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The Holidays and COPD

My family and I had a wonderful Thanksgiving. Hope you and yours did too.

On my side of our family (which is Irish) I am one of 21 first cousins. We always had Thanksgiving dinner at my Aunt Maura’s house.

So, in those days, (the 60’s and 70’s) my aunt cooked for the 21 cousins, the 3 sets of parents and the 2 grandparents – 29 folks in all.

Jump ahead to 2018, add 26 grandchildren and great-grandchildren and you’ve got 55 of us.

Some are gathered around the dining room table to which has been added the 2 card tables, the picnic table from the patio, etc. etc.

And that’s just for the adults.

There’s a whole other room for the “kids’ table” – a kind of purgatory that only time and aging could free you from and send you, gloriously, to the “grownups” table!

I really love Thanksgiving – maybe even more than Christmas – because all I have to do is show up, eat and possibly wash some dirty pots and pans.

The Christmas shopping, and wrapping presents and all that drives me crazy. Eat, clean up, and shoot the breeze with my loved ones – I’ll take that any day of the year.

But it also makes me miss those who are gone that much more. Traditionally, the various families spent Christmas with the spouse’s parents, etc. And so, it was Thanksgiving when I got to see all those relatives I missed so much for the rest of the year.

And so many of them were smokers. While we’re having after-dinner adult beverages, someone will say “Jim Davitt.” And the correct answer would be “Chesterfields.” Jim Boyan – “Pall Mall.” And so on for all of the “3 sets of parents and the 2 grandparents.”

I never thought to avoid cigarettes

Cigarettes were such an ingrained part of growing up that I didn’t even think of avoiding them. Even when 2 of my uncles developed cancer and my Mom suffered greatly from emphysema, I continued to smoke.

Dumb, really.

No excuses.

And so, being with the family on Thanksgiving (and Christmas to a degree) is wonderful for a number of reasons.

But for someone like me with COPD, who uses an oxygen concentrator, and a visible cannula, it is the “acceptance” – the lack of looks from strangers and comments made from behind palmed hands, that makes it comfortable.

Almost everyone gathered has been affected in one way or another by smoking and it’s awful consequences. Cousins have passed away from heart attacks and other cardiovascular diseases brought on by years of smoking.

But, some of this is new to the younger ones.

Questions and worried brows

I get questions from the little ones about my oxygen concentrator (“Why do you have that tube in your nose?” “Because I smoked cigarettes!”)

Cousin Sean, who is my age, 64, gets questions about “that thing you hold to your throat” (artificial larynx) that allows a post-surgery cancerous larynx to produce sounds that can be processed into a kind of speech.

And so, while the explanations don’t mean much to the 7 and 8 year old’s who are asking, you can see the worried brows of their older teenage cousins, who are aware of the damage smoking has already done, but for one reason or another, are sneaking cigarettes at 17, 18 and 19.

Some facts about teenagers and smoking:1

  • There are currently more than 3 million young people under the age of 18 who are current smokers.
  • The addiction rate for smoking is higher than the addiction rates for marijuana, alcohol or cocaine.
  • Symptoms of nicotine addiction often occur only weeks or even just days after youth “experimentation” with smoking first begins.
  • 20 percent of high school students (grades 9-12) are current smokers.
  • 6.5 percent of eighth graders are current smokers.
  • 90 percent of smokers begin at or before age 18.

Trying to spare others from the consequences

So now I have to add one more responsibility to my Thanksgiving chores. Now I show up, eat, possibly wash some dirty pots and pans, and make every effort to spare my cousins from the horrible consequences of smoking.

If I can convince one or two of them to stop smoking, I will be a very happy man.

And that would be the greatest Christmas present someone with COPD could ever get.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

  1. Teens & Smoking. National Jewish Health. Accessed December 18, 2018.


  • Leon Lebowitz, BA, RRT moderator
    8 months ago

    Hi Kevin and thanks for posting this. We all appreciate you sharing these (very personal) experiences with the community. I’m hopeful you will be successful in your goal to illuminate the myriad reasons NOT to smoke for your family. As you said, even just one or two – and that’s a success story. Good luck!
    Leon (site moderator)

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