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I Used to Smoke

May 1, 2016

I was at my regular afternoon dance a couple of weeks ago, when a fellow walked in that I recognized.  I recalled seeing him at an evening dance a few years ago.  When I spoke to him at that time, he told me that he didn’t need a seat at a table.  He said that he would be on his feet all evening anyway.  Sure enough, he danced every dance.  I was quite impressed with him.  I couldn’t do that.  I would dance for one and then rest for the next one.  I have a bit more stamina now, but I still have to sit one out after dancing two of them.

This time he did need a seat.  He could only make it through half a dance before he was gasping for breath.  He said “my doctor told me I have COPD in my lungs”.  He was angry with himself.  He was bitter.  He said “I quit smoking 20 years ago”.  “Not soon enough”, I thought.  I knew that Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a loss of lung capacity, caused by smoking.  I associate it with oxygen bottles and oxygen masks.  I suppose that’s what you have to use for the rest of your life, in severe cases of COPD.

I used to smoke too.  It was back when everybody did, although it was really only about half the people.  I remember when I started.  It was in the University cafeteria.  I was sitting around one of the long tables drinking coffee with my classmates.  Some of them were smoking.  I got up, went over to one of the cigarette machines, and dropped my 35 cents in.  I came back with a package of cigarettes and a free pack of matches.  As I was opening the package, one of the others said to me “I didn’t know that you smoked”.  “I’ve been smoking for several years”, said I.  Then I lit one up, took one drag, and started coughing.  After that, I smoked regularly.  I didn’t cough anymore, though.  I was just like other people.  That’s what I wanted.

It was only about a year later that I quit.  I remember that too.  I had a summer job helping with scientific research.  I was sitting at a desk, immersed in some scientific papers.  An older fellow, probably only 40 years old, approached me.  He asked me if I was aware that I was lighting up one cigarette after another.  I had no idea I was doing that.  I stopped smoking cigarettes immediately.  I didn’t stop smoking entirely, though.  I switched to little cigars for a few months.  Then I quit completely.

It’s been 50 years since I quit smoking.  I only smoked for a couple of years.  I know that’s unusual.  Quitting was relatively easy for me.  I know that’s unusual too.  I’ve seen how difficult it is for other people to quit.  I don’t understand the difficulty.  However, I don’t offer advice on how to quit to other people.  Maybe I at least serve as a good example for them.  It seems that nobody smokes now, but I understand that about a quarter of the population still does.  I’m assuming that the smoking I did all those years ago has not harmed my lungs.  I’ve been fortunate.  I was distressed to see that other fellow suffering and being angry with himself.


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