Sunday, March 23, 2008

Alabama Physician Speaks Out For Medical Marijuana

Michael Phillips, far right, with a group of drug policy reform advocates from Alabama, including Loretta Nall, center.

The Birmingham News
March 23, 2008

I didn't know Michael Phillips, but I've had patients like him. Born with an inoperable brain tumor, he was prone to seizures. There were always doubts he'd live to see the next day. From the start, he never had much of a chance.

Some patients like that turn bitter. They give up hope. Others just make do, much like the rest of us. They go with what they've got, and they don't look back.

Then a few are like the young man everyone called Michael.

He took joy in life. Michael gave it, too. From his earliest days, he loved music. Whether it was singing in church or listening to his favorite bands, he savored a melody and he went with the beat. He liked songs that rocked.

Friends tell how Michael took his pastor's words to heart and went home and trashed his rock'n' roll CDs after he joined the church. He held on to the ones by Kiss, though. To Michael's way of thinking, they couldn't be all bad if they rocked like that.

He wanted to take a bigger part in his community, but his precarious condition held him back. The seizures didn't help, either. Call them grand mal or major-motor: By whatever tag, they hit him like a mugging and left him in a heap.

In spite of all the different medicines he took for them, the seizures still came so often that he had to fight just to keep on his feet at the brink of life.

Maybe that's why some of his friends saw Michael as being not quite of this world. Or maybe it had to do with his namesake, the chief of angels. Anyway, those who knew him couldn't help feeling this young man walked on higher ground than most.

Finally, Michael caught a break. He came across a means to make his seizures much less frequent. It wasn't medicine, exactly, and it came with more than a little baggage. Just using it got Michael arrested, twice, even with prescriptions from doctors.

Still, he saw the promise in it, and not just for himself. Michael heard about patients with painful eye conditions who got better with it. There were people with cancer who couldn't take chemo without just about heaving their guts up, too, but now they could get their treatment and didn't turn sick.

Michael also listened to stories of folks at the end of their lives and how they'd come by some ease from what had helped him.

So, he set out to get the same aid for others he'd found for himself. That's what took him down to New Orleans. Michael was out to do good, for sure. But this time he got to have a good time while he was at it.

Some say it's hard to find the beat in blues, but Michael nailed it straight off. He took a stroll down Bourbon Street, and the notes that lilted from the doors he passed caught up with him. Soon he was tapping his feet and bobbing his head.

A December breeze hustled in off the river and made the day as crisp as it ever gets in the Quarter. The sun came out, and the sky was like glass. Michael tried raw oysters for the first time in his life, and they were good.

The young man who had never strayed far from Millbrook, Ala., looked around with all his eyes. Then he cracked a big smile. He saw the face of a city that could take a punch and roll with it, with style. In a way, it felt like home.

Then he got down to business. Shy as he was, Michael pitched into the meeting he'd come for. Networking, asking questions, patching up alliances and charting common ground, he was all about working for the goal they shared here. Anyone could see the momentum pick up around him.

Early the next morning, Michael's old and new friends went to look for him. They rang his room at the hotel, but there was no answer. There never would be. At last, the angel had flown.

If you go to the Web site for Alabamians for Compassionate Care, the group Michael worked with, you'll see a caduceus, the medical staff, outlined against a suspicious-looking leaf. That's cannabis, all right. Weed, pot, marijuana - call it what you will. It's what helped Michael. It could help other patients, too.

ACC is pushing a bill (HB679) to make marijuana legal for medical use in Alabama, and it's in a legislative committee. On behalf of the patients who need it and the ones who want help for them, I urge readers to check it out. Look at the pros and cons. Weigh the issues. Make up your mind. Then tell your state senator and representative.

That's how we do things in Alabama. That's how we can change the rules. That's how we can lend a hand to those in need, even if we've never seen their faces and don't know their names.

That, I can just about hear Michael say, rocks.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Steven Rudd is a physician and writer who lives in Birmingham. His latest novel, "Blues for Susannah," is now available in paperback at E-mail:

Original Article

Loretta Nall: Tragedy Strikes - The Death Of A Friend

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