On the very last day as a civilian before my first hospitalization in July 2015, I remember getting a banana from a fruit stand on the corner of East 15th Street and Park Avenue South and smoking half a cigarette. I was with my mother. We hailed a cab. We called my dad to tell him where we were going. We got to the ER on the Upper East Side. That would be my last cigarette ever. I spent the majority of my misspent youth in London, where cigarettes were widely available, and during my adolescence and early 20s we all smoked. We smoked at break time, at lunch, next to school, after school, on the way home, waiting for the bus, in cafes, at restaurants, in clubs. You could smoke everywhere, and we did. It was a different world (a smellier world). Cigarettes were cheap as chips. I loved smoking. I had a deep love affair with it. I am really much happier now that I no longer smoke. Things are much less complicated when you don't have to constantly interrupt your day to have a cigarette. But it doesn't change anything about how I remember it. I love how it made me feel, I loved the act of having a coffee and a cigarette or a glass of wine and a cigarette, I loved having a chat with a friend over a cigarette, I loved having that oral fixation, I loved having a secret. I can't believe I thought I was tricking anyone into thinking I didn't smoke when I was a teenager. A friendly word of warning to anyone who thinks they don't smell like smoke YOU FUCKING DO AND EVERYONE KNOWS IT AND YOU'RE NOT AS CLEVER AS YOU THINK, 15 YEAR OLD NORA. We all know all the many reasons why one shouldn't smoke, and in a twisted way, I'm grateful for having an emergency liver transplant because it was a great and ultimately very effective way to get me to finally quit. For anyone out there looking to quit, may I politely suggest not using my tried and true technique and just buying patches or that Allen Carr book everyone loves so much. I can tell you now that it's a lot easier, less fraught and decidedly less time consuming than a liver transplant. I like that I know exactly where and when I smoked my very last one, it was a nice little bookend to a years long torrid affair.
I think when I first started writing this blog I downplayed this aspect of myself -- I felt the need to be infallible and perfect once I was given the gift of a new liver. Somewhere in the deep dark depths of my own mind, I'm sure I thought they'd take it away if I was too honest (despite always striving to be as honest as I'd let myself be, in the moment). I'm not sure who they are or how they would go about extracting a liver from me, but I was indebted to 'them' and so it felt important to be the ever obedient patient. As if I'd get a medal at the end of it, or something. Newsflash: there are no commendations in hospital, there are no awards for 'most obedient patient'. The award for 'perfect patient' does not go to anyone, ever. You don't even get an award for 'did her best not to fuck up'. The main objective for doctors, your family, the hospital, society at large (if you're lucky)--is getting you to a point where you're basically alive and they can politely kick you out is best case.
I've made a bunch of mistakes pre-LT and post-LT and future-LT-me will make some, too. We all make so many mistakes that sometimes it feels like the only thing you're doing is messing shit up. I smoked for basically 15 years straight, and I never once tried to quit. I can't even be one of those people who say 'I mean, I smoked on and off for 15 years' or 'You know, I quit for about 8 months' or 'I tried this really great hypnotist--she's amazing--you really must go to her, she cured everything I've ever done and now when I have a pee it is flaked with actual gold.' I'm really not ashamed of having smoked for so long. I mean, of course, I sometimes regret all that money that went down the drain or the time-wasting or the standing in the freezing cold getting frost-bite. But I don’t feel the need to qualify saying that I smoked with anything like 'Oh, how I wish I hadn’t.' or 'God, how could I be so stupid.' I loved smoking. I loved that part of me. I didn't think it was gross at the time (which I have come to realize it is); I thought it was sexy (only if Kate Moss is doing it); I thought it was fun (it’s really, really fun).
I don't admonish anyone else for smoking, because that would be beyond hypocritical. My friends can tell you how much. I can't really be around smoke anymore because it makes me feel sick and gives me a headache (although if I am conveniently placed in a wind tunnel which does happen more often than one would think I've been known to ask friends of mine to smoke near me -- cheap thrills where you can get them). Also, if I’m around smoke, I’ve been told, it can increase the chances of me getting a cold because of my suppressed immune system. So I'm really 'supposed' to ask people to slowly step away from me if they're smoking.
The point is that we are only human, and whatever blows your skirt up blows your skirt up: everyone has their vices. To ask that I suddenly shut off that part of me because I've been told I can never smoke again would be dishonest. It's the same as expecting that sick people never have sex, or that they don't have a desire to have sex, purely because they are sick. A calamity happened to show up in my life and turn it all upside down and gave it a nice little shake. That doesn't mean I didn't engage in a bunch of crazy adolescent proclivities before the calamity appeared. Just because we are patients or we have a medical condition of some sort does not make us inhuman or devoid of basic human impulse. It does not mean I do not long for the sweet smell of tobacco on a summer night. It does not mean we do not remember when life was just a languid afternoon down the pub, with not a teenage care in the world. There would be nothing more joyful than throwing caution to the wind and doing something entirely spontaneous. It’s so beyond boring to build your life around when you have to take your medication, or when your next doctor’s appointment is. And even if you are not a patient, the same things might ring true: building your life around your kid's schedule, or your job's schedule, or your bills' schedule -- or whatever boring schedule life demands of you. The way I get my kicks now is meditation. I actually can't even believe that that's what I think is the most fun thing to do. But all those selves that came before me, I see them. I am so different now. I see the other selves of mine. I still like those previous incarnations of myself. I won't apologize for them, ever.
Sometimes, I have been very reactionary and defensive when the doctors ask me leading questions about whether I have smoked. As if they are waiting for me to trip up, to make a wrong move or do something irresponsible. Which, by the way I might, at some point. I'm only human. At the beginning of all this, I would get defensive when they asked me if I had smoked. They'd say: 'Any smoking?' And I'd look at them, speechless. Then irritated. I'd curtly reply: 'Nope.' How could they possibly think that I would do that when I was so ill? How could they possibly think I'd be that disrespectful? But 'they' are not waiting for me to make a wrong move, what could possibly be the upside of that? I suppose they have to ask, in order to help. I’m not sure why they ask. I would love nothing more than to do something completely irresponsible. But illness and aging, they teach you it’s not worth it. And by the way, life is long, and people change. I cannot say that I won't feel differently in 10 years time. That I won't do something like smoke a cigarette. I don't want to, I don't have any desire to and I have committed to strive to never smoke again. But again, I use this as an example to remind ourselves that we are only human and as people and patients we are asked to do a hell of lot to just get through the day. Which is tiring and very dull, let's be real. The blame game is one we'll never win and the enormous pressure of being responsible for oneself in life can sometimes be overwhelming. It helps to tell the truth and try not to smoke.