so many of us have smoked for so long that we do not remember living our lives without a cigarette in our hands or mouths. we continue smoking even though we know all the warnings and it is not until we finally quit, that we first take a very serious look at our addiction and then we start thinking ..."what oh what have I done to myself?" and we hope for the best but fear the worst. Below is a post I wrote after my first visit to my pulmonary specialist. Sitting in that office that day, was a terribly frightening thing. It was, after all, my addiction that took me there.....
Today was a big day for me...a day of reckoning with a 41 year old addiction. When I quit smoking the beginning of January, I remember the posts from others quitting with me....oh how much easier breathing was since they had quit...running farther, jumping higher and no straining for air anymore. Read about it here everyday too...so why then was it more difficult for me to breathe...why was I different? Well in the spring of '99 I had a terrrible case of the flu and with every breath I took it felt like my lungs were on fire..every cough was like someone was sticking a knife in me. I have never experienced anything like that feeling before...of course, I kept on smoking. Finally decided to go to the doctors' when I started to run a fever and she had a chest xray done to see if I had bronchitis or pneumonia. None of the above, she said, but look here...and she pointed to an area on the xray...you've got the beginnings of emphysema....that' s all she said...nothing else...and still I smoked and kept on doing so for another 8 months. Now I've quit and I'm having trouble breathing and I run back to the doctor and ask her to please do another x-ray...I've quit smoking and I want to know why I'm short of breath and it feels like an elephant is sitting on my chest, more and more. Good news...the xray shows no change from the first one....still shows a little irritation but now she's not calling it emphysema, nor cancer, but some irritation. She thinks that I should see a specialist. Again I put it off because some days I feel fine and then all of a sudden the pressure is there. I found this pressure and feeling that I cannot breathe appears when exposed to chemicals such as colognes, perfumes, cleaning products, hair sprays, shampoos, money, and of course, cigarettes and stale tobacco smells.....more and more smells making it more difficult to breathe. The doc gives me an inhaler...sometimes it works, other times, nothing.
Well, today was my appointment. The sign on the door says Acute Care Pulmonary Specialists and I am scared. In the waiting room are people in wheelchairs with tubes in their noses and the other end attached to large oxygen tanks next to them. Each time the door opens, another wheelchair, another oxygen tank. I fill out the questionaires and then give my xrays to the nurse. She ushers me into an examining room and I start reading the little booklets about inhalers and emphysema and how to quit smoking and I see charts of smokers life expectencies, and for me, a 41 year smoker...quitting at 57, what the charts have in store for me...maybe I read it wong...maybe not.
Finally the doctor comes in and introduces himself...shakes my hand. He's a lot younger than I thought. Very serious looking...very intense. Now comes the inquisition...he sits back, crosses his leg, takes out a clipboard and starts asking questions.
First he asked me all the "do you" questions and then the "have you" questions, not to leave out the "how long" questions....very, very serious young man...but I heard he was a great specialist, a man of few words and a "say it like it is" person. I am not looking for a Dr. Kildare or Dr.Welby.. I think many of you are too young to know these kindhearted TV docs...but I'm sure some of the older people here will remember....I wanted someone who says is like it is..I wanted someone to scare the heck out of me so that I would never dare to smoke again...He finished asking and then he left the room for a minute. When he returned, said he was going to listen to my lungs, said I had my gown on backwards....who cares?
He made me take all kinds of breaths..over and over while he listened with the stethescope....All Clear!....no wheezing...same as I heard from all the docs I've seen since i quit. Am I making this up?
He told me that he wanted to do a pulmonary function test and a very nice older woman...(a smoker..little lines around the mouth and stale cigarettes smell) took me to a room with monitor and lots of big chemical tanks..hydrogen, oxygen..and I don't know what else....and stuck me in front of a mouth piece with tubes and wires coming out in all directions and they in turn were attached to a huge machine and monitor....made me stick a clip on my nose to shut off air supply and stick the tube in my mouth...had to breathe regularly for about a minute and then she made me take one big breath and then exhale very rapidly and keep on exhaling into the pipe as long as I could....did it 3 times...got better with each attempt...watched the lines on the monitor trace my breath. Wondering how I'm doing.
Then she hooked me up to a Nebulizer...a breathing treatment machine....chemicals going into my lungs for 5 minutes....more tanks and tubes...again, frightening when I think that many ex smokers have to use these each and every day....more than once a day....am I going to have to do this, just like the picture of the young lady at whyquit.com?.....made me even more scared. If I have emphysema I will have to have one of these things in my house, I'm thinking, as I sit there staring a magazine and watching the vapors come out of the mouthpiece every time I exhale. After the treatment she made me put the clip on my nose again and repeat the test.....I did better, she said. Now to talk to the doc again and find out the verdict.
Well, he says...lungs are clear..no wheezing...pulmonary function tests...meet the criteria for normal breathing capacity....elephant on the chest? very real. He says that I have asthma....plain and simple...asthma. The problem with smells, all chemicals, colognes, perfumes, cleaning agents (yippee, no cleaning!) money, cigarettes and stale tobacco..cold air, humid air.....all asthma triggers...not allergy. Allergies are dust, pollen, cat and dog hairs, food...all different than asthma triggers. Wants me to see an allergist too...one more doc...who cares? I've got asthma...uncomfortable, but treatable.
He has prescribed two more inhalers in addition to the one I already have...the two new ones are to be used every 12 hours...the Provental is carried with me at all times to be used as needed... I am lucky...very lucky! With my history of smoking, the verdict could have been much worse....still could be...but for now, I am frightened enough never to take another puff...I know what if feels like to have an elephant on my chest....cannot and do not want to imagine what it would be like with emphysema or cancer. My heart goes out to those suffers...You should have seen the older people in the waiting room with their wheelchairs and oxygen....my guess is that they too, are all ex smokers.....
Us smokers just have to get really, really scared before it sinks in...and sometimes very sick before we do anything about it. I have been given another chance to breathe deep and breathe long. A lot of us, never get that chance and so I say to all you younger quitters out there....please stick to your quits and treat each smoke free day not as if you have lost your best friend, but as a blessing, a gift. Some days may be harder than others but in the end it all evens out. I hope that none of you will ever have to go to an Acute Care Pulmonary office and if you do, I hope you're as lucky as me.
Wishing each and every one of you a long, happy, and healthy, smoke free life!