Aug 28, 2017 News
By Sharmain Grainger
“Do not smoke; I thought it was cool, but it is not cool in any way. It is a death sentence and you should run as far away as possible from it….” – Mohanlall Balram
Smoking a cigarette or two, a pack, or even more a day is a way of life for some people. In fact, some have become so dependent on the nicotine-laced product that they cannot imagine going a day without its addictive grip.
But after smoking for 34 years without a break, Mohanlall Balram is among the few that have quit smoking altogether. Well at least it is fast approaching a month since he last took a pull from the fire stick that he had grown accustomed to since he was 13 years old.
He made the decision to quit all on his own.
It took a life-threatening condition to make him do that.
Balram hopes that by quitting, he will probably be able to add a few more years to his life.
His voice is hoarse and he constantly strains to clear his throat. Sometimes he coughs, but he would rather not because it pains somewhere in his torso; he can’t quite put his hands on the exact spot, but he knows it hurts more than he would like it to.
Besides the pain and all the unsettling thoughts about the symptoms he experiences, Balram is angry at the fact that he has to drink more than a dozen tablets a day just to ease some of his discomfort. He wasn’t born with asthma, but he might as well have been, since the constant shortness of breath he suffers requires that he keeps an inhaler at hand’s reach.
Balram is suffering from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease commonly known as COPD.
According to MedlinePlus, which is believed to be the world’s largest online medical library, the main cause of COPD is long-term exposure to substances that irritate and damage the lungs. This condition is often linked to cigarette smoke but air pollution, chemical fumes, or dust can also be contributing factors.
COPD may cause no symptoms or only mild symptoms. As the disease gets worse, symptoms usually become more severe and may include: a cough that produces a lot of mucus; shortness of breath, especially with physical activity; wheezing and chest tightness.
Balram has experienced all of the above! But according to him, his symptoms only started to manifest earlier this month.
DEVELOPING A HABIT
He never imagined that smoking cigarettes could ever lead to such symptoms. After all, he started smoking in the first place because he believed it made him look cool. He was drawn to the habit because of the friends he associated with and kept going because it made him feel “like a big man.” He had no regards for the warning on the cigarette pack that smoking is dangerous to health.
“I read that many times, but that didn’t move me…I don’t think that that ever stop anybody from smoking,” he theorized.
The now 47-year-old recalled that smoking cigarettes became a way of life for him when he became a student of the Houston, East Bank Demerara Secondary School. Before that, he remembered attending the St Ann’s school in Agricola and after writing examinations, he was eligible for a place at the Peter’s Hall School. However, attempts to get him enrolled there were futile, since the school only had the capacity to accept a limited number.
It was at this point that his parents decided that he had to attend the Houston school instead. But it was there, he recalled, that he met and became friendly with a group of ‘unruly’ boys. He liked the company well enough to indulge in their untoward activities which included smoking even in the classroom at times.
“We were just wicked, but the girls liked us just like that and I use to find when I smoke, it would ease yuh head if you had some problem,” recounted Balram.
Before long, he disclosed, “I started smoking really hard. I was still in school and smoking like three, four packs of 10 cigarettes a day.”
When he left school, the habit continued and even increased for that matter. He remembered when he landed a job as a gold miner, the habit really intensified.
“I started smoking four packs of 20 cigarettes in 24 hours, every day,” he confided.
It was no different when he fell in love and decided to get married. Nothing changed, even after the birth of his two sons. But his marriage didn’t last. Balram didn’t say what caused his marriage to end but he did reveal that neither of his sons are smokers.
Now much older and reliant on his income as a security guard, Balram said that he is thankful that his children didn’t follow in his footstep.
MANIFESTATION OF SYMPTOMS
It was earlier this month that Balram’s symptoms of COPD started to manifest. It happened while he was out on a trip to ‘the creek’ on the Soesdyke-Linden Highway with family members and friends.
It was like other outings he had been on before; there was music, lots of alcoholic beverages and food. He expected to have a very relaxing day but when he attempted to take his first sip of an alcoholic beverage he just couldn’t keep it down.
“I take one shot [of rum] and like I couldn’t swallow it; I had to spit it out back… I started to get one pain on me right side,” he recalled.
Balram decided that a swim would help to ease his discomfort but, according to him, “as soon as I go overboard and duck down, I realized I can’t make it…me breath started to lock off. I come out the water and I say ‘boy something wrong hay’ but me ain’t tell nobody nothing, I just de anxious for them to done and leh we go home.”
By the time he got home, the scary sensations he experienced had subsided. But by the time he clocked in for his night shift, the shortness of breath he’d experienced earlier was back with a vengeance. Fearful that something really awful was about to unfold, Balram decided to head to the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation to seek medical attention.
There he recalled being subjected to many tests to assess whether his heart, kidney and other organs were working well. It was while he was undergoing those tests that he became overwhelmed by a severe coughing spell that caused his chest to hurt. “I started to cough up a whole set of yellow ‘cold.’” But the medical experts did not take the mucus that emanated for granted. That too was tested and his lungs were understandably under intense scrutiny as well. Balram’s lungs were found to be severely damaged and were likely to become worse with each stick of cigarette he smoked. He was admitted for one week so that he could be treated and closely monitored. “I never in all my life remember spending one day in a hospital, and cigarette mek I had to stay in hospital for a whole week,” Balram lamented.
DESIRE TO LIVE
The health workers treating him never insisted that he had to quit smoking. But they did warn Balram that his life expectancy rate would decline if he didn’t, but could possibly increase if he quit. But according to Balram, he knew there and then he had to make a choice to either stop smoking or accept a rapid and very painful death.
At his modest domicile at 103 CC Eccles, East Bank Demerara, Balram has mounted on wall a calendar with the date August 10, 2017 circled in red.
The date, he said, represents the day that he decided to quit smoking in hopes of helping to prolong his life.
Helping to prolong his life since his diagnosis meant using an inhaler to control his breathing issues and taking as many as 30 tablets per day to ease the symptoms he developed. But as of last week he was down to using 15 tablets per day, and Balram said he is hopeful that he will live a few more years because of the decision he made to quit.
“If I did really know all of this was going to happen, I think I woulda want quit a long time now…but nobody never really explain before that all this could happen from cigarette smoking. Is only now you hearing a whole lot of talk about how cigarette dangerous,” related Balram who today has no tolerance even for second-hand cigarette smoke. In fact he divulged that he has also decided to quit drinking as well. “Anybody who come around me smoking I does chase them…even if I smell smoke now it does hurt me whole inside,” said Balram as he wheezed for the umpteenth time as he related his story of changing from a “hard smoker” to a “quitter” who wished he had done so a long time ago.
According to MedlinePlue, while there is no cure for COPD, treatments may relieve symptoms. It has however asserted that “quitting smoking is the most important step you can take to treat COPD.”
“If you quit at anytime, it is better than continuing,” Pan American Health Organisation/World Health Organisation [PAHO/WHO] Resident Representative, Dr. William Adu-Krow has assured. According to him, while there are some changes to the body that can never be reversed, “once you quit, you cannot make them worse.”
Having experienced all that he has, Balram’s advice, especially to youths of today who are inclined to smoke cigarettes, is, “do not smoke; I thought it was a good thing and that it was cool but it is not cool in any way; it is a death sentence and you should run as far away as possible from it.”
Moreover, Balram is all for the enactment of a Tobacco Control legislation since he believes that it has already helped many people to better understand the dangers of smoking.
Last month Guyana’s draft of a Tobacco Control Bill was granted passage in the National Assembly. Once in place, the legislation will outlaw smoking in public spaces where it can affect the health of non-smokers including minors. With this in mind, Balram said he hopes that he will be able to see the day that a law can help to protect people from the dangers of cigarette smoke.
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