Many would begin this article by citing facts about Cancer, Emphysema, COPD, and even chronic bronchitis, but I’m not going to do that because you already know the facts. It’s common knowledge that smoking is unhealthy, but what isn’t common knowledge is a personal recollection of disastrous effects cigarettes can have on families.
As a freshman in college, I dated a boy on the football team who was an amazing guy with a bright future. His abilities ranged from being an excellent quarterback to being an outstanding student. He always spoke lovingly of his family, and had a special place in his heart for his mother, who had raised him as a single parent. The day that the call came, I held a grown man in my arms while he sobbed: You see, the call had come that his mother, suffering from lung cancer, had been placed in the hospital, and wasn’t expected to make it through the night.
On our drive to the hospital, he spoke almost incoherently about how his mother had always smoked, even during pregnancy, and how as a boy he had worried about this very night. He talked about what life would be like without his mother, and wondered fleetingly if his little sister knew what was happening in that hospital room, and rattled on nervously. Through it all, he chain-smoked cigarettes as he prayed to God for one more day with his mother.
God was listening, and as we sat through one of the longest nights of our lives, Scot’s mother managed to pull through. The next couple of weeks were touch and go, and we spent a lot of time on blue plastic couches that were reaching the end of their institutional lives. After some time had passed, she was released from the hospital, but restricted to bed rest, and placed under 24-hour nursing care.
One month later, as Scot and I wandered through a museum, he felt his cell phone vibrate, and glanced at the caller ID. The number belonged to another close relative, and I had the worst feeling in the world. After taking the call, Scot informed me that his mother was back in the hospital, and in worse shape than she had been the first time.
This man’s sweet, amazing mother was going into heart failure, as fluid collected in her lungs. The prognosis was poor as we arrived, again, at the hospital. Though it was supposed to be family only, I joined Scot at his mother’s bedside and whispered a prayer for God to help her out, or make it painless for her. My prayers went unanswered that night as she broke into violent seizures before her death.
When these began, we were hustled from the room as staff gathered around the woman, doing whatever they could to help her. Once the seizures subsided, we were allowed back into the hospital room, and as Scot leaned over her, begging God for a miracle, she slipped away. The only sound in the room at that moment was the steady beep emitting from the one thing that had managed to convince us she was still alive.
A nurse appeared to silence the machine, and a doctor to take her pulse. The doctor shook his head, and noted the time of death. The order had been do not resuscitate. Walking away to give us privacy, the doctor murmured something that only the nurse was meant to hear. “You would think the kid wouldn’t smoke, given the circumstances.”
As Scot collapsed onto the floor in tears, I sat beside him, trying to soothe him, but never finding the words. I’ll never forget the pain in his eyes, or in my heart, and it was all caused because his mother couldn’t quit smoking.
When she was a young girl, cigarettes were easy to obtain, and no one thought that smoking was that bad. We have learned differently, however. Smoking can cause a whole host of diseases that kill. When a family member is diagnosed with any terminal disease, it’s terrifying, but when everyone knows that it was preventable, it’s worse.
Scot’s mother had a 12 year-old daughter that she left behind, as well as three adult sons, all of whom worshiped her. When she died instead of binding together, the family slowly unraveled, as each member went in his or her own direction. Sadly, the biggest legacy she left behind was the worst one given the circumstances: All of her grown children were at least pack-a-day smokers.
Having their mother die so young, from a disease that she could have prevented, shattered this family, leaving only fragments of the whole behind. If you smoke, please think of this the next time your doctor warns you to quit. No matter how unlikely it seems that you will ever get lung caner, there is always a real possibility. Are you willing to shatter your family for your next smoke?