For over a year the veteran smoker that I am has found it increasingly difficult to breathe through sustained physical activity. Just moving a few crates or wiping the floor clean and I start to gasp. The latest check-up in February found my lungs ‘clear’ after half a century of a packet a day, but warned that ‘mild basal pleural thickening’, whatever that means, was ‘probable’. The scare I experienced at the end of last month when breathing became torture (see ‘A beleaguered bilingual blog – 2’) led me to think it was more than time to attempt once again to give up smoking: I may demand the right to indulge my state-sponsored drug addiction as long as I can afford it, but I’m neither proud of being its slave nor blind to its unpleasant effects on others and on myself. A few days after that crisis, a Siriraj GP tells me there’s a new drug that can help me kick the habit but I must consult with an in-house psychiatrist first. Yeah, right, a miracle-drug. We’ve heard of those. But then, why not?
Diary of a drug addict
Friday 7 December: I tell the psychiatrist at Siriraj Hospital of my intention to try to stop smoking for good, for the third or fourth time in more than fifty years. He prescribes me the drug Champix combined with two weeks’ worth of Nicotinell patches. I’m familiar with patches: tried them five or six years ago and failed soon after I ‘graduated’ to the half-dose: I couldn’t concentrate enough to work.
An Internet search tells me everything there’s to know about the Pfizer drug Champix, including the risks, amply documented by users: one user in a hundred or a thousand, who knows?, suffers from ‘undesirable effects’; one in a thousand or ten thousand develops life-threatening reactions. The Starter Pack, of 0.5mg and 1mg ‘film-coated tablets’, holds varenicline tartrate, a substance supposed to fight the need for nicotine by inhibiting that part of the brain inducing the craving – whereas patches are simply nicotine doses applied to the skin to bypass mouth and lungs, a form of NRT (nicotine replacement therapy). After one week of Champix, I must decide on The-Day-When-I-Stop-Smoking. The full treatment lasts 12 weeks – and can be renewed once, the advertising enticingly says.
I have two packets of cigarettes to finish and, at my long-time average of one packet a day, reckon I’ll be through them sometime on Sunday.
Saturday 8 December: work all day on reshaping the bilingual blog one story at a time; smoke a little over a packet, which is normal when I’m engaged in tense and prolonged intellectual effort, although the current job is repetitive and mind-numbing.
Sunday 9 December: I take the first Champix pill and manage to have the remaining 13 cigarettes last me the full day without inconvenience. This leads me to decide to go on smoking in the next few days rather than using patches: roughly speaking, the initial daily patches hold as much nicotine as a full packet of cigarettes each. If, because of Champix, I smoke less and less in the next few days, surely that’s better than taking in the equivalent of 20 fags a day. The day is spent reformatting the blog before and after shopping at Tesco-Lotus, watching trashy TV movies and reading literary magazines until about 2am.
Monday 10 December: Awake at 6:30. Right after breakfast, I walk over to the 7-Eleven to buy three packets of coffin’s nails. Smoke one on the way back. … So far, no particular symptoms. 9pm now: pastis has pushed cigarette consumption from 8 to 10 after fiddling with the blog for the entire afternoon. … 14 cigarettes today. Bed at 2am.