I Have Rights

That’s what a smoker recently said on her blog. When you write a book or even an article the publisher wants to know what gives you the credentials to write this story… and I’ll give that at the end. This is in no way a bad reflection on anyone, a smoker made a blog entry about how she is tired of the grunt from the peanut gallery, the non-smokers… and I enjoy and like the blog of this woman – she is a gem! But she gave me thought and that’s what blogging is about and so here it goes. Even if you don’t smoke I bet you know someone who does, maybe a family member?

Nicotine is a highly addictive drug… more addictive than heroin or cocaine… and harder to stop when you get addicted. Smoker = Drug Addict. Yes it is legal, should it be outlawed? Our government is quick to point out the dangers but falls short of stopping the companies responsible for marketing it to you. The cost to us as a society is enormous. The Fat Cats of the cigarette industry are filthy rich and they got that way giving us an unhealthy society, and creating nicotine junkies who will need billions of dollars in Medicare/Medicaid coverage as a direct result of the habit. (Last time I checked we all pay for this coverage whether we like it or not) Over 20 yrs of a 2 packs a day habit you spend $65,000 plus on cigarettes… so if you never bought a home guess what – You could have!

According to the Surgeon General’s Report on Second Hand Smoke 2006, secondhand smoke is responsible for increasing the risk of heart disease 20-30%. Cigarette smoke contains 4000 chemicals and just a few are arsenic, methane, carbon monoxide, and if you’re a woman this gives you a 12 times higher risk of developing lung cancer (85% of all lung cancer is from smoking). Now I can go on and on with these facts but I know that a Nicotine-laced brain is already in denial about the body it is riding around in, but listen up all you junkies…

It’s not that you die from smoking that is the biggest problem. Yes you will, and we can’t save you ’cause you don’t want to be saved – if you did, you wouldn’t smoke – you would quit. It’s the most brilliant, the most energetic, the friendliest, the most beautiful that seem to fall prey to this terrible monkey. It zaps that energy, dulls that brilliance (just try to think without a cigarette in your mouth) it separates you from your friends… (I had a friend quit me after I got us a non-smoking room when we went on a vacation together). It will take your beauty away leaving you with wrinkles and horrible skin pallor (that’s due to all those horrid chemicals you are slowly being poisoned by). The smoker’s body is like a time bomb… in fact you are healthy right up to the day you suddenly become ill. Strange you think you had no warning… but you did.

You got short of breath while trying to climb uphill or up steps, you get up in the morning coughing your head off, you get bronchitis more often than you used to, you have a dull headache a lot of the time, your skin sags and your bones get brittle you don’t sleep well cause you are a junkie and your brain is afraid to go without that drug while you lay sleeping… so the cells in your body don’t get the make over they deserve while you sleep. The deadly toxins build up in your lungs, blood stream, tissue, even your eye balls will get yellow from the Nicotine. This is all as a direct result of your drug addition.

Now let’s push mother Earth forward a few spins and see where you are 10, 15, 20 years down the road. You are hard working but it’s gotten so hard you had to quit… you went on disability cause you can’t work, in fact you can’t even walk without help, you may be one of the lucky ones who has family hovering in a state of constant worry and now that causes the quality of their life to go down the tubes, and if you’re really lucky you get one of those little ride-along things to carry your depleted body and your oxygen tank at the same time because you can’t go any further than that little clear plastic oxygen tubing will reach. Even with an extension it, won’t be long enough to allow you a normal life. You will need help doing everything. (Now this is where the independent person loses it, not just your independence but also the will to go on). You will have an aide assigned to you she probably won’t speak the same language as you, but you will depend on her to cook for you, feed you, bath and clean your bottom cause you will become incontinent and can’t hold your water to make it to the bathroom, and when you get there you need help just to sit on the toilet!

That’s STAGE ONE… the Earth spins a little more and enter STAGE TWO…. now you get so sick you can’t breath at all you tell your home aide you need to go to the hospital… she calls your frantic son/daughter again to tell them you are going to the hospital. They are at work trying to earn the money they need to keep their family going, they are smoking away to try and handle the stress (well MOMMA smoked for years its not a big deal). And then your aide hangs up and calls 911.

ENTER ME: “What’s the problem today Mam?”

YOU: “I cant breathe,” you say as you sit in tripod position able to speak only a few words at a time, purse lipped breathing, your lungs raked with rales, and wheezing.

ME: “Why can’t you breath?”

YOU: “I have COPD, Emphysema, and Chronic Bronchitis”

ME: “Do you smoke?”

YOU: “I Used to. I quit 5 yrs ago when I went on disability.”

ME: (now just thinking to myself… I see, ok well this is gonna be unpleasant… I’ve never met you in my life but now your life is in my hands…you’ve given your rights away…you made yourself sick, and now you expect us, the non smokers, to rush in and save you and guess what?? WE DO!! WE TRY LIKE HELL!! Sometimes its too late, other times you wish you did die before we got there… if you’re in really bad condition I have to sedate you and stuff a tube down your trachea you will probably vomit all over me and the floor because I will do this to you after I place your body on the floor… I will attach a BVM bag to the end of that tube and I will begin to ventilate you.

Ok now I have to physically with my hands grab you and remove you from that chair or bed or floor… because you don’t have enough air to make your limbs move, and I place you on my stretcher if you are on the ground floor… if you’re upstairs then I have to put you in a small chair strap you in and my partner and I will carry you down and put you in the ambulance. You have no rights now except patient’s rights. Your frantic child is now rushing at breakneck speed to try and get to the hospital to be there to comfort you while you struggle to breathe and they will cry while they sign the consent form to have a tracheotomy performed and put you on a ventilator… you will stay that way for a week or two if you’re lucky, if not then the rest of your (at this point) miserable life.

So there it goes all your rights down the tubes, your health, your independence, your kids lives upside down, your grandkids losing Na-naw and Paw-pa cause you wanted the rights to destroy your health… and you had that right and you exercised it. But guess what – it’s the non-smokers who will end up being responsible for you… so don’t be so hard on them because you will need them in the end.

Now, the reason I’m qualified to write this: I am a paramedic I have seen this very scenario happen hubdreds of times, my own mother has COPD and EMPHYSEMA and Chronic Bronchitis, and I am an X-SMOKER I quit 10 YRS AGO! I only hope it wasn’t too little too late!

(Sondra is a paramedic in Brooklyn NY. Her book Before Life Got Complicated will be released soon through Publish America, visit her at www.dixxebell.com)

Sondra Hickman is the author of Before Life Got Complicated (2006). Sondra was born in Tennessee, raised in South Carolina and lives in New York.