The Iron Lung

October 8, 2007 at 12:41 pm (That's not funny...)

Second of a series.

It didn’t take long for the cigarette cravings to evaporate. I made it to the bus stop, and my neighbor was there, smoking a cigarette. I stood behind her, got a full-on hit of second-hand smoke.

It burned! I could feel the spiderweb of irritation spreading through my lungs. I got dizzy. Psychosomatic? Perhaps. But it cured the craving.

The craving is what I’ve learned to watch. With cigarettes, it’s purely self-destructive. Alcohol is like that as well. When life sucks, I drink. With booze, the pain takes a little longer to hit. With tobacco, it stinks, burns and tastes icky right off the bat.

So why do I end up with a pack a day habit, just like (snap) that?

The last time, February 1996, I smoked for about three months. I was drinking hard, doing speed to make it through the work week, and partying even harder on the weekend. I was having fun, but quality of life was pretty much gone. I had the feeling the ‘live fast-die young’ lifestyle was about to some true.

One day, my sister accused me of “living each day as though it’s your twenty-first birthday.” When I asked what was so bad about that, she replied, “You’re thirty-five. Most people sober up the next day…”

I laughed it off, but it got me thinkin’.

Then, near the middle of June, I left for work one day. I huffed and puffed the block and a half to the bus stop. As I stood waiting, the world began swirling, and I collapsed onto the doorstep of a bar. Traveling in a different direction was a bus heading toward Providence Hospital. I made it across the street and headed for the emergency room.

But I stopped for a cigarette before I went in. These things take forever, you know. And they sure as hell won’t let me go outside to smoke if I’m there for shortness of breath!

I stayed for about five hours. They wanted to admit me, but I wanted to go home. (DTs, wanted a cigarette. You know, important stuff.) I went home, called work and told them I was having a medical emergency. I would be checking into the hospital tomorrow.

It was time. I was FAT, swollen. My legs were huge. I hadn’t been urinating more than a cupful per day. What I didn’t sweat out was retained. I was in a state of constant swoon. A few steps would tire me. The atmosphere looked yellowish, strange. It felt like I was on a different planet. If it had been a self-administered drug, it would have been pretty cool.

With the exception of that whole ‘I feel like I’m gonna die’ part.

The hospital kept me for five days. My oxygen levels were horrible, especially at night. The gentleman conducting my sleep-disorder test was amazed I could live through a single night.

They applied diuretics, and I lost 75 pounds in five days. A 1,200 calorie diet took off another 100. I could walk again. More importantly, I could BREATHE!

There were conditions that would have to be met. First off, no more white powders. While cocaine was fun, it always messed with my heart a little too much. I’d liked speed, but the quality was going downhill fast. They’d started making it with this pseudoephedrine stuff, and the buzz just wasn’t the same. (Less accomplishment, more fried wires.) I could lose those habits with little sweat.

Alcohol? THAT was a bitch. (Still is.) I was okay as long as I left it alone completely. It took about two years to wean from that one. An embarrassing final drunk led to much personal turmoil, and I would quit for 4 1/2 years.

Cigarettes? For a while, I would sneak one puff from whatever smoker I may be partying with in a bar, but otherwise left them alone. The last time I smoked was in a motel room on 82nd, a few years back. I bought a bottle of gin, a 12-pack of Steel Reserve and a pack of Winstons. I smoked them all that night, and haven’t smoked a cigarette since.

My lungs are still less than perfect, but much better. I avoid second-hand smoke, gas fumes and dusty environments. The sleep apnea has receded, due to my sleeping companion.

The Iron Lung.

It’s not a real iron lung, but it serves a similar function. It breathes for me when I’m asleep, by forcing air through passageways that would either collapse from weight on the chest, or from other reasons. After a month of adapting to sleeping with a mask on my face, I am hooked, and get the best sleep of my life. I don’t snore anymore, and I can sleep away from the machine without complications.

It’s still the same machine I was loaned, then given, in 1996. When I called Providence for more parts, (filters, nose attachments, etc…) the lady asked, “When did you get this machine?”

“1996.”

“Oh my! They aren’t built to last that long! I’m calling a respiratory therapist, and we’ll see if we can’t get you a more current machine.”

Awesome! My friend The Iron Lung has served me well, a true life preserver. To fall victim to tobacco’s wiles would be a slap in the face to the powers of the universe, who have given me a final reprieve from its clutches. On the rare occasion a cigarette smells good, I start asking myself *why* it smells so good.

Then picture the X-ray. The one where the lab tech told me my lungs looked like half-full bags of dirty water.

Nah, I don’t miss cigarettes very much…

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2 Comments

  1. bruce said,

  2. beastard said,

    Bruce,

    I was unaware iron lungs were still in use. In the days of CB radios, Iron Lung was the handle of my dearly departed brother-in-law. He smoked three packs of Pall Mall non-filters a day, and was fairly healthy until he dropped dead of a heart attack at age 62.

    Thanks for pointing us to your blog. My regards to Billy.

    Cosmic Charlie

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