What the F*ck Do You Think You’re Doing???

That’s what I want to say.  Actually, I wanted to say it the day before yesterday, the first time I saw my neighbor, Marie*, sitting outside and smoking a cigarette– not an e-gic- an honest to God, real, smoking, cigarette– only a couple weeks after she just had a triple bypass

It was an emergency surgery.  She’d been feeling bad for a while now and was already on a regimen of pills, including three different delivery methods for Nitroglycerin!  And she smoked like a chimney, in her apartment, all the time.  When she went to the doctor’s for a stress test, she was immediately sent to the hospital.  The docs told her if she had been any later going to the doctor’s, she’d probably be dead.  They also told her if she didn’t quit smoking, that within a year, she’d be dead.

Her medical emergency pushed me over the edge of my own smoking dilemma and I got an e-cig.  I haven’t had a real cigarette in three weeks.

Marie’s apartment was thoroughly cleaned and scrubbed down while she was in the hospital, in an attempt to erase the years of nicotine and tar from the walls and furnishings.  People have been in and out to take care of her dog, a blind a mostly blind and deaf old pug who doesn’t always make it outside to the bathroom anymore. “No Smoking” signs went up on her front door.  In fact, there has been a steady stream of friends and family members with her since the whole thing started.  There have been people helping her cook and bathe and keeping her company while she recovers.  I’ve been over there several times myself, offering food and whatever else I can do.

I was a bit perturbed to see she had acquired an e-cigarette herself, simply because I imagine any kind of stimulant (even without the tar and other chemicals) is probably not the best thing for her right now.  She still drinks coffee as well, but, hey, you can’t take everything away from her at once.

But I think I was also perturbed because in my heart, I think I knew this would happen.  She’s been waffling around, back and forth, toying with the idea of quitting smoking and taking better care of herself for a while now.  Eating better, exercising more.  And I’ve tried to help her.  I even helped her set up a My Fitness Pal account.  But she showed virtually no initiative or commitment to using it.  She’ll say she’s gonna try to quit and then as soon as she wants a cigarette, she finds one.  I doubt there is even any attempt at resisting the compulsion.

Bypass Surgeryphoto:fitchicago.com

Bypass Surgery
(photo: fitchicago.com)

Yep…she’s addicted.  And I can’t really blame her for that.  But I also can’t help feeling aggravated.  Aggravated at her lack of willpower…aggravated that having her chest cracked open is not enough to make her stop making excuses. I mean, when I saw her the other day, she said, almost guiltily, “I wanted a real cigarette, so I had one,” as she puffed away, the filter of the cheap cigarette withering away almost as fast as her life.  And I know this whole thing terrifies her.  She’s a nervous person anyway…   So why is she doing this to herself?  She didn’t even start smoking until she was an older adult, so it’s not like she’s been doing it since her teenage years.

For my part, I was surprised at how [relatively] easy the e-cig has made quitting for me.  Sure, it’s not a “real cigarette,” but I get a nic fix and I get the oral fixation and habit, which is a big part of my smoking addiction.  I’ve even found I don’t pick up the e-cig and use it at regular intervals like I would were I still smoking.  It’s almost random, yet it’s there for those trigger times, like after meals, should I need it.

But it’s not doing it for Marie.  Like I said, it isn’t the same as smoking, but with the right e-cig, it’s enough like smoking that, coupled with the dire consequences of not quitting, it should be enough to keep her abstaining.

But I guess the real point of this post for me is to sort out how I feel about this whole thing.  See, I care about Marie.  And I’m sure many of you can relate to this post.  I bet a lot of you gentle readers have relatives that may have been through similar scares and still– irritatingly– engage in their risky behavior.  Shit, my step-father has stents and he still smokes.  But he lives 800 miles away.  This is, like, right in my face…

In a way, I suppose how I feel is probably how my Mom felt after she had her heart surgery and my sister and I continued to smoke…   Even though that’s slightly different, as it did not actually happen to my sis or me.

And I’m not sure what, if anything, to do about it.  Part of me wants to be the honest– candid– person I like to think of myself as.  And another part of me tells myself that Marie is an adult and I should just be a supportive–and silent– friend.  I wish I could fool myself into thinking she’s just indulging in one or two smokes, here and there, like I used to.  But I know better.  She doesn’t have the self-control to keep it in check.  I wonder how long it will be before she is back to sitting in that tiny coffin of an apartment and smoking her lungs black.  Because she’s never even been able to keep the commitment to simply move her smoking habit outside, even for her beloved dog, who also suffers from a heart problem that causes him to cough painfully and hackingly, and will eventually kill him.

I worry about her.   Do I hound her mercilessly? (I’m sure that’s not the answer.) Do I say my piece and let it drop?  Do I say nothing?

Post Op Open Heart Surgery scar(Photo: myheartsisters.org)

Post Op Open Heart Surgery scar
(Photo: myheartsisters.org)

9 responses to “What the F*ck Do You Think You’re Doing???

  1. I’m sorry you have to deal with this. One of the jobs I do is patient advocacy, which involves me working with both doctors and patients. One of the doctors I work with has said to me before, when dealing with a patient who has celiac disease and diabetes (ok, more than one), “What will it take to get that doughnut out of her mouth?”

    My father has a pacemaker and distended lungs. He still smokes 5 packs of cigarettes a day and doesn’t understand why the doctors don’t believe that his problems are actually from the pesticides sprayed on the cotton field he lived right next to (I’m sure that they are also a problem, but the smoking is a huge and more relevant problem). A close friend of mine’s husband just had a small tumor removed from his lung (he’s in his late 30s) and they still smoke. Addiction is powerful.

    The only thing I have ever seen work is when someone wants something for him/herself. My uncle gave up smoking cold turkey after a heart attack. He also gave up drinking all at once when he realized his alcoholism was ruining his life. I gave up gluten right away when I realized it was a huge source of my own problems. We’ve seen how the story ends and don’t want that for ourselves. A lot of people live under the delusion that, “…sure it happened to her, but I’m different in this (actually irrelevant) way”. There’s also something in behavioral economics that says people discount future benefits in favor of the here and now. The interesting bit about that is studies have shown that people who are able to resist the lure of “what I want right now” in favor of “I’ll get something better later” are more successful in life.

    Bottom line, you can’t make her want to quit. You can try to dig into her psychology (Why does she think she doesn’t deserve better health? Is she afraid of change, good bad or otherwise?) and help her come to it on her own, but you can’t force her. I’m glad to see you’re one of those who does learn from others, though. We’re a rare type.

    • Thank you for your well thought out comment, first of all. Yes, I think people that really look into themselves and AT their behavior under a harsh light are rare. It’s taken me a while to get to this point, and I am thankful for the e-cig because maybe I wouldn’t have the strength this time around either. I just look at my daughter and I want something better for her. And myself. I try to tell myself that continuing to smoke “because I want to” is selfish, and if we could see the damage we were doing to our bodies on the outside, I bet a lot less people would smoke. Cuz we’re vain. LOL

      • Funny thing about that – I do get the damage on the outside as well. When I eat gluten or soy, this thing that looks like a chemical burn shows up on my legs and the skin melts off. With the gluten, it feels like someone is dragging a knife through my intestines and I’m pretty sure I’m going to die on the spot. And with soy, my brain gets inflamed and my nervous system starts misfiring. If what’s happening on the outside (the skin thing) is happening to my organs, arteries, and nervous system, no wonder I’ve been so sick I haven’t been able to work a normal job for 10 years. It serves as a powerful motivator. It also helps that I watched my grandmother die of complications from diabetes and my grandfather die after complications from a stroke and heart disease.

        Anyway, it seems you have solid motivating factors for changing your life. I have faith that you’ll be able to make a significant change and be there for your daughter 🙂

  2. I think sometimes the only thing you can do is express your feelings–your concern, your disappointment, etc., and then let it go. You can bring it up again, but you need to be careful that you don’t become a nag. She’s not going to quit until she’s ready to quit, unfortunately. I would think that the bypass would be an incentive to quit (and I see nothing wrong with her going to an e-cig; no it’s not preferable to complete abstinence, but it’s light-years better than the real thing), but if it’s not, nothing you or anyone says will be enough.

    Addiction is a funny thing, and it hits different people different ways. Smoking was a hard thing for me to get past, some other things I was able to walk away from. And then I still have my one great vice that I’ve never abandoned.

    • I’ve been smoking for 16 years (excepting while I was pregnant), so I know it’s hard. I think it seems like she approaches everything with that lack of commitment though. :/

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