Thursday, May 5, 2011

How I Quit Smoking and Lived (so far)

Today is Cinco de Mayo. It is also the 7th anniversary of the day I quit smoking.I didn't quit because it was Cinco de Mayo though - that's just silly. I quit when I quit and for the next couple years I struggled to remember the anniversary and then it finally dawned on me it was cinco de mayo, so now i can always remember. It took a few more years before I could remember the year I quit. 2004. It's nice to no longer have to go through old emails to figure it out.

So to quit, it was a piece of cake, or maybe not. I didn't know it at the time but I believe my life was on the line. I didn't get the message from the waking dream I had earlier - more on that later.

I got a real nasty chest cold that just would not go away, no matter what! I couldn't even start to talk without going into a horrible coughing fit, so bad I couldn't even get a breath in between coughs. One day I realized if I went a ½-hour to an hour (if I could manage it) without a cigarette, things improved a little. Hmm.

I guess you're thinking a step ahead of me and figure I decided that was that. Not exactly. I always had wanted to quit...someday, but I wasn't ready. I was VERY VERY hooked...addicted. But I was thinking at that point that maybe I should try it again. I've tried quitting a zillion times before and sometimes I made it a few hours. Once, many years before this, I did pretty good using the patch...three months I think. I figured this was just going to be one of those few-hour quits. It would probably help and then I could have an occasional smoke until I was better.
I managed to make it a couple hours, felt a lot better, and so I had a smoke. Immediately I went into another massive cough attack. OK I decided, it is time. I finished the pack I had, I think I hid the remaining pack somewhere. I bought the patch. Last time I tried the patch I kept smoking like normal with it. Someone told me I could have a stroke doing that, so I quit the patch. I knew I needed to do it this time, so I had to try it again.

When i quit smoking before, if I would break down and smoke, I considered it a failure and went and bought cigarettes. This time I decided I would NOT borrow one from anybody no matter how bad it got and I would not buy any. The price of cigarettes was crazy now anyway. The only way I could afford to smoke at all was because of the discounted ones I got from the "Indians".

The first cravings I got, I managed to get myself through, but they got harder each time. I finally gave in and smoked a long cigarette butt (snipe) out of the ash tray. I assured myself, this didn't mean I failed and I kept at the quitting. After that, I did this whenever the cravings got unbearable. I called it "enhancing the patch".

A few days or weeks later*, the ash trays were much emptier and contained only tar-stained, slightly burned filters. At that point I finally had the upper hand, and the patches were pretty much keeping the cravings to a dull roar, without any need for enhancement. No more snipes, no more craving snipes, and now i was hell-bent on succeeding.

Strangely, my money situation hadn't seemed to improve much, but my bills were getting paid more regularly and I had food in the house. I was never really able to afford cigarettes in the first place, technically.

 I needed a new car and felt I deserved a reward, so I started researching cars.

Constant heartburn. I was getting it a lot before, now it was almost constant. I decided I should go to the doctor about it. My doctor had left the practice a couple years prior because of a brain tumor, and he later died. So I had a new doctor, a lady. I told her I have a few issues, but the main thing was the heartburn, and I proudly told her I quit smoking three weeks ago.

As she was going over my records, she asked how my "blah blah" has been. She spoke low and had an accent I wasn't used to, combined with my "dumb" ears, so I said "huh?". She said "It says here you have a touch of emphysema". I said, "it does? Why wouldn't the doctor have mentioned that to me?" She said sometimes if something isn't too serious the doc will just make a note of it. I felt surely if it had been mentioned to me I would have remembered that, but I have since started to doubt myself on that a little. I guess I could have forgotten.

Anyway we did routine blood work, and I got a prescription for the heartburn and blood pressure. Zooming ahead, a billion tests later, it turned out I had a hiatal hernia and would need surgery...actually it was up to me - either fix it with surgery, or control the acid reflux with meds. I also was diagnosed with Barrett's Esophagus, which is a cellular change in the lining of the throat caused by the acid. It can turn cancerous in some cases. This was my main reason to opt for the surgery instead of the meds, since I wanted to be sure the acid stayed away from there (Now, several years later, the surgery came undone and I am now, unfortunately, controlling the acid reflux with meds. I hope if I lose weight, it might be better, and if not, that maybe a second surgery would be more successful; however losing weight is a story for another day.) I often wonder if the hiatal hernia was originally caused from those uncontrollable coughing fits.

One time before my surgery, I was at my docs and she asked if I was still not smoking (remember?...this is about my smoking). I answered that I was still quit. She said "good". I said "Yeah good". She kinda looked at me funny so I said, "well, when am I supposed to start feeling better? I haven't smoked in so long but I still feel like I just finished a pack...seems like I might as well still be smoking..." While I was on this rant, she was trying to answer my points but I can't say as I heard her. I said - well, I was going to go on about my rant but it has started to fade from my memory unfortunately. But you get the point. I hinted that I was better off when I was smoking, at least I was relaxed, and stuff like that. I do remember her saying things like 'you don't need to do that', and  'we'll get you better' or words to that effect.

Did i mention this was a long story?

I finally decided that what I wanted was a Pontiac Grand Prix and a friend gave me good advice on getting a loan. I figured out the price range I could afford so the payments were at or less than the price I had been paying for cigarettes. I got the loan and got the car. I needed a new vehicle, I freed up money for it, and I deserved it! And now it would be awful hard to buy smokes! I miss that car car I ever had.

After my surgery I was at one of my many doc appointments and I finally came out and asked my doc, nicely this time, "Just how much of a 'touch of emphysema' do I have. Is there a way of checking that?". I explained that my lungs still feel sore and I haven't smoked in months*. I should be feeling better by now. She arranged for a chest x-ray.

The xray showed significant emphysematous changes. I was scheduled for a - hmm, MRI? CT-Scan? I don't remember now. Whatever it was, the results were not good. I had (have) bullous emphysema, with several large bullae, and I was sent to a thorasic surgeon. I think the premise was that I may have to have parts of my lungs removed and/or breathing therapy. I was now officially spooked.

Good news at the thorasic surgeon's appointment. He showed me the pictures and explained the parts that show as dark are parts of the lung that are no good. I looked and my right lung was almost all dark. Then he said it's not as bad as it looks, as the small part that IS good actually has more capacity than the large part that's bad.

He did not recommend surgery and felt I would be fine, and I was sent to a "lung doctor" who, until recently, I would go to every six months. He sticks a stethoscope on my back for a few seconds and asks me about my sleep apnea (I zoomed ahead again - he discovered I have that too - that's me in my cpap mask in the pic at the top of the page). I haven't been to him for awhile. I need to get to him or another one soon! I always thought it was weird that for such a serious illness, I was in and out of the office in a matter of minutes, and good for another six months.

Anyway, he initially did a breathing test and a blood test for antitrypsin deficiency, which was negative. So as long as I don't smoke, the emphysema's progress is minimal if not non-existent. My lungs still feel like shit all the time and I get very short winded on walks and at work, and I cough a lot, but hopefully I will be called "grandpa" someday. That would rock!

As far as the dream or vision I mentioned earlier goes:
It seems as I was just falling asleep. That's why I called it a waking dream.

I was walking along this long trench full of fire. Suddenly I saw this human-like creature made of fire slowly climbing out of the trench, about halfway out anyway. He said "I'm going to kill you." It sounded like my own voice but more "growly". This of course, woke me up. I almost never remember my dreams so I figured I would draw a quick picture so that I would remember in the morning.    ---->

So, that's why I was successful in quitting smoking. To this day, I wish I could have a cigarette...just once in awhile. But I know I can't. I know it wouldn't be just once in awhile if I did, and I think my days would be numbered.

I loved the smell of tobacco smoke before I ever smoked, when I was just a kid, and I still love it now.

*my timeline/recollection in this story is a little blurred so forgive me if the times don't seem to mesh sometimes. It's good that I'm finally writing this, since some of the details seem to be fading from memory. I should have wrote it long ago but that's life.


DeLunaLore said...

You're not kidding, this is one long is a terrible habit and you should feel great to know you were able to sit the cancer sticks down!

Wayne said...

Thank you. And thank you for taking the time to read it. I know when I see a long story like that, I'll put off reading it. lol.

Wayne said...

In less than two months it will have been 11 years. Still not smoking, still miss them.