A good day to be a quitter

Today is the 37th annual Great American Smokeout – an event organized by the American Cancer Society that encourages smokers to either quit or make a plan to quit today.

UNMC and The Nebraska Medical Center tout a smoke free campus, and that’s great. While that status may discourage some smokers from lighting up as often or even spur them to quit, the fact is people still choose to smoke.

Smokers often know about the health risks. They know how much it costs. They know about the products available to help them quit.

That’s why today I want to take a different angle on the effect of quitting. The effect on a loved one.

I don’t claim to understand how hard it is to quit; I’ve never smoked. However, someone very close to me did for exactly 20 years: my mom.

Gorgeous, isn’t she? :)

For the first six years of my life, my mom smoked a pack and a half of cigarettes a day. Approximately 30, times 7, equals 210 cigarettes a week. I don’t even want to times that by 52 weeks a year and then 20 years.

In the spring of 1989, she finally decided to quit for good. Like many smokers, she’d tried three of four times before. Once cold turkey and once following a plan, but by herself. Then her workplace offered a group course through the American Lung Association, and it worked.

Since I was so young at the time, my memory isn’t exactly a steel trap. But I will never forget helping my mom rip up her unsmoked cigarettes. I can vividly recall our pale blue trash can filling up with filters and paper and a whole lot of satisfaction.

With quitting came a T-shirt that said “I kicked the habit” surrounded by bunch of cartoon cigarettes being stepped on by a shoe. Here my mom displays hers proudly.

Thankfully, my photography skills have improved. Slightly.

Being 6, I wanted a T-shirt too.

“You were so proud of me,” my mom recalled. “So we went to the mall and had a t-shirt made up for you.”

My shirt consisted of white, iron-on letters and simply said, “My mom quit smoking: May 15, 89.” You’d think I would have been embarrassed to wear this. Maybe at age 13, but certainly not at age 6. I wore that shirt with pride.

“That really helped me….,” my mom said.

But I couldn’t wear it to the Catholic grade school I attended. One day, then Omaha Mayor J.P. Morgan visited our first grade classroom. At the end of his visit, our teacher allowed us to bombard him with questions/comments. I immediately rushed up to the front of the room and blurted out, “My mom quit smoking!” If I remember correctly, the Mayor was quite impressed, even if the side zipper of my jumper was down.

Ahh, memories!

If the examples above weren’t enough to keep my mom going in the early days of quitting, it’s possible that this next one made it all worthwhile. Every night after she would tuck me in and retreat to the living room, I would yell for her. “I love you. And thank you for quitting smoking.”

It’s been 23 years, and I told my mom the same thing yesterday when I interviewed her for this story. I’m just as proud of her today as I was at 6-years-old. And believe me, if I could still fit into that shirt, I would wear it.

If you’re reading this and you’re a smoker, I hope you’ll give some thought to the benefits quitting may have on not just you, but your loved ones. If you’re not a smoker, but have a loved one who smokes, I hope you’ll send this post their way.

For more information on quitting with help from UNMC, contact Tom Klingemann about cessation classes at 559-8757 or Jayme Nekuda about what cessation products are covered under the university insurance plan at 402-559-4340. Addiction specialists also are available through the Faculty/Employee Assistance Program and you can check out this series of posts from UNMC Today.

It’s a great day to be a quitter!

Photo blog: Cast away

It sounded like fun. UNMC’s Primary Care Progress and Family Medicine Interest Groups presented “Procedure Night: Casting Workshop” for students Oct. 8 in the Sorrell Center’s Clinical Skills laboratory.

What does that mean? Students learned to administer casts. They received casts themselves. Then they took a saw, and cut them off. And they had to sit there while a fellow student did the same to them.

Nervous? “Only with people watching me,” one said.

Important safety tip: “If the fingers turn white,” the instructor said, “stop.”

(Or red.)

Turned out, it was fun. See for yourself.

What do you want, blood?

Two years ago, Tom O’Connor wrote a Time Out with T.O. column in UNMC Today in which he all but called us a bunch of weenies if we made squeamish excuses about giving blood. (He also used the word “phlebotomists” – what a show off.)

To which I say, “Guilty.”

Weenie No. 1, right here.

It’s not my fault. Things have changed. When I was younger, I used to be kind of a tough guy. (Editor’s note: We really don’t think this is true.)

Hey! Easy, Candy Crowley. No fair fact checking in real time.

Pretty sure this guy is a phlebotomist.

Anyway, lately, I’ve found myself flinching and cringing and ducking at everything. It’s embarrassing, really. But this is what happens when you reach the stage of life when you realize pain is not some badge of honor to be endured. No – pain is your body’s way of saying, “Don’t do that!”

And yet there I was at the recent American Red Cross blood drive at the UNMC Center for Healthy Living … giving. Why? Well, because my boss, Karen, thought it would make a good story. And also, it could save someone’s life. And it could make a tremendous difference for someone who really needs it. And it’s a small thing that could do so much. But mostly, that first thing.

So I went.

This was when I passed out.

And it went the way it always does. That is to say, people were friendly. (Except for the time I spent in the interrogation room, for having brought a camera to the blood drive – important tip: don’t bring a camera to the blood drive!)

Or, you know, as friendly as they can be, while sticking you with a sharp metal object and draining you of your life’s blood.

There I go again. I “joke” a lot when it’s time to give blood.

“You’re making too much of this,” said a lady across the way, on another table. And I was.

Fine, you try and take pictures with one hand, while losing blood.

Relax. Let the blood flow.

“You can stop squeezing,” the guy (the phlebotomist?) said. It’s over. The bag is full and fat and dark.

Did it hurt? Yeah. Some. It can be uncomfortable, let’s not lie.

But it’s such a small thing.

Fruit snacks. My kids have taught me this: you can do anything for fruit snacks.

And afterward, a cookie you don’t need, some sugar. Some juice, too tart. A bandage on your arm; a badge of courage you’ll be asked about all day.

Not a tough guy anymore. But weenies can be brave too.

(Editor’s note:  You can be brave, too, at the next campus blood drive, which is on Dec. 11 from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the Center for Healthy Living. Register now! )