by Lisa Swiderski

I can remember being admitted to a hospital in New Jersey at the age of 3. My symptoms were baffling to all the doctors who had treated me as a child. I was first given a diagnosis of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. I had a butterfly rash on my face, fatigue, continuous low-grade fevers, redness behind my knees, and excruciating joint pain and swelling that would leave me unable to walk. Just try for a moment to feel the feeling of being jabbed with an ice pick being driven way deep inside of the bone, or a feeling that someone has just put you on a meat hook, hanging by the bone.

My left eye would raise up to the upper left corner. I experienced double vision, and my eye would tear for no reason at all. I experienced continuous pressure and was also very light sensitive. In my left eye I could only distinguish the difference between light and dark. There were times when it felt as though my eyeball was going to blow right out of its socket.

Finally I was diagnosed with systemic lupus erythematosus. I was also found to have a cataract on my left eye, scar tissue on the left cornea, and glaucoma. My eye doctor told my mom that surgery probably wouldn’t give me back any sight and that my eyeball could shrink to the size of a pit and fall out, and then I’d have to have a glass eye put in. So my mom and I chose not to do the surgery. The doctors told my mom that I wouldn’t live past puberty.

I can remember the times my mom and grandma would just try to open my left eye to get the drops in, years and years of eye drops to control the glaucoma. They burned worse than a deep open wound being filled with alcohol. As I became older, I couldn’t’ stand the pain any longer! I stopped using the eyedrops. Now what? In 1989/1990, I was 22-23 years of age. I had lost all the vision in my left eye. The total darkness scared the hell out of me. I could close my right eye, open my left eye, look up into the direct sun, and not see any light at all.

After fighting like hell for two years I was declared legally handicapped and approved for SSI disability.

I am now 31 years old. I often feel as though I have the aching body of a 90-year-old woman. At times I cannot get out of bed because every bone, muscle, and joint hurts as if a truck had hit me, gone into reverse, and backed up over me. My knees swell to the size of grapefruit and baby cantaloupes, and then I’m bedridden for days. High doses of aspirin help, but I can no longer take aspirin because it makes me start hemorrhaging. Doctors have wanted to put me on steroid medication, but I felt I was too young for that. Isn’t my system screwed up enough? I don’t even like the word "steroids."

Every morning it takes me several hours to get motivated because I am so stiff. My fingers are so tight and swollen that I couldn’t even pick up a pen. I have suffered from depression and use Prozac, which I believe is a mood elevator. I have also had severe stomach problems that would sometimes make me unable to eat. When I knew that I was hungry and wanted to eat, my stomach would get so sick inside that I would feel like throwing up. Sometimes I was unable to eat for a week or two, only able to push fluids into my body. I’d have episodes of diarrhea that would sometimes last up to 18 months. I’ve lost 20 to 35 pounds in a month or two.

I’d also have severe panic attacks. I’d be driving down a major highway where all of a sudden I couldn’t breathe. Then I would have serious chest pains and I’d pull onto the side of the road, scared to death, not know if I was having a heart attack or something. The pain would be so bad that I couldn’t even cry if I wanted to!

After hearing about marijuana for all those years, three or four years ago I decided to try it for myself, in the privacy of my own home, keeping it a secret from my children, ages 13, 10, 8, and 5. I don’t travel with it, I don’t drive while using it, I don’t use it in public, nor do I talk about it with anyone except my family and my doctors.

When I smoke a marijuana cigarette the pain disappears. There is no more pressure in my left eye. The feelings of my eyeball blowing out of the socket disappear. The pain in my joints, muscles, and bones is still there but bearable. I have the energy and motivation to get housework done on a regular basis, which is even harder with four children to take care of. Depression is just another word in the dictionary that I know nothing of.

Since I started smoking marijuana, I have no more diarrhea. I’ve been able to eat two to three meals per day without getting stomach upset. I haven’t had very many anxiety attacks, and I’m once again motivated to get out of bed. I feel as though I’m able to enjoy my life again with my children. I can relax and even concentrate better. Also marijuana gives me an immediate response. I don’t have to wait for it to take effect, as with conventional medications.

Marijuana is 100% naturally grown. I’m afraid of prescription mediations because of seeing my aunt become addicted to prescription painkillers. She almost died, and now it’s like she’s fried in the brain because of them.

Marijuana has helped me, and I will keep on using it for pain reduction whether it is legalized or not.