Thursday, April 6, 2017

How Could a “Clever” Smoker Possibly Become Ill?

By Doug Book, editor

I started smoking in 1971; bought 3 packs of Camels one day (unfiltered) for a total of 99 cents plus tax.

But now, 46 years later, I no longer use tobacco. You see, seven years ago I switched to Electronic Cigarettes. Just pour in a little nicotine liquid mixed with vegetable oil—your choice of potency—and you’re all set to “vape” away. No lung-threatening, tarry chemicals. No smelly, annoying smoke to attract nasty looks. In fact, the “discharge” from these pricey little, battery-driven machines can be blown around your doctor’s consulting room and neither he nor his staff will be any the wiser.

It was the best of all possible worlds. I could continue to infuse myself at will with my favorite drug and risk no ill effects.

And did I take careless advantage of my discovery? I did not! In fact, to be extra cautious I stopped inhaling the vapor altogether. Instead, I began drawing in the nicotine-laced smoke, rolling it around in my mouth and spitting it right back out with my next little bit of air. I had invented a thoroughly safe method of smoking—that is, of enjoying nicotine.  Damn, I was clever!

Then suddenly, a few weeks ago, I couldn’t breathe. It was very late on a Sunday night and as I walked from my bathroom into my bedroom, I found I couldn’t get any air. Collapsing in a chair I began panting, gasping, sitting doubled over. I remembered a small, Albuterol inhaler I hadn’t used in quite some time, still laying on my night stand. I grabbed it and took 2 or 3 puffs. In a short time I began collecting a bit of oxygen; enough, at least, to be rid of some of the panic which had overtaken me. I’m not too proud to admit that I was scared as Hell.

I spent the rest of the night staring straight ahead, afraid to move lest that awful, complete loss of air should overtake me again. I scheduled an appointment with my doctor of 25 years and underwent a series of chest X-Rays. Getting to my car, walking into Eric’s office and later through the hospital; each was a more difficult and physically demanding task than anything I could remember taking on in decades. Of course, I finally had to ask that I be taken by wheelchair through the endless hospital corridors to X-Ray. I couldn’t walk the distance. I remember the X-Ray tech told me to take a deep breath and hold it as she pressed the button. Christ, if I’d been able to take a deep breath, I wouldn’t have been there. Standing quite still against the X-Ray backdrop, supported by nothing but my legs…and she wanted me to breathe too?

A “large pneumothorax” or collapsed lung. That was the diagnosis. And strangely enough, it was damned good news. For I hadn’t been home 30 minutes from X-Ray when the telephone rang and I read Eric’s name on the receiver. In 25 years he had never called me at home. Not once. I expected him to say, “Sorry Doug, but you have stage 4, lung cancer. With aggressive treatment, you could live a year, maybe more.” Talk about blood running cold. Seeing that name on my phone was the definition.

But my collapsed lung was very treatable. And that's why Eric had called--to recommend, strongly recommend as my friend and doctor that I head to the emergency room right away. A chest tube inserted to help the lung re-inflate, 2 ½ days in the hospital; a follow up visit with the surgeon and I’m still breathing just fine; or at least as well as I have for the past several years. And it all came with a free lesson in medicine and humility. For nicotine is the real culprit in cigarette tobacco, not tar or those other evil chemicals smokers have heard about for years on end. It’s nicotine that’s the real killer. As for my clever decision to switch to Electronic Cigarettes and avoid inhaling—I was kidding myself. I didn’t know. It seemed a damned good idea at the time. But not after talking with half a dozen doctors, each telling me just how dumb I was (in a very pleasant way, of course.)

The lesson is a simple one.

Anyone who smokes is a moron. I’ve seen the pictures of my lungs. So take my word for it. And there is NO way to game the system. There are no safe cigarettes—electronic or otherwise. And there is no safe method of infusing nicotine. Of course, nicotine-free liquid is available for those who wish (for whatever reason) to appear that they are smoking. But I’ll still guarantee that even that won’t be good for you.

So no preaching. Just quit and live longer or continue the intake of nicotine and die sooner.  Enjoy.

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