I often get a chance to see some interesting things in the healthcare field. This ranges from limb amputations, open heart surgeries, mastectomies, intestinal washouts, and every now and then, lobe-ectomies. The pictures above likely come from dissections of a human body, much like what happens when medical students undergo their gross anatomy labs. When we did this, we literally would remove different organs from the human body to learn about their shape, size, function, location within the body, and pathology that likely affected the person before their death. It was an amazing site to see, to say the least. Yet, what was more amazing than the normal everyday stuff would be when I would come across things that were not expected. This would range from a metallic joint that had been replaced, a cancer that remained in an organ, a pacemaker or defibrillator placed in the heart, and the large difference that exists between the organs of smokers and non-smokers.
Of course, it’s hard to quantify how much smoking any of the people did before their passing. Yet, you could get an idea of those that smoked more and longer than others. This came from the general appearance of the organ, its texture, shape, and size compared to organs of others. I would have to say that more than 80% of the time the smokers’ organs would appear much different in comparison to the nonsmokers’ depending on what organ we would be examining. Some lungs would be darker (sometimes black), rougher, smaller, and have masses within it while others would be just the opposite. The kidneys could be the same or different. Same goes for the liver, the pancreas, and the heart. Why is this? Well it’s all subjective, meaning each person is different. They smoke different things. Tobacco. Marijuana. Meth. Crack. They smoke at different times of day for different amounts of time. Some at night for a few minutes. Others in the morning while driving to work. They smoke in different settings/conditions. In bars. At parties outside. In a closed office or vehicle. You get the idea. Since every person and their habits/preferences are not the exact same there were always variations of what we would see as medical students.
Now, being on the front line of treatment for those that smoke, I often try to urge people to see the bigger picture versus their current state of health. While they are feeling good and there are no prominent symptoms from the smoking that continues for days, weeks, years, and lifetimes, by the time any arrive it’s often too late. Then comes a load of bad news I have to deliver to that person and their families. What’s worse than this is when I have to see children that are negatively affected by the smoking adults around them put them through on a daily basis. One would think that if they saw their own kid negatively affected by something these parents would definitely remove that negative factor from their kids’ life. Yet, this often is a lot easier said than done. It’s the epitome of what addiction does to people. The ability to quit eludes these parents just as much as it would anyone else, and all the while these kids’ health deteriorates. Asthma flares up. Eczema worsens. Ear infections return over and over and over, and the smoke keeps flowing into the air like a train coming down the railroad. It’s a sad sight to see, but a regular occurrence.
So I write all of this to say that I have multiple conversations a week about quitting smoking. I’m not the overly aggressive type that tries to scare you every time I see you into quitting. I tell people that you can quit whenever you want to, but you have to truly want to first. Most people I talk to are grown up and intelligent enough to make a conscious decision. Quit or not. So if they choose to continue to do so, I leave it be. I will remind you each time I see you in the clinic to quit because it will make a lot of people better in the long run. Yet, I will stop there with all the warnings and reprimands. If it gets through to that person like I realized it did when I randomly saw a 34-year-old patient of mine outside of the clinic. He was actually having dinner with his family, and stopped me as I walked into the restaurant just to say 6 words that sounded like music to my ears. 6 words that made me feel like a proud parent when their child gets an award. 6 simple words that reminded me why I choose medicine in the first place.
Hey Doc. I actually quit smoking.
Well then it was all worth it. If not, well lets just say that there will always be an anatomy lab out there with medical students happy to see the decision to continue smoking was made. Seeing lungs like the ones above on the right are a great learning experience for them, and if you’ve read up to this point then maybe it has been for you too.