything in life you have to negotiate the administrative obstacles. First up, I have to get a letter of consent from my oncologist, then a referral from the professor of alternative medicine and of course, obtain a police license for “The Holding and Use of Dangerous Substances”. Is this really me? But first, I’m told I have to watch the recently aired Channel 2 documentary by Tzachi Klein[1]. I report back to the kids – they seem to think that this is the best thing that’s happened in the family since sliced bread. Dad’s going to become a junkie! I’m given an appointment for 11:20 at Abarbanel Mental Health Hospital, Bat Yam. Abarbanel? Bat Yam? For the uninitiated, it’s as likely as me going for walk at night in Harlem in the 90’s or finding a kosher butcher in Bradford. But first we have to watch the documentary – which we do en famille. It’s one of those true bonding experiences where we all feel part of this “adventure” together. The programme itself brings a sensitivity to those (like myself) with a pre-conceived negative idea of a substance with a suspect image. 

I’m on my way to Abarbanel. My girls each volunteer to take me, but my brother-in-law, Pip, is on hand to help as always – and he drives me there.

We more or less know where Bat Yam is – but nothing could have prepared us for Abarbanel. (See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=McgJ8G5576g for a general idea). The gates are more like a prison than a hospital. The security tight by Israeli standards, to say the least. I show my documentation, letters, referrals and recently obtained license. The guards, after their laborious check, reluctantly let us in. Not the car – just you – they tell me. I’m wheelchair-bound I reply. Sentiment doesn’t seem part of their job, nor happiness part of the hospital. People are all over the place. Some lying down, some wandering aimlessly around, and others self-inflicting themselves with injuries. What is going on? Park near Building 5, I tell Pip – even though we arrived almost an hour early and I could do with a dose of fresh air. Not only do I want to save Pip a long push of the wheelchair – the place just doesn’t look safe for the likes of us.

Did I say Building? It’s more like a condemned shed that should have been demolished years ago. There are lots of people waiting; no queue, no-one to ask. We finally find a friendly face. I’ve got an appointment for11:20. How many people in front of me? I’m really not feeling well. Any chance of going straight in? Your appointment is for11:20– you’ll be seen at11:20.

If ever there was any need for confirmation that this place was not normal, this was it. Swiss timing in Israel?

11:20 comes and we’re summoned in. I forget to take off my sunglasses. It’s more like an interrogation room in a B-type movie than medicine. I need to go to the toilet but having seen the facility on the way in – I go for restraint. A monologue from my interlocutor. He tells us that he was a junkie and knows where we’re coming from. Legalised marijuana – don’t think you’re going to hallucinate and see naked naughties, he continues. He asks me what I’ve used before. He doesn’t seem convinced by my “Nothing” reply, and says he’ll start from scratch. I’ll teach you and control you – this is no “High and Bye”, he smiles. He’s somehow winning my confidence. The body and mind have to be ready for the experience – you have to act responsibly or your license will be revoked. It is in your name for your sole use. “Where are the kids now?” I ask myself. Shame they’re not here for this delightful demonstration.

I get home with my quantity of cannabis and my girls are giggling with anticipation. They even suggest another bonding experience en famille. I remind them that I really don’t see myself yet as having passed the threshold of pain and I’ll only use it as and when the time comes.

What did the marijuana do for me? Watch this space for my next blog.


[1] The programme (narrated by Uri Glazer) was first aired in January 2010 and is truly illuminating (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HQ8HZtD6aZI) . Together with other media exposure (see http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1263147921967&pagename=JPArticle%2FShowFull ) it increased public awareness immediately. Demand for medical marijuana (cannabis) in Israel increased 5-fold!

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