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Colitis and Cigarettes: Part 1

Part 1: A Quitting Quandry

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This is Part 1 of a three-part story of colitis and cigarettes.

Last month marked my anniversary of quitting smoking. The date came and went without my noticing until a few days after. I must admit I feel very fortunate to get to this point, when it is no longer significant enough to warrant daily reminders and celebrated anniversaries. I haven’t had a single puff in more than 13 years. The times when I’d think about it every day are long in the past. I still dream about it though, once a month or so. The scene always comes to a shocking moment when I realize I’m not supposed to be smoking, and I’ve tossed so many years of progress out the window. The memory of smoking is so vivid that when I’m dreaming it feels completely real, so in a strange way it’s a chance to enjoy smoking for a few moments without actually lighting up.

I loved smoking more than anyone I knew, and people told me that on a regular basis. “You make smoking look like eating chocolate cake,” a friend once said. In fact, at the pizza place where I worked in college they called me smoker because I was always smoking. I don’t think a single person there actually knew my real name. I once crashed my bicycle while smoking and ended up righting myself back on two feet, blood dripping from my knees and elbows, with burning cigarette still intact. I thought I’d never meet my smoking match… until I met my wife. We actually met at the office, spending our cigarette breaks together. We fell in love five minutes at a time. So, while I freely admit that smoking was a terrible thing to introduce into my life, I am immensely appreciative of the fabulous prize I got for it. She was totally worth it!

I once heard a lung doctor say you can recover fully within ten years if you quit before you turn thirty, so that became the deadline I promised myself. Years later my own physician gave me another bit of inspiration. “What you have to realize is that once you quit smoking your body starts recovering right away. On the very first day you’re already healing.”  While that might seem obvious, I’d never thought of it that way. Suddenly I no longer felt like it would take forever to reap the benefits. So I finally worked up the nerve and quit a few days before my 29th birthday.

There were two primary catalysts that really made me want to quit. First, my college roommate’s father was a Lutheran pastor. One day he told me something I’ll never forget. He said, “When I go visit my parishioners who are in the hospital for emphysema, do you know what they ask me? They ask, Is it a sin to want to die?”  Um, duly noted, with lump in throat. Soon after that I was well on my way to kicking the habit.

The last straw was a collision of horrible sinus problems. On top of my allergies I was getting frequent sinus infections. They kept getting worse and taking longer to go away. And a strange condition developed… my nose smelled like cheese, all the time. Literally, inside my nose, I smelled cheese constantly for about a year. I have no idea how that happened, and my doctor was equally stumped. Finally that spring I couldn’t take it anymore and decided to quit for real. I used to joke, “Aww, quitting is easy, I’ve done it fifty times.” But this time I was determined. And my wife was too. So we embarked together. 

To be continued...

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Tags: Coping tools , Family Matters , Narratives

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About the Author

Andrew Tubesing is an acclaimed advocate and humorist on the subject of inflammatory bowel disease.

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