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We Need Compassion in Idaho

December 16, 2018

Twenty years ago Apache-Rose slept peacefully in the back seat of a car as she and two friends returned from an outing in Northern Idaho. The women were traveling down one of the straightest stretches of road in Idaho in broad daylight when a freak accident occurred.

Apache-Rose’s body was ejected from the car as the vehicle flipped repeatedly in the middle of nowhere. The spot where the accident occurred was over an hour’s drive from the nearest medical facility, and the accident responders were as distant. Apache-Rose was found dead when the medics first arrived. Their heroic efforts revived her battered body, and she was transported by ambulance as no life-flight was available.

The hospital determined Apache-Rose had lost an eye, suffered a mangled shoulder (which was replaced), incurred multiple fractures including a badly broken leg, and had severely twisted her spine. The nerves in her spine were still intact or she would have been paralyzed from the waist down.

Apache-Rose did not know then the damage to her spine was so severe she would never walk again. She fought for years to regain the use of her legs — I saw her stand twice and take baby steps while trembling from the exertion, and her grit and determination awed me. Those twisted nerves have generated 20 years of ferocious, burning back pain. Partial paralysis, with no feeling, was arguably a better result given what she has endured, but only Apache-Rose can painfully answer that question.

I met this bandaged woman in the hospital a few days after the accident. A former client had called asking me to help her friend. From her description, I thought I was handling a charity case regarding the compromise of enormous medical bills. I had no clue Apache-Rose would become my hero.

Meeting an injured person in a hospital setting was uncomfortable for me – it felt like “ambulance chasing,” although I had been asked to visit her in the hospital for needed advice. Apache-Rose looked like an airplane crash survivor, but she had me laughing in five minutes. Her legal case was completed in less than a year for significant money, but another million was needed to cover the unforeseen, and yes, obscene cost of her future American medical care; a financial pain many of us know oh so well.

Although the case was quickly resolved, the laughter that flowed profusely in her hospital room has continued as our friendship deepened. Quick “on her feet,” one better move fast to hold their own against Apache-Rose. Thank you dear friend for granting me permission to write about your ordeal.

During the twenty years I have jousted with Apache-Rose she has lived through 25 surgeries. Relentless pain has been her constant companion throughout this medical nightmare. How does one cope with that kind of pain? No one can fully appreciate her hellish journey unless they have had a similar personal experience – fortunately few have.

Not once has Apache-Rose shed a tear before me although I know in my heart of hearts that she has cried many times when alone. Strong and proud, nothing defeats her. Weakness is never shown. I confidently proclaim that Geronimo had nothing on this woman.

Ironically, Apache-Rose has comforted me over the years when I was struggling. She matter-of-factly told me women are tougher than men. No argument there – I have seen a woman give birth twice. Yes, she is my tough hero with her infamous blood coursing proudly through Apache veins.

A lack of sleep and relentless pain can drive a person mad – often bringing them to the brink of suicide. Modern medicine’s answer: a pain pump installed inside Apache-Rose’s body to secrete morphine onto her spine. A pump with a button she controls that allows her to dispense relief at will – no worries about addiction this time. The drip lessens the pain, but she still battles constantly to keep her undeserved curse at bay. Sleep regularly eludes my friend, and the only thing Apache-Rose has found besides the dripping morphine to permit pain free sleep is illegal weed.

Many Idahoans suffer a myriad of other health issues that would also be significantly reduced by using medical marijuana. Pharmacology has its roots in the abundant plant life found on our planet, and many health benefits are owed to the medical shamans who have studied our verdant world.

When will Idaho’s Government join the modern world by legalizing medical marijuana? Do we finally have a governor with courage to support legislative efforts at mercy? Governor Otter’s past veto of a medical marijuana bill exhibited moral cowardice. Hopefully Idaho voters will soon know if the new Governor will act with compassion to ease the pain of those who suffer needlessly. Based on his overall campaign promises do not hold your breath, but please Governor-elect surprise us all.

Approving recreational marijuana also makes sense if we want to stop filling our costly jails with pointless incarcerations. Consider how many years this wasteful battle has been fought – and, like Afghanistan, it will never be won. Alcohol is far more destructive than weed, and recall how Prohibition fueled vast criminal enterprises. Do we really need more prisons? Why continue this folly?

The national tide legalizing marijuana for medical and recreational purposes is already impacting Idaho’s law enforcement system. Taxpayer dollars are wasted daily trying to enforce this futility. “Illegal” medical products flow into Idaho from surrounding states. Even Utah, (the conservative Mormon mecca), recently legalized medical weed. We all know someone with an illness that could be effectively treated by this natural drug. Let’s all raise our voices in a compassionate chorus for change.

Yes, weed gets people high, but given a choice, I’d rather face a stoned driver heading my way any day than an obliterated drunk. Our highly trained law-enforcement officers will arrest irresponsible high drivers, as they do when they corral boozers; ask them which is an easier arrest.

Like Utah, Idaho may need to consider a citizens’ initiative to impress upon our conservative politicians that regulatory change is demanded where weed is concerned. Prior state governments have lacked political foresight and/or the will to expand Medicaid. Will political cruelty still rule during Idaho’s next legislative session. If our new State Government fails to help Idaho’s suffering citizens regarding Medicaid expansion and marijuana legalization we should take note of those who ignore the voters’ mandate in order to “fire” them in upcoming elections. Informed voters can force effective change when government fails to do the right thing.

A close relative of mine suffers from multiple sclerosis (MS) and lives in a state that recently legalized medical and recreational marijuana (Nevada). Because of that state’s enlightenment, she now gets to sleep regularly. This precious commodity is essential to reducing the flares that bring her torturous pain. She is young, but at times has not been able to drive because of periodic flares, and she has even been forced to use a walker to move about her home. My relative has no intention of moving back to Idaho to face the cruelty of Idaho’s law. I would support her decision to break the law even though I am sworn to uphold the current stupidity. Sometimes injustice mandates peaceful resistance.

Until Idaho adopts intelligent reform, my Idaho hero will continue to suffer or have to break the law. If Apache-Rose were charged for a criminal offense related to the use of weed, I would try to sneak onto the jury to urge her acquital. No jury should convict anyone for the “heinous” act of seeking significant pain reduction. My jury would send a message of legal nullification to the blind politicians who have steadfastly refused to do the right thing in the face of compelling need and logic.

If Idaho’s politicians were to finally legalize recreational and medical marijuana it would provide significant tax revenues. Those dollars currently are lost to neighboring states. Legalization would also reduce criminal enterprise in Idaho. That would be good for our State and its taxpayers as fewer “criminals” would need to be housed in jails to protect us from the likes of Apache-Rose? Legislators with vision and courage ought to recognize the benefits of capturing this lost revenue. It could even be used to help fund the citizens’ initiative for Medicaid expansion. Why not add another “sin” tax to aid suffering Idahoans, but please limit it by solely taxing recreational marijuana. We already have enough regressive taxes and weakly written laws that fail to protect Idahoans where actually needed.

Idaho is one of the few states left that refuses to legalize any form of marijuana use. It’s time to change those archaic laws. Please support politicians who will end Idaho’s ongoing travesty. That would take one cruel monkey off the back of Apache-Rose. My hero should not have to make unjust choices when it comes to reducing ferocious pain.

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