February 11th, 2016
At 77, the author is sometimes short of breath, but never short of spirit
(Editor’s note: One of the pleasures of social media is to read, and respond, to the reflections of a great writer. Celebrated author Julius Lester has a large appreciative following on Facebook, where he recently posted this essay. The American Jewish World is grateful for his cooperation.)
By JULIUS LESTER
I go to bed around six a.m. This morning, however, I had to be at the hospital by 7:15 for a pulmonary function test (PFT), which meant I slept for an hour sitting in my overstuffed chair, which was enough of a nap to get me to the hospital and back safely.
I had not had a PFT since 2000, when I was officially diagnosed with emphysema, though I had been living with it since 1991. Emphysema is one of those conditions to which moral censure is attached. People with emphysema get no sympathy because we smoked, and therefore we have no one to blame but ourselves.
That there are additives in tobacco to ensure addiction, and that it is easier to get off heroin than it is cigarettes are facts people don’t know or choose to ignore. I stopped smoking in 1988, one of the most difficult and painfully agonizing things I have ever done.
Recently, I’ve had to start wearing oxygen in public, because my oxygen saturation drops below 88, and breathing is painful when I walk a short distance. Walking around with an oxygen tank and a cannula is like carrying a neon sign advertising that I was a smoker. Some people are so rude as to ask me, “Oh, were you a smoker?” and they bask in their own feelings of superiority. Keep reading →