Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Smoke Gets In Your Heart

Invariably, when I used to smoke, somebody would come up to me while I was having a cigarette and say something like, “You know those things are going to kill you.” I was never sure what they were trying to accomplish with that statement. Did they think that perhaps I had been unconscious for the last thirty years and wasn’t aware of the dangers of cigarettes? Or were they just smug, self-righteous people who felt the need to verbalize their superiority over others. Well…as I found out recently they are neither. They actually cared about me. How do I know this? I know this because I have donzens of times almost walked up to a perfect stranger who I see smoking and say to them “You know those things are going to kill you.” I haven’t done it yet because the memory of my own reaction is still fresh but I can’t promise I never will.

When I see someone smoking now it hurts me. I know how (relatively) easy it was to quit (relative to quitting drinking water, I guess) and how absolutely wonderful I feel not smoking. I care about them. I want them to have what I have. I want to shake them and say inappropriate, smug, self-righteous things to them. When did I become THAT person?

Brennis had his heart attack at work one Saturday morning. For the preceding ten days he had had some intermittent pains in his back which were concerning me a bit, mostly because his reaction to them was different from anything he had had before. He had been working out in the yard for the few weeks prior, however, and we assumed it was just routine back pain and it would go away. We were very wrong. That Saturday morning we had arrived at the gallery an hour early as usual and instead of sitting at his desk working on his computer he was running around like a child with A.D.D. flitting from one project to the next, organizing the “screw and nail box” (which we actually now call the “heart attack box”) sweeping, cleaning off tables…..anything but painting the ceiling. I asked him what was the matter (we had been having a small argument before work and I thought he was still angry at me….because, of course, everything in the universe revolves around me). He said he was having those pains again. I was worried but I waited for him to tell me what he needed. He continued to focus on the “heart attack box”.

About ten minutes later, he came back to my office. “I think I need to go to the emergency room”, he said. Without hesitation we gathered our things, told some people we were leaving and left the gallery and started walking toward the car. “It’s getting better,” Brennis said. We stood at the car leaning against it. He didn’t know what to do. “It’s better,” he said and he walked back to the gallery. I followed.

When we got back into the gallery I looked at Brennis and asked “Why aren’t we going to the emergency room?”

“Because it’s expensive”, he replied.

“Well then, we’re going,” I said and we walked back outside toward the car. (We had no insurance so the expensive part was a very real consideration but not worth thinking about in our current circumstance). On the way to the car Brennis lit a cigarette. I was tempted to yell at him and tell him to put it out but I figured you probably don’t chastise people having heart attacks so I got into the car, started it and lit a cigarette.

Halfway to the hospital (ten minutes away) Brennis lit another…..and his last……cigarette.

I quit smoking the day before Brennis came home from the hospital.

I have learned a lot about health and heart disease and cancer and diet since that day that Brennis quit smoking (a more positive spin on naming that day than “the day Brennis had his heart attack”). I have also experienced very real and powerful benefits to living a more healthful life. I resist, however, being that person who wants to force my experience on other people. I always remember the people who felt that they had to remind me that smoking was bad for me. That’s not who I want to be, though I totally understand now why that person acts the way that they do.

I also don’t have any answers. I know what is working for me to make ME feel better. I have no idea what would work for someone else’s life. So instead, I will let you in on some things that I have done to make myself feel better. I have no intentions of living to be 100. I just want to feel good and respect another of the gifts that I have been given….my body and (so far) my health. I will occasionally share some recipes and ideas that I have found helpful in my journey. I won’t tell you that what I am doing is the best thing for everyone. Just that it works for me at this moment.

What happened to Brennis and me was placed in our laps, not yours….but if you have followed me this far you must have found something in it that is speaking to you.

Then again, maybe nobody is reading this and I’m alright with that too. I know that not writing it would be bad for my health.

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