smoke gets in your eyes

I sensed the sudden brightness through closed eyelids. I blinked and sat up. The bedside clock declared it was 1:00 am. Peter leaned against the doorway beside the now on light switch.

“I need you to,” he wheezed, “help me sit down.”

A few hours earlier, I had propped him with pillows in the recliner after administering his antibiotics and painkiller. I went to bed with fingers crossed that he had not cracked a rib by coughing. The physician at the quick clinic had ordered x-rays, but he was heading home by the time Philip was turning the lights on and off in the radiology department waiting room. We wouldn’t get the results until the clinic re-opened at 11:00 am.

I untangled myself from the covers and stumbled toward Peter. I shadowed him as he inched down the hallway, walking with my hands poised as if I could catch him should he fall.

When I could pass him, I darted ahead to fluff the pillows. I held Peter’s forearms as he eased down into the recliner.

“No, no,” he gasped. “Pull me up.”

He shuffled to his desk chair. Without waiting for me, he tried to sit. He grimaced and stopped. He looked at the couch, considered it, but remained swaying beside it instead. He had been awake for over twenty-four hours, in too much discomfort to sleep.

“Can’t sit. Can’t stand.” He tried to take a deep breath but failed. “Don’t know,” he admitted, “what to do.” I didn’t either, but that wasn’t an option. I helped him put on his shoes and then did the same with Philip. When neither was looking, I cried and laced up my own sneakers.

Fifteen minutes later, I winced along with Peter when I hit a pothole. During the earlier round trip to the clinic, Peter had felt every bump in the road. Fortunately, a half-awake Philip wasn’t kicking the seat this time, but was contentedly watching the stars. A softball-sized moth flew past the windshield, the only soul I saw in the thirty minutes it took to drive to the hospital.

Even though we told the triage nurse it wasn’t a heart attack, an EKG was ordered. Blood was drawn, beeping monitors were attached. Questions were asked and answered: two weeks of coughing; chest pain since Monday; clear mucus since Tuesday; a pack a day since age fourteen. Longer than I’ve been alive, I thought. An IV delivered fluids and a new, better narcotic. The nurses pulled the curtain on their way out.

Left alone and with the painkiller taking effect, Peter confessed, “That scared me.”

“Me too,” I said.

The doctor returned with a diagnosis based on the x-ray from earlier: inflammation of the lungs caused by an infection and aggravated by forty years of smoking. With the pain dulled and an answer provided, Peter wanted to go home. He repeated this to me several times before his wish was granted.

Just over an hour after arriving, we walked back to the parking lot. Peter moved more easily than he had on the way in.

“That scared me,” Peter confessed again. I was too drained to do more than nod in agreement. Maybe now he’ll stop smoking, I hoped.

I helped the boys into the car. I was just about to turn the key in the ignition when I heard the familiar snick. The lighter illuminated Peter’s face, cheeks drawn in as he inhaled. The cigarette glowed red in the darkness.

“You’re kidding me,” I said. He blew out smoke.

He still wasn’t scared enough.

46 thoughts on “smoke gets in your eyes

  1. Ugh. As an ex-smoker, I get the addiction but where does the real slap across the face come if not such a scary event as that? I hope he quits, for your family’s sake. A tale well-told though.


    1. He got a great pep talk from a woman working at the pharmacy this week. We had some bumps with getting some answers from my insurance company about what’s covered for smoking cessation, but I think we’re on our way now.


  2. I love your writing. Such a well told story! I used to be a smoker… quitting is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. It’s a powerful drug! Best of luck on his journey!!


  3. It’s so hard. I smoked for 10 years (started when I was 15). Quit cold turkey 3 years ago this month. It only takes a short time for the nicotine to leave your body but your mental addiction takes so long to go away, especially if you drink. It took about two years for the urge to go away when I was out with friends. I wish him the best of luck. It’s hard but it’s totally possible.


  4. Powerfully written. I could feel your fear and then frustration. Both of my parents were smokers, and both eventually quit. It is difficult at first, but so very worth it. I have my fingers crossed that he is able to kick the habit with the patch!!!


  5. I’m a smoker. I plan on quitting. Emphasize plan since that’s what we all like to say. But if that happened to me, I could not light up in the car like that. Congrats though that he’s in the process of quitting now as I read in the comments. Good for all of you. 🙂


    1. Not sure about you, but my husband smokes more when he is stressed. In light (ha!) of that, I understand why he was craving that cigarette. I hope he finds new stress relievers now that there are no smokes in the house.


      1. Yeah, stress can be a big draw. I hear working out is a good stress reliever. (Obviously I need to do more of it if I just hear about it — haha)


  6. It’s so hard, to watch someone you love not quit smoking. My grandma, cancer-riddled and on oxygen, still didn’t quit until she could no longer breathe. It always broke my heart.


  7. I’ll tell Peter what “scare” is. SCARE is when you have to stand by and watch your husband of 55 years die of cancer from cigarette smoking. That did it for me! I quit one year before he died. I have been smoke free since Oct 24, 2008, or about a year before my husband died. I am here to say you do not want to die
    that kind of death, please believe me. Based upon my experience, it was EASY to quit! Yes, it scared the habit right out of me! I did it cold turkey. No patches, etc.


  8. I was a smoker for a while, until I needed to save for my wedding! What helped me was to tell people that I didn’t smoke. Not that I was trying to stop, or cutting down. People would offer cigarettes if I said I was cutting down. When I said I didn’t smoke, they wouldn’t offer. A small step, but it helped. I think it also helped to reinforce it in my brain too!. I hope he is successful.


  9. Very powerfully told and so heartbreaking and scary. My mom smoked for 50+ years. She was on oxygen the last few years of her life. I spent a month helping my dad and siblings care for her on hospice. She wasn’t expected to survive Christmas but held on until January 20, 2014. Quitting is hard as hell but dying isn’t easy either.


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