Healthy Lungs

Honestly, the things we take for granted.

Money, for instance. We expect that it’s going to be there when we need it, and we freak out when it’s gone. It’s one of those things in life that isn’t vital for human survival, but in this day and age, to live without it means to have to live a very different lifestyle.

But going deeper, what about the things we don’t even think about?

The senses– smell, touch, sight, taste, hearing.

The emotions– love, sadness, joy, anger.

And the one thing that we absolutely can’t live without: Oxygen.

If we can’t breathe, we can’t live. Period. Life just can’t exist without the ability to breathe. And for most of us, we take that ability very much for granted.

How many times a day do you consciously think about your breathing? Do you actually sit at your desk at work, or while watching TV, and say “Wow, I’m breathing! This is great!” No, of course not. It just happens, and you live your life without any further thoughts about it.

So what do you do when that ability is compromised?

And what can you do to make sure it never is compromised?

Well, for starters, you can quit smoking. That is, of course, if you smoke.

Being a non-smoker, raised by a former smoker who now suffers from lung disease, it just boggles my mind that some people just don’t get it that smoking is HORRIBLE for your lungs.

My mom smoked for most of her young adult life. From high school up until she found out she was pregnant with me, she smoked. But then, most everyone did back then. It was the 60s and smoking was the “cool” thing to do. It was stylish. It was chic. It was sexy.

But something in my mom’s mind told her that it was something she shouldn’t do while pregnant with her first child, so she quit. Then she had my sister, and remained smoke-free for almost 10 years.

When she started smoking again in 1979, my sister and were 7 and 9, respectively. We didn’t really understand anything about what she was doing. We just knew that suddenly Mommy started carrying cigarettes around. And she smoked them in the car, in the house, and just about everywhere else.

She continued to smoke for another 8 years. And in those 8 years, my sister and I pleaded with her to stop. We hated the smell. We hated the choking air quality in the house. And we started to become more cognizant of what smoking could do to a person, as more and more reports came out about lung disease and lung cancer. It scared us, and we pleaded with her to give it up.

So finally, on New Year’s Day 1987, Mom quit smoking. Cold turkey. She dumped the cancer sticks and never touched them again. We were elated.

But the damage was already done, although it would take another 10 years or so for the effects to show.

Aggravated asthma gave way to emphysema, all caused by her years of smoking.

My mom was not alone, though– especially in her own family. My grandma also had emphysema caused by years of smoking, as did my mom’s cousins Jean and Karen. Grandma died in 1985. Jean died in 2001.

And on Tuesday, Karen died.

So when my mom called me at work today with the news, I sat and thought about what makes people want to ruin their lives with smoking. I thought about how easy it is to just not start. Ever.

Oh sure, peer pressure is a bitch, and I’m fully aware of that. But why is it that peer pressure is winning the fight with so many people, and common sense thinking is losing?

I probably have plenty of damage as it is, just by breathing the second-hand smoke from my mom and from the Chicago bars, which have yet to flip the switch on a smoke-free ordinance. (That won’t happen until June of 2008.) And since lung disease obviously runs in my family, I’m just waiting for the day when it starts to rob me of my ability to breathe. And then I will be much more aware of my breathing.

For when you are not able to breathe, everything becomes harder. Walking. Talking. Laughing. Sleeping. Working. Driving. Cooking. Eating. All things that we take for granted when we’re healthy.

As I left work today, one of the attorneys at my firm walked out at about the same time I did. He’s young, probably in his mid-20’s. He’s a handsome guy, and probably will have a great life ahead of him.

As we both walked through the revolving door to exit the building, I noticed him pop a cigarette in his mouth, light it with a Zippo lighter, and take a long puff.

And I stood there, instantly feeling sorry for this guy.

If only he knew. I doubt if he does.


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