When I got my cancer diagnosis in October, I felt like I fell down a rabbit hole. Friday, I went to the Mad Hatter’s tea party. (Please note: no tea was consumed.)
I wrote the beginning of this as I suffered from a bout of insomnia early Saturday morning. I took a sleeping pill at 9:00 last night and was asleep by 9:30. I woke up at 4 a.m. with a stomachache. I took my anti-nausea pill, and it reduced by half. I took an Ativan, and my body went, “Eh, whatever.” So there it was, 5 a.m., and I wrote writing half this entry. Overall in my life right now, I spend too much time lying in bed wishing I could sleep, so I took advantage of it. I did get tired and went to sleep by 6:30, so there’s that, at least.
My husband told me yesterday that I oversold the Mad Hatter tea party story, but I told him I’m a writer, not an orator. Hopefully I do a better job with this rendition. And yes, I was pretty much the only one wearing a hat, but still. I did leave some of the parts out because my parents were around. Close your eyes, Mom and Dad, because I’ve taken illegal drugs before and I’m going to tell everyone about it.
I saw my doctor on Wednesday, I received a call from the Canadian Cannabis Clinic while I was drinking my dirty tap water waiting for my CT scan on Thursday, and I scheduled an appointment for Friday at 9:15 a.m. Chemo was at noon, and they said the intake would take two hours, so I had plenty of time.
The clinic is in the Whitby mall across from Toys ‘R Us, where the Service Canada is located. It’s a building that was maybe built in the ’60s, and it looks like it. Everything is dingy and brown, and the stores themselves are mostly local, without the capital to spiff them up. One jewelry store looks higher end, but it’s really not; it’s just a chain fine jewelry store.
The clinic is in the East Tower. I assume this is where I took Morrigan to the breastfeeding clinic. The elevator is outside the entrance to the mall, and my dad drops me in front of it. I go upstairs and realize that this is the West Tower, not the East. I start walking down a long hallway, which turns into a loooooong hallway. It’s so long, I figure I’ll get out of the West numbers and find the East, if I keep going.
Next to the last West-numbered office is a staircase. I go down the stairs and look out the window, hoping I’ll see the East tower. Instead, I see a Big Boy Superstore. I step outside. The wind whips around my coat. The door closes behind me. I try to open it, but it’s locked.
I’m running late, it’s freezing out here, and I’m a bit tired. I really don’t want to make the hike I just made through the cold weather, but I have no choice.
I hurry around the building and go inside. I’m really running late now. We arrived in plenty of time, if I knew where I was going. I go inside the shitty, brown mall. I run past a store full of all-brown shoes. I pull out my phone, find the 888 number for the clinic, and start dialing.
It’s an answer service. A woman’s voice welcomes me in English and starts talking in extremely butchered French. I can’t figure out what she’s saying if I want to, but likely something about pressing nine to switch to bad French. I clomp past the Service Canada and the place where we got the babies’ passport pictures taken.
Finally, I spot a set of stairs and a sign with an arrow pointing upward that says, “Medical Offices.”
A cannabis clinic is a medical office, right? I rush over and hang up the phone. Out of the corner of my eye, I see a familiar name: the name of the OB-GYN who “delivered” the twins. He actually stood back and watched while his resident did it, which is why I use the quotes, but his name is on all their paperwork.
Huh, small world.
I’m out of breath when I get up the stairs.
The problem I found when I moved to Canada is that medical places are usually in buildings like this. Dingy and old. Not dirty. They’re clean, they have all the medical supplies, but they’re not pretty. Things are shoved in corners in oddly-shaped offices. Boxes of gauze are stacked underneath the examining table next to hanging-open cabinets.
I’ve grown used to it, but when I first arrived, it was a shock. My family doctor in Iowa was in a clinic with about ten other doctors, and everything was white, sparkling, and new. He was affiliated with the hospital, which was also white, sparkling, and new. It gave a certain sort of confidence.
But here’s the thing. It’s socialized medicine here, and I would rather government pay a doctor who knows what he’s doing than having their lobby remodeled with potted plants and gently bubbling fountains. Because that’s what you pay for, right?
Breathless, I see the sign for the Canadian Cannabis Clinic, and I rush around the corner. I burst inside, thrust my paperwork toward the receptionist. “Sorry I’m late. I got lost.”
She’s smiles. “Oh, don’t worry. You’re doing fine. It’s a rite of passage anyway. Usually people have to call to find their way here.”
A prominent sign states, THERE IS NO CANNABIS ON SITE.
“Okay, good.” I’m breathing hard. Stupid chemo. I’m embarrassed.
“I have a consent form for you to sign, and then I’ll need a urine sample.”
I take the paperwork and sit down. It take twenty lines to say, “Don’t do illegal stuff, and if you do, you’re solely and completely responsible.”
Another woman is sitting in the waiting room, not looking at me as diligently as I’m not looking at her. A flat-screen TV is playing–at least it’s not CRT. It’s a training video that is explaining how to use the different forms of marijuana–smoking, which they don’t recommend because it’s four times more likely to lead to bronchitis, vaping, and oils. Sitting next to me is a small table with a Keurig coffeemaker. I’m juggling a Tim’s with my coat and wallet, so I don’t need one.
I sign the paper and trade it for an empty urine cup. I am a tad nervous about failing the test. A couple weeks ago, one of my friends gave me cookies to help me relax. It did not work, but I’ll get to that later. I’m concerned that they’re going to find it in my urine, and I examine a set of numbers on the outside. “Look for the green dot,” it says.
I pee in the cup and look for the green dot.
Nope, nothing green. There’s a purple one that lights up underneath the number 100. It fades into black under the 92. I blink at it. No more instructions are apparent.
I guess they’re looking for people other than someone who ate a quarter of a cookie and decided that medical-grade marijuana was a better source of drugs.
I will stop at this point in case anyone is concerned with the presence of drugs in my house with small children. I have a small safe I got when I was a kid–which, yes, I know it’s a toy and not the safest thing in the world, but Morrigan is only three. If she were ten, I’d be more worried. It takes some dexterity and knowing one’s numbers (which she does not) to get it open. I keep it in a place she can’t reach, even if she psychically knew it was there and went to get her step stool. If I go on cannabis long-term, I’ll get a real safe, which we probably need for things like rings and other valuables anyway.
My daily drugs are in the original child-proof bottles from the pharmacy and 99% of time out of the reach of her. I say 99% because sometimes when I’m getting ready to go to chemo, I put them in my bag, at which point, she could find them and I would find her and raise all kind of hell because you know you aren’t supposed to be touching other people’s pills.
Kevin and I have been very adamant about this because she’s shown such interest in medicine. It’s how we got her to drink her fiber to get past the constipation issues. (Are we ever really past the poop-withholding, though? I don’t know.) It’s not fail-safe, but it is safe.
I’m always worrying.
But I digress.
I put the urine cup on the metal shelf across from the bathroom, and go back to the waiting room. The other woman gets called into the back. I flip through my phone, answer some texts.
The nurse is a short, dark-complected man that looks in his twenties. He doesn’t have an accent, and later I learn he’s from Washington, D.C., and an identical twin. They were close growing up, but they aren’t talking to one another because when he went at Christmas, his sister-in-law started a fight because she’s like that. All of this came at the end of the intake, but it’s a lot of information. A lot of information.
I wonder if he’s sampling the goods. He’s very laid back. He smiles a lot. He relaxes into the chair and doesn’t seem concerned when my blood pressure comes up 159 over 89. That is definitely White Coat Syndrome. Later, at chemo, my blood pressure is 117 over 79. Funny that I’m more nervous at a cannabis clinic than when they’re about to pump half a gallon of poison into me to kill my fucking cancer.
I filled out a form before I came in on my health history, my previous drug and alcohol use, my prescriptions, and my mental health state (anxiety and depression). He goes through all my medications again, asking how to spell the anti-nausea one, but generally he seems like he’s familiar with everything. I wonder if he’s a nurse or something else; he didn’t introduce himself as one, but what else would he be?
“There’s even some proof that CBD shrinks tumors,” he says.
“That’s fantastic.” It is fantastic. It’s the second time I’ve heard it, but the first in a medical setting. I will take anything medically proven to work. It excites me, actually.
Finally, he says, “Have you ever used marijuana?”
“Well, in colle–”
“No, no. After your diagnosis. To help you relax.”
I try not to laugh. I suppose they get that answer all the time, and who even cares? I relay that a friend gave me a quarter of a cookie, and I got high, which was not fun for me.
Actually, it’s never been fun. The most entertaining thing I ever experienced was when I was in college, and time seemed to pull apart. I sat at my friend’s piano, trying to read music, but every second, I felt like I was “waking up” to find myself sitting on a piano bench, trying to play a song. It was not an effective method of creating music.
The other few times I smoked, I just felt like shit and I got bored because my brain was going off making up stuff that wasn’t even interesting. A couple times, nothing happened, so I assume my friend got bad shit. And a couple times with a boyfriend I never should have gone out with, I got shiver-seizure like things. We were at an outdoor event, so who knows what else was in there. I definitely didn’t think I smoke enough for that to be the pot, but who knows. That was the last time I ever smoked it.
The last time I ever smoked it.
I didn’t tell you guys the whole truth. The night after my sleeping pill stopped working and I had horrible insomnia on Worst Day After Chemo Day, I ate a bit of pot-laced cookie. I was hoping it would help me relax and go to sleep. I ate it around 6:30, which was right after dinner. My mom came in while a bit of it was sitting on my nightstand and I studiously looked her in the eye and did not even acknowledge it was there. Hey, I might be 36, with her living in my house, but I didn’t want to have that sheepish conversation. After she left, I then started googling how long it would take to kick in. 1-2 hours, is what the internet informed me, but nothing happened until three hours later at 9:30 when I was hoping to be asleep.
Fair enough, but then…
Rather than falling asleep, I got high. Shapes and colors danced in front of my closed eyes. I came up with this idea that, “Chemo is like getting drunk on tiredness,” which is actually not a terrible metaphor, especially since I discovered they use ethanol in the solution, which would definitely mix with my do-not-drink meds to create unpleasantness.
I then heard two auditory hallucinations: one was creepy-ass music, a kind of Celtic instrumental that I thought someone was playing on their phone down the hall (they were not) and then the sound of a squeaky grocery cart wheel getting closer and closer and closer. Finally, I decided that the coolest of all dragons was two-headed dragons. Not one. Not three. Three is cooler than one, but then it goes down as the head number goes up. So it goes: Two, three, one, four, five, six, etc., which may or may not be legit. Even in my right mind, I think that might be true, but then again, I have twins.
Note that I was lying in bed, experiencing all of this in the dark until about 11:30 p.m.
It was not fun.
All in all, I haven’t been impressed with my marijuana experiences. I’m doing this because it’s medicinal and it’s supposed to help. I think I’m too anxiety-prone for the feeling of getting high to be at all interesting to me, so hopefully I can find a balance that helps my pain and doesn’t have me walking around in a stupor.
The told-me-too-much-about-his-life, super-laid-back nurse informs me we’re done. It’s time for me to meet with the doctor to discuss my situation. I will need to get a piece of paper, the name of which continually goes in one ear and out the other. It’s not a prescription; it’s something else. There are so many regulations around this that it makes me want to roll my eyes every time I think about it.
Nurse leads me around the corner and holds one hand toward a room.
I walk in to find a computer with a chair set up in front of it.
“Just be patient and the doctor will appear.” Nurse shuts the door.
There are some instructions on using the computer. “If the screen goes blank, move the mouse.” A screensaver is bouncing around. I look at the art on the walls. Behind me is an examination table. Is it for decoration or does the doctor sometimes have people go across there and hold up their shirts for him to exam on-screen?
The screensaver pops up. The doctor appears.
He looks to be about forty years old, with the muscled appearance and heavy jaw of a linebacker. He reminds me of my brother, with his scruffy beard and short hair. He’s wearing a red adidas shirt with a maple leaf on one side.
Curiouser and curiouser.
“Hello, I’m Dr. Steve [I’m really bad at names].” He looks over some information below where the camera is. “Hmm. Wow. Hmm. You have an unfortunate story.”
Yep. Yep, I do.
“Tell me a little bit about what you’re expecting to get out of using cannabis.”
I’m hoping to get rid of my pain completely. I want to stop having anxiety and depression. I want to stop feeling like shit after going to chemo. I don’t tell him this, but I just want to feel fucking normal again. It’s “only” four more months, but it feels so long. And what if–
“Those are all achievable goals.” He rubs his hands together. “Now, there are side effects to using cannabis. Some people think that because it’s ‘natural,’ they won’t experience anything unpleasant. Poison ivy is natural, but I wouldn’t suggest eating it.”
He pauses, and I give him the obligatory chuckle.
“The only problem is your anxiety and depression. For some, cannabis worsens those symptoms, so we’ll have to keep an eye on it. Your depression could go down, and your anxiety could go up, or your anxiety could go down, and your depression could go up.”
He skims through something in my paperwork.
“Oof, a liver metastis. Cannabis is metabolized by the liver, so with reduced liver functionality, it might take longer to work. It’s really a lot of experimentation.
“Here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to give you a big back yard to play in. Someone in your situation is harder to judge. It’s not cut and dried because of the lack of research–no double-blind studies, only case studies.
“I’m going to prescribe 1 gram a day in oil form, but I don’t want you to start there. Start with much less than that. Whatever the counselor says to do, do maybe a third less than that. Track your symptoms day after day, and increase by one drop every few days. We want you to stop when your symptoms are manageable, even go backward a couple drops. It’s a money thing, too; OHIP doesn’t cover this.”
I decide I’ll ask my insurance company about whether they cover it. Later, I call them–no. SunLife covers it, but the CIBC base plan doesn’t. Well, this is why I got the grant from SFWA and the payout from my critical illness insurance. To purchase and consume marijuana legally.
“You also want to try different strains. One month use one strain, another month try another one, until you find one that’s working for you.”
This is the point where I start to feel like things are getting shady, but I hold out hope that the counselor will have something helpful for me to hold onto.
“Do you have any questions for me?”
“Where are you located?” I can’t help but ask it.
“I’m in Barrie.” It’s about an hour away. “I have a family practice, but I do this on Fridays. I got started because I had patients coming in asking about medical marijuana. Honestly, I didn’t believe in it. So I did some research and found that it’s not well-documented, but anecdotally it works. The thing is, nobody’s funding the research, so how can we say it doesn’t work?”
I’m a staunch believer in science and the rigor of studies, but I’ve always thought the lack of research around natural remedies is bullshit. When it came to red raspberry leaf tea for helping ease childbirth, for instance. Women who have used it after giving birth multiple times swear by it, but because it’s a folk remedy and not a pill, nobody’s doing the necessary research.
“So I got into this. Honestly, I’m still a skeptic,” he admits. “Every time someone comes in and says it works, I’m a little like, ‘Really? Are you sure?'”
“How many people would you say are happy with the results?” I ask. It sounds a little like, How many dentists recommend this toothpaste? Because the placebo effect is large, right?
“I’d say about 90% of people are happy.”
“Really! And what do you do with the other 10%?”
“We change things,” he explains. “And then about 5% are happy, and the other 5%… I just can’t help.”
“That’s how it is, I suppose. Thanks for talking to me.”
“You’re welcome. Good luck.”
The screen goes dark.
I’m not sure what to do yet. A sign informs me that I should go see the receptionist if I don’t want to see the counselor, but I do want to see the counselor. I walk out. Two people are sitting in the chairs outside the door. My appointment seemed like it lasted a long time, so I wonder how long they were waiting there. I poke my head in the door and ask the receptionist what to do next.
“Oh, just have a seat over there.” There’s another set of chairs and another door down the short hallway. “The counselor will come get you soon.”
This whole thing feels a little fly-by-night. Why are there signs for half the instructions? CanvasRX is happy to sell you marijuana out of a small hovel in a dingy mall!
There’s a table with a bunch of literature about pot strains on it. I send a picture to my brother, who… ahem… used to be a regular consumer of marijuana. He’s very excited about this whole thing. I consider picking up some of the brochures and reading them, but I have no idea where to start. I sit back down and mess around on my phone.
The door opens and a couple people come out. A minute later, the counselor comes out. “Hi, I’m Misty. Sorry for the wait.”
Misty has a pleasantly round face and is wearing a smart, navy suit. She looks like someone I’d work with in project management, which is a jarring contrast to the doctor dude operating over Skype out of his living room. The room she takes me into is just a regular office. It’s got an L-shaped desk with a computer and two chairs next to it. Along the sideboard is a little filing cabinet. It’s actually the nicest room in the place. It’s dimly lit, so it doesn’t feel so dingy as the rest of the bright white doctor-y areas.
The whole discussion with her is a whirlwind, and I get a bit confused. “Let me set you up in our system.” She has me look over my details–name, address, email, birthdate–and then starts showing me around the site. “You’ll get an email in 5-10 days that has all your login information. Here are the strains I would recommend.”
She prints off a paper and gives it to me.
“When you order your cannabis, it will come to you in the mail. It takes about 1-2 days. There are no legal walk-in dispensaries, so make sure you’re not going to those.”
“What? Really?” New information all the time. Everyone talks about dispensaries, but obviously…
“You’ll take these as drops of oil.” She’s writing on the paper. “I would recommend 3 drops 3 times a day of the CBD-only strain, and 1-2 drops of the THC/CBD strain before bed. If you put them on food, it takes 2-3 hours for the effects to begin. If you put them under your tongue, then it takes about 15 minutes.”
“Under my tongue?”
“Yes, you lift up your tongue like thith,” she demonstrates, “and you put the oil underneath. Then you let your thaliva carry it down your throat and thwallow the rest. That’th how I use it.”
I know there are invisible disabilities and this is super un-woke of me, but I cannot help but think, When you use it for what?
This is the point where I feel like things are getting super shady. As my father observed later, this corporation–CanvasRX–is looking for a home for its product. It’s a money-making thing someone invested in, and this chick is selling me her weed out of the back of her car–I mean, office.
“So you put in an order for me?”
“No, no,” she said. “You have to wait for the email within 5-10 days, and then you can order it.”
Yes, okay, I saw that sign that said there’s no cannabis on site, but I didn’t expect to wait two weeks for it. I guess that’s why they hustled me in so fast for an appointment.
“Do you have any questions for me?”
I look at the paper. It says something about Indica for the nighttime strain. It says Hybrid for the daytime strain.
This is not what I wanted. I wanted a prescription for something. I just wanted to take it and be magically cured. Isn’t that what I do with my other multitude of prescriptions? I suppose when I get access to the website or app, I can start browsing their strains. There are a couple people I can talk to that will help me pick out I want, but also…
“If you have any questions,” says Misty, “you can always email us–” at a really cutesy email address, “–or someone is available at the phone number.”
She gives me a pamphlet that says, “WELCOME BOOK: A complete guide to your medical cannabis journey.” Inside, it has such information as the legal requirements of transporting it (I can’t bring it into the US, even in states where it’s legal) and how to bake your own edibles.
“It’s very stinky, though,” she says.
There’s even an option of growing it myself, which I highly doubt I’ll be partaking in any time soon.
Armed with the feeling I just walked through a door to another, very large part of the world I didn’t know about, I gather my stuff and leave.
Dad is coming into the waiting room just as I come out. In the car, I tell him about my experience, and I can’t stop laughing. I laugh and laugh and laugh. “I just don’t know about this,” I explain through my laughter-induced tears. “I bet someone else would be excited about this, but…” I’m just glad I got to have this experience. Having cancer is shitty, but I got to add this to the stories I get to tell.
The characters I met, the weirdness I just experienced…
Well. I guess in 5-10 days I’ll get to start browsing the site and deciding what the hell type of pot it is I’m going to start with.