By By Libby Sentz
July 17, 2008

Libby Sentz is ready to quit smoking but needs some help! will be pairing her with smoking-cessation experts and also counting on readers (that's you) to egg her on and give her your input. Look out for updates in her future posts.

help-libby-quit(123RF/ISTOCKPHOTO/HEALTH)My new life as a nonsmoker begins July 21. It's a random Monday that happens to follow a weekend-long lake party with a gang of friends (where I know I'll smoke). That Sunday, my last day as a smoker, is also the anniversary of the day two brave humans walked on the moon.

Simply not smoking might seem a much easier task than the Apollo 11 mission, but I'm terrified of that first step. Right now, when I go for even an hour without a cigarette, I feel anxious, panicky, shaky. One of my first dozen breaths each morning includes smoke. I even take a cigarette break from sleeping some nights.

Since my early teens I've only gone twice without a cigarette for more than 24 hours. Not by choice, mind you, but because medical circumstances forced me to.

In 2001 I had an emergency surgery for intussusception of the small intestine. Basically my intestine telescoped into itself (somewhat common in infants, but freakishly rare and possibly fatal in an adult). Despite gut-wrenching pain and the prospect of death, I was terrified not of the surgery but of being trapped in a hospital bed indefinitely without a cigarette.

After a smooth operation, I awoke wired to machines and remained there, heavily sedated, for five days. When I finally stepped into the sunshine, a sense of freedom overcame me. It was a beautiful six-block walk to my apartment. When I went for my keys, I realized I had forgotten something. My craving—it was missing! Had I detoxed?

A big brown box welcomed me home: a care package from a coworker. Inside: 12 cans of Ensure (for my tummy), a few magazines, one get-well card, and a carton of smokes. The next day, bored by my post-op breathing exercises, I noticed the box and lit up... Well, I didnt want them to go to waste.

The second time I unwillfully "quit" came in 2004 when I faced a complicated hip surgery (Ganz osteotomy) by a physician who refused to operate until I'd been free of cigarettes for at least two months. He said my hip problems (osteoarthritis and avascular necrosis) were likely exacerbated by my smoking, but his argument for quitting had more to do with my recovery. I'd need unblemished blood flow to recover from the hip reconstruction.

I had a little time on my side for this one, so I set my surgery date for six months later, giving myself a grace period to kick the habit. But two months before surgery, I was still smoking. My beau (now husband) grew concerned. He convinced me to read the smoking cessation book that had rescued him. I skeptically agreed. Pesky typos and annoying inconsistencies made my eyes roll while my ashtray filled to the brim.

I did cut down—at least enough to not smell smoky on doctor visits as the surgery date neared—but I didn't want to quit. I tried the patch. I tried the gum. Then I just tried lying to my surgeon.

Ten days in the hospital on a morphine drip erased my craving for the little death sticks. As my husband wheeled me out of the hospital into the day, I did not fumble for matches. I sensed freedom once again.

Then one day during recovery at home, some buddies popped by to play poker with me and my husband. I told them I was too nauseated to join in (I'd been queasy for days as I weaned myself off the opiates). A "curative cigarette" was discreetly offered, I accepted, the nausea miraculously subsided. Ante up.

I woke up the next day and needed another cigarette. Though I had barely healed enough to crutch around the house, I cried all the way to the corner bodega while my husband was at work, and smoked my meager winnings. It was back to my old pack-a-day ways just like that. It had been so liberating not to crave cigarettes physically, but I obviously wasnt mentally prepared to resist them when they came within reach.

Now—for the first time, I feel—my mind is ready: Ive made a conscious decision to be a nonsmoker. But Im scared of the physical withdrawal. I need to find a way to take that first step—Day One—when theres no one waving a scalpel at me. Any suggestions?

Read previous post:
Dare Me to Quit (July 9, 2008)

Read Katherine's quitting blog