*~*All Organic - All The Time*~*

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Great American Smokeout Challenge

It's the Great American Smokeout.

I don't know what works to get people to stop doing things that are bad for them. I do plenty (although smoking's never been my thing) and I sure don't know how to quit. The American Cancer Society has lots of good ideas.

If you're out there, and you're one of the 21% of people still smoking, you know. It's not like it's the 1950's anymore, when everyone was doing it and no one knew how bad it was for you. So you know. And knowing doesn't really change anything, does it? I know. Addiction is addiction. It's not about the substance, and the knowledge it's going to harm you doesn't outweigh the benefits of stopping.

Until you're ready.

So all I can say is... be open to being ready. Ask the universe for the willingness to be ready to make the change.

And I'll share this with you. My father quit smoking after a quadruple bypass and a corotid artery surgery (90% blocked). He smoked 4 packs of unfiltered Pall Malls a day since he was thirteen. He quit when he was fifty-five.

He started going to the YMCA every day, and they asked him to write something for their local newsletter about his experience. Because he's dyslexic, he doesn't have any more than a 5th grade education, and he can't write very well. He asked me to do it for him. So I did.

This is what I wrote. Maybe it will inspire you or someone you know. I know it isn't easy. Nothing worthwhile ever is.

* * * * *

A Life Worth Living

Throughout the years, my family and my doctors tried to convince me that I was a walking time bomb. Of course, at some level, I knew this, but I tend to be stubborn, and not only that, I believe that part of me just didn’t care.

When I look back at the warning signs, I’m horrified: I started smoking when I was 12 years old, and by the time I was 52, I was smoking three to four packs of Pall Malls a day; I was diagnosed with high blood pressure when I was in my twenties; my cholesterol is abnormally high, and has been tested in the 800’s; I was diagnosed with adult onset diabetes in my early fifties; I developed arteriosclerosis in my legs in my late forties, making it impossible for me to walk more than very short distances; and on top of all of that, I have been 30 to 130 pounds overweight since my late twenties, have never paid much attention to a “healthy diet,” and while I was active in my twenties and thirties, playing softball, and working in construction and other manual labor jobs, my later idea of exercise consisted of walking from the television to the refrigerator.

I understood, intellectually, that all of these things might kill me. I did, at times, attempt to make amends with my body, by cutting sugar out of my diet, for instance, when I was diagnosed with adult onset diabetes. You can understand how all of my other health problems seemed insurmountable, however, and I became discouraged fairly quickly. It was only when the doctors discovered that not only was there a 90% blockage in the artery to my brain, I had 90% blockage in all four of the arteries traveling to my heart, that I really understood the gravity of my health problems. How was I still walking around breathing, I wondered?

I underwent two surgeries… one to clear the blockage in the artery to my brain as well as a quadruple bypass. The pain and incredible toll these two operations took on me physically was frightening and overwhelming. As I started slowly down the road to recovery, I became determined that I wasn’t going to have to go through something like this again… and I realized that I wasn’t ready to die. I quit smoking; I started watching my diet (although I’m still not as careful as I should be), and most importantly, I started exercising. I really believe that this act alone is the one that will continue to save my life. I joined the YMCA in order to have a place to go to exercise on a regular basis.

My doctors and my dietician told me over and over again how important it was to get regular exercise. I was very physically active when I was younger, but I hadn’t done anything close to “exercise” in fifteen years or more. I’m not a person that likes change, or who likes to try new things… and walking into the YMCA was a frightening venture at first! If I had joined an overpriced health club, or had tried it on my own, I don’t know that I would have made it.

As it was, the YMCA was difficult for me, and I might never have gone back, but the staff was supportive, friendly, and not only that, they were encouraging. At first, I could barely swim two laps, or run the equivalent of a block. They told me this was normal, to keep on going.

“Take baby steps,” one of the staff members told me.

I did… and little by little, I could actually feel the life coming back into my body. I had more energy. I wasn’t breathing hard after climbing one flight of stairs. I started feeling alive again. With all of the health problems that I had, and that continue to plague me, I don’t know how it is that I didn’t drop dead of a heart attack or a stroke.

I’m amazed every day, and I’m grateful for my “second chance,” so to speak. I know that my regular exercise routine has been an enormous part of giving me that opportunity, and having access to the YMCA and having the support and encouragement of their staff have made it easier for me to keep traveling that road toward recovery.

Soon after my surgery, my grandchildren had a birthday, and my wife and I bought them new bikes. My daughter had them call to thank me, and my grandson, a precious and rambunctious five, said to me, “Thanks, Grandpa, this is the best birthday ever! Will you come watch me ride it?”

I had tears in my eyes when he handed the phone back to my daughter, and she asked me, “See, wasn’t that worth sticking around for?”

All I can say is: absolutely!

Now, after regular exercise at the YMCA, not only can I watch him ride it, I can ride along beside him. I remember, now, why life is worth living. I’m going to keep on living it for as long as I can.

1 comment:

GreenStyleMom said...

What a great story from your dad! I think it must be even harder to quit the longer you have been smoking. I am very proud of my brother who stopped smoking after his daughter was born.

I worked for a very short time as an occupational health nurse in a steel mill. We offered anyone who stopped smoking during the Smoke Out a free "cold turkey" sandwich for lunch.