By Howard Ford

To breathe or not to breathe, that is the question. This is a personal account of one man's experience. First, a questions for you, "How healthy are your lungs and do they matter to you?" It is very easy to take our lungs for granted and have little serious concern about them. The lungs keep doing what lungs do while we live like humans tend to live, ignoring them.

This article is a personal accounting of my relationship with my lungs. I suspect that most other people have experienced some similar relationship, therefore, I share this story with you. These thoughts are the results of my looking back through life since I was diagnosed with Emphysema.

The first 14 years of my life was spent in a small house with second hand cigarette smoke all the time that my dad was in the house. Doctors now tell me the main cause of my Emphysema was that second hand smoke. From age 14 to18 years of age I was exposed on some occasions. Through the years, at various times, other people continued to provide my lungs with the poison.

My childhood was spent on the high plains of west Texas and New Mexico where we endured what was called Black Dusters during the Dust Bowl days. The dust (dirt) was so bad, even in the day time, that you had to have a light to see where you were going. If chickens were not in their house they were blown away. I heard of people who had lung damage because of grains of silica in their lungs.

Since those childhood days, I have lived in three different states. Over 40 of those years have been spent in various parts of California including three years in Los Angeles area.

Through out the years, I gave limited attention to what I breathed and handled. Blinded by youth and health, I handled toxic material and breathed some of their fumes. Regularly (maybe weekly) through out much of my adult life, I would have my hands in various chemicals such as solvents, glues, gasoline and various other chemicals with little if any concern for their toxic capacity. My blind philosophy was, "If they do not burn my skin too badly then they are safe. Protective gloves were a "luxury" I did not use.

Until I was 50 to 60 years old, I gave little thought to what I inhaled while working in the garage, except of course the big stuff. I operated under the illusion that a cheapie dust mast would be adequate protection, if I remembered to put it on. Little did I know, it is the very fine particles that can do most of the damage to my lungs.

The usual safety I exercised, when using chemicals, was limited to protecting my eyes and protection against breathing certain select chemicals. Little consideration was given to the concept that chemicals can travel inside my body from my hands to my lungs. Now, I wonder why it took so many years for me to give the concept serious consideration?

I will explain what I mean about chemicals passing through the body. I have a solvent, that is not usually considered dangerous to health, that can travel from my hands, through my body, to my lungs in a matter of seconds. If I place a couple or three drops on my hands you can smell it on my breath in a minute or two. For the odor to be in my breath, it means the solvent travels through the blood to my lungs and transfers into the air contained in my lungs. Not all chemicals can pass through the skin into the blood stream as rapidly as DiMethyl SulfOxide (DMSO) but other chemicals can make the trip in varying degrees. Not only does the solvent go to my lungs but it goes everywhere the bloods goes. Foreign substances (solvents, etc.) have to be removed from the body by the body, which can cause damage to the liver. Keep in mind that if the chemical can pass from the blood to the exhaled air it can pass to the blood and body from the inhaled air. It goes both ways.

Why do I divulge all of this personal stuff to you? This year, 2001, I have been diagnosed with Emphysema. That disease, along with conditions like bronchitis, produces considerable discomfort. It is more than a cold, from which I could recover, it is an enemy that sticks closer than a twin brother. It sticks to me every step I take and after a few steps I have proof that it is present and active because I am struggling to get adequate oxygen.

I do not think I have Emphysema and a vulnerability to Bronchitis and Asthma, because I have done woodworking. It is not the chemicals I have handled or breathed. It is not even because of the second hand smoke I received compliments of my dad. The dust bowl days did not produce the disease. Living in Los Angeles smog for three years did not cause it. Here is what caused the present condition. All of the above. The cause of my Emphysema is a long accumulation of damages received through out life. Toxic conditions in the body have a cumulative effect. They do add up, including those received while doing woodworking. In retrospect I would like to eliminate even one of the causes but I am too late. Time, age and unhealthy conditions can teach us a lot, but it may be too little too late.

I pass my experiences on to you in order to say, "You cannot eliminate the dust and other toxic material you are breathing or the damage from chemicals you have handled years after the fact." The only chance you have of protecting your body is NOW and in the future. It is worth it, believe me. I hope my story will help you have a better life.

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