A few years ago, my father was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. I can’t really pinpoint the exact date because it took a good two years for my mother to stop referring to his illness as “MS-like symptoms” and actually start saying “MS.”
Over time I’ve watched his ability to walk deteriorate. In 2010 we took a family trip to Cambodia and I saw him scale the temple walls at Angkor Wat from sunrise to sunset. Last weekend I helped him as he struggled to lift himself out of a Muskoka chair.
Sometimes I think about whether my father will be able to walk me down the aisle at my wedding, or whether he’ll even be alive to witness it. I then, of course, immediately stop thinking about those things as they lead to crying fits in public places.
The more I’m confronted with the realities of this all-too-common autoimmune disease, the more desperate I’m becoming in my devouring of information about anything that might help.
Last week, the University of California released a study demonstrating the benefits of marijuana for individuals suffering from MS. The study found that patients who smoked cannabis once a day experienced a significant reduction in muscle tightness and other painful symptoms associated with MS.
As a hippie, my father was practising this form of self-medication a good 40-something years before he was ever diagnosed. The only real difference is now he has a medical-marijuana licence and a copy of the Canadian Medical Association Journal to back him up.
While other parents read DARE pamphlets about the perils of drug abuse to their children, my father enjoyed a monthly subscription to High Times magazine. Marijuana was never an after-school-special kind of conversation topic in my house — it wasn’t cool or dangerous, it was just simply there. Consequently, I had no interest in it. After all, what’s the point of teenage rebellion if the person you’re trying to revolt against is munching on “special” cookies in your living room?
I’ve never judged him for smoking it and I certainly don’t now. Watching him self-medicate his way through this disease has changed the way I think about drugs and pain. In fact, it’s changed my outlook on a lot of things in my life.
It makes me want to take the stairs every day, knowing that perhaps one day I won’t be able to. It inspires me to run outside even when I’m feeling lazy — not because I should, but because I can.