Diary of a smoker

... I just got home after a week in the hospital

by Betty Rossi

I just got home after a week at the Melrose Wakefield Hospital.
I had a spectacular room on the fourth floor, overlooking Ell Pond.  
The food. Ah, the food. Like eating at the Ritz or The Top of the Hub.
The service was superb. So, what was the problem? Well, sit back and I will tell you.

I went to the Emergency Room because my legs had swelled. Not just your
every day, "hmm, my legs look a little bit swollen" but, "Holy Mackerel!
Look at my legs! I can't move or lift them. They're red, red, red and look
like they belong on an elephant, they are so swollen." When I arrived in the
Emergency Room, I was told, "Girl, we aren't worried about your legs, it's
your lungs that are doing this. We are keeping you."

So, while you are in the hospital, lying in bed with intravenous, needles,
breathing treatments, Lasiks, black and blue armed from Heparin and antibiotics,
and red, red legged from lack of circulation, you tend to reflect on why and
what hit you. I'll tell you what. Years and years and years of smoking. I smoked
when I lived. All of my life. I smoked when I cooked. I smoked when I cleaned.
I smoked when I drove. I smoked when I was pregnant. I smoked when I held my
babies and for a long time, you could smoke at your desk at work. I smoked
everywhere because I loved to. We thought we were glamorous and we were killing
ourselves slowly but surely.

I started to have problems with smoking early in life. Growing up on Crescent
Avenue, we had Andy's Store around the corner on Washington Street. We would
"go to the store" for groceries for my mother and we would get to "keep the
change". You could buy comic books with the covers half off for a couple of
cents. Little Lulu, Archie and Veronica and the rest of them. The store also
sold cigarettes. Loose. Out of the pack.

The summer that I turned nine years old and returned back home from summer at
the Cape, I was a smoker. My cousins  were older and we all smoked together.
Salem Menthols. Cigarette Companies used to have salesmen who passed out free
cigarettes and we used to say that we were getting them for our parents and
grabbed them by the handfuls to smoke ourselves. It wasn't too many years later
that I turned to Lucky Strikes, which I smoked for about forty years.

My first problem with smoking came when I was twenty-seven years old and went
into Respiratory Arrest. My friend and doctor, Alan Criss, brought me back to
life and I quit smoking for about two and a half years. It was summertime and
my husband and I were sitting out in the back yard. His cigarette smelled so good,
I asked for a "puff". Well, that "puff" turned to three, and then up to two packs
a day again. Not a good thing. I kept smoking. Smoking and coughing, coughing
and smoking. I graduated from Lucky Strikes, which held twenty cigarettes per pack
to Century 100's, which held twenty-five cigarettes a pack, giving me more cigarettes
to smoke in a day.

Years went by and it was Christmas Day about ten years ago. I knew that my body
was in trouble, so I stayed up all night Christmas Eve, wrapping, cooking, cleaning
and smoking. I was afraid to go to sleep because I didn't think I'd be able to wake
back up again, so I stayed up all night. By 7 A.M. on Christmas Day, a day that was
supposed to be celebrated with my Mom and all of the rest of my family, including
even my beloved nieces and nephews, I awoke my husband and said, "Call 911. I'm dying."

Sure enough. Respiratory Arrest. This time, it was much, much worse. Friend and
doctor, Alan Criss was on duty when I was wheeled into the hospital and he saved me
once again. This time, I had to be intrabated and I guess when you "die", you clench
your teeth. When I "woke up", about a week and a half later after the New Year, I
was missing a few teeth. They said that they had to knock them out to put the tubes
down my throat and out my side to breathe for me. My beautiful, white teeth. Not only
were they destroyed, but my poor mother and family. I had  destroyed their Christmas
season for sure. That did it for me. Never again would I take a puff from a cigarette.

Fast forward until today. I never did smoke again, but it didn't matter. The damage
was done. In my day, I'd work, clean, cook, decorate, paint, tile, brick, plant, climb,
walk, ski and hit a baseball. Now, walking up a small hill, is a daunting task and
looking a high curb, makes me want to walk around it. Nine pills, four times a day
plus a breathing machine for a person who wouldn't even take an aspirin for a
headache, are my cigarettes now. My body loves to swell up and retain fluids
because my lungs say, "Do you want to breathe or pump fluids today? Your choice."

I love Spring, my time of new growth. I love Fall, the crunch of leaves and the colors.
I love winter with the look, smell and feel of snow and I love summer, because the sun
warms my aching, aching bones. I love my family and can't believe what I have done to
myself. Now, instead of wanting a "puff", I want to breathe. On the radio this morning,
the news said that Hawaii had implemented a No Smoking Under Twenty-one Law and
Massachusetts was thinking of becoming the second state to implement the law. Under
Twenty-one? By the time I was twenty one, I had already smoked for twelve years.

May 6, 2016

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