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Too Close to Home

Let’s call her Doris (though that was not her real name). She was as lovely as could be last winter. She had been up on the fifth floor for weeks, but just couldn’t wean herself off less than 8 liters oxygen to go home. She made no excuses; her lifetime of smoking had left her lungs both restricted and obstructed. On rounds, we started to discuss the likelihood of her going to a facility, rather than seeing her new grandbaby, a choice she understandably can’t fathom.

Her situation hit me hard. I’m all too familiar with cigarette smoking. It runs up both sides of my family tree. Lung metastases took my grandfather when I was in high school. They left one of the sweetest women on this Earth, my 82-year-old grandmother, bound to a nebulizer to start and end her days, with innumerable inhalers in between. They were a different generation, bamboozled by the tobacco industry, and the damage was done long ago.

But my dad’s almost 40-year pack history continues to this day and scares me to death. He’s the greatest man I’ve ever known, my biggest supporter, and smoking is his only vice. He’s had a stressful job and has tried to quit multiple times, so I can’t be angry. But I’m afraid now that I know too much. I’m the only person in my family in medicine, and I know entirely too well the havoc cigarettes wreak.

With the risks ever heavy in my mind, I oscillate between optimism and pessimism as I wait to see what time and biology will dictate. I harass my dad and my grandmother to get regular screening imaging and aerobic exercise, but in the end I’m powerless. I cross my fingers that they won’t be another statistic, as I turn my efforts to youth prevention. And I loathe the sound of a lighter.

Hunter Jackson
Greenville, South Carolina


2 thoughts on “Too Close to Home”

  1. I can certainly empathize. I’m so grateful that my father finally quit smoking in his fifties and my husband, the year we married. I had told him I was fed up with second hand smoke and if he continued to smoke he would have to go outside. He had already started to cough up stuff in his late twenties so bit the bullet and quit. However, I lost my dear friend who had worked as my head nurse in a mental health unit to cigarettes. Even after breast cancer and support groups she couldn’t stop lighting one cigarette from the last one. She developed esophageal cancer a few years later and this time the cancer took her. Embarrassed, she moved away without telling any of her friends, or even her parents, about her diagnosis. The man she had become involved with, I heard later from her son, had abandoned her. She died alone. I detest cigarettes.

  2. I understand. My husband started smoking at 15, tried to quit dozens of times, and finally succumbed to small cell lung cancer at 77. The double addictive qualities of physical and psychological dependence readily dim the prospect for even the most motivated person to be able to give it up. As a wife and nurse, I’ve lived how hard it is to stand by and feel helpless.

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