Friday, 9 October 2015

Last Gasp

I’ve had an unpleasant chest infection for a few weeks now and just as I was beginning to breathe again I’ve managed to contract a magnificent, full-on, streaming chesty cold. Honestly, there’s snot going everywhere and my deep, hacking and extremely productive cough is admired by diehard smokers, probably as far afield as Marlborough. It’s a sight to behold, what I can eject from my lungs just now... although you probably wouldn’t want to behold it.

But, between convulsions, I am reminded of Dave, an old friend of mine, who recently went for an over-50s medical MOT. As a lifelong indulger in the hedonistic arts and no stranger to social and chemical experimentation he had a bit of a scare a few months back when he woke up one morning with chest pains and subsequently spent the best part of twenty-four hours in A&E before being released back into the wild with an all-clear, for heart attack at least. He would welcome the latest new troponin test which might have cleared him in a fraction of the time. But suitably sobered he underwent something of a Damascene conversion and vowed to change his ways; most of his ways at least.

Anyway, last week he rocked up to undergo a comprehensive health check, which would otherwise have gone swimmingly had he been able to quit smoking. A hardened 40-a-day man, his lungs at least had a comprehensive daily workout and the day of the test was no exception. He entered the consulting room gasping for breath and wheezing heavily and collapsed into a chair as the doctor began his interrogation.

“Do you engage in recreational drug-taking?” asked the eminent quack to which my friend, in between bouts of painful coughing replied that although he had dabbled since his youth he had partaken of not one tablet, not one toke, for over five years and he had never been tempted to inject. The doctor, slightly alarmed at the ferocity of the coughing fit, duly made note and moved on. “What about alcohol?” he asked “How many units a week would you say you drank?” to which Dave quickly responded in a strangled gasp that he had quit the booze altogether and had been teetotal for almost seven months, before another spasm racked his body.

Bent double he wrenched out a few deep, chesty coughs, almost to the point of gagging. His face turned puce and tears sprang from his eyes. Sagging back into the chair he gasped as he brought his breathing under control, the doctor looking on with professional concern. He asked if Dave was feeling well enough to continue with the questionnaire and Dave indicated with a flap of his hand that he was. They moved on to the more intimate subject of his sexual health to which Dave responded that he had been without a partner for some years and was not in the habit of indulging in one-night stands.

“Now” said the doc, “do you smoke?” The patient’s eyes widened as he struggled to form a reply. From deep inside his chest a splutter sparked off a new wave of coughing that lasted for what seemed like several minutes, although the doctor was timing it and could attest that it lasted barely sixty seconds. Dave’s eyes bulged as he convulsed and fought for every breath. The heavy phlegm burbled in his pipes as he battled to bring it into control and he spat into his handkerchief. At last, weakened by the effort, he managed to inform the doctor that, yes, he smoked forty unfiltered Capstan full-strength a day, which he obtained from a specialist purveyor as they were not generally available in most shops.

What the doctor ordered!

The doctor watched as Dave launched into yet another horrible, hacking bout and picked his moment to ask the obvious question in the brief quiet interval between strangled barks. Dave stopped suddenly and sat himself up straight. He composed himself, hacked up a glob of mucous-flecked spittle and brought his breathing under control for just enough time to reply “What, quit smoking? You mean you want me to give up the only pleasure I have left in life?”


  1. The funny thing is that my Mum -- she would have been 109 years old on Christmas Day -- used to say much the same thing with the first fag of the day, right up until the day she died.

    Non sequiris vox, eh?

  2. Indeed. We all have to go sometime. Let's make the ride enjoyable. I haven't smoked for nearly 30 years and I miss those little buggers, every day. As I rapidly approach my dotage I am seriously thinking of taking up the habit again. The problem is they are so bloody expensive. How can anyone support a 40 day habit unless they are a politician or high court judge- I rest my case.