This blows me away.

Today I saw a guy standing on top of a big No Smoking sign that is painted on the sidewalk outside the hospital so that people don’t have to walk through smoke to get into the building. He was smoking. Better yet, the hospital he was smoking outside of was the Respiratory Rehbilitation Hospital.

I have also recently looked after a woman, in her 30s, diagnosed with lung cancer, in her 30s, who comes in in a cloud of that sour, stale, ashtray smell that comes from being in enclosed spaces with many burning cigarettes, who is practically ripping her IV out the second her chemo is in, so she can go out and smoke. Lung cancer. In her 30s. So addicted she reeks of it, and can’t sit still for an hour so she can get the chemo that might actually cure the cancer, if she stops feeding it carcinogens.

I also looked after a lady today who was successfully treated for lung cancer, who wants her port-a-cath (a catheter that goes into the big vein near her heart so she can get chemo and bloodwork easily without needle pokes every time) taken out because she can’t afford the cab ride in once a month to have it flushed. When she was rooting around in her purse, though, I saw a pack of cigarettes. $10 a pack for smokes, but can’t afford a monthly trip to the cancer treatment facility for maintenance on the access device that delivered the chemotherapy that cured her. Of lung cancer.

This blows me away. I guess I have never been addicted to anything, so I really can’t relate. I can’t understand a need that defies logic, that defies health. Do these people not make the connection? Or is it that they know that smoking causes cancer, but maybe just not to them? Maybe they believe that their lung cancer is the kind caused by unfortunate genetics or smog. It seems like that invincibility factor should wear off sometime in the late teens or early twenties, especially for people who have faced their mortality head on, via cancer.

I would really like to understand this. What does a craving feel like? Is it a conscious thought that you need a smoke, or is it some disquiet, some anxiety, maybe butterflies in the stomach that you know will go away if you smoke? Is it a physical sensation? Or an emotional one? Conscious or subconscious or unconscious? Maybe it’s just that the cravings are so intense that it’s not worth enduring them for the sake of health. Maybe the actual state of being addicted means that the hell of changing that state is, literally, worse than death.

There are several reasons I do not smoke. One is purely vanity. It makes you ugly. You can tell at a glance someone who has smoked a lot for a long time. They have that stereotypical smoker face, the face that almost seems like it’s been left in the hot sun too long and has melted, just a bit, with deeper, longer lines than there should be. I spend lots of time and energy and money trying not to look 33, I certainly don’t want to do anything that will make me look my age, or older.

Another reason I do not smoke is emphysema. I feel claustrophobic at the thought of having to gasp for every last breath. I panic at the idea that I might not be able to walk to the bathroom or speak three words in a row, or eat a meal because I was too breathless. I can’t even stand the thought of scuba diving, because of the possibility of running out of air (although interestingly enough, I would consider climbing mountains, where there is little air), let alone the idea of being breathless at rest, on dry land.

The other thing about smoking is that I am fundamentally cheap. I cannot fathom scrounging nearly $100 for a carton of cigarettes, however fast or slow they would be consumed, when there are (for example) so many pairs of shoes out there, looking for good homes, that can be enjoyed over and over. I wonder how many pack of cigarettes would equal the cost of my new kitchen?

Anyway, if anyone can enlighten me on the subjective experience of addiction, I am interested. I would like to be unjudgmental and understanding. I would like some insight. I am consumed by curiosity about the sensation of a physical need so overwhelming that one would be willing to die for it, however concrete or abstract the risk might be. So, to those addicted to something, anything, share your experience with me. Privately or publicly. I am fascinated. Help me understand.


About therapeuticrambling

I am a wife, a mom, a nurse, a writer. I enjoy laughing.
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One Response to Smoking

  1. Anonymous says:

    I say they are weak willed individuals. I smoked for 10 years. Sometimes heavily in excess of a pack a night on a good night at the club, drinking up a storm whereas other days maybe just half a pack. What struck me as odd though were the days when you were sick as a dog from a flu and as you know a regular cigarette would make you feel worse. It was at those times I opted to smoke a menthol cigarette instead because somehow the soothing menthol taste was a blessing. The harshness of my red raw throat that felt like it had just been caressed by a wire bristle brush and rinced clean with gasoline would somehow be soothed by a nice menthol cigarette.Truly I look back and ask myself how? Why? Was I nuts? I here the tails of my nan in hospital (never to leave) on oxygen 7/24 and think back to the summer days where the two of us would sit on my aunts porch and enjoy a smoke in the cool breeze and hope that now I’ve not touched one for 5 years I may avoid the same fate that she is now cursed with.As to addictions, maybe I truly wasn’t addicted? Maybe I just thought it was too cool and that’s why I kept it up. The James Dean, collar up against the rain and cold while you light a smoke and oh yeah baby that’s where it’s at? I still admit it’s on those cool days when the rain is coming down that I think yeah this is the perfect smoke moment but the thought of putting one to my lips is enough to make me assume the fetal position and cry for my mommy as I hurl my guts up at just thinking about the taste of a cigarette again.My step brother smokes and I tell him to quit and he says: “I want to but I can’t it’s not that easy.” Oh yeah? I smoked longer than he has and one day I said enough’s enough and through them away.Maybe addictions for some are mere habbits for others? I never recall having that oh I need a smoke now sensation with the exception of when I was drinking but then I had never drank without having had cigarettes so a club without alchohol and smokes was like a club without people and music. I can now enter a club and have a drink but now the smell of smoke makes me want to leave, not light up and join them. Am I cured or was I never really addicted?My father was an alcoholic or rather I should say he still is as once an alcoholic always an alcoholic right? He still doesn’t touch a drink to this day in fear he’ll never put the bottle down again. I don’t touch a cigarette today in fear that I’ll be sick for hours or days. We sometimes compare notes and he swears it’s a chemical inbalance in the brain that’s only satisfied by the introduction of alcohol to the system. Maybe those who are diagnosed with lung cancer and continue to smoke have a similar inbalance? Others like my nan, the moment she found out she had lung cancer miraculously quit the same day. A feat they couldn’t do for over 30 years until those magic words: “You’re going to die.” were told to her by her doctor. We’re all going to die though so maybe those who still smoke after hearing the bad news just shrug their shoulders and go well it was going to happen eventually, I’ll just expedite the process by forking out $10 / pack to ensure I get there pronto?-S-

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