By Caroline Rood
About seven years ago, while living in New York City, I had a hip replacement to correct an old dance injury. I had done a flying split in ballet class at the age of eleven and dislocated my hip. I was in the hospital for a week in traction, and as a young girl it was just impossible for me to keep still, which may have impeded my healing in ways unseen.
The hip hurt over the next few years, but I worked with it, doing prescribed exercises, and it gradually seemed to heal. I lost some weight, which relieved my bones and joints. When I went back to ballet in my twenties, pointe work radically shifted my bone structure and balance, and refined my musculature. The pain quite disappeared.
As the years passed, I began getting strange twinges and occasional searing pain in my right hip and down the back of my leg. I treated it as an opportunity to correct my alignment and perfect my technique. What I didn’t realize was that I had a tear in a ligament wrapped around my hip that had not revealed itself through the X–rays from my childhood. I was rehearsing one season and found that I had to stop, as the pain was just too prohibitive in my right hip for me to do anything of quality. I couldn’t reconcile it as the “good” pain that dancers must live with. I cancelled my part in the performance and went to see an orthopedic surgeon. The tear had apparently festered, undetected for decades—after all, when I was an injured eleven-year-old, there was no MRI technology.
Hip replacement was the solution I chose, because the surgeon told me the injury had developed into arthritis of the hip – that the condition would degenerate over time and begin to compromise my life. After surgery I was told that I could receive a cortisone shot for the pain on occasion, but not to take it unless I really needed the help. Cortisone breaks down the fiber of one’s ligaments and joints over time and disintegrates the benefits of surgery, so it is a risky choice. There were a few times, as I started to heal, when pain drove me to the doctor for a shot. I decided not to continue with it, but I did begin a daily regimen of Aleve. While it was helpful, I found that when I returned to my dancing there was always discomfort, and it was not easy to live with.
When I moved to Vermont a few years ago, I noticed sensations that made me uneasy: I felt as though something foreign was stripping my nervous system, as though some nerve sheathes were being attacked. I took one more cortisone shot from a Vermont practitioner after having my records sent up from the city. She looked at my records and advised me to stop taking Aleve. I went again to physical therapy to try a new set of exercises. I began going without Aleve, and the strange sensations in my body abated—but, unsurprisingly, my pain heightened again. I would have to find a solution, for I began to discover that chronic pain is ultimately debilitating. I was constantly exhausted, and felt my body overworking to compensate for the pain in my right side, as my other leg and foot tried to take weight off my right hip. My left foot began to bother me. The thought of opioid treatments frightened me. I would awaken every night from this pain and became truly worried about the rest of my life, as I did not see a way out of medication.
I had heard about medical marijuana for a few years, but the thought of it made me flee in the other direction. For obvious reasons, I associated it with drug addiction and derailed lives. One day after class, another dancer mentioned that she actually worked in a dispensary where it was sold. She had nothing but good reports to share with me, and I decided to do some research. I dreaded being drugged or high in an effort to alleviate pain, yet I read how cannabis had been used to help people in advanced stages of cancer, and became impressed with its track record for other types of affliction as well.
I found a doctor who is licensed to approve this medication, and she cleared me to apply for membership in the medical marijuana community. I anticipated the help with deep relief, as I had been too uncomfortable to sleep well for months, and was determined not to go back on the Aleve or get a cortisone shot again.
A month later I made my first trip to the dispensary, where they sat with me and described the different ways to ingest the medication, calming my fears about what it was going to do to me. The THC could be taken according to individual need, and I have found that the right dose has no negative affect on my mind or mood.
I do not need very much of the medicine, and had a bit of a tussle with it in the beginning, as I took too much a few times—which always meant a day without doing much but resting. I also found that different kinds of ingestion work better for different body chemistries. One person might be able to take it in morning coffee or baked in a muffin, but this did not work for me. I settled into using a lozenge, tea, or a vaporizer. These preparations are light; my body is more keenly sensitive than some.
I will never regret beginning to use medical marijuana, for it has changed my life dramatically. I was amazed at the swift and excellent results. It is not that I am completely without pain, but it is mild, and sometimes I have none at all—especially when I am exercising regularly, eating properly, and getting sufficient sleep. I began to be able to sleep the night through for the first time in two years.
Cannabis treatment feels better than the Aleve or cortisone, because it doesn’t feel like a foreign intrusion into my system. I have not experienced any negative side effects. I did so well for the first year that I had forgotten what it was like to live in pain, and wondered if perhaps I had healed! I tried going without the medication for a while, but after a few days, the pain began to return. In ten days, it was back with a vengeance, and it was frightening. I had forgotten how much pain I had endured.
I went to the dispensary and asked them to help me get back on the cannabis immediately. It took about five days for me to begin to feel like myself again. This lesson was important, because it convinced me that I was truly doing what I needed to do. The difficulty now is that the medication is not yet insured nationally, and my out-of-pocket expense is not small; nevertheless, to my relief, I have found that there are less expensive preparations that are equally effective as the one I began with.
I plan on returning to New York City next year for graduate work, and nervously wonder if medical marijuana will be as easily obtained in New York State as it is here in Vermont. I’ve imagined bootlegging it in from Vermont by buying large quantities a few times a year and flying it down in my suitcase in disguise, which I have been doing for my visits to the city! I cannot stress enough how important and life-changing this treatment has been for me. I will be happy to join any group that works to expedite the availability of medical marijuana in the state of New York—and throughout the country.
Note: Since I first wrote this article, I have learned that the State of New York has just passed a law legalizing medical marijuana, so I am rejoicing at the good news. In time, I believe insurance companies will begin to integrate this form of medication and offer coverage. Without a doubt it is a threat to the pharmaceutical industry, but it is so effective that I think popular demand will leave them little choice.
Caroline Rood is a native and resident of Vermont, who has spent most of her life in New York City. A performing artist, she continues to sing and dance for her own enjoyment, performing occasionally. Caroline is writing a book, and plans to return to the city to study writing on the graduate level.