Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Some Days It's Worth It

My phone jangled insistently, interrupting me from a boring-ass spreadsheet. My personal extension flashed on the caller ID. Damn. It was someone who had had previous contact with me, whether it was a message I left on a machine or a business card sent imploringly through the mail, please call me back, I want to help you... I had requested that he or she contact me. I couldn't ignore whoever it was. Flipping my eyes heavenward, I picked up the phone. Yet another fruitless call on yet another fruitless day in which I will impact nothing and no one.

A North Shore blue-collar accent greeted me. "Yeah, you sent me a letter. I just moved, so that's probably why it took me so long to get it..." I dug for his file, feeling my heart sink. People with North Shore blue-collar accents who are this young (mid-40's) don't make changes. They don't do anything. They just bitch about their "bad genes" and keep smoking, drinking, eating crap, not exercising.

I told him a little bit about why I had called, what was going on, the program I worked for; bracing myself all the while for the imminent rejection. But it didn't come. Instead, David (I'll call him David because that's his name. And why change it?) interrupted to say "That sounds great! I'd love to do that! I want to do anything to help me get healthier, especially my heart." (Well, he said "hahhht", really. But I think that's the same thing as "heart".)

"Well, great!" I replied, pleasantly surprised. Delving into conversation with David, I found more pleasant surprises.

"Yeah," he said, "I go wit' my wife now to the maaahket to do the grocery shopping. My GOD! It takes FOHEVAH! Reading all those labels! I gotta say, I really respect my wife now for doin' that all those yeaahs for me and the kids."

I laughed and explained that it was a system, that it was hard at first but that they'd get it down pat and it'd be easier.

"Gawd, I hope so!" he replied.

When I asked about smoking, he said he had just quit. I responded with my general yay-for-you-you-are-so-awesome stuff, telling him how great it was that he had done that, what an accomplishment it was, all that jazz. "Well, I tell ya what, I wish I had never lit that first one, tell ya the truth. Now, whenever I get those cravings, I just remember when they used the defibrillator on me. They put those paddles right on me to restart my heart. And Christ, it feels like getting kicked in the chest by a mule, I tell you what. Whenever I want to light up, I just think of that feeling. I thought I was going to die for sure. But thank God, I didn't. Now, I wish that my 22-year-old would learn from what happened to me, and quit too."

The conversation went on. We talked about ways he could improve what he was already doing, how he should take the time off from work to attend cardiac rehab, how I would connect him with more resources to help him stay quit (smoking). He was bright and excited. His heart attack had made his life better--made him appreciate his wife more, made him quit smoking, made him eat better and exercise. He had a new lease on life.

We closed the (long) conversation with him fully enrolled in my program and swearing he would talk more to his doctor about attending cardiac rehab. When we got off the phone, I set down the headset and stared at it awhile. I thought, as I often do, about the inequities of life, the inequities of "the system". How this man, with his blue-collar background and lack of college education, was targeted by Big Tobacco. How they got ahold of him from a young age, teaching him that cigarettes were cool, were grand, were his best chance for escapism. I thought of his job that won't give him time off to attend cardiac rehab so he can learn how to best heal after a heart attack, and how to prevent a future one. I thought of his countless cigarette breaks at work, going for a beer with the guys afterwards. A culture of unhealthy habits. I thought of his son, who had been born when he was barely past his teens, who now didn't want to quit smoking. I thought of how the cycle repeats itself, what it really means to "Have a family history of heart trouble".

It means discrepancies. In care, in upbringing, in opportunities. It means being stunted from the start. It means having a fuckload further to fight before you reach your destination.

Fight the good fight, David. Keep at it. I will knock down any barrier I can to help you on your way. I will help you any way that I can. And one day, God help me, I will make it so someone else doesn't have to fight that fight.

Fuck you, Big Tobacco. You will lose. One day, you will fucking lose.

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