Hayden Chandler, who has been smoking for 40 years, is now addicted instead to stopping people from smoking –– from even starting the habit. Chandler’s once daily practice has left him with life-threatening conditions that require his taking 42 different types of medication a day, and being hooked up to an oxygen machine 24/7 to stay alive.
At nights, the 66-year-old must wear a special close-fitting mask, attached to the pump, to get the necessary airflow into his lungs. He has obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA), a lung disease.
His mantra, which he presents to many young people at schools, or to everyone he comes into contact with, is “if you have not started smoking, don’t start. If you have started smoking, stop immediately”.
When you see him in his powered chair, oxygen machine tube running into his nose, you can’t help but be sympathetic to his state. So when he tells how he changed from smoking an average of eight cigarettes a day –– over time, nearly 120,000 at an overall cost of nearly $60,000 –– and what life is like now, you feel compelled not to interrupt. You are so eager to hear the tale unfold. And it’s chilling; it gives you goose pimples.
“I am attached to two machines to keep me alive every night. But it’s my fault, and that is why I am advising people to stop smoking. This is what I do now and I am very passionate about it,” he told Barbados TODAY during a recent interview at his home.
So how exactly did Chandler get into the habit of smoking which has robbed him of fully enjoying his golden years?
“I can clearly remember that at the tender age of 13, one of my great-uncles gave me a few pulls on his cigarettes. This continued for quite a while as he used to stay with us when our parents were out.
“As I got older, we would go to the Saturday 8:30 p.m. cinema show, and it was on these nights that I had access to a whole cigarette, and eventually –– at the age of 17 –– I had the courage to purchase a package of Bristol Cigarettes,” he said.
Chandler recalled that his parents, when they became aware, were against his new habit and were among the first of many people to warn him about the dangers to be expected from smoking.
They advised him, he said, that he was “smoking a coffin” and that it was dangerous to his health. But he did not listen to them, always finding somewhere to hide and smoke.
This continued over the years and when he got married at the age of 23 he stopped for a while, as his wife also did not like the habit.
“She constantly complained, and as I called it, nagged me to stop smoking. Eventually I stopped for three months and then changed to smoking a pipe. This I did for four years, drawing on the pipe and exhaling the smoke through my mouth.
“Being honest to myself, smoking the pipe was not as pleasurable as smoking cigarettes, and I eventually gave up the pipes –– I still have five of them –– and returned to cigarettes.”
Chandler also hid from his wife to smoke; he would tell her he was going to look for slugs. Instead he was finding a comfy smoking spot outside.
By 1997 he had begun to experience shortness of breath and chest pains, which continued for two years before he got the nerve to discuss it with his doctor. The doc would direct him to have a electrocardiogram, and immediately referred him to a cardiologist.
“The cardiologist carried out many tests, including, an echo and a treadmill stress test. I did not complete the treadmill stress test. I had to stop because of severe shortness of breath, chest pain; and eventually I had an exercise-induced asthma attack, and had to be nebulized.
“As I did not pass the stress test. I was sent for an anagram which revealed some blockages to the heart arteries and I was put on various heart medications and told that I should stop smoking immediately, or the blockages would increase and the possibility of a heart bypass may have to be performed.”
Once again, Chandler ignored much needed advice and continued to smoke his set number of cigarettes per day. His health continued to be affected, especially his heart and lungs. In 2004, Chandler was sent to Trinidad for a nuclear scan which also included a treadmill test, during which again, he had severe chest pain and shortness of breath and had to be given an injection to relieve the level of blockages. The cardiologist in Trinidad suggested to his cardiologist here that Chandler return for a more advanced test.
“I was prepared and the angiogram procedure started. When the angiogram was completed, the doctor disappeared for a while, returning a few minutes later to tell me that he had spoken with my cardiologist in Barbados, and that there are two blockages. One of these was in the main left artery which was 95 per cent blocked and this needed immediate open heart surgery. The other after was blocked 50 per cent and this could have been done by angioplasty; but as open heart surgery had to be done, both arteries could be [fixed] at the same time,” he said.
The arteries were further blocked and had to be replaced because of Chandler’s continued smoking. On December 13, 2004, he received surgery, which was successful, but “I had some problems with the lungs afterwards”.
X-rays showed that there was some scarring of the lungs, for which the doctors warned him that he should not smoke again; otherwise would further damage would occur.
“I got my final discharge from the heart specialist in February 2005. He and his team had done a great job and he again warned me about smoking and the damage that this could cause.
“In April of 2005, would you believe I was stupid enough, after going through many years of heart-related problems and finally heart bypass surgery, to start smoking again. Looking back at it now, it is one of the most stupid things that I have ever done.
In 2007 the shortness of breath and chest pains returned. And once again, Chandler had to go through test after test.
He constantly visited FMH Medical Clinic and the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH) and was admitted to the latter 17 times. Finally, further tests showed that the shortness of breath was being caused by chronic 0bstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), Emphysema and Hypoxia.
At that stage, Chandler, the father of two sons explained he was basically advised that there was no alternative other than to be placed on oxygen 24/7 with a machine at home with a 50-foot hose so that he could move around the house easily supplying him with the necessary level of oxygen and another machine to fill the two oxygen bottles which he must always travel with.
Chandler also suffers from osteoarthritis (he suffered from arthritis from the time he was a teenager). Though not directly related to smoking, it has caused further pain and health-related complications to his life.
Seven months ago Chandler started to get severe headaches at the left and back parts of his head. But, it seems now that “because of the compression of fluids on the brain its affecting the spinal cord and I have severe pain under the spine and Chandler is always quick to admit he made “stupid” choices which side effects, though too late, taught him valuable lessons.
Lessons, Chandler said, he was determined to share with as many schools and people as possible.
“Pastor Victor Roach from NCPAD asked me if I would go with him and talk to the children about smoking and I thought it would be a good help. Last year we went to Ellerton Primary, Combermere, St Michael, and this week I went to Ellerslie. If you are smoking, stop immediately. If you haven’t started smoking don’t start. I go to the schools with my mask on.”
He also makes himself available to offer one-on-one advice.
“A gentlemen brought his son for me to talk to him about smoking. The son told me he would stop last Old Year’s Night. I spoke to his father two nights ago and he told me his son was not smoking any more. He said he was at the beach with him last Sunday and someone offered him a smoke and the son refused.
“That is a good ending there for me. So, I welcome anyone who wants to talk to me and hear my story first-hand, because they might have their own questions they might want to ask,” he said.
Chandler’s illnesses have not only affected him; they have taken their toll on his wife, mother and close family and friends. He expressed sincere gratitude to his wife whom he says was always there at his “whistle calls”.
With a laugh, slightly interrupting the serious atmosphere of the interview, he stated: “She has tied a whistle by the bed for me when I need her. But the funny part is we have a parrot and the parrot whistles, and she would come. You should hear the parrot barking like a dog, it just imitates everything it hears. I would talk to him and he would look at me and say ‘You all right?’ ”
Well, the former smoker Chandler is –– for now.