The article How Psychedelic Drugs Can Help Patients Face Death, printed in the New York Times in April, stirred up much debate in the comments section after it's publication. The use of hallucinogens in a controlled environment as a way of easing anxieties during the end of life seemed to touch quite a nerve with people on both ends of a hazy, rainbow colored spectrum: "Acid made me a better person forever!" to "There is one man who is the answer to death, his name is Jesus Christ."
Admittedly so, the use of drugs to temporarily calm fears is not a new concept for me. I'm specifically thinking of an evening back in 2006 when my brother and I went to visit our mom in the hospital, stationed there for weeks with a raging infection and terminal cancer. As usual our days had been on a fast spin cycle of nurses and doctors, roommates that howled all through the night and halls that had a distinct aroma of dirty diapers a'la burnt turkey gravy.
Shortly after we arrived my brother pulled out a tin that had...well, it had some brownies in it...very, very special brownies. "One for you, one for you and one for me," he said as he handed us each a thick block of sticky chocolate under nauseating fluorescent hospital lights. I'm not quite sure my mother knew at the time when she swallowed about half the brownie in one bite what the actual ingredients were. She was already a bit confused from the cancer, which had setup beachfront property on her spinal cord and her brain (among all the other places), and the morphine which came with a handy pump she could press to replenish the supply every six minutes or so. With the morphine drip and the other medications, the magic brownies were obviously not administered with the intention of pain management, as often marijuana might be used for.
Nope. We just needed a break. All of us. As a family: mom, son, daughter. Just an hour. One simple, stolen hour to feel, for a moment, just a little bit lighter, a little less concerned, a little less fearful. For us, cancer had been a twelve year reality, starting with my father's terminal diagnosis and death to my mother's diagnosis shortly there after to where we all stood then: in a badly lit hospital room, tubes everywhere, rotten turkey stench.
"Finish your chocolate mom."
"Ha ha ha (snort) ha ha...Seriously! You kids are soooooo beautiful! look at you against that light (hospital fluorescent). How did you two get to be so beautiful?" Ha ha." (snort)
"You mamma. Because of you."
"I love you guys! You two," she said as she squinted her eyes and waved her index finger in the air like a wand, "No, really. You two." pointing directly at us, " You two are the best. My life. You both look so beautiful and I feel so good."
And just like that, after a few bites of the brownie, the stench faded along with the harsh lights. Suspended was our twelve year cancer history. Suspended was my mother's impending death. For just that sweet, simple minute we were free. Together and free. Happy, laughing and free.