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March 24, 2006

Quit smoking, stupid!

Chris Patterson

I understand why people smoke. I really do. I did it myself on and off for most of my adult life. There were months at a time that I didn't smoke, but I quit for good over four years ago and have never looked back.

We humans don't like to be told what to do and what not to do. As soon as the pressure is put on us to not smoke - despite all the incredibly good reasons for that - we balk. "No one is going to tell me how to live my life," we reply militantly.

Take my brother, for example. Here is a man approaching 50 years of age who needed a stent in his heart last November. He lives off cheeseburgers and so much Coca Cola that I'm certain the company will face financial jeopardy when he passes away. He also smokes like a chimney.

After they put the stent in his heart, they told him he really had to stop smoking because the stent actually increased his risk of death if he continued to smoke. He just got mad. He said they shouldn't have put it in if it meant an increased risk to him if he smokes. He said he will never quit.

Now you are probably thinking, "This guy is really hardcore and stupid."

You are soooo right. But he is also incredibly selfish.

His mantra throughout his life (and even more so now) sounds like a Frank Sinatra song. "I'm going to live my life My Way. My wife is taken care of when I'm gone and that's the way it is."

Oh, Pleeeeaaaaasssssee..I'm sure the insurance will keep her warm at night. I'm sure it will sit at night and eat dinner with her, will warm her cold feet when she is in bed and hold her when she is sad. I'm sure it will fulfill her life.

Or not..

I'm no super-human-being but I quit over four years ago when my fourth grandchild was born. I threw my cigarettes out in the trashcan at Frederick Memorial Hospital on the way in to watch her come into this world. I just made up my mind.

Why then? Because I finally realized there were things in this world more important than me. I finally understood that my husband, children and grandchildren needed me more than I needed to smoke.

And that's really the foundation of a decision to live a healthier lifestyle, whether you are giving up smoking, pills, alcohol or food addictions.

Who is most important to me? The answer - I finally realized - was that my husband, my children and grandchildren mattered more to me than anything. I finally got it. I've never suffered because of that decision, either.

Sure it was hard to quit. I wanted that cigarette. Even a year later I sometimes wanted one. And, yes, I gained 40 pounds after I quit. I'm still trying to take it off now.

But I can breathe now, and since I can breathe it makes it a whole lot easier to walk on the treadmill for an hour while I try to take off that weight. And most of all, it makes it a whole lot easier for me to shop with my oldest granddaughter, wrestle with my six- and eight-year-old grandsons and chase my two-year-old grandson around the house.

It makes it easier for me to keep up with my granddaughter born that day four years ago. We eventually learned she is autistic and she needs me even more than the others do. I want to be here for her.

Yes, I finally got it.

Sadly, my brother will never get it. He will go on smoking, throwing his butts out the window while he drives, or dropping them on the ground right next to an ashtray just to show his disdain for the relegation of smokers to the back door of society. He will die with a cigarette in his hand or at least with a pack in his pocket.

And, in that moment when he takes his last breath, I wonder if he will hear Sinatra's song My Way in his head and smile..

I'm betting no.

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