Walt's story is a compelling example of the damage cigarette smoking can cause to the heart. Sadly, Walt eventually lost his life to tobacco, but was able to enjoy several smoke-free years that might have otherwise been lost had he not quit.
Rest in peace, Walt. We won't forget you, and your words will live on to help others find the strength to quit smoking before heart disease takes its toll on them.
As I write this, I am nine days past the anniversary of the day I quit smoking. One thing is for sure. I am not craving any recognition about this milestone. As a matter of fact, my nearby friend and beloved counselor to thousands, "Smoker Dave," encouraged me to post a message at the smoking cessation forum about this anniversary just a day or two ago. He felt that my story might inspire others -- especially younger smokers and those just beginning their quits.
I have a lot of feelings about this one year anniversary. Best of all is the feeling that I am finally a non-smoker again after starting to smoke in high school in 1958. I woke up this morning (as I thankfully have for many months) without any urge to smoke. I was able to enjoy a cup of coffee while watching the morning news without any urge to step outside for a few puffs. The thought of smoking never entered my mind. This, of course, is the ultimate goal of everyone who wants to quit smoking. It's a feeling that I never believed I could experience again. Only one year ago, I would have smoked 10 cigarettes before leaving the house in the morning.
On the other hand, I don't like to think about smoking at all if possible. It wrecked my life in many ways. Besides nearly killing me, it made me a social outcast. My smoking habit was often an embarrassment and it virtually controlled many aspects of my social and business behavior negatively.
For 50 long years, I couldn't quit smoking because I was addicted to tobacco. As I grew older, I truly believed that I would never be able to quit. Smokers of any seniority can relate to this. As we grow older, we sincerely believe that we are forever and hopelessly addicted to smoking. At this stage of hopelessness, we begin to be alert for signs of cancer and other lung and heart diseases. How comforting it is to hear your doctor tell you that your recent chest x-ray was "negative" except for a few signs of typical smoker-related congestion. (Ah, I dodged the bullet again) At the same time, we start to condition ourselves that we probably won't live as long as our non-smoker friends. Then, we begin to predict the age at which we will succumb to the consequences of smoking...all the while puffing on another coffin nail. This is what I mean about smoking taking control of one's behavior.
One year ago, I was strolling down the dock at one of our local marinas. For the prior 10 years, I had developed a new career in the boating services business. It was fun being able to earn a living in an industry that I loved. Suddenly, I felt an unusual pain in my forearms and an immediate loss of strength. I knelt down for a few seconds, thinking that it would go away. One of my workers was there and asked if I was OK.
"Sure I'm OK! Let's get the show on the road!"
He needed help lifting a dinghy onto a yacht. I obliged, but started to crumble once more. He again asked if I was OK.
"Of course I'm OK!"
As I drove off to my office a few minutes later and lit up a smoke, I began to feel better. Smoking certainly wasn't the problem. It always made me feel better. Thank God for that.
A quick call to my doctor yielded a concerned response. "Get to the emergency room now!" After 2 days of tests, I was released with orders to return to a cardiologist 3 weeks later for more stress testing. Other than that, I felt fine again.
My son, (a smoker too) picked me up from the hospital. Thankfully, he had a smoke waiting for me. Man, that felt good. I knew for sure that smoking wasn't the problem after all. What a relief. It must have been something that I ate.
Three weeks later I was struggling through a stress test at the cardiologist's office. Within minutes, I was crumbling to my knees, and an hour later, I was in the hospital. At 7:00 am the next morning -- April 16, 2008, I was wheeled into the operating suite for coronary bypass surgery. I can't describe the feeling well enough. All I could see was the ceiling and the faces of nurses and surgeons. It was cold and the table seemed like it was only 12 inches wide. As they put my arms out to my side and began intravenous procedures, I truly felt at death's door.
Hours later, I miraculously woke up in the cardiac care unit. I was tied to the bed rails, and tubes were everywhere, including a large breathing tube down my throat. My chest had been cut wide open. I couldn't believe that I was still alive, but nevertheless I felt secure that the wonderful staff of professionals caring for me would pull me through this. Thank God they did.
Five days and a lot of morphine later, my son was again transporting me home. This time was different though. No smoke was waiting for me. I sure didn't want one either. It was over. I knew I would never smoke again. My body had finally repelled the demon forever. Amazingly, I quit cold turkey with virtually no problem.
Today, I am free. It's so nice to take a deep breath without coughing. My car smells nice, as do my clothes. And I feel like a part of society instead of an outcast. My circle of friends has changed too.
My experience was shock treatment in spades, but I learned that quitting can be done, after all. Why the hell didn't I do this in the first place?
There is no such thing as "I can't quit." Please don't wait until disaster strikes, like I did. Quitting is a big deal, and it's actually a lot of fun if you can readjust your attitude about smoking.
Coronary heart disease is the leading cause of death in the US, and the leading cause of death caused by smoking. Smoking is hard on the heart.
Quit smoking now.