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This honest and compelling letter is in memory of a good friend to many of us. Bud Ellis lost his battle with the diseases caused by smoking cigarettes on Sunday August 23rd, 1998, but his memory lives on in all of the people he inspired to quit smoking and will continue to inspire.
ALL OF MY HEROES WERE SMOKERS
by F. O. "Bud" Ellis
Being born in the early '30's wasn't so bad, the big depression was just about halfway through and some things were getting back to a normal state. My father had a job to go to, it was with the WPA but it was work and my dad went out each morning and returned each evening, tired out and sweaty from working on roads all day.
My dad was my hero, I remember running across the yard and greeting him when he got back to the house. Many times I would reach in his shirt pocket, pull out one of his cigarettes and put it in his mouth so he could smoke it.
My first hero. And he was a smoker.
As I grew older, I met many more people who smoked. I was just the thing to do. Everyone smoked in those days, no one ever thought any- thing about it. Even some of the ladies smoked out in public and no one objected to it.
When we moved to a town that had a movie theatre, and on the rare occasions that I had the money to go to the show, that's where you would find my on Saturday afternoon, sitting through the newsreels, cartoons, the serial and then the main movie, which was usually a western. I would see all of my heroes there and nine out of ten times they were smokers. Some of them could roll a cigarette with one hand and strike the match to light it with their thumbnail. What Heroes, if they got in a fight they could do it with the cigarette still in their mouth and it would not go out while they whipped up on the bad guys.
I wanted to be just like them. I would walk like them, talk like them and just as soon as I learned how, I was smoking like them. I could roll a cigarette with one hand, strike a kitchen match with my thumbnail and light up. My Heroes. They taught me everything. I learned how to fight watching my heroes; trying out the moves when one of my older brothers decided it was time to work on me.
I had two older brothers, and a younger brother and sister who were three and six years younger than I. The two older brothers smoked and every time I could get my hands on one I smoked. When we could not get regular tobacco, we would use rabbit tobacco which could be found in the fields down in the central part of Florida where we lived. The stuff was very strong and we used to pride ourselves by being able to inhale it. Smoking was, and has always been, a part of my life. When my parents were anywhere near me, I did not smoke, but just as soon as I could get away, you could bet that I would have a cigarette in my mouth.
Before my sixteenth birthday, I joined the Army. My Dad and Mother were divorced and I was staying with my Dad. He signed the papers that I was seventeen years old and off to the Army I went. Going through basic training at Ft. Jackson South Carolina was not a big deal to me, six weeks of basic and they sent me to Potential Leader- ship School where I flunked out after five weeks and was given a delay in route so I could go home before being sent off to Germany.
I won't go through my experiences in the Army except to say that they made it very easy for me to smoke. The cigarettes were plentiful and cheap to buy from the PX. Smoking was a part of just about everything they even gave smoke breaks for us to light up.
I just about always had a cigarette around. I sometime smoked two or three packs of either non-filtered Lucky Strikes or Pall Mall reds. I never dreamed that the habit I had picked up would one day do me in.
I worked the construction trade most of my life, either as a heavy equipment operator or as a foreman on the road projects. Needless to say I also inhaled a lot of diesel smoke while sitting up on the machines I operated.
In the year of 1981, I started noticing that my breathing was getting strained and at that time, I somehow knew that is was caused by smoking too many cigarettes. When people used to say something about my smoking I had a smart reply ready for them, "As long as I have been smoking, if I don't have it now I won't get it, and if I got it, it's too late to do anything about it." I just didn't know, or was too dumb to realize, just how true the latter part of that was.
In the fall of 1990 I had a rare physical and was advised then that I was developing emphysema and should stop smoking right away. Well, I half-heartedly attempted to quit by going on the gum. That lasted a few days and I just about went crazy wanting to smoke. I just had to have a cigarette in my mouth or I would lose my mind.
In 1991 I again gave it another try and this time I used the patch. I lasted four days without smoking and the the desire to smoke came on with a vengeance and I pulled the patch off and started smoking.
One good thing did come out of the half-hearted attempts to quit, I changed brands of cigarettes and went on filtered brands, working my way down to the weakest cigarette that I could find. I was trying to find a way to keep on smoking. Little did I know that most of the filtered cigarettes are just about as bad for you as the non-filtered ones.
Needless to say, my on again off again efforts to stop smoking had me in such a state of mind that I didn't know if I was coming or going most of the time. When you feel your breathing getting worse and worse all the time, it is not hard to realize that you must quit what is doing you the harm but for some reason we seem to crave the poison that is killing us. At least it was that way with me. I wanted to smoke and I didn't want to smoke. Maybe some of us have a death wish that we don't know about.
The month of December 1993, I returned to Florida from Tennessee. The hills up there kept getting steeped and steeper and harder for me to walk, my breathing was getting worse all the time and I decided I would be better off down here where it's flat. I found a job within two weeks of getting here and thought everything was going to be just fine...... At least that is what I thought.
Everything was fine until the flu season came around and I caught it from one of the guys in the office where I worked. I was taken to the hospital by one of my co-workers, and after telling them that I had the flu and also had emphysema they got to work on me right away. I was immediately placed in intensive care where I stayed for three days, then moved to a regular floor where I had a relapse after two days and sent back down to intensive care for three more days.
Thirteen days and thirty five pounds lighter, I was well enough to be sent home. Thirteen days without a cigarette and the first thing I do is buy me a fresh pack of cigarettes as the ones I had open in the car were stale and didn't taste good. If that is not the height of ignorance I don't know what is. I have mentally kicked myself many times for lighting up the first cigarette.
In July of 1994, I again had to be placed in the hospital to get my breathing straightened out, I couldn't keep enough oxygen in my lungs to function without extra oxygen. After my release from the hospital I was placed on oxygen full time 24 hours a day.
I again, got the patches and made another attempt to quit smoking but the results were the same, quit for a few days and then start back. To tell the truth the on again off again way I was living had me so mentally messed up that I could no longer do my job and I was just a- bout ready for a padded cell.
The first of August,1994 I retired at 62 and started drawing my Social Security. The company that I worked for could no longer use me because my work was unsatisfactory; I was making too many mistakes.
I have had several trips to the hospital since last July, most of them because my lungs were stopped up because of smoking and I had to go there to get them un-clogged. I have an oxygen machine at home with me and portable tanks to use when I get the chance to go out. I also have a nebulizer, which I use four or five times daily to help keep my lungs cleaned out. Without all this I would not be living today. It is real troublesome to have to be hooked up to oxygen all the time, but I do have a choice, do it or die from lack of oxygen.
About the middle of June 1995, I started taking nutritional supplements. After a couple of weeks I noticed that I was not smoking as much as I had been and I got curious as to why. I started to purposefully go longer and longer between smokes. I could go up to three hours without just having to have one if I wanted to. That was unusual for me as most of the time I just had to have one about every hour at least. I kept weaning myself down and was to where I was only smoking about a half pack each day.
I moved from the duplex where I had been living for a year and moved into a low cost housing apartment building, on the first of July, 1995. My parking space was assigned to me and instead of being close to the building it was several hundred feet away, too far for me to walk. I got the doctor to prescribe me a wheelchair and started using it to get to the car, which by the way is a station wagon. I could load my chair in the back of the wagon and be on my merry way. One Friday I hurt my back while putting the chair into the car. When the pain let off some I continued on my way but, by Monday the hurting was so much that I called the doctor and he had me meet him at the emergency room. After x-rays etc. it was determined that I had a "compression fracture" of one of my vertebrae, all they could do was treat me for the pain and let nature take its course on the rest of it. I spent four days in the hospital and was allowed to return to my apartment.
Before going into the hospital I was down to less than a half pack of cigarettes a day so it was not a big thing then for me to quit smoking. This time I did not want the patch, the gum or anything else. I just kept taking the supplements that I had been taking and I didn't smoke for about 39 days. I got brave and figured I could smoke "just one" and put them down. I did, I smoked one the first day, two or three the next day and went out a bought my a pack on the third day. What is funny is that on Friday when I went to buy the cigarettes, I got caught in a sudden shower coming back to the building from my car and I was really soaked. When I got inside the building with the air conditioning, I just about froze. I think someone was trying to tell me something.
I got another pack on Saturday as the pack I bought on Friday didn't last but a day. Finally, sometime during the evening Saturday, I realized what I was doing and I came to my senses and around midnight I threw away all the cigarettes that I had left and I prayed to God for help not to smoke anymore.
Sunday when I woke up my breathing was very bad and I was having great difficulty in gettin oxygen down me. As the day progressed my breathing continued to get worse and worse. I called the doctor and he had me go to the emergency room where I was diagnosed as having a bad case of bronchitis. Ten days in the hospital and I was sent home. Needless to say this time it is different. I have not smoked since the Saturday night before I had to go to the hospital. Today Nov. 4th makes ten weeks.
Remembering how most of my heroes died has brought me to the conclusion that I don't want to go the way that they did, but in reality I know that is what is going to happen. I have very little reserve oxygen capacity left in my lungs, just a little exertion and I am completely out of breath and have to sit and breathe for a while to get back to normal.
Since I quit smoking my lungs have gotten a little better, the last time they were checked, before I quit smoking, it was between 10 and 13 %. I was checked out two weeks after leaving the hospital and it had climbed up to 16%, that is 23% better than they were, but still not good enough to hardly sustain life. I truly believe now that if I start back smoking that I would be dead in less than a month.
John Wayne, Humphrey Bogart, the Marlboro Man, are just three of the many Heroes who have died from smoking related causes. If I went to the trouble I probably could come up with a lot more names, but I believe you get the point. Well, I sure miss my heroes and I suppose I will be meeting them fairly soon unless God has something else for me to do here on earth before he calls me home.
Most of my days here lately have been spent watching old movies on the TV as I must spend most of my time either sitting or lying back because I can't afford to put out much energy on anything. As I watch some of the old war movies, I see soldiers that have fallen being given cigarettes as they lay on the ground dying. It was true to life back then as we just did not know just how deadly cigarettes are.
If I do one thing more in my life, I hope someone will benefit from what I am writing and either quit smoking, or not start smoking. Let your heroes be something besides a smoker.
All my heroes were smokers................
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Updated February 2019