Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Stress of Quitting

I'm getting tired of being a social leper. I've sort of decided to quit - smoking that is.

Well, I HAD decided, and I'd always promised myself if I ever did decide to quit, I'd tell nobody. Not a soul. So already I've gone back on my word. This does not augur well!

I used to find militant non-smokers amusing. Such as the bike-hire person who informed the Australian film director Paul Cox, that he could not hire a bike at the beach in Los Angeles. These are "no smoking bikes", Mr. Cox was told.

People standing on a curb, next to a bus exhaust idling toxic gas fumes, and at the same time waving histrionically at a wisp of smoke emanating from my cigarette twelve feet away. Or when I was very young and sharing a house in Carlton, Melbourne, with two young men who thought that loud farts were extremely funny. I could barely breath from their smelly farts. Yet they asked me to not smoke around them. Sure, I told them, when you stop farting, I'll stop smoking. They couldn't. I couldn't. And I smoke to this day.

I think that non-smokers do not understand that we smokers would love to be non-smokers like them. When I took up smoking you could smoke in hospitals, on airplanes and in the UK in theaters. You could smoke on Melbourne trams. In university staff meetings. I can't think of anywhere you couldn't smoke. So heaps of us took it up, not knowing that one day we'd be social lepers.

The more people would rant, the more I wouldn't even think of quitting. Drunk SUV living-in-the-suburb people at dinner parties scorning the few of us left, who would politely go outside for our fix.

Then it really started. Some time in the eighties. Before it was forbidden by law to smoke in public buildings, a number of non-smokers started putting up signs up in their offices, "No Smoking". A friend of mine put up a sign, "Only people smoking allowed to enter".

Yes we KNOW that it's bad for you. It's disgusting actually. It stinks out one's home, clothes, hair, lungs, and costs a heap. You think we LIKE it? No way. We are addicts and every smoker I know freely admits this.

So it was an unexpected moment two weeks ago, when I decided to decide to quit. The date for actually quitting - 9/9/2008. I chose that date as I don't have to remember whether to write the month first (American) or second (rest of the world). I'd read about Chantix - a medication that supposedly takes away the urge to smoke. It's prescription only.

My first step was to make a doctor's appointment. I had to wait two weeks, so needless to say, my enthusiasm had somewhat wilted by the time of the appointment arrived. But I turned up, nevertheless.

I explained my need to my doctor. She was keen and started to write the prescription, then hesitated. "There's been reports of this making some people suicidal", she murmured. She was clearly torn by thoughts of a law suit and upholding her Hippocratic oath. She handed me the script.

Next to the pharmacy. Rite Aid. Corner 96th and Second, Manhattan. DO NOT GO THERE UNLESS YOU HAVE TIME ON YOUR HANDS!

I waited and waited to hand in my script. The attendant was packing boxes and made it quite clear that the customers should wait till she'd finished. Which she eventually did. "That'll be ready in two hours where's your health insurance card write your name address, phone number, date of birth, social security number and health insurance number on the back of the prescription", she said without drawing a breath. Clearly she was not a smoker.

I did as she required, and asked could they deliver as I was busy and didn't want to go back in two hours. "Yeah", she replied and blew a gum bubble, "where do you live?" I showed her what I'd just written.

"Credit card number", she retorted. I obliged. And off I went to work.

Four hours later. No delivery. I phoned the pharmacy (did I tell you NOT TO GO THERE?)

"Name?" I told them. "Please hold." I did. Four minutes later, "What did you say your name was?" I repeated it. On hold for five minutes. "Oh the prescription is here. You must have told one of our young people; they never remember", he said as if it was I who was at fault.

No worries, I'll come now, I said and dutifully turned up at Rite Aid. Corner 96th and Second, Manhattan. There was a line (queue). When it was my turn I gave my name and was greeted with a blank look. So I said it again. "Do you have a prescription?" said the helpful Rite Aid attendant. It occurred to me he was nothing like the friendly pharmacist in Rite Aid's TV ads. I explained, and to cut a long story short as I wish no one the horror of my ordeal, I got to the stage of him finding the packages of Chantix.

All over? No such luck. "The computer can't read your health card". "Why not?" "You have the wrong date of birth." "Do not." "Do so." On and on.

So there I was, arguing and stressed, trying to convince my friendly pharmacist that I was not born seven years later than my own daughter. Another customer, a big-bossomed woman with long-flowing hair, was also having trouble. They thought her birthday was wrong too. "They think I'm 29", I told her. She shrugged. They thought she was her own son. At one stage they asked her for her sex. I kid you not.

In the end it was all sorted out, if you call paying out $240 being sorted out. After all the fuss about when I was born, I was told it wasn't covered by my insurance anyway.

But wait, I couldn't take the package. The labels had to be re-done. "Why?" I asked. "My birthday isn't on them". "But they are wrong", I was told. It being late in the day I accepted that. I wasn't up to arguing any more. I was exhausted.

And of course I was dying to get away from the place. To step outside. And smoke a cigarette.

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