COLUMN: Clearing the air around here

Pierre LaBossiere

Pierre LaBossiere

Pink Floyd once sang, “Breathe. Breathe in the air, don’t be afraid to care.”

And today, I’m breathing deep and clear again after a couple of weeks of feeling like I was licking an ashtray.

And I know I wasn’t alone. The poor asthmatics out there and people dealing with COPD or other conditions that affect their breathing had to really be suffereing.

My symptoms included itchy eyes, a sore throat, one terrible coughing fit at 4 a.m., obsessively clicking on the air quality website and a general seasonal affective disorder-like malaise. Yeah, smoke leaves me hoeplessly grouchy. It just drags me down. I don’t want to go outside when I can taste the air. I spent the past two weekends basically playing video games … though definitely not playing Silent Hill. Anyone who has played Silent Hill will get the joke.

I lived with it for 12 years in Missoula, Mont., which consistently has some of the smokiest skies in the West. Missoula is a very hip and cool small city with a ton of breweries, but one thing I will never miss about that town is the smoke every summer. It was like being on the set of “The Road” for two months out of the year.

Practices last week all over the Peninsula were moved indoors because the air for about three days got beyond annoying. It got downright foul — with a PM-2.5 count of 347 parts per million one day (anything over 300 is considered “hazardous.”)

When I saw that PM-2.5 count drop down into the green at 42 ppm Monday, I felt like firing off some fireworks or yelling “I’m king of the world!” or something.

I felt sorry for the kids and the coaches having to deal with it. I wondered how the cross country kids were practicing in that yuck, much less the football and soccer players. I suspect every coach in the area will be telling us how it affected their preparation for the prep season that begins this Friday.

And unfortunately, with the climate changing becoming drier and hotter, it could be something that even here in the Olympic Peninsula we’ll have to deal with to some degree every summer. Unbelievable when you consider the west side of the Peninsula is one of the wettest places in the entire world.

Especially cringe-worthy

I know why the smoke is especially cringe-worthy for me, why it’s a black cloud on my attitude. For the first 15 years of my life, I essentially did lick an ashtray on a daily basis, breathing six packs a day of my parents’ secondhand smoke. That’s not an exaggeration, they really did smoke six packs a day between them. People smoked a lot more back then than they do today. Hey kids, people actually smoked at work once upon a time. My dad had a giant ashtray the size of a Frisbee on his desk at work and it was always stuffed to the brim with cigarette butts.

Thank God no one today really smokes four packs a day like he did.

And dad paid the price. In fact, pretty much everyone in my family has paid the price. Dad died of lung cancer at 49, my mom is on oxygen with Stage 4 COPD and my brother is currently battling lung cancer, even though he quit smoking years ago.

I once sat down with a pad and pencil and estimated that I smoked the equivalent of 20,000 cigarettes before I turned 16 from my parents’ second-hand smoke. Without ever once lighting up myself. I grew up with chronic ear infections and chronic bronchitis and that bronchial condition didn’t clear up until my late 20s. I got into mountain-climbing for a few years in part to get my lungs working normally again … though even then, breathing all that fresh air, I still got a minor dose of HAPE at 14,000 feet on White Mountain Peak in California about 10 years ago.

So, I have some strong feelings about lung health and have been an advocate for lung health for at least 15 years. Right now, I’m researching Keytruda which in the words of my brother is “kicking my cancer’s ass.” I also have some strong opinions about the tobacco industry (I want to strongly stress I’m not one of those self-righteous nonsmokers who glares at smokers, not unless I see them blow smoke in a kid’s face — then, all bets are off.). But, that’s another column altogether.

Anyway, I’m trying to take the approach of enjoy every blue-skied day I can and realizing that the smoke could very well return. It’s a day-by-day thing. For now, the video games have been set aside.

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