What Would Your Current Self (CS) Say to Your Newly Diagnosed (ND) Self?
ND - “Oh boy….”
CS - “What?”
ND - “Wait. Who are you?”
CS - “I am you, 8 years down the road.”
ND - “How is that possible?”
CS - “It’s called fiction. You’re a writer. You should know anything is possible.”
ND - “Like what?”
CS - “Like I can help you...give you advice...help you not to make the same mistakes I did over time but also to encourage you to do more of the helpful things you’ve avoided because they take too much effort.
Reflecting on COPD diagnosis
So, as I was leaving the hospital that day after being rushed to the ER late one night because I was coughing my head off and winding up, breathless, and spending a week in intensive care, I was thinking about that and lighting up a Marlboro as I did.
I wanted to sleep in my own bed, see my family and get back to work before I got fired for slacking off.
And I never thought twice about quitting smoking even though it’s the first thing every doctor I saw over that week in the hospital told me – threatened me – cajoled me to do.
Doctors urged me to quit smoking
“You know you’ve gotta quit smoking, Kev,” one doctor told me. “You’re gonna be dead in a few years if you don’t.”
Yeah, yeah – I thought to myself. It’s not like I have cancer or something like that!
“You seem like an intelligent guy,” another physician said after an exam. “I’m really surprised someone your age (55) would still be smoking.”
That always got a laugh amongst my friends but this doctor never even cracked a smile. He just added,
“That’s a pretty stupid thing to say, Kevin.”
CS – “Mom died from smoking. Do you remember how tough it was for her to travel to Dublin with the rest of the family back in ’91? Do you recall how embarrassed she was to have to drag her concentrator everywhere she went – 24 hours a day?”
ND - “Yes, yes. I remember it all.”
CS - “Then take it to heart and stop smoking.”
Lung Volume Reduction Surgery
It was getting more and more difficult to commute in 2012, 2013. My commute was to Jamaica, Queens and it took 90 minutes and 3 trains each way, every day.
“Let’s talk about LVRS (Lung Volume Reduction Surgery),” the pulmonologist said to me in 2014 when I knew I wasn’t doing well going back and forth to work.
I was still cheating in the smoking department – not a pack a day, anymore – but still too many. And I had resorted to driving which took just as much time and with the GWB toll and Triboro Bridge tolls was becoming very expensive. And I could smoke in the car.
CS – “WTF?”
ND – “I can’t stop smoking. I want to but I can’t.”
CS – “How hard have you been trying? Have you used the nicotine patch?”
ND – “It didn’t work.”
CS – “Try the gum.”
ND – “I’m not a gum chewer.”
CS – “Hypnotism?”
I did it but - it didn’t work.
I had the LVRS in 2014 but I still cheated. But – this time – the examinations of my lungs and heart were extensive.
And the very first thing my surgeon said to me, two weeks after surgery, was,
“You seem like an intelligent kinda guy. But you’re really f***ing stupid you know. You’re still smoking which is going to negate all the good work the surgery can do for you.”
I finally stopped smoking
CS – “So what finally helped you stop?”
ND – “Nicotine lozenges and Tic Tacs.”
CS – “Tic Tacs?”
ND – “My wife would mix Tic Tacs in with the nicotine lozenges because she didn’t want me getting addicted to the lozenges - which was very possible.”
CS – “She’s a bright woman.”
ND – “She is. But she’s also cheap. The Nicotine lozenges were $55.00 a box. The Tic Tacs were $2.”
CS – “Bottom line buddy. QUIT SMOKING NOW.
I know that even though you were diagnosed in 2011 you didn’t completely quit until 2014. That was 3 years that could have gone to helping us get better. But – too late now.”
ND – “Yeah. I know.”
CS – “But can I tell you something?”
ND – “Sure. What?”
CS – “Even now – 5 years later, if my doctor said, ‘Kev. It’s OK to go have a smoke.’ - I would. That’s how addicting nicotine is.”
ND – “I hear ya.”
CS - "But – the bottom line is – it is going to kill you; one way or another. Get smart. STOP NOW.”
How has your experience been navigating the healthcare system as someone with COPD?