We laugh or get deadly serious about the saying, “What goes around, comes around.” People use it to describe their financial, romantic and familial relationships and situations. Folks who are REALLY into it say that everything we do has a consequence on some level and that we need to watch what we do and say in order to avoid the bad karma that comes with not taking care of ourselves, our belongings and other people.
You may wonder what all this has to do with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, or COPD. In a word – everything.
For years, I smoked with abandon. When I started at the age of 17, I thought it was the cool thing to do. I remember sneaking outside to have a cigarette and my mom coming out the side screen door. “So, you’re smoking,” she said, “I wish you wouldn’t, but if you’re going to smoke, you may as well smoke a good brand of cigarettes.” I needed her stamp of approval, and the next brand of smokes I bought was Parliament. I think they cost around $.40.
Now it is 45 years later, and I just got out of the hospital after staying there for one week. The reason? COPD as a result of my smoking thousands of cigarettes day after day, week after week and year after year. Never mind the financial cost. I’m writing this as a love letter to my friends who smoke, teens I don’t know who smoke, and people I’ll never meet who smoke.
I’ve been sick for months. Everyone I’d meet noticed my horrible cough. Strangers asked me if I was all right. “Yes, I’m fine,” I glibly replied. “It’s just a smoker’s cough, so I’m not contagious.” I’d lie down at night, only to cough so hard I had to get up and throw up sometimes. When I went to the movies, people turned around and looked at me as if I was certifiably crazy for coming to a public place and disturbing the story line with my cough. Gradually, my sinuses filled up.
I tried everything to get the mucous out of my sinuses…steam, Vick’s, saline solution, decongestants, everything. I even tried those little strips you put on your nose. Sure, they worked fine, until they fell off in the middle of the long and lonely night. My doctor prescribed drug after drug and told me mine was the worst case she’d ever seen.
Now I’ve been out of the hospital for five days. The cure is almost as bad as the disease. I’m on massive doses of prednisone, a steroid drug that opens my bronchial tubes so I can breathe. However, the side effects are more than difficult to bear. I can’t sleep, I’m so jittery I could dance all night, my head aches constantly, the acid in my throat would fill a car battery, and worst of all, I look like the Pillsbury doughgirl.
You may be wondering why I call this a love letter? The reason is simple. Sure, I’d read about COPD, lung cancer, emphysema and all the rest of the complications from smoking for years. I saw pictures of brown lungs compared to pink ones, watched people in wheelchairs holding onto their portable oxygen tanks, and been told of friends family members who died of smoking related causes.
One of my dearest friends quit smoking 10 years ago and now has lung cancer that spread to her heart, her bones and her liver. After two years of invasive and painful treatment, she has decided to take no more treatments. I asked her if it was worth it, and she said she really didn’t know. Throughout the whole time, she remained as cheerful as anyone could, as inspirational as a wise mentor, and as hopeful as a young and naïve child.
You may think you can’t quit. You may have tried everything as I did for years. The patch. The gum. The prescription medicines Wellbutrin or Chantix. Cold turkey. The new electronic cigarette. Herbal cigarettes. You may worry about gaining weight, wearing all your feelings on your sleeve and verbally jumping on anyone who happens to cross your path.
Hear my words. It’s worth it to quit – NOW. You do NOT want to go through what I’ve been going through. It’s not fun, it’s not pleasant, and it’s no way to live. There WILL be consequences to your habit of puffing on little white paper-wrapped tobacco sticks.
You may be one of the lucky ones. Just a bad cough for the rest of your life. On the other hand, you may wind up like my friend. Or me. In some cases, I think a diagnosis of cancer is better than one of COPD. Why?
Because at least with cancer you know what you have. You have treatment options or you can opt out of treatment and start your bucket list.
But with COPD, if you want to live anywhere near a comfortable life, the options are not anything but inconvenient, uncomfortable and make you into a basket case – literally.
You’ve seen those people with their oxygen tanks. Imagine having to spend the rest of your life carrying one of those around everywhere you go. Get on a plane for a trip to visit the kids or see your granddaughter graduate? Yep, just take along your tank. Plan a trip to the Mexican Riviera for some sun and fun? Sure, just don’t count on snorkeling or scuba diving to see the wonderfully diverse sea life. You can’t. You’re on oxygen.
Am I getting the point across? So far, I haven’t been put on oxygen. I can’t imagine living that way. To me, it offers no quality of life. It’s simply a way of existing. And who wants to only exist?
So this is my love letter to you. If you know me personally, you know I love life, humor and exploring the world. If you don’t know me on a personal level, understand that there is nothing in the world that I’d rather be doing right now than walking in the footsteps of Christ in the Holy Land, climbing up the hill to see the Parthenon, or braving the late spring cold to visit World War II sites in Poland and other countries.
But I am stuck here. I can’t go any of those places until my COPD is “stabilized.” And what if we can’t get it stabilized? Am I doomed to staying within the confines of the United States and never fulfilling my lifelong dreams of traveling to parts unknown?
Hindsight is 20/20. If I knew I’d be going through what I’m going through now, I would have gritted my teeth, rubbed my fingers until they were raw and screamed in anger at every person who looked at me the wrong way. It would have been worth it. This is NOT worth it.
Take charge of your life and health. Quit now. I will support you. I will stand by you. I will pray for you. And I know that if I can finally quit, you can too. And I know that if I can save just one person from having to experience the horrible consequences of lifelong smoking, I’ll feel I have done my job for the day.
God bless you and good luck.