One Patient’s Story: How Susie Quit Smoking Before Surgery
In 1987, I contracted diverticulitis, which burst and caused peritonitis – an inflammation of the tissue that lines the wall of the abdomen and covers abdominal organs. My diverticulitis had been undiagnosed and, as a result, I needed immediate surgery. After a successful surgery, I had a temporary colostomy bag and strict orders from my physicians not to smoke for six weeks, at which time I would need follow-up surgery. The instruction not to smoke was the most difficult part of the recovery process for me.
Like many of my friends, I had been a smoker since I was 16 years old and had even smoked the morning of my emergency surgery. This surgery, and the three others I would have over the next 11 months, forced me to quit “cold turkey” even though I constantly craved cigarettes. Quitting for the surgeries was especially difficult for me because I was a heavy smoker who had a cigarette in her mouth constantly – in the bathtub, while I was knitting and even when I was pregnant. However, I knew it was important because I was facing so many health complications and surgeries. I wanted to ensure that I was as healthy as possible while I recovered.
I was able to not smoke for two years, but eventually returned to it when I was stressed about studying for my master’s degree. Finally, at age 50, I decided to quit for good. I quit because I remembered how important my physicians stressed it was during my surgeries for diverticulitis and because my father – who also was a heavy smoker – had a heart attack at the same age.
I knew I would be able to quit for good because I was able to do it when I had my surgeries years earlier. I made sure to make smoking inconvenient for myself – I couldn’t smoke at work and wouldn’t allow myself to do so in my new car. I also insisted that my family sit in the non-smoking section when we went out to eat. To manage my cravings, I used a nicotine patch and occasionally borrowed a cigarette from a friend, but never allowed myself to purchase a pack. I eventually fully quit and have remained smoke-free.
If my diverticulitis had not exposed all of my health problems and I was forced to quit for the resulting surgeries, I would have never known that it was possible and that it was so important.