Message modified by board administrator May 28, 2012, 5:13 pm
Greetings! Let me start by expressing my regret for having not been an active participant in this wonderful forum for more than a year. I even missed its anniversary, so belated congratulations and thanks.
Marcus and I both went through some major professional and personal changes and events starting in late 2010. All of them ultimately for the better or at least not harmful in any significant lasting way. Both of us had a series of significant changes in our jobs. His gave him some much needed freedom he had not had before. He also had several close friends die and found himself back in a community he left many years ago. My professional changes put me in a wider variety of roles as a result of obtaining my physicians assistant license. I'll say more about that and my professional changes elsewhere. Long story short: With all that was happening, both of us unintentionally faded away from most of our online life.
The major event in my personal life was an extremely serious case of pneumonia in the first half of 2011 that brought me to my knees and face to face with the realities of the Risk I have embraced since the tender age of 11. I will try to spare everyone as much unnecessary detail as possible.
At first, I wrote it off as a bad cold and arranged for a few days off work. "No biggie" I told myself, drank a lot of water, ate expectorants by the handful, and let nature take its course as far as smoking was concerned. By the second day, I knew I was dealing with something a bit more serious, but didn't think much of it. Bad idea. All the symptoms were there - shortness of breath, pain under my ribs starting a little lower on the left side than the right, a hacking cough that made me think I was going to crack a rib but produced nothing, sever chills and fever that came and went, all of it.
The third day I finally broke down and called my doctor. He set a time for me during his rounds and Marcus took me to the hospital where I stayed for close to a week. I was on intravenous antibiotics, 80% oxygen, and on enough other meds that I might as well have been in a low level drug-induced coma. The upper and lower lobes of both lungs were infected, and rhere was significant fluid accumulation in each of them. I also had a secondary infection between 70% of my visceral and parietal pleura which hurt like hell.
The fact of the matter was that even though my 50 +/- pack years of smoking didn't cause the pneumonia, it did make it much much worse; and it did prolong my recovery. My lungs simply were not in any condition to sustain the blow they had been dealt. Continuing to smoke after the symptoms appeared had only compounded the problem.
While I was as miserable as I have ever been, I was also angry. I felt betrayed by my lungs. Thirty-one years ago I beat them into submission. I forced them to accept and then welcome, crave the abuse I chose to deliberately inflict. The balance between my psyche's sadistic enjoyment of deliberately damaging my body and my body's masochistic pleasure in demanding and being being damaged was thrown out of whack. Being shorter winded than a pink-lunged twenty something hints at the reality of the risk, but really struggling to breathe smacks you in the face with it.
I wanted to smoke. As they slowly lowered my medication dosage and I returned to the world of the mostly lucid, my one driving desire was to smoke - to go on the roof with the other nurses and deliberately inhale a thousand toxic gasses into my lungs and know that I was in control again. Physical addiction had nothing to do with it. Given that walking to the bathroom and then crawling back to bed still made me a red-faced gasping wreck, doing so really wasn't an option. I said nothing about it to Marcus. He was already freaked-out and worried enough. I waited.
Part of the reason I entered my profession is that the human body's resilience and ability to heal is a wondrous beautiful thing and fascinates me. On the fifth day my condition had improved enoufgh that my oxygen was reduced to 30% and then removed altogether. Breathing was no longer a struggle unless I did something foolish like try to walk somewhere; and it no longer hurt like hell. My overnight nurse was an old acquaintance and also a smoker. She understood, even if not the complexities, and was kind enough not to notice when her patient unhooked herself a little after Midnight and left her room for a while. She was also kind enough to accidentally leave her cigarettes and a book of matches by the roof exit. (All of us do, it is easier than fetching them from your purse and we can't keep them on our person.) At the top of the stairs I paused and caught my breath. Then, I lit a cigarette and renewed the assault.
I haven't experienced a bronchiospasm like that in 31 years. I gagged. I coughed. I wheezed.
I did it again. And again. And again. I pulled the smoke into my lungs and held it there, savoring the knowledge that despite their initial protests, they had no choice. Eventually, they accepted the abuse and welcomed it. I finished the cigarette and returned to my room. I didn't have another until I was discharged the next day. One was enough. Balance had been restored.
V notes: Just fixed a typo at M G F's request.