Views from my deathbed: Cohousing taught me it’s okay to ask for help

hospital monitors

My robot care givers – monitors that check out how I was doing at any moment. In the cover photo, those are 1 pound weights on my walker that I struggled with lifting. I wondered what I was going to do with my grandfather’s bamboo cane – use it of course. The rubber bands were for physical therapy.

Here it is February 1, 2019. Five years ago today I returned home from the hospital and rehab after six weeks on my deathbed, losing 30 pounds (20 percent of my body weight), and surviving two surgeries.

I’m glad that my visit from the Ghost of Christmases Yet to Come is behind me. It gave me a view of what the end of my life would be like and I better keep living it up while I can.

I made a documentary about my experience called “Aging Gratefully: The Power of Community” that’s available to watch.

During the ensuing five years, I’ve become Medicare-eligible and my memory isn’t the steel trap it used to be and I’ve learned to quit living in denial and ask for help.

My experience was so profound, I’m more than willing to talk to you or your community about the “why” part of cohousing.

When I moved into a senior cohousing community, I didn’t really know what that was about until I was unable to take care of myself. I knew I was aging, but didn’t think it would happen this fast!

In the cohousing community, we all own our own homes, and have agreed to be supportive of one another as good neighbors and chipping in on chores around the complex – it’s akin to running a family business and everyone lives on site.

Cohousing goes contrary to the American tenets of rugged individualism and self determination. In the non-cohousing world, asking for help is seen as a sign of weakness or a sign of superiority. In the cohousing world, it is neither. I have had to learn how to ask for help.

When I was in the hospital, I couldn’t walk and could barely lift my arms. I was fed gunk through a tube that flowed directly into my heart. I generally don’t speak in absolutes, but in this case, I had never felt so helpless in my life. I was left for dead until a laboratory at the University of Michigan figured out that I had an odd ball interstitial lung disease, some sort of fungal pneumonia, which was easily treatable with run-of-the-mill sulfa drugs. It’s the type of pneumonia AIDS patients and over-worked people like me get when the immune system gets beat to crap. Much of that was “out of network”, but I digress.

Go Wolverines!

I’m self-employed and have always been able to take care of all my assignments, except those that were due in January 2014. The last thing I thought I wanted was a lot of people knowing that I was flat on my back and unable to finish what I had committed to do.

As far as most people knew, I was fit as a fiddle. I needed help and I didn’t know how to ask for it, even in desperation.

I had a contract to travel around Wyoming and make tribute videos for the Wyoming Governor’s Art Award recipients. I liked the gig because it got me on the road and a chance to meet some interesting people. A friend and colleague, Michael,  stepped up to finish this job that entailed driving around Wyoming in the dead of winter.

There was a huge final report on a state of Wyoming film incentive grant for a movie project shot over the summer of 2013. Another friend and colleague, Barbara, finished counting all those beans for me.

Every year, I produce news coverage of the Boulder International Film Festival, which includes scheduling production crews. That turned out to be a bit of a debacle, the guy I lined up wasn’t as good at fast filmmaking and how to produce quick-turn-around news packages as I had hoped. Now, I’ve shared the responsibility with another guy, Glenn, who could easily pick up if I dropped out of sight.

I now come up with a  “plan B” for short term projects. Michael, Barbara and I collaborated on a short movie a few years back and want them to disassemble my business if I get too out of it. I still have to find someone to handle my baseball card collection.

When I returned home from rehab the day before Super Bowl XLVIII the community was very welcoming. I wheel chaired myself to the common house for the Super Bowl party, but had to leave at halftime since the tube sticking out of my abdomen started to leak (TMI).

My digestive system wasn’t quite ready for nachos. My septic ulcer repair wasn’t totally healed up.

For Broncos fans, it wasn’t much of a game, anyway, 43-8 Seattle.

I intellectually understood the “what” of cohousing, but didn’t get the “why” of cohousing until I was nearly dead.

Learning how to cram a cohousing  square peg into the rugged individualism round hole is by far the toughest aspect of living in what amounts to, a socialistic system where work is spread equally for the common good.

Asking for help is a constant in cohousing for the good of the whole.

We’re trying to keep the ship moving in the same direction and it’s tough to make that happen if crew members are off doing their own thing, don’t instinctively pick up any slack, or forget to perform a task – never ending reminder emails are a reality in a community of seniors with various stages of memory loss.

By the way, have you seen my keys?

In the outside world, people ask, to be polite, “Let me know if I can help.” In the cohousing world people ask, “What can I do to help you now?” being intentional about it. At my place, for example, we have a list of people who will contact caregivers, drive a neighbor to the doctor or hospital, at any moment. I look at it as paying it forward – You need a jump? I have cables. You’re in the hospital? I’ll stop by when I’m out today.

In my way of thinking, cohousing is very mission driven and best functions using the team approach. When I was in high school, there were the kids who had to be involved in every school activity and be on every page of the yearbook – drama club, 1,2,3,4; newspaper staff 1,2,3,4…

Clawing your way to the top in the outside world is the norm, but in cohousing, the norm is clawing your way to the middle. When I was younger, I was one of those chronic over achievers and have dialed that down.

My community has evolved to become more transparent. Every year, for example, everyone’s HOA dues are known. Intellectually, we strive for fairness, but any objective formula, while “equal” isn’t always subjectively “fair.”

We’re having very frank and open discussions about MONEY issues. It’s taken 10 years of community maturity, but everyone is letting loose of wanting control.

I don’t have much interest in Super Bowl LIII, but a soft spot for the Rams and three Broncos castoffs – Wade Phillips, Aqib Talib and CJ Anderson.

While I wouldn’t trade my stint in the ICU for anything, what I learned about myself was life changing, but I don’t recommend it as the best way to lose weight.

How normal is marijuana? The story of a card carrying pothead

Most places, day-to-day conversations do not include any mention of marijuana – not even in jest, since possession is a crime in all states. Weed continues to be demonized and I’m not sure I should even be writing about the topic.

Marijuana is classified by the US government as a narcotic. It has been demonized since the 1940s.

Marijuana is classified by the US government as a narcotic. It has been demonized since the 1940s.

In Colorado, that’s not the case since the voters exercised its “state right” and legalized use of marijuana as recreational vice.

Move over gambling, booze and prescription uppers and downers.

Needless to say pot is still classified as a narcotic by the US government and if Colorado weed is transported across state lines it is a federal offense under the commerce clause. The DEA has backed off Colorado and Washington, but likely won’t mess with the small fish, but focus on mass quantities that leave the state from approved weed farms. I’d say those out of state markets sould be reserved for the bad guys and international drug cartels.

In Colorado, legal weed started out as a medicinal and health issue and crept into the mainstream with Amendment 64 passing by a wide margin in 2012. That was a presidential election year with a relatively high voter turnout, so to speak.

I wondered about the age breakdown and was able to find in Arizona, the largest group of men and women with medical marijuana cards are aged 51 – 80 (approximately 24,000). Compare that to the 13,000 Arizonans aged 16 to 30.

In Colorado, medical marijuana sales outpaces recreational marijuana sales. Out of town tourists sustain the recreational weed market, according to the Colorado Marijuana Market Demand study.

I was location scouting with a camera guy from San Francisco who was curious. He wondered if cannabis use was restricted to hookah bar – type places like in Amsterdam. I explained that it is more like stopping by the liquor store and buying a six pack to take home after work. Around Boulder smoking of any kind in public isn’t allowed, but here are vapor wands that are smokeless and weed oil cartridges sell for around $30 and the vapor wands for under $20.

Some of you may know that I was pretty sick in 2013 starting with shingles in June and ending with a weird form of pneumonia in December that landed me in the hospital for six weeks, physical rehab for two weeks and home rehab for another six weeks into 2014.

I've been taking a variety of acupuncture treatments for post herpetic neuralgia pain, including the more drastic 3-stim treatment.

I’ve been taking a variety of acupuncture treatments for post herpetic neuralgia pain, including the more drastic 3-stim treatment.

Just before the Bolder Boulder in 2014, I started acupuncture treatments at the Southwest Acupuncture College clinic in Gunbarrel for my lungs and shingles. I initially went to my regular acupuncturist. He first treated me for gout many years ago. I tried him out again and wasn’t satisfied with his treatment and tried the SWAC. By the way, I did finish the Bolder Boulder in 2014 on supplemental oxygen, but only needed a swig to make it up the Folsom hill that enters the stadium. This year, I hope to run part of it.

I’ve been going for acupuncture once a week since then getting a variety of treatments recently for the aftermath of shingles – Post Herpetic Neuralgia. I attribute my lungs clearing up to acupuncture. In fact, I went to see my pulmonologist a couple weeks ago and was released by him. He’s taking my miraculous recovery case to present at some sort of lung symposium. Maybe I’ll have a disease named after me.

Meanwhile, the PHN has improved, but still painful and I decided to try cannabis sort of as a last resort. I’m not a marijuana neophyte, having grown up in the ’60s and gone to college in the ’70s. The open weed carry here would result in a criminal record anywhere else.

When I was still in physical rehab, I was trying to regain weight and was prescribed a drug called mirtazapine (Remeron) which is the synthetic form of tetrahydrocannabidiol (THC) the hallucinogenic alkaloid produced by marijuana plants. It is an antidepressant and appetite stimulant. I took it in the evening to induce the “munchies” before dinner. It got me to eat more but not buzzed up.

CNN medical reporter Dr. Sanjay Gupta produced a series about the anecdotal benefits of cannabis for certain chronic medical conditions, like epilepsy.

CNN medical reporter Dr. Sanjay Gupta produced a series about the anecdotal benefits of cannabis for certain chronic medical conditions, like epilepsy.

There was a series of programs on CNN produced by Dr. Sanjay Gupta, MD. He started out his research wanting to discredit the medicinal value of weed, but he soon changed his mind after he saw how some patients with nervous system maladies improved – mostly convulsive conditions – after treatments with cannabidiol (CBD) which is a non-hallucenigenic alkaloid produced by the marijuana plant.

These days, a person doesn’t need a medical marijuana card, so I stopped by a couple weed stores and picked a bottle of CBD lotion and CBD plant material. The lotion was $20 for a 2 oz bottle and the shake weed was $10 / gram. Both were effective externally and internally. For the recreational user, price wise, weed is competitive with alcohol.

I asked about a medical doctor who does the medical marijuana evaluations and settled on Dr. Joe Cohen, MD. He has a clinic called Holos Health in southeast Boulder. When I walked in, there was a steady stream of people. I was the youngest one there among the other seniors using walkers and wheelchairs.

I went to Dr. Joe Cohen of Holos for my medical evaluation. The interview took about 15 minutes and cost $75 with a referral discount.

I went to Dr. Joe Cohen of Holos Health for my medical evaluation. The interview took about 15 minutes and cost $75 with a referral discount.

When Amendment 64 was being pitched, I’m thinking that there were a lot of mainstream people who thought that this was going to isolate a niche of pot users stereotyped as young, dreadlocks sporting, tie dyed T-shirt wearing rebels. Turns out, the market is much wider and deeper than imagined and includes a bunch of Baby Boomer old people like me who don’t have an aversion to pot.

The rack price copay for the medical evaluation is $85 and $75 with a $10 discount because I was referred by a dispensary. Renewals are $65. I don’t think a doc has to be an MD. One guy i read about is a DO – an optometrist. I imagine podiatrists can also evaluate. One of my acupuncture doctors may write my prescription next year. For now, Holos Health is a good fit for me.

The interview with Dr. Cohen lasted about 15 minutes and it was based on my conversation with him about my PHN pain and my risk for glaucoma (i’m 20/400 in my left eye and have to get a glaucoma test every six months by my ophthalmologist).

I imagine there were a lot of bogus health claims made when medical marijuana was all that was allowed. The state of Colorado is cracking down on this and there will be additional requirements. My primary care physician doesn’t do marijuana evaluations. There really isn’t any way to figure out pain, other than it exists. It will be interesting to see how the state will change the rules for evaluations.

Will they evaluate patients more rigorously like my primary care doc would? He’ll probably keep me for 30 minutes, take my blood pressure, weigh me, then have a nurse practitioner ask where it hurts and charge me double.

I qualified for a medical marijuana card based on post herpetic neuralgia and glaucoma risk. I recently went in for my peripheral vision test that I take every six months.

I qualified for a medical marijuana card based on post herpetic neuralgia and glaucoma risk. I recently went in for my peripheral vision test that I take every six months.

Once I was evaluated, my paperwork was processed and ready to be mailed. It was turn key – self addressed stamped envelope, copies of the evaluation.

A US Postal Service certified mail receipt and a copy of the doctor’s evaluation served as my temporary ID until the card was issued by the state of Colorado. That day in early April, I went to a medical dispensary and found that the prices were around 50 percent less than in the retail store.

This business is highly regulated – more so than the alcohol business

It’s more like a casino.

There are cameras watching every transaction – I don’t know who’s watching, though.  I had a product return for a faulty creme dispenser. This is how the return transaction went down. Stores can’t accept back product. I had to keep the bad one and buy the replacement for a penny.  The “pit boss” had to come out and monitor the sale and bagging of both the faulty product and the replacement.

Everything is in plain view, everything is sold in child-resistant containers. At the end of each day, inventory is taken to be sure it matches up with the computer printout.

It’s a total cash business – employees paid in cash, taxes paid in cash, vendors paid in cash.

“High Profits” is a reality TV show on CNN about the ups and downs of the weed business in Breckenridge. It’s an all cash business.

There’s a CNN reality program called “High Profits” that tracks a retail weed store in Breckenridge. The first day, the business took in $100,000 – of which 25% is sales tax returned to the town of Breckenridge.

Johnny Depp in

Johnny Depp in “Blow” in a room of cash from the early cocaine trade.

There’s a scene in that Johnny Depp movie “Blow” about the early cocaine trade. A room is filled with cash, which reminded me of the room of cash the two weed store owners were immersed within.

Chris Rock has a line about comments you won’t hear from a drug dealer. One is, “Oh no! I don’t know what I’m going to do with all this money!”

Around Halloween, all the TV stations had scary stories about what if kids get pot infused candy in their treat bags? It was a fresh angle to the once obligatory razor blades in apples story. Besides, no pothead is going to give out candy worth a dollar a piece to a kid as a prank. Seems there’s a bigger problem of kids eating Tide detergent packets, according to the TV news.

In NFL speak, it’s less probable than so, that an under aged kid would be allowed to enter one of these stores. If minors do get access to “candy” it’s either from their parents or a pusher. Years ago when I was in the tobacco use prevention business, at the Walnut Street RTD station, I remember seeing a guy who was the tobacco pusher. He gave out cigarettes to the middle school kids.

I don’t know this for sure, but once they became hooked on nicotine, he used that as the gateway to get them to buy other stuff from him. Law enforcement should keep an eye on places where kids gather without supervising adults around. Tobacco companies continue to target the low-self esteem market – children and adults – and the same holds true for getting kids to use weed.

This is the medical marijuana card issued by the state of Colorado. The business is very regulated which is reassuring.

This is the medical marijuana card issued by the state of Colorado. The business is very regulated which is reassuring.

So my medical marijuana card arrived at the end of April. The Colorado Department of Health has a sense of humor – the issue date is April 20, 2015.

I haven’t used it much, the product selection is very narrow, since the same few companies supply all the dispensaries with what I buy, the lotions and patches. Marijuana and hemp can provide quite a bit of value added business and product opportunities from farm to shelf – kind of like Spruce Confections in Boulder makes all the ruby scones around town.

As a survivor of the western / traditional medical industrial complex, I learned that chronic conditions are tough to diagnose and treat. Similarly, eastern / nontraditional treatments varies based on each patient and is hit and miss, too.

If THC can be synthesized in the laboratory, it should be possible to make pharmaceutical grade CBD. There is research happening in England and what those labs are making, I don’t know. The current labs in Colorado are able to extract the alkaloids, but not accurately. I’m surprised the tobacco and pharmaceutical companies haven’t jumped into this business.

For recreational weed, the exact percentages of this or that isn’t important, other than to inform the customer of the strength. I noticed that the microbreweries rank their beers by alcohol content.

Who would have thought that once maligned marijuana use would be legal. What about the iPhone 6? Phones were small and not big. I saw someone holding one to their ear the other day – it reminded me of those huge Motorola gray brick phones from the 1980s. The culture is moving forward to the past and legal weed is the new NORML.