Let’s face the killer emphysema head on – editorial

G.E. Synhorst

There’s a growing army in America that can’t hack it any more. Some are farmers, some cowboys, some sailors, miners or factory workers. Many are in their mid-40S and look as though they’re still in their prime, but they sit at home all tired out. They can’t follow the coon nounds, hunt deer or play horseshoes. They avoid anything that takes effort–like putting their arms over their heads to drive a nail or to adjust a curtain rod. These are the men who once stood in the breeze and drew that satisfying gulp of smole deep into their chests and felt that title jolt of satisfying pain. These are the men who have destroyed their lungs by smoking cigarettes. These are the men pushing the ranks of emphysema victims into the tens of millions in this country alone.

Go see them in any hospital ward that specializes in lung disease. There sits a man with a clip on his nose and a tube in his mouth. This machine measures the remaining capacity of his worn-out lungs while a technician berates him, “Push out, push out, push it all out …. Now pant like a puppy. Faster, faster, faster.” The patient’s tired, bulging eyes with bags beneath them tell it all.

And there’s a grizzled miner–prematurely home from the mines. He retches and groans as a doctor inserts a long tube and peers into his bronchial tubes and lungs. The blood test in bad. they don’t take it from the vein; the computer needs a sample from the artery to see if the blood can still carry oxygen. Arteries are way down next to the bone. They have tough walls, and each artery is protected by a big nerve. God never meant it to be easy for people to mess with arteries. There’s a deep and heavy pain as the needle probes the rubbery artery and its guardian nerve. The blood comes out thin and blue, not bright pink and red as it should. Long after, there’s an ugly, purple bruise warning against any more foolishness.

“Doc, how much worse will it get? How long do I have?” The question is matter-of-fact. the man looks like a rancher. The back of his ruddy neck is hatched with deep lines. there’s a crease across his forehead where his hat should be. He has a barrel chest with forearms sinewed with muscle but oddly thin. His wife clasps her hands and they tremble in her lap.

“You’re not drying, but you’ll get worse. About three years, more likely five; could be ten. We’re not God, you know. Going to be harder to walk across the room; need to sit and rest once or twice while you get dressed. Stay out of crowds; pneumonia could be fatal–even a cold. You’ve got to come right back in here or you could be in real trouble. Keep away from children; they carry cold. You heart’s getting worse; always does with chronic lung disease. Muscles waste away, too, with no exercise, and that makes your bones brittle. You’ve got to try to exercise, but watch your heart. I’m prescribing five kinds of pills. Can’t understand why you will smoke a cigarette now and then. I forgot to ask, are you still potent at all? Can you…?” The doctor hurries on through his check list. There’s no good news for the Marlboro man; this side of heaven things won’t get better.

It’s worse than we said, but it’s hard to tell it all on paper. Besides, these guys with the ruined lungs are the “good old boys”; they were the most active, worked the hardest, enjoying life the most of fought our wars (and got their cigarettes free or at seven cents a pack). So we’ll leave it at that. And let them keep their worst secrest. At least let them suffer, until they finally strangle, with dignity.

It’s cigarette smoking that did it. Of course there might be other things too: coal dust and cigarettes, asbestos dust and cigarettes. But virtually always it’s cigarettes. There’s a whole army among us–people who have destroyed themselves and given up the health and happiness of their families by sucking on that silly little white cigarette.

the government worries about a lot of things that are bad for us. It spends millions of our nation’s treasure to root out those evils: red food dye, saccharin and laetrile. Maybe that’s all right, but it’s hard to understand why the tobacco crop hets very substantial government support. Our children are still picking up the filthy weed. Young women–baby, they’ve come a long way–are smoking more, and more are getting lung cancer every year. They’re shortening the gender gap in emphysema, too.

The government has done some things. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop and National Cancer Institute Director Vincent DeVita, to their credit, have spoken fearlessly. They need our help. Let’s put a real tax on cigarettes, like two bucks a pack. Our grandfather didn’t get emphysema because they could only afford a pack a week. Let’s go back to that. Let’s at least stop the government support of the tobacco industry. Why not get all the cigarette-vending machines out of public places? Why not stop smoking in more public places? Why not outlaw the machines and put those exercrable cigarettes under the counter with the girlie magazines? It’s time for Americans to get serious and face this killer head-on.

COPYRIGHT 1984 Saturday Evening Post Society

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group

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