40 years of loyalty to my cigarettes. Three big packs a day. For a little over 40 years.
You must be thinking that I cough every morning before starting my day, like a diesel engine starting up on a cold day. Or that I spit like a motor spitting oil.
Sorry to disappoint the anti-smoking crowd. I’ve never had the impression that my smoking has had any visible consequences.
Nonetheless, I had an old dream for a long time: to quit smoking. I’d tried to kick the habit several times. You always think you can stop whenever you want. Or that you’re just smoking for pleasure and not because you’re hooked. Even after 40 years of smoking 3 packs a day.
So I quit. After having quit smoking, I found myself to have changed, with some new goals in mind. I planned to get into the ring and take some boxing lessons, just to let off some steam. I even made an appointment with a Café Graffiti old-timer to meet him at his gym.
But a routine medical exam led me down another path. I’d already started to take pills for my cholesterol, diabetes and light flashes. Now my doctor, instead of complimenting me on my improved health, was giving me two types of pills for my blood pressure.
But the worst thing about this was the four pumps I was being given every day so I could breathe. One of these pumps could be used up to 8 times a day as needed.
I put a big black X thorough my dreams of taking up boxing, and instead headed for the EPIC Center on the advice of my daughter Annie, a physiotherapist. It’s the largest center for cardiovascular disease prevention in Canada, associated with the Montreal Heart Institute. It’s a place where people get back in shape, with doctors, nurses, nutritionists… We work out, and are told what to eat, how to eat, and when to eat.
They take blood tests, so it’s not easy to cheat. Which will all, hopefully, have a positive effect on my cholesterol and my diabetes.
It’s one of the rare workout centres where you can see defibrillators on the walls in every room. That keeps you humble as you embark upon your new way of living.
The physical training was not at all what I expected. Running was unthinkable. I had to start by… walking! Pretty embarrassing for someone ready to jump into the ring as if a 40-year 3 pack a day smoking habit hadn’t left any scars.
I was seen by different specialists. From cardiology to pulmonology, from ENT to a stay in nuclear medicine. An asthma diagnosis was followed by what they call Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder, or COPD. That means that the lungs are in a downward spiral, deteriorating twice as fast as for the average citizen.
I’d already seen a documentary on the EPIC Center, which was presented as a medical centre for people who had already had a cardiovascular event in their lives, like a heart attack. Today I know it also functions as a preventative facility to stop people like myself from ending up having a negative health event involving the heart.
True, the EPIC Centre is used by a lot of older people. But year by year, young people too can take note of the importance of prevention and of taking care of yourself.
Today I’m undertaking a new battle. And it’s not happening in any boxing arena.
Since having stopped smoking, I conceived of a t-shirt that our graphic artist, Juan, has created. I hope it’ll raise someone’s awareness about protecting one’s heart. I hope that it’ll lead someone to act to protect their heart. A sort of legacy to leave to the Café Graffiti. An organization… close to my heart.
The EPIC Center is just one of many such places devoted to helping people with cardiovascular problems in Québec.