The Time I Smoked...with COPD
I have a lifelong claim to lung illness. First, I had whooping cough as a baby that severely damaged my lungs. Then in my 20’s, a short time after working in a bus garage that emitted huge amounts of diesel fumesm I had sarcoidosis, damaging my lungs further. Further damage may have been done by the London smogs in the 1950’s. Then despite the damage I acquired a 25 a day cigarette habit.
How I started smoking
I started smoking in the days before we knew how dangerous smoking was. Everyone around me seemed to smoke – so I'm not going to beat myself up over it. I was diagnosed with COPD in 1987. After which my doctor told me bluntly I had COPD. Gave me an inhaler, and no information. Heck, I did not even know it was progressive. Nor was I told that smoking would make that progression faster – and also cause far more lung-changing bronchitis episodes, and worsening emphysema. We had no education, and did not have the internet in them days to research with.
My smokers cough became worse with time, until everyone, even the neighbors knew when I was at home by the sound of my coughing. Worse still – my breathing became harder, and I was short of breath on even the slightest of inclines. Alarm bells rang. I knew I had to stop smoking. Even though I was the king of quitters. Having tried, and failed so many times to quit the killer weed.
I thought I would never quit
My COPD progressed at an ever-faster rate. After a time, my cough was so hacking I wondered if the stress and pressure of coughing would cause a heart attack, or break a rib. More worrying I started to become dizzy when coughing. Until this became a crisis when twice I woke coughing in my bed. Sat at the side, coughed some more, and passed out. I damaged my head as I fell on the little bedside cabinet before hitting the floor. My wife screamed thinking I had dropped dead. But still I continued to smoke. Damaging my weakened lungs further. A doctor said if I did not stop smoking then and now, and stay off the smokes, I would have respiratory failure before the age of 70 years. But for a while still I smoked.
The crunch was when we went on a short holiday in the west of England. We were at a holiday camp self-catering. That required walking to the dining hall. The entertainment hall was also a very short walk away. The problem was we arrived. I smoked. Had a bad chest – and could walk no further than ten paces before stopping to get breath. Not for a short period, but several minutes each pause. That in my mind is the worse holiday we have ever had due to the pain of walking. I knew then. I had to stop smoking or face a horrible death in the not too distant future. I was suffocating.
I thought of my family
I thought of my family. How I was failing them by continuing to smoke. Knowing that if I did not quit, in perhaps a very short time smoking would kill me. I imagined my wife at my funeral. Along with others of my loved ones, my grandchildren. I imagined their grief – and how my death could have been avoided. I imagined it so hard – I was in that place. I knew I was dying.
At that point I decided to quit not for me – but my family and loved ones. Amazingly with my powerful thoughts I found it incredibly easy to quit smoking. I did not quit for the fear of dying, even knowing what a horrible death that would be. But for the sorrow that I would leave behind for the sake of smoking ‘one more cigarette’.
Every time I thought of having a smoke I would think of my funeral, my loved ones. How I was letting them down. That was now more than ten years ago, and do not crave a smoke anymore. I – the king of quitters – had finally quit. Not only that I will be 70-year-old this year. I am sure the doctor was right, that had I not quit I would have been gone long ago.
Failing lungs that improved
Now after more than a decade I have managed to stay steady and stop the decline in FEV1. Most of all I have far fewer infections. My cough has long gone – and I do not pass out anymore due to low oxygen levels.
I do use oxygen for all mobility now as sadly gas exchange is worse - lungs don’t get better, but the decline is very slow. My regret is I did not pack in smoking earlier. If I had I might not use oxygen therapy now – nor be disabled by COPD. I am telling you my story so that smokers reading this can make an informed choice, not only for yourself, but your family too. Since I quit all smoking members of my family have quit too. Yes, not one in my family smokes. I am incredibly proud of them. Showing how easy when we put our mind to it we can quit.
I am now involved in COPD education and one aim it to show how quitting can not only save your life – but also offer a better quality of life, and a much longer one too. If to quit or not is personal choice. However, if you are a smoker I hope you do decide to throw them packs away. To breathe easier and have a better life for quitting too.
Do you live with any sleep disorders (eg. insomnia, RLS, sleep apnea) in addition to COPD?