Patient Profile: Susan

Story by: Pamela Jayne

Imagine your whole life changing in an instant; waking up one morning, going about your usual routine, and by the end of the day, being hospitalized and told that you will most likely never walk again. This is what happened to Susan when she suffered a stroke on June 14, 2008, while visiting family in Wisconsin. She was gracious enough to take the time to share her story with us and explain why safe access to medical cannabis is important to her.

It all started after a normal day out shopping with the family that she and her husband of 36 years were visiting in Wisconsin. It was at that moment when she was overcome with dizziness and realized that her arm and hip had gone completely numb. The signs were obvious; she was suffering from a stroke. Her family quickly called 911 for help; however, you may remember that the summer of 2008 is when Wisconsin and surrounding states were hit with record rainfall and heavy flooding. Due to those circumstances, the freeway was impassable and the ambulance was forced to take a longer route. Had there not been a delay in getting to the hospital, the damage caused by the stroke would not have been as severe. Even after a year and a half of rehabilitation therapy and the frustrating task of relearning how to do virtually everything, Susan is still confined to a wheelchair. She can only walk short distances, but needs the assistance of others to do even that. “It is hard to mentally cope with knowing that I will never be the same again,” she said. “I went from being a very active working woman to being stuck in this thing. I want so badly to get out of this chair and do something, but I can’t, and I have to live with that.”

Being suddenly sidelined was hard for Susan to handle because she had been very active her entire life. She was a champion swimmer in school, the first female to own and operate a garbage hauling and recycling business in the state of Oregon, and she even wrote a children’s book about the importance of proper recycling, not to mention the fun stuff! She was an avid skier, loved riding ATV’s, and basically anything else she could do outdoors. “All of my life, I worked hard so that I could enjoy these things and have fun. Now, I look at them as things I can’t do anymore. But don’t get me wrong,” she said; “I’m not done yet!” Susan looks forward to taking up ballroom dancing taught by a woman who was a long time dance instructor before falling victim to a stroke. –She now shares her love of ballroom dance with adapted classes for others in wheelchairs.

What many people do not realize is that after a stroke, even after all of the therapy, there is still a great deal of pain. Susan describes it as “a constant, fiery pain in all of your nerves. All day long, they are fired up and extremely painful.” As with any major medical problem, there are endless amounts of pills. Susan has to take 20 pills in the morning, 6 at noon, and then 15 more at night. She also does daily exercises at home that aid in her rehabilitation. Medically prescribed cannabis is also a very important part of her post-stroke life, and she considers it a Godsend. “I keep it around for medical purposes, right along with all of the other medicines and medical stuff that I have to use now. I use it as I need it, and it helps me.” She was quick to add, “It is absolutely non-addictive and I can go without it. I have gone without it for weeks at a time.” She felt the need to make this point because of the huge amount of misinformation that has been spread regarding marijuana use. She strongly believes that, “God put it here for a reason. He put it here to help us.” As for those who are opposed to the idea that cannabis has legitimate medical benefits, “Well, they should at least try it before they form an opinion. How in the world can they say that they know what works for me and what doesn’t?” In a more candid moment, Susan explained to me the other ways in which cannabis has helped her through this life changing ordeal. “I was freaking out about my body being useless. The marijuana is a calming agent. It helps me to sit back, sort of relax, and not think about it.” Even though she was speaking slowly with some difficulty, Susan’s message was clear as a bell. Cannabis helps! It helps her, it helps others, and she believes that everyone should have safe access to it. In her words, “What’s the big freaking deal?” Good question, Susan. I wish I knew the answer.

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