19. Smoking and lung
I started smoking as soon as I entered university back in the 1980s. To make an excuse, two-thirds of male adults smoked back then. If I didn't smoke in a meeting or in the army, I received questions like "Everyone here smokes. Why aren't you smoking?" Sometimes I smoked because I didn't have a clear reason not to smoke or because I was just too lazy to explain why I don't smoke. There was a saying, "If you want to socialize, you need to drink and smoke".
A lot of doctors smoked back then too. There were little spots in the hospital where they could smoke. It might be hard to believe, but there were doctors who smoked in their rooms with patients sitting in front of them. To prevent this from happening, selling cigarettes in hospitals was banned, but this caused side effects. Residents who were stuck in the hospital took away cigarettes from med school students who came to the hospital for clinical sessions. Med students who didn't smoke also had to carry cigarettes when going to a clinical session to a department full of residents.
It was 1980s when I first saw lungs of a cadaver. There were black dots on the lungs. I thought they must have been from inhaled dust, and probably did not cause any malfunctioning. There were cadavers in which more than half of the lungs covered with black dots. These lungs were only found in male cadavers and must have been due to heavy smoking. After seeing the sickening lungs, I decided to quit smoking. But shortly after I said, "give me a cigarette, the lungs made me stressful and now I want to smoke even more." Unfortunately, anatomy labs did not help me with quitting smoking.
In the 1990s, I dissected hundreds of lungs in order to receive a doctor's degree. There were lots of smoker's lungs, and those lungs were stiff and hard to dissect. So I said to myself. "I will donate my cadaver after I quit smoking. I feel sorry already for whoever is going to dissect my lungs". But as soon as I said that, I lighted a cigarette. The excuse was to relieve stress coming from trying to earn a doctor's degree. Smoking was shockingly addictive.
In the 2000s, I studied in a med school in the U.S. Most of my job was to teach students in the anatomy lab. At that time, I did not yell at students. First reason why I didn't yell at students was that there was no responsibility on me. Second reason was that I didn't have English skills good enough to yell at students. Even today, I only know how to say compliments in English but I still don't know how to discipline in English. This made me popular among American students. But some students started to dislike me for smoking and stared me like I'm a drug addict. They said, "I've never seen a doctor who smokes like you!" I was close to quitting smoking, but I had to smoke again.
When my son entered university back in 2008, he made an announcement. "I'm an adult now and I'm going to smoke". I was worried that smoking would trouble my son like it troubled me. I finally quit smoking, and gladly my son didn't become a smoker.
Today, many doctors quit smoking. Doctors who do smoke are required to smoke in hidden places these days, as if they are a group of drug addicts. Today, it is hard to find smokers in med schools. A generation has gone by, and a lot has changed, similar to how America has changed. Doctors and med school students might think anatomy labs prevented them from smoking, but that is not true. They don't smoke because they care about how they are perceived by others. They must look good to their patients and patients' families to be successful in this field.
In American society, smokers in general are considered to be of the lower social class. I feel this is the same in current Korean society. Can you smoke with fingers pointed at you? In the past, smoking helped in socializing, but today, smoking is unwelcomed in societies. Socializing with the upper class now requires quitting smoking. I'm afraid people might be stressed and may start smoking as they read this. I'm also worried there might be a young man who says he will quit after 28 years of smoking, like me.