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It began with a shoulder injury, my husband’s, not mine. My 58-year-old mate had torn his right rotator cuff, or more specifically as he liked to expound, it was a supraspinatus complete tear and subscapular partial tear. Apparently his “supra whatever” and his “subscap doo dad” had not appreciated his new found determination to lift heavy weights at the gym. The shoulder had to be fixed.
Seven weeks postsurgery, we were headed to sunny California at the beginning of March. We still wanted to go, even though his postop recovery hacks didn’t seem to be working. The wearable ice machine contraption that would blow cold air onto his shoulder was uncomfortable, the painkilling-drugs made him foggy and no configuration of pillows would give him a contented night’s sleep. The poor man was a wreck, and so was I. We hoped a week in laid-back Venice would kick-start some much-needed respite for both of us.
On our second vacation day, my husband said he was thinking about checking out a store just around the corner from our rented house. Maybe they had the magic elixir for his shoulder pain. The appealing red-and-white branded storefront was a swanky cannabis dispensary that looked more like an Apple store than a weed shop. California was a few years ahead of our home province in the legalization of recreational marijuana, and MedMen had opened its first retail shop in 2015.
My husband and I are not exactly what you’d call purveyors of pot. Neither of us had smoked a doobie since high school and we were both on the fence about legalization. With five sons between us, we had spent many an hour lecturing them on the negative effects of drugs of any kind. But we had also begun hearing stories of the miracle cure! Friends in our age bracket were talking about using marijuana for their nagging backache or how it had cured chronic insomnia. And after so many weeks in pain and too many sleepless nights, my husband was willing to try anything.
The next morning, he was out the door before I had finished my first cup of coffee. Soon, he was back carrying a red gift bag. The petite bag contained a marijuana bounty – one large chocolate bar, skin balm, tea bags and a vape pen. Each product contained varying levels of THC and CBD – whatever that meant. We really had no clue. But I noticed each item was beautifully packaged. The chocolate bar was something Willy Wonka would be proud of. The body lotion rivalled any of my expensive face creams and the tea bag looked like a drink sold at a heath-food store.
The vape pen was sleek and sexy. There were words like “restful” and “restore” on the front of the box it came in. “The greatest care has been taken to preserve the subtleties of the plant’s magic,” was engraved on the back. The instructions read: “For a single dose, inhale pen for 2-3 seconds.” And just so the user was aware they added, “The intoxicating effect of this product may be delayed by up to an hour. Effects may vary.”
I wasn’t sure what my husband was planning, but he was certainly well stocked.
Later that evening, I had some laundry to do and my husband had a Netflix show to watch.
As I waited for the laundry, my husband approached me with the vape pen.
"Here take a puff,” he said. “I’ve already tried it.”
Now I have to admit, I was curious. I wasn’t interested in inhaling drugs. I was actually curious about the pen. I had been locked in a continuing battle with one of my teenage sons who had been caught with one at school and a part of me was thinking, “What’s the big deal with these vape pens?”
I inhaled, and coughed. “Yuck.”
“Try it one more time," he urged, "but hold it in, like the instructions say.”
Suddenly I was 12 years old, standing behind the barn smoking one of my dad’s Belvedere cigarettes.
I inhaled again. And coughed again.
“Tastes horrible,” I said as I walked out of the living room to check on my tumbling delicates.
“I’m going to try a piece of chocolate,” I heard my husband say.
I waited for the rinse cycle to end. The machine was taking a long time. I leaned against the wall. Wait, was the washing machine spinning or was that me?
I decided to abandon the laundry and head to bed. I was feeling a little funny. Maybe I could just fall asleep. The “funny feeling” got worse.
“Okay,” I thought. “I’m going to sit up with my legs over the edge of the bed and sort this out.” My body was starting to shake. I glanced over at my husband balancing the iPad on his chest. He hadn’t noticed my strange movements.
The shaking got worse. I was losing control. My heart started beating faster and faster.
I was reacting to the drugs in the vape pen. But I only took two puffs and coughed them out. How could this be happening? The package said any intoxicating effects could take up to an hour. It had only been five minutes!
“Oh my God. My heart!”
It was at that moment, I turned to my totally relaxed and a little stoned mate: “Call 911!”
Within minutes, the street outside our quaint Venice cottage was full of flashing emergency vehicles. Police, fire and ambulance had all shown up. Eight fully uniformed firefighters entered our tiny bedroom. One checked my heart rate, while another held me up from falling over. I was conscious but couldn’t open my eyes. My body continued to convulse. If I wasn’t dying from a heart attack, total embarrassment was going to be the death of me.
“Has she ever tried drugs before?” someone asked my husband.
“Ah no, not since high school.”
He explained what had happened, presenting the vape pen. But he neglected to mention this was all his fault.
“We’re seeing a lot of this lately,” another said. “People aren’t aware of what’s in these products and they can have a bad reaction.”
“My heart,” I kept repeating as they carried me to the waiting ambulance.
“Don’t worry lady, your vitals are better than mine," the EMT said.
“You’re just having a bad trip.”
Catherine Fogarty lives in Toronto.