Excuses, Addiction and a Freight Train

Blog Post created by Bellegonia on Sep 6, 2018

I have that image in my head... you know the one. The man in business clothes is bent over and his head is all up in his ass. Up to 11 days ago that's how I existed. It's OK, you EXQUITERS can shake your head yes... 2 weeks ago I wouldn't have understood. But now I'll be the first one to agree. The last 30 years of my life have been nothing but excuses, addiction and a freight train.

   I don't talk about work in detail for many reasons. I am an Organ Procurement Coordinator. What that means is I work to facilitate the gift of life after death has been deemed "imminent" by speaking with a patient's loved ones about considering organ donation - and if they say yes to donation - then I medically manage the donor while I find recipients for their organs. I also go to the operating room for recovery and coordinate the effort, not by doing surgery, but by making sure everyone has what they need to make it a seamless and uneventful process. So, my work is very private in that I respect the privacy of our donors and their families. It's a complicated job with many facets and I understand it's not your typical occupation. Never a dull moment, that's for sure. I've been in the field for 12 years. Before this I was a critical care paramedic for 10 years. Smoking and my career choices just seemed to go hand-in-hand... you run on adrenaline then fumes and coffee and cigarettes and then beer and cigarettes then adrenaline and it's a constant cycle. 24 hour shifts, work hard then sleep fast.

I'm older now. Soon to be 57. I feel like the last 20 years have flown by. When I got involved in organ donation I really loved being blessed in to usefulness. I felt so honored that families would allow me to bear witness to such an initimate and private series of events... the end of their loved one's life. I'll be the first to admit that the first 6 years of this career found me carrying home the grief like a golden cape. I've had to grow from that over time just so I didn't end up in the looney bin. Too much death, sadness, grief can over shadow the incredible, selfless gift(s) that make organ donation a truely spiritual and profound event.

   While on a case I am often there for 36 - 50 hours at a stretch. Yes, awake the whole time. We can not sleep... there is too much going on and too much to do. I would crawl home and sit with a 6 pack of my favorite IPA and a pack of smokes and deflate. That was my normal. Which is not normal at all. If I had a laugh out loud audio clip I would insert it here. Quitting meant also acknowledging that my deflation habits after a case had to cease to exist. That ice cold beer... my reward for a job well done... had to go away along with the smokes. It didn't seem so bad of a habit at first (Hell, I EARNED it) but 12 years later I realize that it's so unhealthy and by definition makes me either a binge drinker or an alcoholic or both! By definition anyways. That's why my new normal, my QUIT normal, isn't normal at all but it's a hell of lot more normal than it used to be! 

   I wish I could go back in time and know then what I know now... and popped my head out of my ass.

One morning wrapping up a case I lifted up my scrub pants while I stretched and my right ankle was swollen to twice it's size. My first thought - DVT. Crap. But after an ultrasound that proved it was not a DVT I went home and started Dr. Googling. Yes, good old Dr Google. If you weren't dying before then you are now.

   I remembered my PCP telling me LAST year that I could get a chest CT because I was over the age of 55 and a current long term smoker. I don't know why I didn't do it then. So, I called and scheduled the test. My verbal report from the nurse was, "Well, the good news is you don't have lung cancer... but you do have emphysemic changes in both lungs and some nodules that they will have to watch." I wanted to reach through the phone and choke her. Good thing I can handle stress. What if I had cancer? What would she have said? But I digress.

   So here I am... with my new QUIT normal. No smokes. No beer. I am trying to lose belly fat to improve my health and reduce my cardiac risks. I had my epiphany. I can drive home from a donor after being up 36 hours without needing the buzz from a smoke to keep me up. I CAN do this job without the smokes and beer. It's no longer my reward. That was just an excuse. I see that now. I do miss it. A LOT. But that's OK. I would miss working A LOT, too, if I had to go to get chemo treatments. I can get my glass 1/2 full very quickly! But seriously, my habits were a freight train doing 100 miles an hour into a mountain side. I'm a smart girl, how did I deny it for so long? Right? Just reading this and you're probably going, "Ah... yeah... duh..."

   And I realize that I am not alone. All kinds of people out there have to find a new normal. The Fire Fighter. The Cop. The Nurse. The ED Physician. The Flight Medic. The Garbage Man. The Thruway Toll Booth Collector. The Pilot. I wish I had learned early on to find healthy coping mechanisms. The Shoulda-Woulda-Coulda's can really play a MIND *F* with your head. When I learned that you really need to stay present in the moment during your QUIT it was like a breath of fresh air. No one can beat me up better than myself.

   I'm trying to get used to what it feels like to breathe better and feel better day-by-day, now that my head is out of that dark place. This unexpected journey of discovery is really hard but I'm okay with it because 1) It's not killing me slowly 2) It's like waiting to get stitiches out... it's only temporary and 3) It's preparing me, no it's forcing me, to find something else in life that brings me pleasure besides my work. I used to be normal, back in my 20's and 30's. I smoked maybe 1/2 PPD and mostly when I was hanging with friends that smoked. I watched TV at night, had company over for dinner often and even used to boat on weekends. I rode my bike. I read books. I even belonged to a few outside groups and went to monthly meetings. I was a volunteer EMT in my town. I would go to chicken BBQs and Bingo night.

   Ten days in to my QUIT and it boggles my mind... what to do, what to do. I don't really like to shop, never have. I love to read but I'm the kind of voracious reader that has to finish a book in one sitting. I play Candy Crush but I don't think that counts! I garden but can't be on call and garden at the same time... I have to be ready to go, no time to shower. I never watch TV, it's  a waste of time in my world. I don't binge watch series and hardly ever watch movies. I can't remember the last time I went to a movie. I have an excuse for everything. You see, just 20 days ago I was sitting at the kitchen table, on the computer and smoking, just waiting to get dispatched. I have let my smoking addiction choke out anything else I ever used to enjoy doing because I couldn't do it smoking! All in the name of work?! Am I for real?! And who could argue THAT excuse?! In my line of work? I really had no idea at the start of this what I was going to find out about myself. No longer in denial, the picture feels raw and vulnerable one moment, and the next I want to start singing, "I will survive."

For once in my life, I actually just want to be normal! I'll never tell a smoker to pop their head out of their ass, they won't get it - but I will happily congratulate a Quitter at the beginning of their new journey then sit back and wait... and watch. If you're reading this and it strikes a chord then perhaps you'll feel the urge to derail the freight train too.