Council turns blind eye, deaf ear to some in need

July 21, 2005

Flo Martin, Columnist, Daily Pilot (CA)

The first is the decision to end funding and to disband the controversial Human Relations Committee. The second council vote involves closing the door on any possible setting up of a medical marijuana dispensary within Costa Mesa city limits. 

California voters have passed a proposition allowing for such dispensaries. In fact, many states in the U.S. already have laws on the books that permit medical use of marijuana. The feds, on the other hand, said no, marijuana is bad for you anywhere and anytime, and so they acted as beneficent, paternal do-gooders and voted against allowing really sick people who desperately need relief from pain to use marijuana. What happened to the idea of less government interference in our lives? Aren't we smart enough to make some adult choices regarding our own medical care? Can't we leave it to the medical professionals to decide what kind of therapy is appropriate for pain management? Addictive pain meds -- from morphine and fentanyl on down to codeine -- are all highly controlled but still allowed, so why not marijuana?

Starting in early 1979, my father, then 62, visited a chiropractor weekly for relief for his neck pain. No relief came. Just the opposite. During one visit, my dad actually heard his upper spine area crunch and crack. He passed out in pain during that particular 'adjustment.' On occasion, Papa would lie on the floor of his living room and writhe in pain -- back pain.

Later on that year, Papa lost use of his legs. A visit to his medical doctor revealed a huge tumor in his lower back. The diagnosis: multiple myeloma throughout his spinal column and rib cage. The doctors told my dad that he was very sick and should set his house in order. I remember the day we got the news. I jumped on a plane, got a ride to the hospital and walked into my father's room. The sign on his door said 'No Visitors,' and the curtain was drawn around his bed. Pushing the curtain aside, I found my dad lying there quietly looking at the wrist watch in his hand. He did not say anything to me. I sat down and waited for recognition. But no, Papa simply stared at his watch and said nothing. When I got up the courage to ask him what he was doing, he answered, 'I'm just counting the minutes that I have left to live.'

Multiple myeloma is a cancer of the bone marrow. The 'multiple' refers to the multiple areas of bone marrow that are affected. The impact on the patient is also 'multiple.' The most drastic is bone damage. Areas of severe damage -- like my dad's neck and lower spine -- cause lesions, fracture or even collapse of vertebrae. The cancer also blocks cells that normally repair damaged bone. The second is pernicious anemia. (During my father's care, he received more than 40 pints of blood -- all free thanks to my American Red Cross blood account.)

The doctor in charge of my father's treatment decided first to shrink the lower spinal tumor with radiation. The tumor responded to the point where Papa could walk -- or rather, shuffle -- with the help of a cane. I had read something about offering marijuana to alleviate pain even way back then, and asked the doctor if he would prescribe this for my father. His shocked reply was: 'Absolutely not. Marijuana is addictive!' What? Wake up and smell the coffee, dude! Multiple myeloma is incurable. The average lifespan for multiple myeloma victims (in 2005) is three years after initial diagnosis. In 1979, the odds were even worse. This same doctor knew that my father was close to death, so why the reticence to prescribe marijuana?

Several weeks later, Papa was handed off, so to speak, to a young oncologist fresh out of medical school. This fellow started my dad on chemotherapy. Papa became weaker. He threw up almost every 30 minutes for days on end. He was also in constant, excruciating pain. Standard drugs could not touch his pain. No food, no drink, no sleep. The tumors temporarily subsided and Papa went home. At age 63, my father had become a shell of his former self. He was a beaten man.

My father 'lived' in a hospital for about 80% of that last year of his life. Just a few days before my father died, the young oncologist asked that my mother and I meet with him in his offices after hours, when all his appointments had gone home. The three of us sat in his waiting room and talked. The doctor, a very courageous and compassionate man, had to tell us that my father was just days away from death. 'Mr. Nedeff's kidneys are failing rapidly. We could have him driven (some 30 miles) to Salinas for kidney dialysis. He cannot tolerate any more chemotherapy. He is in such great pain with the tumors all over his body, I suggest that we just let him slip into a coma and let him go.' My mother opted to consult two new oncologists, who prescribed new chemo. Two days later, my father drowned in his own body fluids -- massive infection and pneumonia.

What a wonderful surprise to see the young oncologist at my father's memorial service about a week later. He literally held me up as I cried in his arms. His consoling words ring in my ears today: 'Your father was in great pain. He finally got relief.'

Sad, sad, sad, that our City Council has voted to deny marijuana as medical relief to others in pain.

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