“The quality of mercy is not strained.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blessed:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.”
— William Shakespeare
By Dean Schwind
Lets just say I have some experience with the Canadian medical system. I could go into graphic detail but it’s kinder for me to say two time cancer survivor and leave it at that.
I was a medical marijuana activist before I got sick. I had worked with hundreds of cancer patients who survived their battles and I learned through my work at the Cannabis Buyers Club of Canada that unbelievably there are worse things than cancer in this world.
Never the less I was scared when I got my diagnosis. I thought I could beat it, but I was scared all the same. Funny thing is that it wasn’t the disease that worried me the most. It was the inevitable war with the medical system that I knew waited for me on top of the disease that troubled me the most. I’d seen club members at war with doctors, hospital administrators, and worst of all, soulless Health Canada. I knew all about the economic and spiritual hardships our medical system adds to your illness when they should be supporting you through it.
There are no two ways about it, the system is cruel. Administered by the business of health instead of the compassion of humanity. People make a profitable living from other peoples health troubles, and the paychecks are fat. It’s no wonder that I once overheard a young doctor say to another on an elevator ride, “So I said to the nurse, look I didn’t invest 150,000 dollars in my education to be lectured by some construction worker about herbs and flowers”. We glorify doctors, put them on pedestals they rarely deserve, and allow them to close their minds because they think that their formal education is over upon licensing by the CMA.
Now whoa whoa pump your brakes here friends. I’m not saying all doctors are bad or close minded or don’t deserve our respect for their efforts. There are amazing doctors working out there, I’ve know several of them myself. But, on balance there seems to be more at least officially close minded docs out there than open minded ones.
I believe the reasons doctors are often scared to embrace any ideas that are outside their proverbial boxes are inherent in the system that trains and monitors medical professionals in our country. A system that burdens medical students with unnecessarily high educational debt and a forced institutional mindset that prevents acquiring new information from anywhere but the official channels. Doctors are trapped between the hard rules and judgments of the CMA, and the harder reality of crushing student debt and the economics of life.
Now remember who is writing this, two time cancer survivor, long time activist, I went into my treatment with guns blazing determined to change the attitude of every medical professional I met. I was ready for the fight armed with a boat load of facts and the real life success stories I witnessed while working at CBCOC all those years. The funny thing is that before I got the resistance I was expecting, I got the opposite and that made me stop and shut my big yap to try to understand the position doctors were in.
Chemo and radiation are tuff no two ways about it. I’m a big strong dude that has seen his fair share of pain and trouble in this world but it kicked my butt and good. In a matter of months I went from a 250lb man to a 170lb pound man because I couldn’t eat. I knew what I had to do to gain the weight back but I wanted to see what the institutional remedy would be so I asked my cancer doc for something to stimulate my appetite expecting a pharmaceutical remedy that would give me the ammo I could use to begin my efforts to educate as many doctors as possible during my illness.
But his response threw me for a loop and forced me to try to understand the root of the problem of opening the minds of medical professionals to the use of alternative remedy’s to ease their patients aliments. My cancer doc stood up and closed the exam room door. He pulled his stool a little loser to me and looked at me with a slight smile on his face then said, ” I would lose my job if the hospital knew that I officially recommended this to you so keep it to yourself, but are you familiar with cannabis”? I was floored, flabbergasted, I didn’t know what to say to the man because I was so prepared to fire away at him with a burning stream of fact and evidence, but all I could do was laugh. “Ya, I’m familiar with cannabis”, was about all I could get out. He smiled at me and said, “I’ve had several patients who tell me that it works very well in this type of situation”.
Of course cannabis helped me. In a matter of months I was back up to 200lbs and feeling good all the while attending regular check ups with my cancer team were my doc never failed to say “still using the cannabis I see”, with a smile on his face every time. Unbelievably the same thing happened with my GP who told me while he was signing my Health Canada MMAR forms, ” I have many patients who benefit from the use of cannabis, so I’ve signed several of these forms”. WTF? where was the famous resistance I was expecting? Why had so many people I knew had trouble with their doctors? Were was the block in the system that forced my doc to whisper the solution to my problems quietly with a warning to keep it to myself?
I realized that we as patients have the responsibility to ask questions of our doctors. First, to determine what their attitudes are towards cannabis as medicine. Second, to determine what position the hospital they work in has towards cannabis as medicine. Third, to determine if they are open to education from sources other than CMA. If your doctor answers negatively in those three areas I would suggest that you have a decision to make as to whether or not you wish to continue treatment with that particular doctor. You should be aware that you have the right to change doctors if you feel that the specialist assigned to you does not fit into your care plan. You are in control of your own care and as the boss you choose who works for you and how they will accomplish the tasks that fall to them. You choose the course of action your treatment takes, and as long as you take the time to educate yourself about your options there is no reason you cannot evaluate every decision that impacts on your health.
We need to prove to our doctors that what we have chosen to do to assist in our treatment works and is not just anecdotal evidence but hard fact that cannot be argued. It’s hard for any doctor to discount my gain in weight of some 35lbs in just three months as a result of cannabis use. It’s hard to discount a patient seizing uncontrollably one minute and perfectly calm and normal five minuets after vaporizing cannabis. When it happens enough times even doctors cannot disbelieve what they can see with their own eyes. Anecdotal evidence becomes fact even without the support of the medical establishment, because you can’t argue with results.
I found through the course of my treatment that just by speaking openly about my cannabis use I educated many health professionals. When the inevitable question, “still smoking the cannabis”? was asked the simple correction of, “I don’t smoke cannabis I vaporize it”, was enough to generate a hundred questions about vaporization. So much so that not long after my treatment team acknowledged my cannabis use I found myself bringing my V-tower to my check ups to demonstrate its use for nurses, doctors and medical students that had gathered around me in curiosity at the apparatus.
The business of medicine in our country does not like alternative treatments. Medical schools and CMA vilify or discount success stories that feature alternative treatments like cannabis as unsupported hearsay. These intuitions surprisingly promote and defend their so called facts and theories for so many reasons other that to support truth and the values of the Hippocratic oath that they swear by. Image or brand protection becomes the focus of health professionals rather than offering a treatment that works. Supporting the system because its the system instead of because it’s the best way to help someone runs rampant in our country. Covering asses from potential law suits becomes more important than healing sick people. Protecting finical investments more important that exceptional care.
Recently, a dear friend of mine had to enter the hospital for a while to deal with some issues created by her fight with cancer. While open to listening to the conventional treatments that doctors had to offer, she insisted that she continue the alternative treatments that her naturopathic doctor was ordering, especially the direct injection of large dose vitamin C into her bloodstream. The doctors and nurses at the hospital were all for continuing the vitamin C treatment as ordered by the naturopath, but hospital officials denied it not because they felt the treatment could endanger my friends life, but because my friend wished to use the vitamin C dosage supplied by the naturopathic pharmacy she always uses instead of the dosage coming from the hospitals own pharmacy. The denial was not based in any medical fact but rather based on the potential of a legal issue should the treatment cause medical complications. It seems a silly way to determine treatment to me, and the idea that doctors armed with medical fact and the evidence before their own eyes have to bow to the un-medical decisions of hospital administrators assessing legal risk is outrageous.
The power rests with you my friends. You call all the shots here and you need to make that fact clear to your doctors from the get go. You need to educate yourself first and your doctors second. Remember, doctors hands are often tied by regulations, attitudes, and institutional mindsets but you are free of CMA control and can seek out the knowledge and treatments that you feel will work for you and present them to your doctor. You are not bound by institutional convention and were I come from everything is acceptable in a street fight. You have to do what it takes to win, because only you can save your own life.
Don’t be afraid to stand up and say, “what’s up doc”? Question everything. Seek knowledge because that is where your power comes from. Educate through example and be prepared to aggressively defend what you know to be true. I know it’s hard, I know your tired, but I also know that you are stronger than you think and that you have the ability to move moutians with shear will. By saving your own life and taking control of your course of treatment you are teaching doctors what does not get taught in medical school. You are teaching doctors to listen and accept what they witness with their own eyes as fact because it is reality and not because CMA says it is. You are teaching doctors that learning is continuous and does not stop with certification. You are teaching doctors to listen to their patients, and that you are ultimately in control even if they have spent more years in school and have that diploma and license on the wall.
In the end we all have the responsibility to change the system. We pay for it, we are the ones most affected by the rules and regulations set forth by it’s institutions. We have the right to demand control and the moral high ground to achieve it. Ultimately, the CMA and any other intuition charged with the protection of the public must be examined and adjusted to meet the needs of the people it serves. These institution must evolve and embrace new ideas and treatment options and not just in the area of cannabis as medicine but in every area that effects the life of the people in their care. Intuitions owe us, for without the people they serve they have no purpose. The CMA and all hospital administrations are morally bound to do whatever is necessary to support life and health. We need to be the monitors of that mandate and act swiftly to correct the blocks thrown up by the structure of the system or the employees with in it. After all, in the end, we are talking about peoples lives and the very spirit behind the Hippocratic oath that we all hold to be true and right. Duty to our fellow man compels us to a compassionate approach to our health care and compassion is always open to improvement.
-Dean Schwind is a two time cancer survivor, long time commercial and medical marijuana grower, teacher, writer, musician, radio host, and activist. A proud former staff member of the Cannabis Buyers Club of Canada, he has fought on the front lines for the end of prohibition through his alter ego Sticky Kola and the infamous BC band King Bong. Raising money, changing perceptions, and generally freaking the public in an effort to help sick people gain access to the benefits of medical marijuana.