Smoking or Non-Smoking?

“Smoking or non-smoking,” was our host’s first question. “Non”, we replied, “unless the wait proves unbearable.” “I’m afraid it may be, my friend, all I have is smoking.” With hunger as my conscience we followed. It’s been quite a while since I’ve occupied a restaurant’s smoking section and the closer we got the more we seemed to trespass. It reminded me of the famous bar scene in the first Star Wars movie where Han Solo, Obi-Wan and the others seemed so out of place in comparison to the establishments indigenous clientele. In our case, this culinary stop brings an unparalleled experience, while quenching three basic needs; great food, ambience and colorful memories.

I spent my youth in a restaurant much like this one, where everyone knew each other. It showed me a cross section of America, filled with important social lessons required during one’s passage through adolescence. I ate with cab drivers, bus drivers, train engineers, professional baseball players, business people, thugs, bums and characters. I especially liked the old man in back who, with no hands, could take his teeth out and put them back in, an enviable trait by any ten year old’s standards. I knew all the customers by name and one day would spend my time bussing tables for this wonderful establishment. So I take my kids to this new place for the same reasons. Even now the servers know me by name and the owners never fail to make my presence known. Tonight would prove no different, with the place packed with families, fun and great food. 

About half way through our meal I noticed my eyes watering and how smoke filled the restaurant had become. I was uncomfortable, but remembered my discomfort was a result of my own choice. I told our host we would sit here, amongst the rights of those whose space we shared. I was simply unaccustomed to the environment in which I found myself, and I accepted complete responsibility for that. What I saw next, however, was difficult to accept.

In the next booth were two young couples with two babies. Both babies looked to be 1 year to 18 months old. I consider myself an expert on children’s age’s, having grown up with two youngsters of my own. As the adults ate and the children redecorated the walls and floor with everything on their plates, one of the requirements of a family restaurant, the cloud of cigarette smoke grew ever thicker, engulfing both kids. What I watched was none of my business and I did not say one word or interfere with either family. I did, on the other hand, wonder if the adults realized what those children may have been going through, or what may be occurring due to their actions. I am not condemning the adult’s actions. It made me think about what I had done to myself as a smoker, over the past 34 years. When I gave up cigarettes, I smoked cigars and inhaled most of those. Thanks to my indulgence I feel qualified to discuss the issue. To the parents of those kids, you simply gave me food for thought. Those are your children and I know you will raise them with love, to the best of your ability, so I’ll leave it at that.

When I hit my half century mark I made that all important appointment for a physical, just like males in that age bracket are supposed to do. Doctors seem to enjoy this one. It’s something you younger fellows have to look forward to. For some reason when men reach “middle age”, doctors concentrate on special parts of our bodies to be sure function follows form or something like that. He tapped, pulled, thumped, listened and withdrew the usual things from the usual places and then asked if I still smoked. I answered sheepishly but honestly after which he asked if I would mind getting a chest x-ray. I, of course, agreed and returned a few days later for the results of blood work and x-ray.

“Things look good”, the doctor began, he said I weighed too much, so what’s new? Blood pressure holding steady, only one new thing. I thought to myself, every time I come in here, lately, it’s one new thing, what now? He said the x-ray did not have its usual “spotless” result. There was a long pause, and even now as I write, I struggle to find the next word or line. I just looked at him and he at me. He spoke first, “emphysema, not advanced but there.”

When I was younger, my family would visit relatives out of state. I remember my uncle being a great golfer with trophies displayed as proof of his accuracy around the game. He played a game that was beyond my comprehension but took me along just enough to remind me what a good strapping on the links was all about. One year, upon our arrival, I noticed things were different. Instead of carrying a bag of clubs he now kept a bottle of oxygen at his side. His clubs had long since disappeared. He had traded in an old habit for a new one. Something I knew and prayed I would never have to do.

“Great Caesar’s Ghost, Doc”, I declared, “I’m only fifty years old.” I was quickly reminded me of how many times I had been sick during the past few years. Not only was I sick more frequently, but my illness always seemed to end in a bout with bronchitis. As a plant pathologist, I understand that most diseases ferret out the weakest plant or the weakest part of a particular plant. Now, my precious lungs with which I was so richly blessed have become my weakest link, and again, the choice to allow this to happen has been all mine. Some old analogies if you will: We install a traffic light, after someone is run down in the intersection, we close the barn door after the horse is gone, we get our car inspected on the first day of the thirteenth month, as do many others, and more often than not, we think about what we say to someone, long after it has been said. During all those visits to the doctor, he asked the same question. Too bad I kept giving the wrong answer.

A friend of mine went to her doctor. He asked her to describe some of her life habits, a great question for a doctor to ask. She said she got little exercise, often ate the wrong foods, drank alcohol a bit too often and had smoked cigarettes longer than she cared to remember. The doctor then asked her if she would consider changing just one of those habits during the next year? She agreed, and he asked her to give up smoking. I have never forgotten that. Of all the things she did the doctor considered smoking the most detrimental to her health. How many times have you heard a friend or acquaintance say, “I know I should quit, these things are killing me”? In my case, this grim reality may come home to roost a bit earlier than originally planned.

Enough gloom and doom. I direct your attention to the yet pink lungs of the world. The youth of America and beyond. Those young people who are just starting to smoke or are thinking about it. Let me put it in blunt, simple words. At 52 years of age I can no longer do what I could do 10 years ago in a physical sense. Thanks to smoking I can no longer play men’s softball or participate in an afternoon of flag football with my friends. I can’t run a 50 yard dash or hike up a 2000 foot mountain, that’s less than one-half mile, by the way. When I lay in bed at night I can hear myself wheeze with every breath, and worst of all every now and then, under no exertion, I am not able to catch my breath, followed by a pain caused by lack of oxygen, and that’s a feeling I can’t express. I wish I could explain to every young person the internal functions and miraculous workings of the human body. We are all blessed and start out with the greatest gift in the world, our health. Think about enjoying yourself while having the flu, a sore back or sprained knee. When your health is gone, so are you and there are ways to keep that from happening by doing some things and not doing others.

One irony of being human is that we know right from wrong, good from bad and wise from not so wise, yet, so many of our activities revolve around things we could or should so gleefully escape. I would remit great wealth for the opportunity to trade with youth, one pound of haggard wisdom, for a gram of their strength and energy they seem so eager to put aside. How often we act without vision of days to come. We often take our bodies for granted but would never invest our hard-earned money in any venture that would guarantee a negative dividend. Yet, everyday those same people will partake in a habit that has been clinically proven to shorten their life, or in better terms, kill them prematurely.

I, just as so many others, would never listen. Sitting in the restaurant that night reminded me how serious the issue is. I now know, after this unwelcomed wakeup call, smoking is a serious health risk. Do you remember Yul Brenner’s TV commercial years ago after he died of lung cancer as he appeared and said, “if you were watching this commercial it means I am dead,” and then discussed his life of smoking. I stared at the TV screen and then at him as if he was some mysterious being, and kept right on smoking. My kids are junior high and high school age. We have done the best we can to stimulate them towards responsible behavior. It will be fun to watch them grow as adults and make their own investments. I hope many of their investments are more prudent than mine.

I hope you have taken my story in a positive light. I understand what every quitter has had to endure. It took me 34 years to start my life again. Nicotine is a drug of enormous proportions with even more serious ramifications than can be explained to anyone wishing to make it part of their life. This is one part of my life I wish I could erase. If you do smoke and want to quit, I wish you strength and courage, for your decision is a good one. If you have not started and may be considering it, here’s some help that may save your life, DON’T.

Copyright 2005 by Peter Deahl. All rights reserved.

 
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The Pruning School 16 Berkeley Court Sterling, Virginia 20165