What I Learned in the E.R.

Some much needed hand holding at Berkshire Medical Center.

Last Thursday morning at 5am my husband suggested to me that it was time to go to the hospital.  I’m usually an avid I-am-my-own-best-doctor and have not been to the hospital as a patient in over ten years, but I agreed without much hesitation. I had been in increasing abdominal pain since Monday when I caught a stomach bug that was going around.  I knew that I was dehydrated and that my efforts to keep fluids in my body were becoming more and more ineffective.  This illness had become entirely unmanageable. The waiting room at BMC was thankfully empty and I was seen right away.  Soon I was curled up in a small hospital bed using everything I’ve learned from yoga classes and distance running to somehow breathe through the pain.   I comforted myself with the thought that at some point it would get so bad that I would pass out.  Or the nurse would finish taking my blood and finally be able to give me something, anything, to help.  I got an IV drip and was also given an anti-nausea drug intravenously.  Painkillers are known to cause nausea so this had to come first.

The morphine was an entirely new thing.  You know those lead blankets they give you for an x ray?  It felt one of those was being laid up my arm and shoulders, spreading like molasses across my body.  When the heavy blanket of refined poppy sap reached my chest I worried if I would be able to breathe under the weight.  I could, of course, breathe and the intense stabbing pain in my stomach soon became a warmish spot, barely noticeable.  The doctor came in and I started to tell him what had been going on since things had gone from uncomfortable to intolerable.  I told him I had been using marijuana for the pain and nausea and drinking that disgusting pink stuff for everything else.

“You’ve been doing what?” He asked, slightly surprised and, of course, curious.

I explained that I prefer to use plants and plant based medicine when I get sick.  The doctor asked me about how I have used marijuana in the past, outside of this instance.  I skipped over the occasional joint in college and got right to the good stuff: chronic pain management, anti-depressant, appetite stimulant and anti-nausea treatment, all in one magical plant.  Basically, the two years I spent in pain every day, sick with a chronic, systemic Candida infection, I would come home after working as a nanny, and smoke or use a vaporizer.  The few hours I was stoned in the evenings was the one time during my day that I could relax, be pain free, and manage to eat something nutritious without doubling over in pain.  Having that respite from my sickness prevented me from becoming totally malnourished and completely miserable.  No matter what happened during the day while I was caring for three little girls and a golden retriever (it’s never just a nanny job), I could look forward to feeling good for a little while at night, get a solid 10-12 hours of rest and do it all over again.  Using marijuana for medical reasons really changed the way I use and think about it.  All plants have their own special curative properties and should be used and treated with respect, from Echinacea flowers to opium poppies.  Look at how Americans use sugar, derived from corn and sugar cane, we are literally killing ourselves by overdosing on it constantly.

Back to last week, my pain was like no other: sharp and coming in waves of increasingly unbearable intensity.   By Thursday morning nothing in our herbal medicine cabinet was working and so here we were, in the hospital.  The E. R. doctor listened, asked a few good questions but didn’t tell me not to use marijuana as I’d described.  Nor did he refute my statements about its medicinal properties.  So that was interesting.   After more pain killers and a CAT scan to make sure nothing major was wrong with me I was sent me home with the vague diagnosis of colitis, aka a stomach bug, and scripts for Vicodin and an anti-nausea drug.

The rest of Thursday was a blur, I took the highest recommended dose of both drugs and was in and out of sleep for the next 24 hours.  I got up frequently at night from the pain; the meds would wear off and I would wake up, feeling too sick to take more.  Ironically, I started throwing up the anti-nausea pills.  By Friday afternoon my body was rejecting both prescriptions and I was unable to keep anything down.  Apparently Vicodin is really rough on the stomach; I couldn’t tolerate it anymore after less than 36 hours of continual, recommended use.   So I was on empty and feeling really lousy.  I desperately needed to get some fluids down but the meds were making me too sick to do so.  My pain had lessened since its height in the E.R. but it was still impossible to tolerate.

Clearly, it was time to cut out the pills and go back to everyday stuff, like burnt toast, ginger water with a bit of salt and sweet, Grapefruit Seed Extract and other culinary treats.  I also decided to switch back to vaporized marijuana to help control the pain and nausea.   I hear that over half a million Americans already use marijuana medicinally while over a million of you have used it just for giggles, and seriously, what’s wrong with that?  In case you are not one of those people, the THC in the dried marijuana is turned into vapor by heating without burning it, thus, a vaporizer.  So there’s none of that inhaling burning plant material which isn’t great for anyone.  After just two deep inhalations of THC vapor I felt better, after a few more the nausea, most of the pain and discomfort became dull background noise.  And of course I was thirsty, and I drank, kept it down and kept drinking.  There were no unpleasant side effects and I was able to rehydrate without having to go back to the E.R. for another three bags of fluid, we don’t do homemade IV drips at my house.

In an emergency, Western Medicine, emergency medicine, really does what it’s supposed to: save lives, rule out life threatening things and prevent people like me from passing out in pain.  Honestly I don’t know what would have happened if I hadn’t had the option of going to the hospital.  However, once the crisis was over my body started to reject the drugs.  I had a choice; I could up my dosages and get more drugs to counteract the symptoms of the ones I was already taking.  Or I could stop taking the drugs that weren’t working and find something gentler that my body was receptive to.  Taking drugs for your drugs is a slippery slope.  I once had a client that was on 10 different prescriptions, the one for insomnia listed drowsiness and depression as side effects; his depression meds could cause insomnia and suicidal thoughts, his hypertension medicine could cause insomnia and something he took for anxiety might cause hypertension.  Scary.  We eliminated all but three and he feels much better.

So, what’s my point?  I feel reaffirmed in my stance that western medicine is heroic medicine, and I was very happy to be able to go to the E.R. so that health care professionals trained in emergency medicine could take care of me.  Really nice people work at the BMC E.R. and I don’t think that’s just the morphine talking.  And what about the drugs, the plants and pills I used to mediate the pain, control my symptoms and allow me to rest and stay hydrated while my immune system did its work?  I have to say the morphine and the marijuana are at the top of my list for effectiveness sans side effects.  And both are plant based.   The Vicodin were pretty effective for pain and sleep but after a day they started to make me itchy and increasingly nauseous.  I began having weird dreams and worried about falling asleep and scratching my skin raw.  Yes, the drugs worked, but only very short term.  It’s been many years since I traded in my prescriptions for a plant based diet and medicinal herbs.  I can grow and tincture most of the things I need to maintain a healthy balance which is not only empowering, it’s also a whole lot more affordable, accessible and effective.

If you start with the everyday, household, backyard garden type stuff and you build healthy daily habits into your life you won’t need to worry about expensive prescriptions verses illegal plants (I only wish ‘plants’ referred to the places where most of our countries food is processed).   When you get sick the best thing you can do for yourself is to listen to what your body is telling you.    No one knows what it’s like to live in your body, better than you do.   Who better to make the connections, uncover the root causes and figure out the mind body connection behind your physical symptoms?  You have to be your biggest advocate for your health, no one can do that for you, and once you take on that responsibility, you can start to get healthy again.

Learn to trust your gut, literally.  If a medication really works for you, improves your quality of life and has virtually no side effects, then take it.  If something makes you sick, whether it’s wheat or dairy or your allergy prescription, then don’t put those things into your body.  You can find an alternative, it might take some time and effort but it will be worth it! When you ignore the small stuff, the tummy ache you get from eating cheese or the migraines caused by your stressful job/home life/relationship, your body has no choice but to make more noise, and so you get sicker and sicker until you are forced to listen.  And you may need emergency medical care at that point.  And then you’ll still have to deal with the root cause of your illness and slowly transition back to that healthy diet and healthy daily routine that is the foundation for lasting wellness.  The sooner you start listening, and really taking responsibility for taking care of yourself, the better.  By last Sunday I was feeling well enough to finish this article which I started on Friday, stoned and feeling like I might just be ok for the first time in almost a week. Now I’m looking forward to a new week free of pot, pills and burnt toast.

I can’t even begin to tell you how lucky I feel to have had Dana taking care of me.  I’m pretty sure he had time for little else all week.  He made me electrolyte drinks and peppermint ginger tea and kept track of the medications I was taking.  He even ground up burnt toast and made it into charcoal gel caps because I couldn’t eat anything.  Being incapacitated by a sudden illness made me realize how much we both do to maintain our growing businesses, our gardens and keep our house clean and well stocked.  Feeling healthy again I have a new appreciation for how much my body does for me every day and so I feel really good about prioritizing my health and taking the time to take care of myself.  And speaking of growing businesses and farming, we have Fire Cider on store shelves, starting with Dottie’s Coffee Lounge on North Street and soon the Co-Op in Great Barrington!  Our farm negotiations are hinged on a single point, a big and important point, but there’s so much momentum, I think we are going to pull it off!

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Reader
    Aug 14, 2011 @ 19:42:20

    Lovely writing on a tough moment


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