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Nicotine, addictive alkaloid

November 27, 2019
Been in recovery for years.

November 28, 2019

Forty years ago if I wanted to feed the fire of literary creativity I’d light up a hand-rolled cigarette.  “Top” tobacco was my favorite brand, in the big yellow can.  Such a smoke seemed to help me concentrate.  Sharpened my focus.  My journalism reporting professor, Jerry Holloron, smoked Tarytons then.  He looked like an intellectual, and I wanted to be like him. Turns out his bar was unreachable, but that’s another story.

In my career as a Public Health Officer I’ve seen first hand what can happen to people who spend years smoking tobacco.  (For a while there, you know, we smoked marijuana, but we didn’t — or at least I didn’t — smoke it long enough to observe its effects over the course of, say, 50 years.)  

I liked the public service ads that noted that smoking doesn’t always cause lung cancer; sometimes they snip off your tongue.  Both my parents smoked and neither lived to be 65, and neither died of lung cancer.  My dad died of brain cancer when I was four years old, my mother died of non-Hodgkins lymphoma when I was 27.  Like that.  

In 2005 Mary Stroble hired me as a pharmacist for a home infusion service, “At Home Solutions” here in Billings. I’d visit sick people in their homes to help them self-administer intravenous medications, such as chemotherapy and intravenous feeding solutions.  Nasogastric feeding suspensions too.  Sometimes liquid feeds through a percutaneous gastric tube.  Often the technical aspects would be the realm of nurses we worked with, but we pharmacists got good at helping patients with their electric pumps.

A sick man who lived about a block from my house had cancer of the tongue, so a surgeon snipped it out.  He was on our service, so I visited.

He was perhaps a week post-op.  His mother said he was bashful.  Something about having his tongue cut off, I guessed.  

He needed cans of feeding suspension pumped from a bag into his stomach because his mouth was in lousy shape from the surgery.  He was self-conscious, so I met him in his backyard with the pump and bags and food in 250 ml cans.  Obviously he couldn’t talk, but he could still smoke.  He had nothing to lose, really, by smoking.  He could have been a great spokesperson for the Surgeon General.  Fortunately he had a friend back there to smoke with him. We got along great. I taught him to feed himself.

I don’t hate tobacco, for all the losses I’ve had.  I always thought it afforded an avenue to the spiritual.  It is also powerfully addicting.

These days I can’t smoke because I love my children and grandchildren.  My grandfather smoked and he died of emphysema at age 72. I would hate to see my children or grandchildren get addicted.

More than a few people I’ve met have had their tongues cut out because of mouth cancer.  I think they often felt surprised that the cure was to have someone snip off their tongue.  One particularly wonderful man wrote me a note that, because his tongue had been cut off, he thought he could get a job in an airport as an announcer.  Somehow I don’t think his cancer was caused by tobacco.  He did have a superb sense of humor.

However, there’s chewing tobacco.  I smoked from 1968, when my brother told me it was a bad idea, to 1972 when I was a Jesus freak.  

In 1972, I became an obnoxiously fundamental Christian in Southern California, one of those who answers the altar call and “gets saved.”  I quit smoking abruptly for more than a year.  Then I got orders to go, unaccompanied by family, overseas.  Vietnam was still ongoing.

I was in the Marines in Japan, First Air Wing.  I was still an obnoxious Christian, the butt of many a joke from my fellow Marines in supply.  Most of the guys in my squadron were blacks.  Junior to me.  There was Lance Corporal Thigpen and Corporal Ragsdale.  They didn’t cotton to my brand of Christianity, but even as they kept me at a distance, they told me that my taking up smoking again was ill-advised.  PFC Humphreys was white, but he didn’t offer his opinion.  Staff Sergeant Ortega drank way too much to engage with us.  He said he thought my Christian ways were over the top.

My brand of Christianity kept me insulated from the tailor shops, restaurants, whores and bars of Iwakuni, Japan.  I had a year to serve there before I could return to my family in Southern California.  Oh yes, I also ran 7 or 8 miles every day, even on Christmas.  I got hollered at on Christmas for running.  I missed my family.  Several dogs, P. and Bob and Todd.  I stayed occupied.

I was a smoker when I returned to California, and because of a mix-up that involved hats, I ended up working at the Third Marine Air Wing headquarters at El Toro Marine Air Base.  I could type.  Thanks to Evelyn Stauffer, my Dillon, Montana, high school typing teacher, I could type more than 80 words a minute on a manual typewriter.  Even faster on an electric.  Like 100+.  

Third MAW Headquarters was a smokers haven.  We smoked cigars.  All the time. And drank lots of coffee.

My little family lived in Tustin, California.  That’s where our daughter Clara was born. We lived in a duplex at the end of C Street.  The other duplex denizens were old people, Mr. and Mrs. Denny,  He was on oxygen because of intense cigar smoking.  We moved before the poor old dude died.

In 1976, I managed to get out of the Marines to return to Missoula to the University of Montana.  My aim was to finish my bachelors in journalism, which I did.  I remember Nathan Blumberg telling me he was disappointed that I smoked.  My problem was I couldn’t find a job as a reporter.

By some miracle I landed a Forest Service job in Northern Idaho on a Fire Lookout in the summer of 1978.  Obviously smoking is incompatiblewith forestry, so I quit smoking and learned to chew Copenhagen tobacco.

I couldn’t write well enough to make a living.  I entered pharmacy school and learned to do the things a pharmacist does.  Solve problems, mostly.

I chewed Copenhagen until 1982, when I got a job as a pharmacy apprentice at Billings Deaconess Hospital.  I quit chewing tobacco abruptly, but for three days I became a screaming bitch before the nicotine addiction lost its pull.

The next phase of nicotine usage didn’t kick in until 1995, the year of the Oklahoma bomber.  I had worked about five years at the Indian Health Service Hospital at Crow Agency and returned to the IHS clinic in Lame Deer.  My boss, Tim Dodson, chewed tobacco.  So did Frank Ridgebear, pharmacy technician.  So did retired smoke jumper-turned pharmacist Bill Neumeister.  I tried dipping again.

Dipping Copenhagen after so many years made me queasy.  Therefore, I used nicotine patches in a step up fashion to habituate myself so that I could chew again.  Bill said it was a bad idea to chew tobacco.

Why do all of the addicted people say it is a bad idea to use nicotine products?

Lastly, I used nicotine gum and nicotine patches to wean myself off nicotine. I don’t know how long I’ve been “clean,” and it doesn’t matter much to me.

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  1. Ha! Good stuff… my husband writes, he will enjoy this. Good to read a little more about your life on the Bonde family line.

  2. Thanks, Kari. I’ve been thinking about things Bonde lots lately, reading and rereading Norse sagas edited by Jane Smiley. Apparently we are among the thousands of descendants of Harald Fair-hair, ruthless Viking who united Norway by force. A good way to learn about ourselves. My son Robert said we have some Neanderthal genes too. (I rush to the mirror to check.)

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