Posted on February 9, 2016
Like an alcoholic who isn’t drinking, I’m a smoker who isn’t smoking.
Today marks two years without a cigarette for me; and while that’s definitely a victory, I’m very aware that I will forever be five minutes away from smoking again. It’s gotten better, but I still fight cravings and they go deep. I smoked for over thirty years and it’s just who I am. Other smokers will understand that.
My husband suffered two bouts of throat cancer, with a brief reprieve between them. I quit during that reprieve. The doctors were adamant that his cancer was a result of smoking and heavy drinking in his younger years. That remains to be seen, as there were other factors in play too and we’ll never really know, but I’m sure that the smoking and heavy drinking weren’t good for him whether that was what killed him or not. He had quit smoking twelve years prior to getting cancer and rarely drank anymore, never heavily. They said that didn’t matter. I asked why they bother trying to make people quit smoking then if it doesn’t matter. I never really did get a straight answer to that. I honestly do believe the anti-smoking thing is a bandwagon kind of thing. We’re surrounded by toxins in our air, food, and water. If one thing doesn’t get you, another thing likely will.
Would it be a noble thing for me to have quit smoking because I watched how my husband suffered? Or because I felt terrible about walking out the hospital door as soon as they took him to his radiation treatments so I could have a cigarette, and then again when they took him to chemo? Many thoughts crossed my mind as I stood out in the cold weather, off hospital grounds, huddled with various nurses on break over a big metal ashtray. But I was extremely stressed and the thought of quitting didn’t seriously even cross my mind. Other smokers will understand that too.
Once his treatments were over and he started to improve, I really began to absorb all that had taken place in the previous months. I had spent a lot of time in emergency rooms after my husband’s latest ambulance ride. I saw a lot of other people brought to the ER too. I met and talked with many people in waiting rooms all over the hospital, and saw so many horribly ill people during the numerous times that my husband was hospitalized. Many of them were smokers. Many of them had been unable to break that addiction. The hospital shows no mercy for that. Under no circumstances will they allow a patient to have a cigarette. Depending on what’s wrong with you, they may be willing to prescribe some wicked drugs to help you stop smoking but they will not indulge or cooperate with your smoking addiction.
I am someone who could not sleep at night knowing I was almost out of cigarettes. Smoking was the first thing I did every morning and the last thing I did every night. I didn’t go anywhere without my cigarettes. I took an extra pack with me everywhere I went, just in case. For over thirty years. When the realization hit me that for any number of reasons a person can suddenly end up hospitalized and then immediately forced not to smoke, I was so angry. I remember a time when hospitals had designated smoking areas and patients could go have a cigarette while hospitalized. These days you can’t smoke on hospital property at all. Non-smokers may rejoice in that, but it just shows how little they comprehend about the addiction or its hold on people. Whatever caused a person to be hospitalized in the first place is surely made all the more miserable by being forced to stop smoking on top of it.
My husband quit smoking after a bad vehicle accident that kept him hospitalized for several weeks. They wouldn’t allow him to smoke while he was in the hospital and told him that his healing process would be greatly compromised if he took it up again when he left the hospital. He didn’t, and ended a habit of 2-3 packs a day. That he got cancer anyway twelve years later might actually make the case for not bothering to quit. All I know is that I came to the conclusion that I will control when I quit smoking, not some unsympathetic and uncompromising hospital. My visions of lying in a hospital bed obsessed with cigarettes was really the only thing compelling enough to give me the strength to quit. So I did. Cold turkey. Two years ago today. I carried my partially used pack with me for the better part of the first year, just in case. It’s still in my living room, near the front porch, where I always went to smoke. Just in case.
I’m still angry about the whole thing. But that’s another blog entry for another day.