Thursday, November 12, 2009

Up In Smoke

I have a few flaws. Quite a few, if you get me on days that end in -y.

One big one: I never seem to grasp anything the first time you explain it to me. My grasping mechanism is continually on the fritz: whole paragraphs can go by, literally, as they say, in one ear and out the other; and then WHAMMO! with great force, my mind will snatch one detail and fixate on it. From then on, it takes an unconscionable amount of effort to divest me of that single detail. Plans or situations change, and the changes are explained to me, and three hours or three days later all I remember is that single word in chapter 4, paragraph m, subsection why the hell can't you pay attention?
My mind is most likely to seize on words I want to hear. Sometimes the words can be close to what I'm hoping to hear and my brain goes yep, that's close enough. You heard that, didn't you? I did. And now that we've heard it, we can't unhear it.
Words can not express how annoying this is for my wife, who must keep a mental hammer and chisel on hand at all times to prise the offending scrap of yep, that's what we heard out of my skull and pound in the correct version. She's used to this behaviour. It has, after all, been ten years. But it's still frustrating as hell, all the more so because she can never tell which detail I'm going to seize on and cling to.
Make all this about a subject on which my attitude already runs somewhere between scalding and nuclear--like, for instance, cigarettes--and the atmosphere can get really volatile really quickly.

Eva's an on-again, off-again smoker. Once, not too long ago, she was off for nearly four years. When her upcoming surgery was scheduled, she resolved to quit again, hopefully this time for good. We set out a schedule for her to gradually cut back, leaving her smoke free three weeks before the operation. I was told then--or at least I heard then--that smoking anywhere near the surgery date was extremely hazardous. Since this confirmed long standing knowledge--my every neural synapse might as well have smoking is extremely hazardous inscribed on it some place--this assumed monumental degrees of certitude.

Eva has explained to me more than once the difficulties of becoming a non-smoker when you're currently a smoker. And I nod my head and say all the right things. I tell myself I get it, I understand, I accept, I empathize.

But then I'm faced with the reality of her hellish addiction and her heroic efforts to overcome it, and I don't get it. I don't understand, I can't accept, and instead of support and empathy, Eva's treated to judgment and contempt. Which is just the sort of thing to help alleviate her stress and eliminate the need for a smoke, wouldn't you say?

Eva cut back and cut back and one day about a month ahead of schedule, she announced she was ready to stop. And she did, with a few minor slips that I (mostly) let go. Then as the surgery came closer, the stress, quite understandably, built up. Her Nicorette inhaler came out more often. On the one hand, I rejoiced that it wasn't an actual cigarette. On the other, much larger hand, I grumbled, silently, that you can't expect to quit a nicotine addiction if you keep supplying yourself with nicotine. And damn it all, the thing even looks like a cigarette. So of course that meant to me there was no difference. And the surgery's getting closer and closer.

Then last Friday night she was cleaning out one of her purses and found an old, really old, pack of smokes she swore up and down she didn't know were there.

I stared at them coldly.I knew in my heart she was telling the truth. Eva wasn't holding out on me...she had admitted every one of the few slips she'd had. But still, they were cigarettes, real ones, and I couldn't for the life of me understand why she was looking at them with such longing. I look at a cigarette and all I see is extremely hazardous no matter how many times Eva explains addiction to me. In my mind's eye I see my beloved wife--who doesn't have a smoker's cough except in my imagination--hacking in the immediate aftermath of her surgery and ripping apart every last stitch. Her organs would fuse together and she would die and all for what? How long does the good feeling from one cigarette last? Fifteen minutes? Half an hour? Surely no more than an hour. Eva was going to die on the table for an hour's peace.

I chewed on this bitter cud over and over, and eventually it all just boiled out of me. It wasn't pretty. It looked, in fact, like the leavings of about a dozen packs of cigarettes, all vomited up and staining the air between us.

The argument raged for over an hour...probably the longest fight we've had in ten years together. (After we'd made up, we noted the reason we'd kept the heat on so long: Tux, who cringes if Mommy or Daddy so much as raises a voice, was at the kennel that night.)

And at the end of it, I still wasn't as convinced or as understanding as I should have been.

Yes, they'd like you to quit smoking. Of course they would, they're medical professionals. But they only insist you not smoke for the twelve hours preceding your surgery and as it turns out, if that's too onerous you're allowed to use...a Nicorette inhaler. Turns out that even though it looks like a cigarette and has nicotine like a cigarette, it ain't a cigarette. Or as Eva put it, "if you think this is the same as smoking, then I'm going out to get a pack right now."

The thing I refused to get through my brain--it still sits uneasily in there--is that cigarettes are the best friends of the addicted. They make life just that little bit more bearable while they're in there, and if you happen to be addicted to cigarettes, it's only natural that you'll want them more and more as the stress level goes higher and higher.

In truth, Eva has done a remarkable job fighting this battle. In truth, I shouldn't judge or begrudge her. Past battles won have no bearing on this one except as motivation: you kicked this before, you can again.

I can do better. I will do better.


Rocketstar said...

I always remember reading or hearing about the study of nicotine and rats. Given a dispensor of food and nicotine, many rats will sit there and take the hit of nicotine until they actually just keel over and die. It's a horrible and tough to kick drug.
Good luck with the surgery Eva

Rachel said...

The cigarette companies are not making the same cigarettes they made years ago. All sorts of steps are taken to ensure they keep their customers and this includes making them more addictive. I feel for her... I really do. That being said, it's obviously in her best interest to quit.

Best of luck with the surgery and recovery to Eva and yourself. Try... try not to worry too much.

Jenn'fer said...

Good luck to both you and Eva, Ken - My wonderful husband smoked for close to 30 years before he quit 9 years ago (the day that Bush was elected - you'd think that would make him smoke more!)
He is an addict, and I remember the physical manifestation of panic when he didn't know where his next cigarette was coming from. He quit because he was ready, and no other reason. He still takls about how he loved smoking, and talks about it like an ex girlfriend. Someday, Eva will get there and she'll make that decision once and for all.... but it's hard to watch in the meantime... it doesn't seem supportive, but it is. Again, good luck to both of you!