Jim Nelson: Living with chronic lung disease

2013-10-24T00:00:00Z Jim Nelson: Living with chronic lung diseaseBy Jim Nelson Special to the Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

I was deeply disappointed to see the front-page article in the Star regarding the popularity of hookah smoking (“Hookah lounges proliferate as UA students kick back,” Oct. 11).

The writer paints a picture of young college students relaxing in a crowded, smoke-filled café, gleefully inhaling tobacco smoke for 45 minutes to an hour at a time. That’s equivalent to smoking 100 cigarettes.

Nothing that I say here is likely to stop or even slow the popularity of hookah smoking, or the attendant addiction and lung damage. However, it affords me an opportunity to inform present or potential smokers just what they have to look forward to.

I know a little about lung disease. I grew up in the home of a heavy smoker, and smoked cigarettes myself from age 15 to 35. Had I not quit smoking then, I would be long dead.

As it turned out, it took 20 years of increasing coughing, shortness of breath, and inability to perform activities I had previously enjoyed before I was diagnosed with severe COPD, a combination of emphysema and chronic bronchitis. COPD stands for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. The operative term here is “chronic.” That means it is not going to go away. The only reason that I am still upright was the miracle of a double lung transplant about two years ago.

A quote from a young athletic gentleman in the article states that the smoking “has not harmed their health so far.” Sorry to burst any bubbles, but that is not how lung disease works.

There are three types of exposure to damage from tobacco smoke. Firsthand smoke is inhaled directly by the smoker. Secondhand smoke is that “smoke with the sweet smell of vanilla” referred to in the article. Thirdhand smoke is the most insidious. It is the harmful substances that are absorbed by clothing, hair, upholstery, auto seats, carpets and the like, affecting perfectly innocent nonsmokers.

There is increasing opinion that second- and thirdhand smoke could legitimately be classified as child abuse.

So it might be valuable to enumerate the long-term effects of that relaxing interlude in the hookah lounge. You can expect to become addicted. It has been said that kicking heroin is easier than getting off tobacco. A nagging cough, especially in the morning, is part of the package. Part of the problem with lung disease is that it takes a long time to develop. For that reason, the shortness of breath, the thick, sticky mucus, and the eventual social isolation that comes with lung disease comes upon you almost unnoticed. The same can be said for the eventual loss of brain cells, the damage to the right side of the heart that are the result of oxygen deprivation.

Finally, you can look forward to wearing an oxygen cannula, that “nose hose” that you see on the elderly or ill. I wore one for many years, and it is not, by any stretch of the imagination, fun. There are medications for many kinds of lung disease, but the only treatment for emphysema is supplemental oxygen.

A lung transplant like mine is the only cure for COPD. That’s the good news. On the other hand, I will live the rest of my days with a severely compromised immune system, due to the anti-rejection drugs. I must beware of infections, sun exposure and sneezy little kids. I was eligible for Medicare, and carry supplemental insurance, so we only had to pay a fraction of the roughly $750,000 cost of the transplant.

Your choice.

Jim Nelson is an Arizona representative for the American Lung Association, the COPD Foundation and EFFORTS online support group. He’s also an instructor and speaker on living with lung disease. Contact him at bluechickeninc@gmail.com

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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