Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Breathing a sigh of relief

The smoking ban passed and I am really happy about it! This issue has divided people in Austin at the level usually reserved for pro-life issues. It’s not down party lines either, the thing that divides people is the way they perceive freedom, civil rights and even human rights.

First of all, let me say that I support live music in Austin. I go out to clubs, I see my favorite bands often and check out new performers whenever possible. I buy their stuff if I like them, and if I REALLY like them you’re going to eventually find me on the street team, designing art, website, or something. I will find the best way to get involved. The music is the reason I go to these places.

There have been times when the prospect of getting exposed to the smoke has kept me away, like days when my allergies are already giving me problems and I don’t want to multiply it times ten. When I go to non-smoking shows, I always meet people who comment on how nice it is not to put up with the smoke. All the musicians that I’ve spoken to are for the ban, but I’m sure there are plenty of exceptions out there. As I said, the town is divided.

Let me also say that my Mother died of emphysema (COPD) after suffering for about 15 years, gasping for every breath, unable to sleep lying down, unable to walk for more than a few steps without resting, growing increasing hostile and suffering diminished brain function due to lack of oxygen, eventually becoming bedridden (for nearly 2 years), spending her life savings on home health care, and being dependent on the oxygen tank. She became quite delusional, especially when pain killers were needed more and more. She insisted that some nurses had told her it was fine to smoke with the oxygen. No one on earth was going to convince her otherwise either. She was only 73 years old and would have had many active years left and enough cash on hand to really enjoy them in style.

Yes, she was almost a militant smoker. Anything or anyone that suggested to her that smoking should be stopped became the enemy in her eyes. The doctor was to blame for making her sick (completely forgetting the reason for seeing the doctor in the first place), the emphysema was caused from “working too hard” when she was younger, the humidity was the reason she couldn’t breathe, the cat had to go because he was making it hard to breathe…. on an on and on… but cigarettes were her “only pleasure” and therefore deemed to be good and entirely blameless. She got rid of the cat, with my help she moved to a dry climate, but of course steadily got worse because she continued to smoke.

I lived across the country from her, and once during the last couple of her years when I flew in for a visit, I walked in the front door and instead of a “Hello”, she wagged her finger in my face and said, “Whatever you do, you are NOT going to tell me not to smoke”. Hello, Mother, it’s wonderful to see you too, I can really feel the love… but I had to keep telling myself that I was dealing with a drug addict. This was the addiction talking, sending signals to her brain, telling her what to do and say.

She was smoking in a medicinal stupor with the oxygen feed in her nose one day when she set herself on fire. Her face and lungs were burned, but fortunately her home health care worker handled it or the entire apartment complex would have suffered an oxygen tank exposion. She didn’t die from it, but was really angry! Angry because she couldn’t smoke anymore with the burned lungs. Instead of blaming the addiction and tobacco, she blamed the nurses she was sure had told her it would be OK to smoke around oxygen. She ended up with just a few outward scars from the fire, and I was glad that she was not disfigured.

At the very end (the last 6 months) she was really out of it, and didn’t even know me most of the time. Just the prolonged pain killers and lack of oxygen I guess, but we were grateful for any relief that she could find. Once she looked at me and thought I was my Father. My Dad had died 26 years earlier of a heart attack at age 44. He had so many different things affecting his health that no one knows whether tobacco was in any way to blame, but I saw on his autopsy that he was already developing emphysema.

Two weeks before my Mother died, my husband’s Father died from lung cancer. He was one of the biggest Smoker’s Rights people you could ever meet! He had been enjoying an active retirement in a lake house, then 6 months later he was dead. If there is anything positive that can be said about a cancer of this kind it would be that it’s mercifully fast. The suffering is measured in months instead of years.

One of my uncles died of emphysema after many years of sleeping in a chair and being nursed by his wife. Another of my very dear uncles (the one who cared most for my Mother since he lived in the same town and I lived across the country) also has the disease and has had it for a long time, but has not smoked for years so I don’t think it has progressed as rapidly. There are more stories but I think I’ve made my point.
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I think it will take about 5 years for Austin to adjust to the bar smoking ban, and that eventually people will wonder why it was ever allowed in the first place… like trying to imagine allowing smoking in hospital patient rooms (even by doctors!), in movie theatres, in the office, ballparks, everywhere you can imagine. No… I don’t think it looks cool or sexy. Sorry. Anyway, I’ve got high hopes that this will have positive effects in the long run. People are still going to go to the clubs. I believe it with all my heart. And I also believe that you have every right to smoke around me, as long as you inhale every bit of the smoke and don’t exhale. If the person next to you is drinking, do they have the right to make you drink? Is that what you call "choice"? If you are smoking next to me, you are, in essence, making me smoke too. You're exposing me some something dangerous to my health.

Seriously. I’ve had enough.

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