Thursday, July 20, 2006
“So it’s kinda like electroshock therapy,” I asked the woman on the other end of the phone before I booked my appointment.
Her answer was a resounding “NO”, but I still wasn’t convinced.
As a moderate smoker (a couple a day), I decided it was about time to become a non-smoker (maybe one every few weeks). With M’s prodding and my parent’s constant stream of disapproving rants, I started to consider kicking the habit for good. It was a habit which began in college. Smoking was as popular as flannel shirts and ripped Levis in Ann Arbor in the mid-nineties. And now, just like those outdated fashion statements, it is time to update my sensibilities.
My friend Grace and had recently heard about a new technique in the war against nicotine that was touted on Good Morning America. “You should try it,” she said. “It is acupuncture done with lasers.” A few Google searches later, I found my way to Anne Penman’s website where they boast of their 80% success rate.
Located in Cherry Hill, NJ – this tiny house which sits off of Route 70 houses the Anne Penman Center. Plastic banners hung like Christmas decorations from the roof and on poles in the front yard promising the panacea to quitting smoking and losing weight. I was skeptical that these lawn ornaments over vinyl siding offered anything but false hope to those with a credit card and desperation.
“Hi, I’m here for an appointment for electrocution,” I joked to the woman behind the desk who saw no humor in my comment. Without cracking a smile, she handed me a clipboard full of papers which I needed to read and sign.
I chicken scratched my name through the stack, ignoring the required reading. I had decided upon looking at the waiting room that this was akin to a bikini wax and not a medical appointment. I handed the papers back to the technician and she proceeded to sit down in one of the club chairs in the waiting area.
“You should be very proud of yourself for coming here today,” she started. “The first step in a non-smoking life is the hardest, but we are going to try and make this process as painless as possible.” Less painless than a bikini wax, I hope.
She rambled on about the benefits of a smoke free life. Using her story as the example: Nannie was a 2 pack a day smoker for 30 years who was saved HALLELUAH by the miracle of lasers after many failed attempts by more traditional means. Her voice was still that of a smoker, thick and musty like an old house attic’s air. She showed me a jar filled with sludge, a molasses like black tar substance that represented one year of smoking hugged the insides of the glass jar. “In the first few weeks after you quit, you may develop a chest cold which is very painful. It is your lungs healing. Also you will sweat out the nicotine which is trapped in your body and your clothing will be stained yellow. You may experience a metallic taste in your mouth, but this is all how your body starts to repair itself. It’s normal.”
“You should do breathing exercises,” she continued. “Take in clear air with deep inhalations and then release.” She illustrated by example. “You need to drink 8 glasses of water a day, take Vitamin C and chew on Cinnamon sticks, these help suppress cravings.”
I nodded my head, expressing my understanding.
She continued talking from what seemed like a very ill-conceived script from which she did not waver. “Did you know that arsenic, benzene and rat poison are just some of the things which you inhale in a cigarette.”
“Wow, no. But those are also the ingredients in Cheerios,” I snapped back with some off color yet needed humor after a half hour of cancer, tumor and emphysema talk.
“Really?” she said perplexed. “I have Cheerios every morning.” Nannie truly looked worried.
No dumbass, I was kidding; I thought, amazed that anyone would believe that line of BS or even respond to it.
“Now you can go outside and have the last cigarette of your life,” she said and pointed towards the front door. I stood outside on the stoop and smoked the cigarette as cars whizzed by the giant signs which lauded the sure fire cure to quit smoking…..and me, with a plume of smoke around me. They really should consider using the back driveway for the “last cigarette rites”.
Back inside, my nerves soothed by nicotine, we complete the 45 minutes of “Talking Therapy” which was like lecture by a high school principal who caught kids smoking in the boys’ room. “Are you ready for the laser now?” she asked as she showed me to a back room.
Enya played over the speakers and I was instructed to make myself comfortable in the over-stuffed reclining chair. Nannie handed me a pair of futuristic looking sunglasses to protect my eyes from the laser. The process was quick, painless and simple….and I was pretty sure, useless.
She used a laser-light pen and gently dabbed pressure points in my ears, on my nose and on my wrist. I emerged twenty minutes later…cured of my addiction.
Well, not exactly.
Two treatments and one week later, I can credit willpower for my success. I have had a few cigarettes - here and there – at a wedding where everyone was smoking, out for drinks with some friends….I am not 100% smoke free, but I haven’t had any during the day nor do I crave any. While I won’t completly disparage the laser as pointless or credit Cinnamon candy as a miracle, I think it comes down to mind over matter.... as it really is with anything in life.
Or as this case may be, mind over laser beam.
Posted by Carrie Gross Pestronk at 10:33 AM