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Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is a bitch!

Fifteen years ago I walked/ran the 7.2 mile Falmouth Road Race. Today, walking the thirty feet from the family room to the bathroom leaves me breathless. Don’t get me wrong; I still go to the gym and I can ride the recumbent bicycle for 45 minutes at a resistance of seven; take a pause, and ride a 10-minute warm down with no great appreciative effort. However, getting off the bike, putting on my hat and coat, and walking to the front of the gym leaves me so exhausted that I have to sit for five or ten minutes before going to the car. Ain’t life funny?

Ah, the sins of our youth. We think nothing while we commit them, but they do come back to haunt us. For example, are you aware that only three out of ten people who smoke will suffer a tobacco-related disease? My pulmonary specialist told me that shortly after my wife had died of cancer. He told me about the study that had reached this conclusion. I didn’t believe him then; can’t say as I believe him now, but he seemed convinced. Of course, he’s never used tobacco…whatever that has to do with the price of tea in China.

Like so many other diseases that are terminal, COPD works slowly. It robs you, at a snailish pace, of that very necessary habit we all have called breathing. One day you feel a shortness of breath. It’s no big deal; doesn’t seem all that impairing. You happen to mention it the next time you see the doc. He listens to your lungs, asks how long it’s been since your last chest x-ray and sends you along to get one. The results come back and the next time you see him/her, you’re informed that you have this COPD thing. “What is it,” you ask. Simply put, it’s a disease of the lungs. You’re well aware that when you inhale, your lungs expand; hell, you can watch your lungs expand, and in men, make them look to have more of a chest than is really true. With COPD, the lungs don’t expand your chest as much because you aren’t taking in as much air. Your lungs and everything within them, lose the elasticity that helps to expand your lungs (and your chest0.

COPD is the third leading cause of death of death in the United States; yep, right behind heart disease and cancer. Rather makes it something you might like to ignore, eh? Right now, yours truly happens to be batting two for three, and they’re still examining a spot on my lung which could bring my batting average up to 1.000.

Okay, why am I telling you all this? Well, it’s quite simple; if you’re a smoker, invite someone to give you a good smack upside the head. Quitting isn’t easy; you have to want to quit. No one can scare you into stopping. You could look at blackened, shriveled lungs until hell freezes over, but that was someone else, and besides, ya gotta die somehow, right?  If you’ve ever watched someone die of lung cancer; I mean spent 24/7 with them while they wasted away, that might, er, just might convince you that you would prefer another form of death and to throw the ciggies away. It depends on you.

I’ve already told you that COPD is a progressive disease. It’s also devilish and sneaky. What you could do yesterday, you find much more difficult today; by the end of the week, you have to admit that it’s something you no longer feel very comfortable doing. Today, I watched Juli go out the back door – which she had just taken an hour getting open – and break icicles that were handing from the roof. She was wearing layers of clothing, her dorky hat, boots with steel cleats attached…while I sat on the couch and watched through the floor to ceiling windows. How do you think I felt watching her? First, I was afraid for her safety. You can get hurt by icicles that big should they decide to fall the wrong way.. Second, I was embarrassed… because that’s my job. I’m not being macho; it’s just something I’ve always done, but I can’t do it anymore thanks to COPD, and it hurt to watch someone else doing my job.

There is one thing that does help COPD beyond the medicines that help in a small way. At least it works for me, and that’s exercise. However, with all the snow we’ve had the past couple of weeks, I’ve had trouble getting to the gym.  Oh, well, time marches on, and so shall I. As for you, take an old man’s advice…there really is a great deal to live for; don’t do anything so goddamn stupid as smoking to kill yourself quicker. Someone recently compared life to a roll of toilet paper…the closer you are to the end of the roll, the faster it goes.

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All I’m saying is that it has to happen in someone’s lifetime.

It is imperative that we make it public; that we repeat it over and over and over again until we have them so bloody terrified that not even the thought of such a thing will ever enter their minds.

What am I pontificating about? The public execution of a child in such a horrible manner that it will thoroughly sicken all who are forced to witness it…on every television station and for as long as it takes to get through peoples’ thick skulls that taking the life of another will not be tolerated.

Wait a minute. That sounds as hypocritical as to be laughable…kill someone to show that killing is bad? Statistically, ‘we,’ whoever the hell ‘we’ is, have proven that capital punishment is not a deterrent to the taking of lives by others. Okay, fine; now, if that is the case, how do we stop children like Morgan Geyser and Anissa Weier from attempting to kill a best friend? How do we study their brains? How do we study the brains of their parents? What are we attempting to learn if we do study them? Is there an extra chromosome somewhere? Are they lacking in cognitive reasoning? How the hell do we solve this problem of children killing other children and for not ‘apparent’ reason?

Unfortunately, too many of those who perform school, theater, public place, or drive-by killings wind up killing themselves or are killed by the police. We have James Holmes, the orange-haired Colorado killer. How are we studying him? He killed enough to warrant taking his brain apart. If not him, who; if not now, when? At one point, shortly after Littleton as I recall, the FBI began interviewing serial killers about their motives for killing. I beg your pardon, but in many cases, I’m not certain killers even know why they kill. Is it sexual gratification? Is it some other form of satisfaction? Perhaps the only way we will discover the real motive is to study DNA as well as by examining certain areas of the brain.

There appear to be any number of reasons why these killings take place. Yes, we can blame many of them on bullying or a romantic breakup, or perhaps burnt toast at breakfast, or even a buildup that includes all of those things, but many people go through them and do not pick up a gun a start shooting at others so what is our answer. Will we just boo-hoo and wring our hands when it happens again…because we all are well aware that it will happen again.

“Gun control; there’s the answer,” scream those who think the Second Amendment to the Constitution is being misinterpreted by gun owners. “We have Second Amendment rights,” scream the gun owners who have their own interpretation of what that Amendment actually means. “The only way to stop a bad person with a gun is by having a good person with a gun nearby,” cry others and even more shout that if the guns are taken away from those who should be able to have them, then only those who shouldn’t have them will own guns.” It’s a merry-go-round that never stops and never will until someone far more brilliant than I [that shouldn’t prove too difficult] arrives at a solution.

Terror is not the answer; public execution at its very worst is not the answer; repealing the Second Amendment is not the answer…we’ve already had one Civil War and attempting such a repeal might just cause another. No, the answer lies somewhere in between. The answer will be a compromise of some kind, and it will be successful…at least for a few months, years, or even perhaps a decade, and then the entire thing will go to hell and we’ll be back at square one.

Perhaps the best analogy I can draw is that of alcohol control. We learned that we cannot prohibit people from drinking. We tried; hell, we even passed the 18th Amendment to the Constitution which banned the sale and manufacture of alcohol. It went into effect in 1920.“While it was the 18th Amendment that established Prohibition, it was the Volstead Act (passed on October 28, 1919) that clarified the law. The Volstead Act stated that “beer, wine, or other intoxicating malt or vinous liquors” meant any beverage that was more than 0.5% alcohol by volume. The Act also stated that owning any item designed to manufacture alcohol was illegal and it set specific fines and jail sentences for violating Prohibition,” according to writer, Jennifer Rosenberg. As the popular question asks, “How’d that work out for ya?” and we all know the answer to that one.

Guns, alcohol, tobacco, drugs are all an integral part of society worldwide. We have learned that prohibition doesn’t work; we have learned that advertising, in the case of tobacco, doesn’t work. We have learned with drugs that enforcement is, at best, a losing battle. So what do we do? Do we give up; throw our hands in the air; buy more guns, and put bars on our windows? No, no, we can’t do that. Should we do as Colorado has done and legalize marijuana? Right now, it seems to be working for them… except they can’t put their profits in federal banks so they have to hired armed guards. That’s sort of taking a step back into the 19th Century, don’t you think?

I have written on many occasions that we have so many problems in this country we don’t even know where to begin to solve them. Open discussion appears to be no longer a solution because open discussion seems to devolve into shouting matches and the blame game. Doing what we’re doing isn’t working because of the number of tragedies that we see annually. People use the term, “slippery slope,” to talk about doing this or stopping that. We all know that our prisons are overcrowded. We all know that, unlike some other countries, we wouldn’t tolerate taking prisoners into a cellar and putting a bullet in the back of their head. We all know that a culture that tolerates the abuse of drugs and yes, even alcohol, is a culture that is headed for trouble. We all know that guns are not going to disappear overnight. What we don’t all know is the importance of having decent, honest, hard working people at every single level of our government…from the town selectmen, to the mayors; from the state senators to the governor and every single one of his or her staffs. We need people in Congress who cannot, under any circumstances, be lobbied into voting the way they are asked to by lobbyists or other influencers. How do we ensure this happens? The only way I know of is to emphasize the importance of voting. If we allow ourselves to become even more apathetic than we already are – just over 58 percent voted in the last Presidential election – that slippery slope may see us speaking some language other than American {we haven’t spoken English for years} within the next Century.

I don’t plan to be around in the next Century so…Good Luck, America!

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As if I didn’t have enough problems in my life, now the computer…or at least the AOL portion thereof, is telling me I may have a number of “senior health challenges.” I don’t know who the hell they thought to whom they were appealing in this ‘informative’ [note tongue firmly in cheek on that one] piece, but it most assuredly wasn’t those of us in the elder bracket. Hell, we already know the challenges. It wasn’t for those who are about to become elderly; they don’t want to hear about the problems they may be facing. And it sure as shootin’ wasn’t the younger audience who are totally unaware of the fact that they are not immortal, invincible, or inviolable and don’t want to hear otherwise. Fortunately, they did this before St. Patrick’s Day, so I could go out and enjoy my corned beef, cabbage, boiled potatoes with plenty of butter and those darlin’ little carrots!

They tell me that if I can make it to 65, I’m probably going to live another 19.2 years on average – who the hell came up with the .2 is beyond me, but you know these statisticians…they do remarkable things with figures these days [almost as good as the plastic surgeons]. I’m told that if I eat a healthy diet…there is so much controversy about what constitutes a healthy diet that I’m not certain anyone knows precisely what ‘healthy’ actually means anymore. On the one hand, someone says, “Don’t eat meat;” the next day a new study comes out that states, “Meat is a good source of vitamin B.” Then you hear, “Don’t drink alcohol;” the next week it’s, “Be sure to have one glass of red wine a day.” Next time you look, someone is telling you to eat more fish; then another research project tells you that fish is bad for you because of all of the mercury and something called a PCB, whatever the hell that is. I often wonder who exactly pays for these studies. Is it the united meat growers; the red wine distillers, the fishing lobby, or some idiot who cut open a striped bass and found a thermometer? I’m only partially kidding on this one, but what the heck is a healthy diet. Sometimes I feel like Popeye, the sailor man, “I yam what I yam, and that’s all what I yam…so I eats what I eats and that’s all I eats.” Obviously the last part is an add on, but it fits, so go with it!

I was delighted to learn that the number one condition affecting people 65 and older is arthritis. According to Dr. Marie Bernard, the deputy director of the National Institute on Aging, arthritis affects over 51 percent of the adults over 65. I would advise them to start looking at people over 35 if they really want to see arthritis in action, or just ask anyone who has ever played high school or college contact sports. Most will tell you what time the rain will arrive because of their arthritic joints. Arthritis is the least of my problems.

Number two on the least is certainly nothing new. It’s been the number one killer of adults over 65 years for as far back as I can remember. When I was a smoker, it was the disease the doctors said would probably kill me. I’m speaking, of course, about heart disease and it calls somewhere close to 600 thousand people each year in the United States. I’ve survived three heart attacks and have five stents in my heart. I’ve been lucky. It doesn’t mean that a heart attack won’t kill me, but it does mean that I exercise a great deal, get a good night’s rest, and try, despite the Popeye quote, to eat healthy meals.

Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the USA. You and I know of at least one cancer death either in our family, in the family of a close friend, someone at our workplace, or wherever, but it has touched everyone in America somewhere along the line. It killed my Dad, my grandparents, and finally, it killed my wife. It is a horrible, horrible disease. I volunteered for an organization that, in 35 years, has raised over 410 million dollars to fight this disease. This is only one organization; there are hundreds across the country, and we have not been able to find a cure. That doesn’t mean that some cancers haven’t been beaten; they have. The problem with cancer is that it seems to mutate, take on a new form and defeat the cures we keep finding. We can probably all say that we’ve known too many people with cancer. If we can add that we also know someone who has been cancer-free for over a decade, we should thank our lucky stars.

Older folks are highly susceptible to respiratory diseases. Smokers and ex-smokers face the real possibility of emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease…whoopee, I have both. These make me and people like me (a) former idiots if we’ve quit smoking; (b) idiots if we haven’t; and (c) more vulnerable to pneumonia, which is a major killer of senior citizens.

I intended to make this piece as light-hearted as possible, but it appears I’ve drifted into a more serious vein for which you have my apologies. However, over 5,000 adults over 65 die each day in our country, so there’s nothing really light-hearted about any piece dealing with us old farts. Whether it’s from Alzheimer’s, osteoporosis, diabetes, the flu, falls, substance abuse, obesity, depression, oral health, or even poverty, we do face many challenges. What really irritates the daylights out of me is the lack of concern on the part of so many of our children. I hear about it from others when working out at the gym; I experience it on a regular basis with my own kids. The idea of the consanguinal family where family members care for one another seems to have become old fashioned and outmoded. I bear some of the guilt for that with my own family, but not in the manner in which I hear about it and experience it on a daily basis.

If there’s one single point to be made here, perhaps it’s to remember that everyone you love is serving a life sentence. As that sentence comes closer and closer to its eventual outcome, take the time to learn about the person. Take the time to care. Take the time to understand the challenges they face and that, one day, you too, will have to face. As I have aged, I have developed an insatiable desire to know more about my mother and father. Years ago, I loaned a small tape recorder to a young woman who was, as a high school project, doing an oral history with her 100-year old grandmother. When she returned the recorder she had only one request: “May I keep the tapes?” she asked. I don’t know whether or not she bought a recorder on which to play them, but she knew that she had captured her grandmother’s voice on tape and that meant a great deal to her. I still find handwritten notes that Joan left…recipes, notes in the checkbook; old pieces of paper with questions about the house. Her voice I can still conjure up in my head, sometimes, but I do wish that I had a recording of her voice. Think about that the next time you’re going to visit an elderly relative. Will you remember their voice when they’re gone?

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It is not my place to tell anyone how to live their lives. We’ve often heard it said of a decedent, “Well, he made some bad choices in his life,” or words to that effect. It’s true; we all make good and bad choices throughout our lives. One of the worst choices that my late wife, Joan, and I made was to smoke cigarettes. Now she’s dead of lung cancer and I have emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). I know; I know; I tell you how much I love the gym and that exercise really makes me feel great, and all of that is true…when I have the energy to get to the gym…which, thankfully, is still a number of times per week. This just happened to be one of those mornings when I didn’t have the energy or the breathing capability to go. As a consequence, I decided to sit at the computer and ponder just how badly I had messed up my life by smoking cigarettes for 51 years.

September 17, 2014 will mark my 16th anniversary without a cigarette…if I make it. The doctors tell me, “Oh sure, you’re going to live well past 80. You quit and now your lungs are nice and clear.” I don’t say it to them, but I’d very much enjoy telling them that they’re full of crap. They don’t honestly know the lasting effects of smoking. Did you know that, “Cigarette smoke contains over 4,800 chemicals, 69 of which are known to cause cancer. Smoking is directly responsible for approximately 90 percent of lung cancer deaths and approximately 80-90 percent of COPD (emphysema and chronic bronchitis) deaths.” That’s in a report from the Centers for Disease Control, and that’s some pretty serious stuff.

I didn’t stop smoking because of the effect it would have on my lungs. I quit because a neurosurgeon, Dr. Howard Blume, told me the night before he operated on my cervical spine, that if I didn’t quit, my spine wouldn’t heal, and that it would be only a matter of time before my neck snapped. That is one scary bloomin’ thought, I’ll tell ya. There you are, driving along some highway, doing about 75 and your passenger asks you a question you don’t quite hear; you turn your head to ask them to repeat and CRACK, slump, and next thing you know they’re scrapping the two of you off the highway with a super vac…what a picture, eh? The biggest problem with that is that you not only killed your passenger, but if it’s a busy highway, your selfish smoking might have killed others.

In the 1950s, smoking was cool. I don’t think we called it that; it just seemed to be an accepted practice. This, however, is the 21st Century. We’ve cured smallpox, measles, mumps, and even polio. We know a heck of a lot more now that we knew back then. As far back as 1966, health warnings were being put on cigarette packs. By then, I’d become an addict. There really isn’t another way to put it; smokers are drug addicts and their choice of drug is nicotine; my choice of drug was nicotine. I was in agreement with Mark Twain…”Giving up smoking is the easiest thing in the world. I know because I’ve done it thousands of times.” And I had; by the time the surgeon general’s report came out, I had given up ‘my smokes’ many times. I remember sitting on the stairs at our house, shaking like a leaf. It had been four days since I’d had a cigarette and I was going through withdrawal. I didn’t make it through the fifth day.

Each year, about 443,000 people die of illnesses that have a relationship to smoking. That’s more people killed by smoking than alcohol, car accidents, suicide, AIDS, murder, and illegal street drugs…combined. A fairly recent study concluded that, nationwide, 18 percent of high school students are smoking and that 4 percent of middle school kids were also smoking cigarettes. I do and I don’t feel badly for them. If they smoke because they are addicts, there’s help out there; if they smoke because they think, as I did, that it’s cool, hip, young, and trendy, they’re idiots and should be treated as such.

This whole idea of “It won’t happen to me” is a bunch of crap. I want to ask high school smokers, “What the hell makes you think you’re so bloody special? How do you know that you’ll be the exception to the rule? How many people with lung cancer caused by smoking have you cared for in your lifetime?” I’ve been a care giver to a lung cancer patient. You’re on duty 24/7/365, and you’re exhausted. When you’re lying next to someone on oxygen and you hear the labored breathing and the soft moaning of the pain through which they’re going, you don’t think smoking is all that great. When you have to clean bed sores that are larger than a silver dollar and that have abraded a lesion that is so deep that bleeding and oozing are constant, you really don’t believe that smoking is cool. When you have to empty their urine bag or change their catheter, and you know that all of this was caused by that little white stick, you curse the day that you ever saw cigarettes for sale. If you sleep much at all, you know you have to get up every few hours to give your patient – the person you love and spent over 50 years of your life with – the morphine that will ease but not eliminate the pain. Then…one Sunday night in June, you go to the kitchen and get the morphine out of the refrigerator. You walk back to the bedroom, cross the threshold, and you know. You can feel it in the room; a soul has left. She doesn’t look much different from when you left the room less than a minute ago, but you know. You know the cigarettes have completed their job. You check for a pulse, but you know you won’t find one. You kiss her because her body is still warm. It won’t be in a few hours. Even before the funeral people come to take her away and you ask for a final moment, the last kiss is on a cold body.

If you’re a young smoker, don’t kid yourself because it can and it will happen to you. If you’ve been smoking for years and it hasn’t caught up with you yet, don’t worry, it will. Just ask me; I’m still doing some things I know that I wouldn’t be doing had I not quit. There are also a ton of things that I could be doing had I never started. Notice, if you will, that I have not once openly asked you to quit. The choice is yours; I made mine but it was too late. Joan never made the choice and I’ve told you what happened.

Now what?

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Contrary to what some people have called me, I assure you that my mother and father were married long before I came along. Therefore, I feel fully justified in telling those who attempt to insult me that I am neither the single word nor the variations on the other four words. It’s merely that I have developed relatively strange and – for some people – rather unpleasant beliefs over the years and I’m rather outspoken about them.

Perhaps the strangest of my beliefs is my open disgust with anyone who smokes. Why is this strange; because it’s coming from a former four-pack-a-day smoker? It’s been said that nothing is as bad as a recovering alcoholic, a converted Catholic, or a reformed smoker. Since I don’t really know about the other two, yes, I am in the third group. For example, a friend walked by me in the gym a week or so ago and I remarked, “Was that a cigar or cigarette you had just before you came in?”

“How the hell do you know,” he asked.

“I can smell it on you, asshole,” I replied.

This friend, rather than getting all pissed off about it, actually turned around, left the gym, and returned later in different clothes. He walked over and asked, “Can you smell anything now?”

I see that more and more in smokers; they’re furtive in their addiction, almost as if they’re ashamed of the habit…which they should be. It’s nasty, costly, and affects those around them. I’m embarrassed that I smoked for 51 years; I really am. My Dad smoked; most of my friends smoked; we were athletes and we smoked. It was what you did growing up in the fifties. How dumb were we? Why did people who grew up not smoking do that? What prevented them from falling into the trap? What stroke of remarkable luck allowed them to escape? If there was a single thing, someone should bottle it and put in on the shelves of CVS.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that on October 1, 2014, CVS will stop selling tobacco products. It’s a bold and unprecedented move that will cost the company somewhere around two billion dollars. That’s broken down as 1.5 billion in tobacco sales and another half billion in products that people buy when they drop in to buy tobacco. That is an extremely courageous move on the part of CVS. What company have we ever heard of that gives up two billion dollars in sales voluntarily. If I didn’t consider CVS to be the Shreve, Crump & Lowe of drugstores, I might even consider switching my prescription drugs back to them; however, they are overpriced on too many products so while they are to be congratulated on a complex business decision, I’m certain they will find a way to recoup any losses…can you say Affordable Care Act provider?

It matters not what my beliefs are…about smoking or about CVS. It’s a personal decision of where to buy cigarettes or other tobacco products if that’s your inclination. My wife died of lung cancer caused by cigarettes. It’s not a pretty death, watching someone struggle to take a breath, unable to eat because they can’t gather sufficient breath to chew of swallow food or drink; unable to move in bed so that bed sores the size of silver dollar and larger form on their backside, and it seems no matter what you do to treat them, the stink still fills the air.  They’re given morphine to aid the pain but after a while, a full bottle can’t ease it. They beg you as their care giver to do something so they can die, but you’re helpless. That hurts as much as anything you see…the feeling that the person to whom you’ve been married for over 50 years is begging you to help, and for once, you can’t…so you sit and you watch them die. No, it’s not a pretty death at all.

As far as CVS is concerned, I do applaud their efforts as well as those of Target and other stores that have stopped selling tobacco products. I’m just hopeful that more and more stores will take the position that they are not in the business of trying to addict more people to this drug that kills.

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What if I elect to drink and smoke, eat fatty foods that taste good, and probably die at 50? So what if I don’t give a damn and think that you’re a fool for eating healthy, going to the gym each day and don’t think I’m particularly bright? Which one of us is correct in our thinking? The answer is that we both are. It may sound rather insane but at the very least, we must consider that we are following our own paths and not allowing others to influence our thinking…or are we?

It seems to me that there comes a point in time when we are so besieged with messages of how bad smoking is; how bad obesity is; how much we should be following federal dictates about what to eat and what not to drink, etc., that a form of rebellion may set in. If I want my mother to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for my school lunch, why should I be forced to eat somewhere isolated like a leper? Let the kid with the peanut allergy eat elsewhere; there are more of me than there are of him or her, right? You’ve forced me to have a smoke outside the building where I  work; you won’t allow me to smoke in bars, restaurants, on beaches or in city-owned parks, and now you’re trying to tell me what I can and cannot do inside my own car? When you take over the car payments, then you can tell me what to do. I’ve gotten along just fine without health insurance for 40 years [actual case] and now you plan to fine me if I don’t buy health insurance from a government that cannot even allow me access  because its site shuts down regularly…like, I’m supposed to believe that’s going to solve my problems; are you nuts?

About 43 million people or 19 percent of adults over the age of 18 smoke tobacco. That’s a significant minority to me. Right now, 27.1 percent of Americans are obese. Depending on how you look at figures, that’s also a whale of a lot of people – pun intended. And would you believe that 15 percent of Americans are considered to be alcoholics. Holy, moly Batman!

Time out; time out…what does all of this actually mean? Well, first of all, it means that we sure know how to keep statistics. Remember, “figures don’t lie…but liars sure can figure.” It also means that we haven’t made cigarettes so prohibitively expensive that people who are addicted will have to turn to something else or quit altogether. In addition, since the tobacco lobby in Washington is allowed to continue to flourish, we all know that cigarettes, while costing an arm and a leg, will continue to be smoked in the closet or out. You can’t pass a prohibition law on smoking in the US. We saw what happened when that was tried with alcohol, so don’t even bother thinking about it.  Of course, what could be done is to pass a law stating that anyone who contracts lung cancer from smoking can be refused medical treatment for the disease. If you want people to stop smoking – and from first-hand experience, I can tell you that it is a horrible addiction – make the consequences so frightening that fewer and fewer will be tempted. Unfortunately, there will still be those who have the “it won’t happen to me attitude,” and will smoke anyway.

There is a myth that all obese people are only those in low-income groups. While this holds true for women and children, for some reason, it doesn’t hold true for low-income men. If you attempt to interpret what is said in some of the studies that have been released, you come away with nothing. My conclusion is that people are obese for two reasons: (a) they eat what they can afford, and; (b) they don’t care. There are also studies, most of which are controversial, that intelligence also plays a role in obesity, i.e., that those with a lower I.Q. are more likely to become obese in their middle years. What can be done? Well, one of the things that we have learned as we have ‘matured’ as a nation is that education about social issues rarely works. It appears to have failed on a variety of social issues, eg, smoking, and even on legal issues…buckle up; it’s the law…yeah, right! Okay, so what can we do? What I’d like to see is food manufacturers take a greater role in reducing the ingredients in their products that cause obesity. I’d like to see teachers able to express their true feelings and be able to say, “Your kid is fat and so are you; bring him back when you’ve both lost a hundred pounds!” I just don’t see that as a feasible alternative.  School cafeterias have revamped their menus; restaurants are noting healthy choices for their customers who are serious about keeping off the pounds. Unfortunately, if people wish to eat unhealthy foods, they’re going to do so. At one time, the military had an interesting way of ensuring fitness. During basic training, soldiers were required to pass a fitness test. It combined strength, fitness, and stamina. If you failed the first test, you might find yourself in a special group that ran a bit more, did more sit-ups and push-ups, and ate apart from others in the dining area. Fail the second time, and you were worked harder. If you failed the third time, you had to repeat basic training.  Yes, those were harsh measures, but if we’re so concerned about obesity in America, why not require that a physical fitness test also be passed before a high school diploma is received? Some would argue that physical fitness has no place in an educational environment. I happen to be among those who believe that physical fitness and mental alertness go hand in hand. While one is being taught to maintain a healthy body, they can also be taught how to bring those lessons into their home life. Earlier, I spoke of buckling up when you’re in your car. As a family, we never did it, at least not until our youngest was taking driver’s education. It was at her urging or noodging – depending on how one looks at it – that we began to buckle our seatbelts religiously…and that was before it was the law. The children really can become the teachers if we do it properly.

Well, we’ve covered tobacco usage, and obesity; what about this thing called ‘alcoholism’ or ‘problem drinking.’ Long before Joan was even diagnosed with cancer, we had stopped drinking. The stated reason was that we had lost the taste; the real reason was that we both felt we were on the border of becoming alcoholics, and it was getting too damned expensive. Do I drink today? Sure, if I want a drink, I’ll have one, but it’s usually overpowered by something that takes away the alcohol taste.  Since her passing, I have had a single drink the first time I’ve been back to any restaurant we ever frequented. I’ll offer a toast to her and, just as often, not even finish the drink. For some reason, people who drink to excess don’t bother me as much as they might.  I’ve worked with people who were functioning alcoholics. I’ve even told one or two that I knew what they were and that I never wanted them to come to work drunk. They get pissed at first, but that’s okay, they get over it. Thankfully, no one ever accused me of any kind of harassment, so I guess things worked out for the best.

WOW…we’ve covered a lot of ground here. Please don’t get the idea that I have the real solutions to these problems; I don’t. Far wiser heads than mine are looking at these problems daily and if they have yet to reach any solid solutions, who am I to believe that I can? Smoking? Yeah, it’s a problem because it can kill, not only the user, but those around the user. It killed my wife; it’s damaged my lungs; it’s a terrible, terrible addiction and anyone who allows themselves to become addicted is a fool. Obesity is another question; why wasn’t it a problem when I was growing up? Do we have too many food choices today that are bad? Are we disinclined to take physical fitness seriously? Anyone I have ever known who works out on a regular basis says that they hate working out but that they love the feeling they get from exercise.  I have belonged to three gyms since 1994. Each has had its own personality, but each also has had its own commonality and that commonality is the way people speak about how they feel after their workout.

As we begin another year, forget the resolutions, just do something right…for you and for others.

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The late Academy Award winning actress, Bette Davis is quoted as having said, “Getting old ain’t for sissies.” Now that I’m only a couple of years away from when she died – she passed away at the age of 81 – I’m beginning to understand precisely what she was saying.

Getting or growing – your choice – old is a process, along with everything else. If you are diagnosed early on with a terminal disease, you never have the chance to experience what some might call the torment of growing old. My friend Jerry – and at my age, I’ve forgotten his last name – died of some damned thing called poliomyelitis. I saw him on Saturday night, when the store in which we both worked closed. He was fine; no problems. Evidently, he woke up Sunday morning with some aches and pains; by Tuesday, he was dead. He never had his chance to grow old. Neither did my friend, Joe Thompson. Joe quit school in our senior year to join the Marines. On the way back to camp one night, on some Georgia road, Joe and three of his buddies wrapped their car around a tree. Joe hadn’t hit 20 yet.

It’s been said that only the good die young. Personally, I think that’s bullshit; you die when you die. Life, at least to me, is a big gamble. Every day the dice get rolled somewhere and you live or you die. That is, perhaps, a bit morbid, but it’s one way of looking at it. I’ve also been known to say that every morning I pull back the covers and put my feet on the floor, the Devil says, “Oh, shit, he made it through another night.”

Depending on the “expert” with whom you speak we begin the process of sarcopenia anytime between the ages of 20 and 50. Gotcha with the big word, didn’t I? Don’t worry I also had to look it up. It’s the age at which we begin to lose muscle mass. Sure, it’s possible to slow the process through strength training, and I suppose if you’re Mark Maguire, Barry Bonds, Lance Armstrong, or a few others, you can even reverse the process, but (a) I would prefer to grow old at the regular rate, (b) I’m not certain I have the money to pay for that ‘stuff,’ and (c) I’m not all that big on injecting myself if I don’t have to do so. If you’ve ever had to inject yourself with insulin or Lovenox or anything like that, you know what I mean. The point is that as we age, we can’t lift the things we once lifted. We can’t do what we once found fairly routine. I well remember being in the gymnasium at Babson, watching a group of students playing basketball. One of them yelled over, “Hey, Mr. Bishop, wanna play?” Certainly, I was too wise to get into that gig, but they did convince me to take a shot. I stood where I had remembered standing in high school – my ‘spot’ on the floor from which I once had been a deadly shot. It was about 25 feet away from the basket and just off to one side. I took my shot and it fell about five feet short of the rim. I laughed; they laughed, but it was a clear indication that when you’re in your late fifties, you don’t shoot hoops the way you did at 17.

As I say, aging is a gradual process. If you’re lucky (and smart), you exercise to stay healthy; you eat right to stay healthy; you don’t smoke; you don’t drink to excess…everything in moderation – even moderation itself. With luck, cancer steers a wide path around you, although many of us find the basal cells of our sunbathing youth and they must be removed. When I grew up, smoking was an acceptable habit, and so in middle age, were its consequences…COPD and emphysema. Quitting helps but the damage is done. You can’t run as far or as quickly…if you can run at all. You learn that the meals that tasted so good also took a toll on your heart. If you’re lucky, you survive the first attack, and if you listen, there may or may not be a second and more severe one.

Time moves along and the print on the newspaper gets smaller and a bit more indistinct. You see an eye doctor and he may tell you that he can improve your vision or that you’re condemned to bi- and then trifocals. In my case, procedures had advanced whereby, laser surgery removed cataracts and my vision was restored to the point of buying eyeglasses off the rack. Some folks aren’t so lucky. Their vision keeps fading until it’s all but gone. The same is true of other senses. Hearing seems to fade…very, very, very slowly but it fades. Hearing aids become a part of one’s wardrobe along with greater caution when crossing the street.

One morning, we wake up and something seems to ache as we’re getting out of bed. Hell, which can happen any time from 10 on, I suppose, and if you’ve been an athlete, it happens the morning after every game. At some point, the ache or the pain doesn’t go away and you realize that the cartilage which once was there is either torn or worn away. The doctor says it’s the onset of arthritis, that you need surgery, or that, “we have a pill for that.” If it’s your back that’s hurting, they have injections for that or you can go ‘under the knife’ and pray for the best. You see, aging today, is not the same as it was in the day of your mother and dad. And it most certainly isn’t the same today as it will be 50-100 years from now. If you followed Star Trek, you may remember when Bones, Kirk, and Spock, returned to earth in the late 20th Century to rescue one of their crew. They found him in a fairly modern hospital, yet Dr. McCoy called the doctors of that period, “barbarians” and “butchers.” I can honestly say that I’ve seen some of that in my lifetime. My left leg has a six inch scar from the first knee surgery; the second – a year later – has two one inch scars on either side of the knee. My youngest child, whose knee surgery was done about 20 years later, had three tiny pinholes which we can no longer see. What next, you ask? What’s next is already here. Doctors are growing cartilage to repair or replace that which has worn down or gone altogether. Gall bladder surgery, which once left a nine-inch scar on one’s chest, is now accomplished with a miniature vacuum cleaner that leaves a barely noticeable mark. But still, we age.

Despite medical marvels and advances, the human body is not built for longevity. Our organs begin to function less than optimally no matter what we do, take, exercise, or eat. Sure, it can be slowed down; sure medical science is making fantastic strides; sure this and sure that, but…we still wake up with a new pain here or a new ache there every day or week or month. The beauty of it is and if this is the case just think of how fortunate we are. We’re still alive to see the beauty that is the world around us. Yes, for some, we awake to see the ugliness that is around us, but I guess I’m luckier that I’m in the first group. I watched Juli’s morning glories open again this morning; the purples, the blues, the reds, and yes, even the whites open to signal the beginning of a new day. And yes, I don’t feel particularly well because of my aches and pains and other problems…but I’m alive to see those flowers come alive; to see the blue jays come and grab the peanuts Juli has tossed out for them; to see the squirrels, chipmunks, and wild turkeys come to eat the grain and see that she’s thrown out. It all reminds me of just how lucky I am to have made it to this age and to think of how sad it is that so many of my peers have not.

Life is a treasure; a blessing. Getting old may not be for sissies, but it sure as hell is for the experience of seeing just how much beauty there is in it and how fast it’s changing. If life in the 1800s and early 1900s plodded along like a horse, and if life in the 1950s move along slowly the automobiles of the time, the 21st Century, by its end, can certainly be a time when, instead of our progress being measured arithmetically, it will be measured in exponential growth. I would love to have a crystal ball to stare into to see just what I won’t live to experience.

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“Tis the season to be jolly…fa, la, la,, fa, la, la, la, la, la.

The period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s is supposed to be the happiest time of the year, particularly here in America. Yet, it appears to me that for far too many Americans, it becomes a season of terrible tragedy.

As I watched the news this morning, it occurred to me that there has not been one – not one – morning newscast this week where people were not thrust out into 20 to 30 degree weather, many in their pajamas and robes, because their apartment building was on fire. Fortunately or ‘un’ as the case may be, only one person has so far lost his life. There appears to be some direct correlation between dramatic fires and cold weather, at least here in the Northeast. There was a time when we attributed this to the use of space heaters; however, either they’re making safer space heaters or idiots have found other ways to burn down their domiciles. The one man who was killed was using a plumber’s torch and dollars to donuts he didn’t have an asbestos shield behind where he was working.

There will be more fires before Christmas 2012. In some cases they will be caused by candles left unattended; in others it will be because someone had a few too many holiday ‘spirits’ and fell asleep with a cigarette in his/her hand. Speaking of which, I heard a man complaining this morning that his apartment building fire meant he had no place to stay. There he was, casually smoking a cigarette and saying that he’d lost everything and had no insurance. I wanted to say, “Hey, asshole, with cigarettes at $70 per carton, it’s your own damned fault if you don’t have insurance! Renter’s insurance runs a little over $500 a year. Don’t bitch when you’re not trying to do anything for yourself.” I don’t want to appear holier than thou but I cannot begin to conceive of the amount of money that I’ve saved since quitting cigarettes in 1998. Okay, that was “holier than thou;” sorry.

This is also the time of year when too many people lose their collective marbles about spending. When the bills begin rolling in after January, they suddenly realize that the great deal they got on that 104” television, the one for the sixteen by twenty foot living room, is one that in hindsight they really could not afford. As a consequence, the joys of Christmas morning are suddenly replaced by the realities of beginning 2013 in way over one’s head. The marketers of Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, oh joy, oh joy Sunday, and Cyber Monday have suckered us in another year. They really don’t have anything for Sunday yet, but it will probably be Joyous Jesus Sunday when you can celebrate the upcoming birth of Christ day – which isn’t when He was born anyway – by “Saintly Spending” to celebrate His birth!

We are such a friggin’ materialistic nation that it’s beginning to turn my stomach. However, and this is a very large, very bold faced underlined and italicized ‘however,’ I’m one of the lucky ones. I have a woman who loves me, a roof over my head, food on the table, a furnace that works, a couple – not many but a couple – of extra coins in my pocket and a POSBIR in the garage . Wealthy? Hell no, I’m not even comfortable, but “Ah has what ah has…and that’s all I need.” I have some very wealthy neighbors who take all sorts of trips and who have the latest toys…but I don’t want to be them; I don’t need to be them. What they do is what they want; what I do is what I want. I will say this, “My neighbors are also just as frugal in their spending as I am. We will not be conned by the marketers who would have us go in debt over our collective heads. I have driven through parts of this country where the dwelling is a broken down mobile home and in the front yard is the biggest damned television receiver you have ever seen. I suppose that to those folks television is more important than the cracked windows in the place where they live. It’s not my idea of responsible living but then, to each his own.

So, the fires will continue. At least one toddler will die because he or she played with an extension cord; Christmas trees will fall over and a family will be overcome by smoke. But look on the good side, Roland Dow and Jessica Linscott will be spending this holiday season behind bars, and won’t have the opportunity to torture and burn her child ever again. That’s really a cause for celebration

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“Heart Disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. It is a non discriminatory disease, as it kills men and women regardless of race and ethnicity. It is a silent killer, as many people do not know that the behaviors they are engaging in are slowly hurting their cardiovascular system. While heart disease is such a huge problem, there are ways to help try and prevent heart disease from occurring.” This comes from a Vanderbilt University page which is quoting an American Heart Association page whose link is broken, but whose new link appears to say nothing close to the words above. Therefore, you may believe it or not. I believe it.

“…it is a silent killer as many people do not know, etc., etc.” What bullshit! In today’s world of instant communication, the Internet, and any other variety of sources, the excuse of, “Gee, I didn’t know,” is no longer valid. If you smoke cigarettes, you are not only killing your lungs, you are ingesting toxins that will most assuredly damage your heart and damn near ever other organ in your body. If you eat nothing but fatty foods, don’t be surprised when your arteries become so clogged that you drop like a rock while climbing a few stairs. If you feel that sucking a down a six-pack or so every night is a good thing, you had best get those screws tightened in your brain. If you’re the type who disdains hospitals and doctors, for whatever reason, in all probability, you’re not as healthy as you might believe.

“Oh, what a goddam do-gooder,” some people are saying right now, or “He’s not a doctor; what the hell does he know?” you might be querying. You’re wrong on the first part and you’re right on the second. Frankly, I’m beyond caring what idiots do to their bodies. In large part it’s because from past experience, I’ve learned that YOU CAN’T FIX STUPID! And anyone who is under 40 years of age, who still smokes, who still lives on a diet of really fatty foods just because they taste good, who still doesn’t get an annual health checkup, is purely and simply, STUPID! If you live in New York and you can afford the $120.00 a   carton for cigarettes, you can afford to see a doctor.  If you live in Washington, Illinois, Hawaii, or Alaska and you’re paying nearly $10.00 per package of cigarettes, you can afford to eat something other than Big Macs, large fries, and a diet Coke…what a joke! The cheapest major brand name cigarettes you can buy in this country are in Louisiana and West Virginia and even in those states, cigarettes still cost more than $4.50 per pack. If there is anything positive to be said about those who are still smoking when the cost of cigarettes is so high, it might be that it will help to clean up the gene pool a bit more rapidly.

I smoked for 51 years. I ran cross-country and smoked; I played basketball and I smoked; I went to college and I smoked (yeah, all that pressure and crap like that). I borrowed Mark Twain’s motto,  “Quitting smoking is easy. I’ve done it hundreds of times.” I’d go a day, a week, a month. I quit smoking for six months one time; really thought I had it beaten. Even now, after 14 years, when most times the smell of cigarette smoke turns my stomach, there are times when I’d like to try it…just once…to be able to say, “I don’t need this,” but I know that I can’t.  It’s like the alcoholic: One drink is too many and a thousand are not enough.

Smoking, however, is not even the chief cause of heart disease.  In fact, it’s only the fourth leading cause according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The CDC ranks the major causes of heart disease as follows: 1 inactivity; 2 obesity; 3 high blood pressure; 4 cigarettes; 5 high cholesterol, and; 6 diabetes. If you believe you believe you are active because you play golf or walk all around the office, you’re wrong. While golf does get you walking, it’s a stops and starts game. Activity, without the ‘In’ before it, is that dirty word, “exercise.” It means a minimum of 15 minutes of doing something three times a week that will get the old ticker moving and maybe even produce a drop or two of sweat. Obesity has become such an issue that it really needs no explanation. You really won’t know if you have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or diabetes unless you visit a doctor and get tested. If that isn’t in your budge, but cigarettes are, die you dumb sum-bitch, die!

Why am I on this tear? I’ve had three heart attacks. I have five stents in my heart. I don’t smoke; I exercise strenuously for over an hour five or six times a week; I maintain a reasonably healthy diet. Yet, the damage already done to my heart is probably going to kill me…barring that I piss somebody off and they shoot me or run me down. Oh, and I should note that yesterday I visited my doctor. I’d been having trouble breathing for a couple of days and had some tingling in the fingertips of both hands. He listened to my lungs; asked some questions, and said, “It’s possible you had a silent heart attack. Let’s do a workup.” So that’s where it stands folks. The workup began yesterday with an EKG and the drawing of some blood. If it’s to be, I’ll have more tests next week. Until then, I’m walking very slowly and being extra careful. Do I want to live forever? Of course not; that would be stupid. However, summer is coming; the pool will be opened in a couple of days, and; I really would like to taste some of the food from Juli’s garden.

Hey, take care of yourself, will you please. Remember, there really are people out there who care about you and would like you to stick around a while longer…no matter what they say behind your back!

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When I quit smoking on September 17, 1998, I vowed that I would not proselytize.  For me the time had come. I was coughing up doorstops and anyone who stepped where I had spit was glued there until the pressure hose showed up…that sounds very gross; it was very gross. And that’s exactly why I put my condition in those terms. I was unable to walk the length of a football field without having to stop two or three times. Despite 51 years of smoking, quitting at that time, I’m firmly convinced, allowed me to be sitting at this computer keyboard nearly 14 years later.

Today I saw something that made me realize the perhaps proselytizing might not have been a bad thing. Certainly, I realize that cigarette smoking is an addiction and that everyone who does smoke has to make his or her own decision as to when quitting time has arrived. Some, like the famous journalist, Edward R. Murrow, never quit. Even when he was in an oxygen tent, in a coma, dying of lung cancer, he would mime reaching into a nonexistent shirt pocket, pulling out a pack of invisible cigarettes, take one out and put the pack back, then light it with an imaginary lighter. That, my friend, is some pretty scary stuff. Until the day she could no longer leave her bed, my wife would remove her oxygen cannula, and go out on the porch for a smoke. There was no sense in trying to stop her; she had already been diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer. Four cigarettes a day weren’t going to speed things up any more. Joan died at home as she had requested. You never want to be the caregiver in that situation. I’m no ‘Dudley Doright,’ but it is, without question, the worst thing I have ever seen in my life. Watching someone you love and with whom you’ve spent over 50 years of your life with, die with the certain understanding that there’s not one goddamned thing you can do about it is the most difficult assignment you could ever accept. Still, several of my friends smoked, and still do, and I haven’t said much about it. Today changed all that.

I was at Domino’s this afternoon picking up a couple of pizzas for tonight’s dinner. Outside, a young woman got out of a car and lit up. It wasn’t until she stepped away from the car that I noticed she was about seven months pregnant. She was sucking on that cigarette, inhaling that poison into her system as well as the baby’s. The two men in the car – I’m assuming one was her husband – just stared straight ahead as she smoked. And did she ever smoke. When she got back in the car and they drove away, I felt like crying…not for her, but for her soon to be born child.

Driving home, I was stopped at a light. In the car behind me, four young people were smoking; in the car ahead, a man was tossing his cigarette out the window. I looked to my left and noticed that the driver in that car was also smoking. I thought there was a downturn in the number of smokers; I guess not in my traffic pattern.

Now I am going to proselytize. STOP WITH THE SMOKING AWREADY! If you smoke, quit. Set a goal  for yourself to stop smoking; put it in writing, and put that written notice on the refrigerator where you’re going to see it. The next thing you need is something called an affirmation. It affirms your decision to, in this case, quit smoking. It may be a picture such as Olympic Decathlon Champion Bruce Jenner had on the ceiling of his bedroom while he was in training. It was a picture of a man’s chest with an Olympic gold medal on it. Jenner’s affirmation was, “That’s how I will look when I win the gold medal.” Granted, that was 1976 and that’s a while back. Today, there is some kid somewhere who has that same picture or one just like it saying the same damned thing. An affirmation is how you will look, feel, or act when you accomplish your goal. You want to put a picture of a smoker’s lungs somewhere you’ll see it every day; hey, that’s your choice. My personal affirmation took two forms: (1) a picture of the annual road race in Falmouth, Massachusetts, and; (2) a statement underneath that said, “I’m going to start and finish this next summer.” For me it worked. If you’re a smoker, something else may work for you. I’m just begging you, with all my heart, and because of all of my experience, please stop; stop now. It really isn’t too late for you. There’s a whole lot of living to do out there. It’s much more difficult to do when you can’t walk twenty-five feet without stopping to catch your breath. If you don’t want to do it for your own sake, do it for the sake of the people who love you…please.

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