STEVE LOPEZ

A visit to the medical marijuana doctor

Three other patients were waiting, including a woman with a cane.

When she stood, she walked gingerly.

I could be in trouble, I thought. My back problem wasn't as obvious.

Should I limp when it was my turn?

I felt like I was in a Coen brothers movie. The big empty room, the unseen doctor behind the door, the furtive glances between patients.

I filled out some forms, describing the back pain that began roughly 25 years ago. Surgery was recommended in later years, but I've opted instead for stretching and occasional painkillers.

Sometimes the pain crawls down my legs or up my back, sometimes it wakes me up at night, and that's the truth, so help me God.

I turned in the forms but then, on the table next to me, I saw a medical marijuana magazine called "The 420 Times," in which the lead story was, conveniently, "Your First Doctor Visit. What to expect and know."

I began to read.

"Would they take me seriously? Would I be laughed at?" the author wrote. "Turns out, I really didn't have much to be worried about. Getting medical marijuana wasn't as hard as I thought it would be."

His problem was migraines, and he was in and out of the office in no time, marijuana recommendation in hand.

I was in a panic. I'd had a headache or two. Why hadn't I gone with migraines, and was it too late to switch?

Before I could move, the woman with the cane exited the office 10 minutes after she entered. The doctor, wearing a white lab coat, followed behind her.

"I looked at it from across the table, and I trust you," he said to her.

It sounded promising.

When it was my turn, the doctor sat at a desk in an otherwise empty room and read my papers. The only medical equipment I saw was a blood pressure cuff.

The doctor told me there were many options for treating back pain, and I told him I didn't want to risk surgery or take conventional painkillers. He wanted to know how I'm affected when back pain keeps me awake.

I'm fuzzy and have trouble focusing the next day, I told him.

He seemed to be looking for a different answer. If I'm a writer, he said, did that mean I had trouble doing my job?

Definitely, doctor.

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