Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Of victory and defeat

He stopped me as I was walking past him on a downtown Port of Spain street, this total stranger, to say, among other things, that he was 71 years old though he didn’t look a day past 60.

“I read the column you wrote about quitting smoking,” he told me. “And I decided to try and follow your example. But I gave up after a week. I just couldn’t hold out any longer than that.”

“Well, I’m sorry to hear that,” I said.

“Bear in mind,” he said, “that I’ve been smoking for more than 60 years.”

But what was it I had said, what was the expression I had used that had helped me to stick to my resolve?

“The exercise of free will power,” I said.

“No, no!” he said. “It was something else. Something I didn’t quite understand at first...”

“Cold turkey!” I said.

“Yes!” he exclaimed, his face lighting up. “That was it. Cold turkey! Just stop and no matter how strong the temptation, don’t give in...I realised you were right. It was the only way I could beat the habit. So I decided to apply it and I am happy to tell you that I have now stopped smoking completely and although the urge is still very strong, this time around I think I have found a way to overcome this habit.”

“Congratulations!” I said, shaking his hand. “Welcome to the club.”

“I wanted to thank you for the inspiration,” he said.

And with that we went our separate ways.

I would classify that as a victory for at least one more former smoker.

But, sadly, last week a woman I barely knew wrote me to admit that after being a heavy smoker for about 50 years, she has now been diagnosed with COPD—chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, a lung condition that makes breathing difficult and causes irreversible airflow damage.

“There were so many warnings,” she told me. “I was first diagnosed with lateral emphysema about 25 years ago and thought it was a joke because I never had the shortness of breath...Then I started having trouble with everything, got tired very quickly, breathless for the slightest things. All the things I did went one by one until all I could do was sit in a chair and smoke.”

That was when she stopped, about two years ago.

Now, she said, “it’s too late. I don’t know how much longer I have and at this point sometimes I really wonder why bother at all because everything is such a struggle.”

She started going to the Arima Health Clinic where, she said, the treatment was “wonderful.”

Every three months or so she would have to see a specialist.

“I would like people to know,” she said, “that there is help available.”

And at the Arima Health Clinic “all my meds, which are horribly expensive, are free.”

I also got a message from a woman resident in the United Kingdom last week who, among other things, wanted to sound a warning about the new “electronic cigarettes”, which people, including one young woman I know here, believe to be harmless.

But this UK resident said to me those cigarettes “are destroying lives here”.

Another tragic defeat came last Monday with the death of Derek Nahous from lung cancer, after suffering badly for months. His deathbed advice? “If you smoke, quit.”

I would like to offer my sincere condolences to his family and his friends.

And on this my, 271st smoke-free day since I initially decided to rid myself of that noxious habit, I would like to repeat what I have said in this column on more than one occasion: mark my words: nicotine is a very powerful and dangerous drug. Cigarette smoking is a killer. Avoid it like the plague!