Mom’s Got Cancer – Entry 5 – “Marijuana, Morphine and a Trip to Napoli”
Out of the hospital and straight into hospice. During her five-day stay, she was treated for a liver biopsy, bleeding in her abdominal cavity, and a pulmonary embolism (blockage of an artery in the lung caused by blood clots), which led to an inferior vena cava filter implant. My mom was so weak after the hospital and wasn’t able to receive any treatment for her cancer, even if there had been a treatment available for her. She stayed at the retirement home for one week. During that time, she was given a healthy supply of morphine, oxycodone, codeine, blood thinners, and any other drug or pill that would provide some comfort. I had to sign papers admitting her into hospice care. Her oncologist was worried about her but tried to provide some sense of hope (perhaps it was bullshit) but said she could always come out of hospice and that many patients do turn around. This is the kind of bullshit you want to hear though when your mom goes into hospice.
My mom was slower than usual. As a world record holder, she was always fast at everything. Everything had to be a race and a competition. If she was driving, she was cutting off other drivers. If there was a line to cash out at the grocery store, she was speeding through. Even when she retired from running and her full time job, she was still racing everywhere. One day when I went back to live with her in LA, I asked, “What’s the rush? You’re retired. I’m unemployed. Where are we going in such a hurry?”
We were sitting in the little kitchenette area of the guest room at the retirement home speaking to the hospice nurse when she received a delivery of oxygen/breathing gas. This was standard for patients in hospice but it was the first time my mom had shown any emotion about the status of her health. They delivered four large tanks of oxygen, including an oxygen machine, cart and tubing. She couldn’t look at the oxygen tanks or the deliveryman and tears were dripping down her cheeks. Her words were so quiet and I asked what was wrong. What was wrong?! Fucking everything was wrong! What a lame question. Anyway, she said, “I don’t want to live like this. If I ever have to use a machine like that, I’d rather die.” I quickly signed off on the papers, and the hospice nurse and I hid the tanks in the closet.
I wanted my mom to die with me. There was no way I was letting her die alone. I decided to bring her back to Canada after her two weeks in the States. If she needed a caregiver, it was going to be me. She did not have any appointments or treatments scheduled in Bellingham anymore as she was in hospice but I didn’t want to just give up. I found a naturopath in Vancouver who specialized in oncology and we immediately liked him. His approach was inclusive of traditional therapies and thoroughly read through her scans. He put her on a high dosage of Vitamin C infusions every couple of days plus a bunch of other natural meds to stimulate appetite, etc. He also prescribed mistletoe injections in her abdomen every couple of days. This was to be administered at home. I hate needles. They really freak me out. I was actually more afraid of having an IV than giving birth but the ND said, “It’s really easy. Even you can do it.” The first time I injected her abdomen, I started to visualize a butterball turkey.
The ND wanted to wean her off the morphine and prescribed cannabis oil, aka pot. He said a lot of his patients find comfort using cannabis oil for relieving pain and stimulating appetite. She really wasn’t eating much during this time. She’s a tiny lady but had the appetite of a sumo. Whenever we’d go for ramen, she’d order extra large plus gyoza and finish it.
I wanted to get her on the pot right away. I had my two daughters, their good friend Clarisse who is like another daughter to me, and baba when we got the prescription. The dispensary was in East Hastings. For those of you who do not know Vancouver, this isn’t the cleanest area but coming from LA, it’s just fine. I parked the car and told the kids and baba to wait there. I wasn’t sure if I should bring Clarisse into a pot house. Luckily I had bought a bunch of Italian cookies that they were excited to eat while waiting in the car. When I got into the dispensary, the receptionist said they needed to see baba and have her sign off on the pot. So I came back with my entourage. There was a sign on the door that said, “No minors allowed”. I ignored it.
The dispensary had a dodgy look, e.g. old, eclectic, a mismatch of chairs, unkept plants and furniture. Whatever. I just wanted to get the pot and get out of there quickly. There were a bunch of papers we needed to skim and sign. Meanwhile Gabby said, “ I have to go pee pee.” I looked at her and said “Really? Can’t you just hold it?” She started squirming in her seat and the receptionist said, they could walk to the church and use the public washroom there. I sent baba with them and called out “Don’t sit down on the toilet seat!”
Once all the papers were signed, I was escorted into the “back”. It was like a gelateria. It was beautiful. I thought, why couldn’t they have chosen this décor in the front? It was clean and there was glass covering all the different kinds of pot. I would’ve loved to linger and read through all the varieties but I was on a time limit. My kids would be back and the pot house did not want them in their facility.
The person behind the counter was obviously stoned. He tried explaining the different types of cannabis oil my mom could use, THC or CBD through way too many uh’s and um’s. He seemed to be a nice guy but I was hoping for a pharmacist or at least someone who wasn’t high, as he explained the dosage. I took out my credit card and was told it was cash only. Of course! Who pays for pot with a credit card?
I got the stuff. The kids survived the bathroom visit with stories to share. I was feeling guilty for bringing the kids there in the first place and said to Clarisse ,”Your mom is going to kill me for bringing you to a pot house.” She said in her sweet, angelic ten-year old voice, “Don’t worry about it. We’re from Brazil!” Well thank God for Brazilians!!
We got back to baba’s little studio apartment after dropping the kids back home. I was excited to have her try the cannabis oil. The stoned dispenserist said give her a drop into her mouth. It came in a little injection type applicator without a needle. I slowly started pushing one end into her mouth. The consistency was like tar. How could I measure a drop when it was not liquid form!? I pushed the thick ass oil into her mouth without measuring it accurately and she immediately started coughing. How strong could this stuff be? It’s pot. Kids smoke it. She said it was burning her throat and continued coughing. I gave her water but the coughing didn’t stop so I gave her codeine. Within a few minutes she said she was dizzy and fell onto the couch. She was out. Maybe she was just taking a nap. She started moaning and complained about nausea. I quickly got a bucket and she vomited into it. I was thankful she was able to hold it until I was ready and I wouldn’t have to clean the carpet. She kept moaning and wasn’t coherent. I was getting nervous and scared. I did not have an on call number for the ND so I texted her oncologist. He had at that point become a friend to us. His response was “Stay away from marijuana”, lol.
There were a few more rounds of vomit over the next couple of hours. I rubbed her back and kept asking if she was feeling ok, if she was going to puke again, etc. “Mata haku no?”, I kept asking. Not haiku but haku. Haku is vomit and mata is again. After some rounds, it seemed like the vomiting was coming to an end and she was laying down resting. It felt good to have some relief. I carried her in my arms to better situate her on her sofa bed. Damn! She was a lot heavier than she looked. I remembered a bottle of chardonnay that I brought for dinner a few weeks ago. It was still in the fridge unopened. I poured myself a Texas size glass of chilled chardonnay and sat beside my mom, running my fingers through her hair while she mumbled in Japanese about “Napoli”, Naples. She was hallucinating. We had gone to Naples together when I lived in Germany twenty years ago but the past became the present. What is reality anyway but a perception of the mind? It was much more interesting than our previous conversation of “Are you going to puke again?” so I invited the memory of Naples and asked her where we were headed in Napoli.