Recovering from the aftermath

AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy -- Editor's note: This is the second in a series of related articles on the progression of quitting smoking through the first-hand account of Airman Ryan Conroy. The series takes a look at how anyone with the drive and determination can quit for good with the use of base resources and medical professionals.

When an area has been devastated by an act of war, the cleanup and recovery process is long, slow and deliberate.

For three years, I was waging a war on my body from smoking cigarettes. It has now been 30 days since my last smoke.

Although smoking is no longer a part of my life, the damage is done, and it will take longer than a month to get back to normal.

According to a surgeon general report, it takes up to 15 years after the date of quitting for the risk of coronary heart disease to decrease to that of a nonsmoker.

Although I am in my first month, the surgeon general states that the carbon dioxide levels in my body have dropped to normal, my circulation and lung function has improved, and cilia (tiny hair-like structures that move mucus out of the lungs) have started to regain normal function in the lungs, increasing the ability to handle mucus, clean the lungs, and reduce the risk of infection.

These benefits did not come without a price and stubborn determination.

The first three days were the hardest. As my friends could tell you, I have limitless amounts of energy but these days I felt lethargic and my concentration was lacking.

I felt weak and the only thing my body wanted was to smoke. But, as my mom would say whenever starting any new routine, "The first three days are always the hardest, but it's all downhill from there."

After the first few days it was all about breaking the habit and fighting the mental cravings.

Occasionally at work, I find myself getting up and heading towards the door for my smoke break. I walk all the way to the door before I remember I don't have a reason to go outside anymore.

Every time I hop into my car, I instinctively roll down my window and search for a lighter.

According to the Aviano Health and Wellness Center, the average smoker puts their hand to their mouth more than 200 times a day. To ensure I didn't pick up another bad habit, I was advised to carry around a bottle of water and drink every time my hands got fidgety.

As they say, old habits die hard.

Although quitting has been difficult, the benefits were almost instantaneous and it gets a little easier every day.

My coworkers started noticing the smell of my cologne. Although I used cologne every day, the smell of smoke overwhelmed any other smell that emanated from me.

My teeth are whiter and my hair smells good.

My runs don't end with me keeled over, hacking up phlegm.

I can walk up a flight of stairs without feeling like I just ran a marathon.

Most of all I've got some extra money in my travel fund.

The recovery is slow, but I put my confidence towards the rest of the recovery milestones.

The surgeon general states that at two years, stroke risk can fall to that of a non-smoker. At five years, risk of cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus, and bladder are cut in half. 10 years after quitting the risk of dying from lung cancer is about half that of a person who is still smoking and the risk of cancer of the larynx (voice box) and pancreas decreases.

Although I made the decision to smoke for three years, I made the ultimate decision to quit, and for that I gain years of my life back that could have been lost if I were to continue.
Until then, here I am, recovering from the aftermath.