Mowing down psychological tall grass and tangled weeds; clearing the field and planting new seeds. Thoughts lifted from my angry days, when someone asks my opinion and then denies it. If I tell you my favorite color, who else would have the "right" answer? Challenge it, oppose if you must, but to correct it is to erase my existence. If we all had the same thoughts, there would be no need for democracy. Cogito Ergo Sum.

2009/06/25

On the subject of smoking

Background: This is a story about smoking, or what the reward can be after 50 years of nicotine jonesing. If you think it's awful, or you want to tell me libertarian hero stories about how great it is to do things you know you shouldn't, and you don't want anyone telling you not to, that's your privilege. But It's not like I've never heard that argument before, and this series of diaries is not about anti-smoking regulation or government intervention or nanny states. This is about giving you the information to make all the choices yourself. if you want to smoke, you might die of a heart attack, stroke, and be done quickly. You could "live" after cancer surgery for eight years. This is about what that life could be like, because I watched it happen to at least one man, and he was my father.

These are his words, not mine, verbatim

Some background and some introduction first, because I realize this is not coming at you in chronological order:

In 1996, at age 61, He had surgery after they found cancer under his tongue and in the lymph nodes in the back of his throat, and by then it was in the bone. They cut out his jawbone from his chin to his right ear. they cut out the right half of his tongue, the back of his throat, and part of the roof of his mouth.

To fill in the hole(s), they cut up his pectoral (chest) muscle longitudinally into four pieces, still anchored at the sternum. Think of it like four very long fingers, with the chest as the palm. They left the lower quarter to move his arm; they put the second quarter in the back of his throat, the third quarter into the roof of his mouth, and the last quarter they sewed to his tongue. His tongue was half original muscle, half chest muscle, covered in skin from his leg, which he will tell you more about.

He learned to eat pretty well after that, I'll tell you eventually about his favorite meal of breakfast down at the diner that knew how to make eggs runny the way he could eat it.

But three months after the surgery, after three months without a cigarette, he said he woke up one night and his legs would not stop twitching. He says that and only once he had a smoke they settled down. So, cigarettes to the rescue. Too bad they didn't know about "restless leg syndrome then", but I'll tell you it didn't have a thing to do with RLS. (anybody with a consistent B.A.C. over 0.3 will twitch, trust me)

So four years later in 2000, they found new cancer on the left side, and tried to do sort of the same evisceration again. But with all the vascular damage they did on the right side, there wasn't much left to heal, and future diaries will reveal that his tongue eventually just fell out.

On his lap.

While he was talking to me.

So, in June of 2000, my father was in Philadelphia having his second surgery on the day his 94 year old mother was buried. This is an email he later wrote to an old friend of three decades to tell her of his new 'circumstances'.

I may be able to find other emails of his on an old computer, but I don't have the money right now to let someone charge me $70 per hour to try and recover them. If anyone would like to help, you can offer donations (please, nothing over $5) over at my other site (pscytheology.blogspot.com) and that will be greatly appreciated. I don't like asking for money, but if any of you think there is value in these stories, a modest retainer would certainly be inspiring. I guess for writers it's called an "advance", but I know that you're not supposed to pay the ferryman until he gets you to the other side.

So here, verbatim, is the email from my dad after the SECOND surgery, which took place on the left side of his mouth. And when he says he only had about three inches of bone left for his jaw, it was not an exaggeration. His face looked like a water bottle hung on a skewer. The bone he refers to in his mouth, on the one occcasion he invited me to look at it, looked exactly as described: like a compound fracture poking through all that flesh, which was the only thing holding up ten pounds of chin and throat. That's where the blood would come from that wound up in the suction jar I have yet to tell you about.

Tomorrow's diary will be about "chicken skin" in the kitchen sink strainer, on a night when nobody ate chicken.

I'll repeat: I don't want the government to make you stop smoking. I want you to be so fucking disgusted and scared that you'll do it yourself or be able to convince someone you love that they had better while it might still matter.

Maybe Mark27 will be able to read and understand that finally.

Because in my opinion, the "lucky" ones drop dead of a heart attack or stroke. You might "survive" and learn how to "live" with cancer.

The rest of these diaries are going to be about the four year crusade of self-destruction that follows when there's no reason to quit, and eventually no point in enduring all the agony anymore.

I loved my father. I admired him. And that is why watching this and having people roll their eyes and light up a smoke makes me want to drive a sledgehammer through the side of their skull so that they might get the point.

As it is, I'll let dad give you his side of the story.

Begin Email:

November 17, 2000

Subject: More Surgery

Dear Phyliss,

I forgot to mention I'm having more surgery after Thanksgiving on the 28th. A couple remnants from the last go around need to be repaired.

Because so much tissue was taken, along with the jaw bone, there wasn't enough tissue left to cover the remaining bone. Nature is great and the expectation was that the new tissue would grow over the exposed bone. Apparently my flesh is the same disposition as my personality and it refused to do as ordered. So now the doctor will remove more bone and hope the surrounding flesh will heal over. My situation is aggravated because of all those radiation treatments I had. The flesh does not like to knit together as well as it might otherwise. I must tell you that having exposed bone in your mouth (or any other place) is not a lot of fun. Bone is extremely sensitive when exposed. Just blowing over it is enough to give a nasty jolt. The situation is much akin to a compound fracture where the bone pokes through (the flesh into the open air). It is very painful. Also the doctor is reluctant to remove much more of the remaining bone. What's left is about 2.5 to 3 inches on the left side, and it is the only thing keeping my chin from flopping to my chest, literally. Because there is no jawbone on the right side, my lips are askew. It looks like my lips were put on sideways.

I have become a true freak. Especially when you consider the other remnant which must be repaired.

Do you remember that feeling you have when you wake up after having too much to drink? The feeling like there was hair on your tongue? Well, I actually do have hair growing where my tongue used to be.

The first surgery on the right side used the right pectoral muscle to fill in the hole left by the discarded cancerous tissue. That hole was on the inside of my cheek, and what they did then was not to use the skin from the chest over the pectoral muscle (because it had hair), but to transplant a patch (about 4 by 4 inches) of skin from my thigh where there was not much hair. That worked fine. This time, they rerouted a part of the left pectoral muscle with the (original) skin still attached into my head to become the floor of my mouth. The piece of skin and muscle (about 2 by 2 inches) used to be just to the inside of my left nipple. Understand, this is not a transplant, it is a re-routing under the skin. They dig a trench from the nipple under the chest and neck to the under side of the chin. The nurses measured the length o f the scars on my chest and neck and it exceeds 50 inches. No, I did not miss the decimal point, that's two inches longer than four feet.

(my father stood just under 6'1")

They cut a piece of the pectoral muscle into a sausage-like shape with one end of the sausage still attached to my shoulder (that is done so to keep the original blood supply flowing into the tissue) and route the free end through that trench the dug up into my head to become the new floor of my mouth--hair and all. So now what the doctor will do is to use the laser to burn out the follicles.

So now what I have, after all this rerouting, is a think layer of skin covering my sternum, and pectoral muscles in my neck and head. An interesting result to all this is that these foolish pectoral muscles don't know they're not in my chest any longer so that when I use them to pick up something the damned things pull my mouth open. Such are the results of man-made repairs.

By the way, the doctor says this time they got it all. The last time they found cancer cells in 2 out of 18 lymph sites that were examined. For three and a half years I've been waiting to see where it would pop up again. Understand this was a second primary tumor, not a reoccurrence of the first. Doctor says it could not have chosen a worse place. I'm so lucky.

I'm trying to come off my addiction to morphine again. It is very difficult and frustrating--leg jerks in the middle of the night and arms twitching all over the place. An added complication is muscle spasms in the left deltoid so that I'm not able to do very much for very long before the pain gets to me and I have to sit down with a heating pad.

Enough of this bitching already. We have to make the best of what we have.

This is more typing than I have done in 15 years. I never did learn how to type properly. I use one finger - I'm called a hunt and pecker. I'll save the horrible ambulance story for another time and just sign off with G. Keillor's words,

"Be well, do good work, and keep in touch".

Love, _________


moke 'em if you got 'em - and by " 'em " I mean the pieces of your mouth that the cigarette goes in. I'll tell you later how he had to hold his cigarette in his pinky and ring finger of his left hand, while pinching his nose closed with his middle and index finger and the lighter in the right hand - because once he lost his tongue, he couldn't take a "puff" with his mouth, he had to inhale with his lungs to take a drag; and with a big hole in the back of his throat he coudn't close off his nose.

So, anyone want to bitch about cigarette taxes now? I'm not here to ask the government to do a goddamn thing, Mark27 for the last time, I'm here to inspire those who might need it to do it themselves.

I wish you may find all the help you need. Whatever it takes.

Just do it already.

Just do it.

I'll be here for support and encouragement, because I'm gaining much from your comments to me. Thank you, and best wishes on your quest.

5 comments:

mack said...

Considering the long term benefits of smoking cessation such as low risk of succumbing to cancer, a significant reduction in mental stress, odorless breath et al, it is definitely necessary for you to start your quit smoking regimen as soon as possible. However, during the first few weeks, it may appear extremely difficult to get rid of this addiction, but as you consistently try to quit smoking for a certain period of time, your smoking cessation efforts would yield results.

Sequana said...

My 62yo sister was able to keep her tongue, but all her teeth were pulled and she can only tolerate an upper plate. There is still an open sore in her mouth that will NOT heal. She only drinks liquids for nourishment - no food ever....forever.

My brother had the same mouth cancer, but has already died from it. At the end, there were open sores coming from inside his cheeks to the outside of his face.

And yes, they were both lifelong smokers. Keep up the good work here. People will not face up to what may be in store for them.

MWG said...

Thank you for posting this.

I'm a recovered smoker (quit 7 yrs ago) but my 18-yr old son has just taken up the habit.

I'm going to make sure he reads this.

Tonight.

snafubar-none said...

Thanks to MWG and Sequana for sharing their stories. I need to find a way as I go through this to express how much I would much rather did not have this story to tell. People have accused me of doing it for shock value; which to me is rather odd, as if somehow I'm responsible for the "shocking" consequences of smoking and drinking, and there seems to be some implication that if I just stopped talking about it, the horror would end.

I only wish that were true.

If only I could prove how much I wish that were true.

I got into a wicked flame-war over at a rather popular political blog with two guys who want to make it clear to me that what they find far more offensive than smoking or any of it's consequences, is that someone would dare share this story because it makes me an attention seeker and a drama queen.

The worst part, like Sequana said about people "not facing what may be in store", is precisely what I have seen in every case I know of. The smoker says they'll quit when their bad health catches up to them; once that happens they rationalize that it's all downhill from there anyway so they might as well enjoy themselves and they keep smoking.

I just watched it again with someone else I know. He got cancer, quit smoking; started treatments for the cancer, and has now started with unfiltered cigarettes.

I have to put up some photos of my house next.

MWG said...

Honestly, I think more people need to read MORE true stuff like what you're sharing.

Have you ever been to WhyQuit.com?

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