Fascinated by history

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dr. daveI am fascinated by World War II history. I read the books, watch the documentaries and I have little green and grey soldiers set up all over my house and office, ready for battle whenever I am.

The green sniper on my bedpost is aiming at the grey bazooka guy on my lingerie chest. A platoon of flame throwers and grenade launchers are having it out on the back of the toilet, sent there by the Sarge after $1.49 day at the burrito barn. My wife is not impressed.

January 1945
The Hague, Netherlands
Hunger Winter of ‘44-’45
William was a starving 10 year old boy in the Hague, in 1945. Canadian tanks were advancing on the Germans who blew up the bridge leading into the Hague stalling the Canadian advance. William and a pal were wandering down a gully when they came across this halted tank group and, seeing their predicament, lead them to an alternate route into the city. The grateful Canadians befriended this kid who was barely surviving on beets and tulip bulbs and gave him Wrigley’s gum, Sweet Caporal and MacDonald cigarettes. To this starving kid this was a welcome delicacy that soon would become a necessity and then a disaster.

“You Canadians got me hooked on those.” he rasped, taking several breaths just to finish that one sentence. “I was starving and I got Sweet Caps, and I loved them.” A half a century later William is sitting in my office. He doesn’t go to doctors. Don’t blame him. Seldom will doctors have good things for him like Snickers bars, Wrigley’s or tulips. He knows what doctors will want him to stop doing.

He struggles to finish a sentence. His lips purse and walking, talking, breathing and life are all now an effort. He has COPD, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and his lungs have deteriorated to the point that he needs oxygen to survive. Problem is you can’t really have O2 if you smoke. Small side effect of tending to blow yourself up, and everyone around you. So he has the option. Quit smoking or you can’t have the oxygen. William chose to stick to his beloved Sweet Caps and pals and forego the oxygen. He died soon after, a casualty of WWII, 60 years later.

The big three causes of death; stroke, cancer and heart attack are now the big four as COPD moves rapidly up this deadly list and, by 2020, is projected to surpass heart attacks as the third leading cause of death worldwide.

90 percent of those who suffer COPD are smokers. Throughout the years, COPD has been typically considered to be a “man’s” disease, primarily because it involved a lot of whining and sniveling. In the late 1960s, however, the Virginia Slims gang successfully targeted women with the “You’ve come a long way, baby,” campaigns resulting in a striking rise in smoking initiation in adolescent girls that continues today. Because of the 25 year lag between smoking initiation and becoming a pulmonary cripple, women have now indeed come a long way and, in fact, have caught up. Every year since 2000 more women than men have died from COPD, baby!!

In addition to affecting a significant number of women, nearly one-half of the patients with COPD are under the age of 65 years. Thus COPD is now a disease of old, young, men and women which includes just about everyone except perhaps Boy George.

So next time you go to light up your Sweet Cap, Marlboro or Death Styx remember my war story, speaking of which I see that my German flamethrower has just lit up the cat in the bathroom and Sarge is none too pleased.

Like the column? You'll LOVE the book, The Doctor is In(sane) now available at
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