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My Smoking Career - Part 2. The Monkey Called NicotinePosted Saturday, September 10, 2011, at 11:44 PM
The Monkey Called Nicotine - Part 2.
When I last left you, we had found out that our daughter was diagnosed as learning disabled.
However, I'm getting ahead of myself. Back to my smoking career.
In 1968, the same year of Eve's diagnosis, my parents were severely burned at the Hotel Majestic in Acapulco, Mexico. My dad died fourteen days after the fire (which ironically, was started by a burning cigarette that had been abandoned in the hotel bar). I brought my dad's body back home for burial and my mother back for further hospitalization. My mother required three skin graph operations and stayed for six months in the burn unit. During that time, her muscles in her legs had atrophied from being bed ridden, so she had to learn to walk, again. Walking was extremely painful due to the burns but also the nerve damage. She was a very brave and courageous woman.
I was twenty four years old and gave up smoking for the first time. It seemed like the perfect time to quit the habit. I promised my father, at his grave site, I would never smoke again.
A year later, I became pregnant for a second time. I had another Caesarean section and delivered a healthy 7 lb. 9 oz., full term baby girl. We named her Carla. She slept; she didn't cry constantly and was content.
On the other hand, I was very ill. On the fifth day of my post natal stay in the hospital, I started to cough. Soon, I was coughing up blood. It was Code Blue just like in the hospital shows on TV. The nurses and doctors were rushing around and I was right in the center of all of the activity.
After many tests, the cardiac specialists told me I had a great deal of damage to one of the valves in my heart. It seems that the mitral valve was half filled with scar tissue. The specialists informed me that the damage had probably begun when I was a child. They said that this kind of heart disease begins with rheumatic fever of which I may have had a mild, undiagnosed case. Of course, add the case of mononucleosis in college, two pregnancies (both "C section" deliveries), and nine years of smoking, and well, I guess I was lucky my heart was functioning at all.
Upon hearing this news, I was terrified. I also thanked God that I had been able to quit smoking.
But the final blow came when my doctors recommended no more babies. In their estimation, my heart could not support another pregnancy. There I sat, in that hospital bed, clutching a pillow to my incision, coughing up globs of blood and knowing that very same incision would have to be opened a third time to sterilize me. I was just twenty five years old.
Three years later, in 1972, I started smoking again! My father was probably turning in his grave while I blithely broke my promise to him. But I guess I didn't care. I felt I had justification. I had a husband and two daughters (one of which was learning disabled) to care for, and I also had full responsibility for my mother who was handicapped and walked with a cane. Oh, poor me.
So, I rationalized, that I was going to be just a social or weekend smoker this time. But within a month, I was right back to a pack a day. I knew what my health risks were, but I still smoked. I was really hooked this time.
For the next ten years I smoked up a storm. I was ill at least four times a year with bronchitis, which sometimes progressed to pneumonia.
Each time I was sick, I would take a trip to the clinic and get a prescription for antibiotics, then lie again to my cardiologist about my smoking addiction.
In 1978, I began to gain weight. My weight gain was caused by sluggish circulation and little exercise due to my poorly functioning heart. I was also experiencing palpitations. My heart would speed up and then miss beats. What a spooky feeling.
By 1982, I weighed 150 lbs., thirty pounds up from my normal weight of 120.
My cardiologist prescribed digitalis, a heart regulator and Coumadin, which is a blood thinner. I found it hard to accept that I needed to take medication used predominantly by the elderly. I was only thirty eight years old. The cardiologist also warned me that I would probably need a valve job by the time I was forty five. Yikes!
That fall, I started my second year as a teacher's aide at the same high school my husband taught at. I had worked only two days, when I had another bout with bronchitis. It was my third case of bronchitis that year. On September 5, 1982 at 10:00 AM, I turned on The Price is Right. There I sat in front of the TV, sicker than a dog, and lit up a cigarette. I took a nice deep drag and for the next half hour, I coughed till I threw up loogies you could have served on the half shell. Then, I started to cough up blood!
That was the end of my smoking career. I quit cold turkey after an almost twenty year investment in time, money and ill health.
In June of 1989, I was forty five and had heart valve replacement surgery. It was seven years after I quit smoking. I am now the proud owner of a St. Jude mitral valve prosthesis or mechanical heart valve.
In 2004, I added a Medtronic pacemaker to my chest full of artillery.
But, today, I have also counted twenty nine years of freedom from cigarettes. For me every day is a celebration of life, but the greatest gift of all is to be free from the monkey on my back that was nicotine.
In a Twist
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I'm Enid. No, not the town in Oklahoma, but a transplant to Eureka Springs from Minneapolis fourteen years ago. I'm a writer, journalist and sometime artist. My real love is expressing my opinions on almost any subject, as you have seen in my many letters to the Editor of The Lovely County Citizen over the years. Now, I'm happy to say that I will be writing a blog titled In a Twist for your amusement, amazement or commiseration. Thanks for giving me a read.