It was college. I was a young and impressionable freshman, living away from home for the first time. I was making new friends and living a new routine. I had never smoked a cigarette, but a bunch of my friends would smoke at parties. Not that frequently, just on the weekends while hanging with friends. I soon tried it. Surprisingly it wasn’t as harsh as I expected and I enjoyed hanging out with my new friends. I knew smoking was not healthy, but I smoked so infrequently.
Eventually, I smoked when I was by myself to relieve stress. Then, I began smoking every day. It became a habit, and I was smoking just after waking up. After graduating college, I was working as a paramedic. A stressful job at the time and my circle of friends all smoked. Fast forward ten years. I gained weight, was sedentary, ate fast food or hospital cafeteria food on the run, and was a smoker.
One day while working I was dispatched to a house for someone having chest pain. When I stepped into his house I could tell from across the room he was having a heart attack. He was grey and sweaty and had the look of fear on his face. While walking towards him, I could hear a baby crying as I was stepping over infant toys. While rushing him to the hospital, he was telling me about his new baby. Soon after that I witnessed cardiac arrest and began CPR. We soon arrived at the emergency room, but all efforts to revive him were unsuccessful. He was a lot like me. Unfit, sedentary and a smoker. Images of his fear, his baby crying and his concerned wife were burned into my brain forever. His baby would never get to know her father. Little did I realize at that time but I had smoked my very last cigarette an hour before meeting my patient. I never went back to smoking cigarettes.
Now that I am a practicing physician assistant I have learned much more about the dangers of smoking and the many challenges one faces with attempting to quit. My level of compassion for smokers I treat is high given my previous experiences. I realize how unique every individual’s quest to quit smoking is. I owe my cessation success to not having been a smoker before my college years and having a very profound motivation for one day getting married and starting a family, a vision that has come to fruition.
November 16 is observed as the Great American Smokeout, and this event encourages individuals to stop smoking tobacco. There are many reasons to quit smoking and many things people can do to help them quit. Talk to your provider and visit this page to find resources that can assist your journey to being smoke-free.