My name is Daante. I am a fifty years old resident of the City of San Diego. I am a Disabled Veteran.
I have always been the type to want to do the ‘right thing’. I was kind of a ‘goody-two-shoes’ even as a teenager. While most of my peers at least tried alcohol, cigarettes, marijuana, and other more dangerous chemicals, I steadfastly refused to try anything.
Growing up in a relatively rough area you may imagine that my principles subjected me to everything from intense peer pressure and ridicule, to actual physical confrontations. Once I had a handgun pressed to the middle of my forehead for refusing to partake of cocaine at a party; the gun-toting creep had to be convinced that I was not an undercover police officer.
Always being very goal-orientated, by age eight I determined that I wanted to be a professional athlete, a sports ‘star’, to be more specific, and pretty much everything I did after that was with that goal in mind. It caused me to become a true ‘health fanatic'. But when the opportunity to pursue my goal through the more typical road of college athlete-turned pro was no longer a possibility I turned to the martial arts.
I trained in and taught martial arts for more than fifteen years, until injuries, progressively more and more severe, finally forced me into a less physically demanding lifestyle. However, through all of my continuing research and training I have developed a tremendous amount of knowledge and understanding of the powers of the body-mind-spirit vehicle.
After my dream of going to college on a sports-scholastic scholarship fell through, I decided my best remaining option was to join the military.
I was advised to choose the Air Force over the Marine Corps, but I also wanted to challenge myself psycho-physically, and I choose to pursue training in the Air Force’s combat security forces; nicknamed “Peacekeepers;” our squads would be similar to a civilian police force’s S.W.A.T., Special Weapons and Tactics units. We were deployed where there were high priority resources, such as nuclear weapons, tactical aircraft, and special communications and operations facilities.
After six months of going through Basic Training, a Police Academy, and Special Combat Training, my first duty station was at Osan Air Base, in South Korea; located just thirty miles south of the Demilitarized Zone with North Korea.
One of the most important things I developed during my time in the military, especially after my one-year tour of duty in South Korea, has been an appreciation and love for my country, America, and the principles under which She was founded. Although I chose to serve only four years, under different circumstances I could easily have dedicated my life to serving my country. Still, I have not forgotten my solemn pledge to defend Her against “all enemies, foreign or domestic.”
I got what I asked for from my time in the U.S. military, and a whole lot that I didn't. Most notably and germane here is the constant severe pain I have been suffering from a severe low back injury suffered during a military training exercise, which caused me to be hospitalized for almost a week.
Subsequent re-injuries, both during and after my military career, eventually left me unable to get up out of bed, and unable to work any kind of regular full-time job for almost ten years. As part of my vocational therapy, the first five of those years I was under regular doctor’s care, and going through typical physical therapies, such as ice and heat therapy, electro-stimulation, and occasional deep-tissue massage.
When I could afford it, which was very rarely, I tried chiropractic and acupuncture therapies. By my mid-thirties I was a broken man.
Due to the years of constant severe pain, and with no end or hope for relief in sight, I finally gave in to taking pain medications; primarily mild, but narcotic muscle relaxants like Soma (Carisoprodol) and Flexeril (Cyclobenzaprine), which helped relieve (somewhat) my severe back spasms, and shooting pains. Being forced to manage my pain on a constant and daily basis, I had no quality of life; even with the medication I could not work a normal job with a normal schedule.
I was a grown man that was not functional enough to support himself. I got married in my early thirties, but that lasted only fourteen months; my pain-related issues being a major factor in the relationship’s failure. I was left with almost no social life. Instead of having my friends or family members see what I had been reduced to, or see the anguish on my face, I chose to spend most of my time alone. I could not stand seeing pity in their eyes.
After a little more than five solid years under various physicians care, the only other thing they could think of to try was surgery. My primary doctor suggested they implant a pain-blocking device about the size of a small cigarette pack in my lower back. However, my research showed me that a person was in the same or worse condition after a back surgery a whopping 90% of the time. So, I decided to take charge of my own rehabilitation based on everything I had studied, and all that I have learned since.
It took me almost three years of doing my own therapies before I could (almost) work full-time again. I was able to land jobs as a paralegal working for a couple of attorneys, but I was doing it under the sometimes severe duress of occasional, but still daily, severe pain. Finally, just before I turned forty years old, I had rehabilitated my body just enough to function (almost) normally again.
Although I was still in constant pain, I had developed a much higher than normal pain tolerance, and strengthened my body and mind through various exercises, as well as continued to manage my pain as necessary. Still, I was able to finally started having a normal life again. I started working a normal eight to five job, and began socializing more often; I even joined a co-ed softball league.
I turned forty in May of 2001. During the summer of 2000 I had accepted a job that required me to move to Indiana, however, after the September 11, 2001 ‘attack’, I decided to move back to San Diego to ensure the safety of my family; after all I am a military trained anti-terrorist.
Not even three months after my return to San Diego, and after having barely found a job a month before, I was in a two-car collision that fractured my cervical spine. I was driving my parent’s vehicle, and the other driver was at fault. However, I did not realize that my neck was fractured.
I was still walking, and I am so used to extreme pain that I figured it was ‘just pain’. A couple of days of extreme pain later I went to a chiropractor that had treated me for my lower back years earlier. He took x-rays, and started the usual chiropractor’s subluxation treatment. When he adjusted me it usually felt – sometimes hurt – good, except for when he adjusted my upper back and neck area; sometimes the pain was excruciating. I still don’t understand how he did not see the two “crushed discs” that an MRI showed more than a year after the accident.
For nine months I went to that chiropractor, who was sort of a friend, and then my attorney found me a pain specialist that would take me on as a patient pending the settlement of my lawsuit against the other driver. The medical doctor/pain specialist gave me several different medications over a six month period, but the extreme pain was not subsiding. I found myself again in a position where I could not work, not even part-time on a regular schedule; more often than not I could not even sleep due to the pain; subsequently, I was barely functional, and my quality of life dissipated back into almost nothing.
When a person suffers a ‘whiplash’, the typical symptoms besides the back pain are severe headaches, sometimes true migraines, also severe jaw pain, often with resulting TMJ. Most people don’t know what a true ‘migraine’ is; the headache that can be affected by taking any kind of over-the-counter pain medications cannot be a true migraine. When you suffer from a real migraine, any sharp sound and even dim light will exacerbate the already crippling pain; the pain is so severe it makes you sick to your stomach, and severely nauseous. It is almost impossible to function when your head hurts so much you cannot even think clearly. It was often too painful to try to just watch television, stare at a computer screen, or even talk on the phone.
It was during this time that I was compelled to utilize cannabis as a primary medication.
As I mentioned earlier, I was a health fanatic, and most people who got to know me knew it. My decision to even try marijuana was very, very difficult. Although it was offered socially, my decision had nothing to do with anything social. For many years I had taken some pride in never having tried marijuana, but I knew that it was time to set aside my pride in all areas of my life. Still, many of my friends and family members have been somewhat shocked by decision to utilize cannabis. It has even caused a rift between my older sister and me.
On July 31, 2003, approximately a year and five months since my neck was fractured, I went into surgery for a cervical spine discectomy, i.e., a spinal fusion of the neck’s vertebrae from C-5 to C-7. The surgery took almost four hours; the surgeon had to enter my neck from the front, moving my throat and muscles out of the way. Less than four hours after the end of my surgery I was the first person to walk out of that surgical center the same day they’d had a spinal fusion.
Since the car accident left me unable to work for a living, I had been forced to try to find some way to generate income. Toward the end of 2002 I was able to obtain a very small loan which I used to open a very small business, a legal document preparation service, specializing in processing Family Law and Bankruptcy forms for those who could not afford an attorney. Being my own boss afforded me the ability to control my schedule, which I worked around my functionality, based on my pain and sleep challenges. Within six months after the surgery I had begun to both feel and function better, although certainly not even close to 100%; maybe 40%?
In February of 2004, I was a passenger in a vehicle in which the driver slammed into a curb at approximately forty miles an hour. The resulting impact forced the car to literally hop off the ground, and then the sudden stop and resulting whiplash broke my neck again!
The second neck fracture was significantly worse than the first. I heard my neck break. There was a loud and palpable ‘pop!’ Which I don’t remember happening in the first accident. Also, I was in immediate and significant enough pain that I knew something was terribly wrong.
I chose not to go to the hospital; I was walking and talking, and I didn’t have health insurance, and what was worse, the driver of the vehicle did not have auto insurance.
I was in even worse constant pain than after the first accident, and even less functional. I could not operate my business. After three weeks I finally made an appointment with my surgeon, who had x-rays taken of my cervical spine, and then he pointed out to me that the surgery, my spinal discectomy, had been partially broken. One of the two gaps between the three fused vertebrae had been completely severed, and looking closely I could see the jagged bits of the ‘glue’ that was used to fuse the discs. To say that my ‘heart sunk’ would be a gross understatement. My intuition told me that it was going to be a very, very long time before I would get my broken neck fixed. I am still waiting.
I had no recourse in suing the driver of the second accident; she had nothing, and was a friend besides.
Unable to sleep at all after the second break, even with medications, I was barely functional, barely alive. Even if I could get into a sleeping position where my neck pain was not excruciating, and I was medicated enough, and I could fall asleep, as soon as I moved – even a little – the pain was so sharp that no matter how exhausted and sleep-deprived I was, or how much medication I had taken, the pain would wake me. You must imagine being stabbed in the spinal cord at the neck to get an idea of the pain level.
The Veteran’s Administration has been modestly helpful during these health challenges. They have continued to prescribe me the Hydrocodone that my surgeon prescribed for me after the surgery, as well as a very limited amount of the muscle relaxant Cyclobenzaprine. However, although I provided the V.A. with the x-rays that my surgeon took after the second fracture, they did nothing but supposedly lose the x-rays. On my insistence they finally did an MRI a couple of years ago, but it supposedly showed nothing, which is impossible because I myself could see the difference between the two ‘glue’ areas in between my neck’s fused discs on the x-rays they cannot find now. Not to mention the fact that I can still feel the instability, and resulting extreme pains.
Back in the early 1990’s, I finally tried to apply for Social Security Disability; twice I went to the nearest office, and both times the waiting times were so long that I had to leave due to having to alleviate my pain. The process of applying for disability has been just too difficult without anyone to assist me. I even tried calling one of those disability lawyers that are always advertising on television, but the first thing they asked me was whether or not I had a doctor that was willing to cooperate in the process, which the V.A. doctor’s are not; since I cannot afford health insurance or a doctor, I cannot even apply.
A few months ago I finally applied for help through County Medical Services; I am still going through the process, but I am not holding my breath.
I am a once proud man, whose extreme pain challenges have left indigent, and in too much constant pain to function anywhere near normally. I have been compelled to use marijuana in my constant quest to manage my severe pains, and the other side effects of my injury, such as severe stomach pains and nausea, and the over-whelming stress of my circumstances, as well as the sleep deprivation, and resulting depression.
I cannot express how much I hated having to buy cannabis illegally. Due to my pain issues, and resulting financial challenges, I cannot socialize much, so my access to those who might be able to (illegally) provide me with marijuana is extremely limited. It was such a stress relief when the dispensaries finally opened. Although I still had to stress about affording the medical marijuana, at least I had access to it.
I have been homeless, and without a regular income for almost eighteen months. About a year ago, a friend started letting me work for him, usually one night a week, at his friend’s private lounge, as in-house security. It should be clearly understood that no ‘sane’ person with a fractured cervical discectomy would, or should ever work doing night club security. Unfortunately, my extreme circumstances have forced me into taking desperate actions. Fortunately, being a small, private lounge, the usual clientele is unlikely to start any kind of physical altercation. Also, even though I am fifty years old, my appearance and reputation for martial arts ability have dissuaded anyone who would choose to get violent, so far. Still, even I have to admit it is a little crazy. I tried working at another venue this past Halloween night, and I was convinced that it would be more than crazy for me to work security at any kind of public bar, it would be downright stupid, and potentially deadly. One headlock and I would be crippled or dead.
Trying to find work that I can fit in around all my challenges has been impossible, so far.
The majority of the income that I have been earning from my one or two nights a week at the lounge has been going to purchasing medical marijuana, primarily at the dispensaries. Out of the average of $75.00 to $100 per week that I have been earning, approximately 66% has been going to buying cannabis. I am forced to choose between buying gasoline for the van that I live out of, so that I can go to the gym to shower at least three or four times a week, buying food, paying my few bills, such as auto insurance, or relieving some of the massively intense pain that I live with every day, all day and night.
Supposedly, the use of marijuana can be psycho-emotionally addictive, although it is proven to not be physically addictive. Quite frankly, my experiences have proven to me that my will is stronger than any (supposed) ‘addiction’. I know that I am not addicted to the Vicodin, a.k.a. Hydrocodone, that I have had to utilize for the last seven plus years, much less to cannabis. The only thing that I am ‘addicted’ to in this matter is wanting to not be in so much #@%#@!!! pain.
And now, after everything that I have already been through, (and I have written just a few of the highlights), I have to started scrambling around again, like some rat in the dark looking for anything on which to survive, just to get the medication that I need to relieve some of the monstrous pains that are my lot. Why – because the government can’t figure out how to make money from the product?
I am a military-trained small arms expert, as well as a hand-to-hand combat, and edged-weapons expert. Many who have been subjected to extremely difficult circumstances have, in desperation, turned to committing crimes to survive. It had to cross my mind; but I refuse to become a violent criminal, even to survive. Death holds no power over the righteous.
I will continue to steadfastly to the ‘right thing’. I can only hope my government starts doing the same thing.
I cannot consider my buying, (or growing), a naturally medicinal plant for my medicinal use to be a crime.