July 30, 1995 in Nation/World

Smoking Mad This Longtime Smoker Doesn’t Understand Why, If Smoking Is So Bad, Society Doesn’t Supply More Help For People To Quit

Joanne Scribner Special To Perspective
 
Tags:ethics

I don’t get it.

Businesses, restaurants, hospitals are all going non-smoking. To a smoker it is like a very bad dream or a nightmare, to be more specific. Cigarette companies lie through their teeth and tell us that nicotine is not habit-forming and is not a drug. They lie all the way to the bank. Well, I am here to tell you that I am addicted (big time) to this non-addicting drug, and it is killing me, in more ways than one.

Recently, I spent eight days in a local hospital. Because of the hospital’s no-smoking rule, and because I was trapped in bed with a broken leg, I was forced to quit smoking, with the help of patches. But when I tried to get some patches to take home, I was denied. That’s what I’m writing this about. More on that in a minute. First, I want to tell you just how addicted I am to cigarettes.

I’m an illustrator and I have vivid memories of sitting in Chris Peck’s office several years ago discussing the possibility of illustrating full-time for The Spokesman-Review.

“I hear you are interested in a position with us,” he said to me.

Worried and confused, I answered, “Yes, but I hear that you don’t allow smoking in the building!”

He said: “But we have a smoking section in the hallway.”

He said it like there was no problem. Sentiments of a non-smoker, obviously.

“Look,” I said, “I am a smoker, and you’d be wasting your money on me. I’d be in the hallway all the time.”

I was trying to be honest with him. I don’t know why. Good illustrating jobs, with health benefits, are hard to come by. I guess I was under some grand illusion, that he would, or could, bend the rules for me. (Now the newspaper doesn’t allow smoking anywhere inside the building.)

So I told him if I could set up my drafting table in the hallway, I would take the job. He just looked at me like I was crazy. I was dead serious. Next time, perhaps I’ll lie. The job would have really helped pay for my three-pack-a-day habit.

Why are things so backward in this country? If you fix your house up they raise your taxes; if you trash it, they lower them. If you don’t work, you get money from the government to do nothing. If you are lazy, you also get food stamps, medical and dental.

But if you are a working stiff like me, making ends meet takes a miracle. And forget medical benefits. Who can afford them? As far as I can tell, crime pays, and hard work does not always pay off. No wonder people drink. Speaking of drinking, why is it that the two most powerful, most addicting, most damaging drugs - alcohol and nicotine - are legal?

That is another subject, so I’ll stop while I’m behind.

Anyway, three weeks ago was the final straw. I was admitted into a local hospital with a broken leg, broken in many pieces, like my heart. They could not do surgery for a day, for a million reasons. As I lay there with my leg in pieces, being fed intravenously with morphine, all I could think about - besides the pain - was that I was dying for a cigarette.

I begged everyone who came in my room to please wheel me outside so that I could have just one puff. I could not sleep all that first night because of it. The nurses did give me a nicotine patch to put on my arm, to curb my addiction.

The first three days were the worst, but I did come up with 500 ways to cheat, if only I could have walked. My favorite one was just reaching over and into my purse and lighting up. Only trouble was that I was hooked to oxygen, too. And I’d heard that it is highly explosive. Tough decision: Should I light up or blow up? It took every ounce of strength I had not to do it. You would have to be a smoker to understand. Let us say that I was not a happy camper.

Well, by the end of a very hard week they unhooked me from the morphine, and I was still in pain (only if I moved) but the good news was that I was rather enjoying the fact that I was not smoking. I could actually breathe, without a coughing fit, and in a real strange way, life was better. (Except for the fact that I could not move or walk.)

I guess I was trying to make the best out of a very bad situation. Mind you, when I came into the hospital, I had no intention of quitting smoking, but the patches worked. When my surgeon came in to check on me I asked him if he could prescribe a months’ worth of patches for me, as they were threatening to discharge me. He said no. He told me that I needed to go to my family doctor. I told him I didn’t have one. (I can’t afford one.)

And I couldn’t walk, because my leg was in traction.

“Look doc, I’ve smoked for 20 years, and I haven’t smoked in a week, and I want to keep it that way. If I go home without the patches, I know I will smoke. I have 10 cartons of cigarettes at home. I’m in a lot of pain and I know that I will light up. Please.”

He said: “Sorry, I can’t prescribe patches for you unless you take classes.”

No one gave me any classes when they started slapping patches on me every day and I did fine. I asked several nurses if they could help. They said I needed a doctor to prescribe them. I could not understand this. I was in a hospital, and there was a doctor walking by my room every five minutes. I asked if they could please grab one of them for me.

One nurse actually tried. She spent time on the phone with the hospital’s pharmacy, trying to get some for me. I even asked if I could have at least four days’ worth, which would help. The answer was no. Unbelievable. I got to quit smoking for eight days whether I liked it or not. But then when I wanted to quit, I couldn’t get help.

My roommate, who was in there for a hip replacement, got incensed about it, too. It did not make sense. Two visitors were in the room as well. We were flabbergasted. We started making phone calls. We called the American Cancer Society and Group Health. It did not make sense to the people we talked to either. Perhaps this situation had never arisen before. We called the TV stations, radio, and finally the newspaper.

I’m raising a stink about it now, hoping something will change.

Why is it that just about anyone can buy cigarettes? Even under-age people. And cigarettes kill. But you have to have money and connections to get the patches to help you stop! The doctor’s appointment is about $45 and the patches are about $100 for a months’ supply. There is something wrong here.

Nicotine patches should be as easy to get as cigarettes, at the very least. And they should be affordable to everyone, not just rich people. To pay $145 for something that may or may not work, is very scary to someone in my income bracket. I know that I am not alone here. If given the chance, I would have gladly paid for the patches out of my own pocket, because at that point I had the quit-smoking battle half won.

Could someone with some power please do something? I’ve got to go now, I need a cigarette. See you in the hallway.

MEMO: Joanne Scribner lives in Spokane and has illustrated more than 100 books, most recently the “Danger Guys” series of children’s books published by Harper Collins.

Joanne Scribner lives in Spokane and has illustrated more than 100 books, most recently the “Danger Guys” series of children’s books published by Harper Collins.


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