Sometime last summer I was on my way to work – in fact, right across from work – when a woman sitting on a porch asked me if I had an extra cigarette (I was smoking at the time). Since she was in a wheelchair, she couldn’t really come down the stairs to me, so I had to go up to her. We engaged in a bit of conversation, and exchanged names, and she started telling me about her personal situation. Apparently she is dying. Leukemia, or Parkinson’s, or muscular dystrophy, or something like that. I can’t remember. But it’s clear that her days are numbered.
Now, every time I pass by, if the weather is good, she’s on her porch. And I can’t really avoid her. She always signals me over, and asks for a butt. And a light. And then she wants to engage in conversation. Sometimes I oblige, sometimes I ignore her, sometimes I point at my imaginary watch as if I’m late (which is usual) and walk on.
Should I continue to oblige her, or should I ignore her?
On the one hand, I’m a hospital employee, and work for cardiac surgery. It’s “unseemly” to be seen giving a smoke to a terminal patient, right across the street from my job, and to make myself late for work doing so.
On the other hand, she seems dirt poor, and immobile, and has very few pleasures in what remains of her short and pathetic life. A cigarette, something she can not afford, seems to be the highlight of her day. It costs me next to nothing (OK, about 30 cents), pretty cheap for making someone’s day.
Are you asking if you should make moral and health care decisions for someone who isn’t your patient, or if you should become actual friends with her? I think the first is obvious: no. If she’s a competent adult (as I assume you have no reason to believe otherwise), then she can choose whether or not to have a smoke. Of course, she can’t buy them herself, but if you yourself are a smoker, I assume you have no moral qualms about smoking (only health related ones, possibly), so what’s the harm? News flash: yep, she’s gonna die. So are you, and so am I. Let her die doing what she likes, as long as she’s not hurting you or anyone else (since you’re sucking on a cancer stick yourself, it’s not like her second-hand smoke is harming you). As you say, she’s terminal, and not smoking isn’t going to do anything to change that.
As for being more of a friend than a smoke buddy, that depends entirely on you. Do you have anything in common, other than your smoking? Are you likely to want to call her up on your day off for a chat? Take her out to dinner? Go to her grandkid’s graduation? Those are “friend” things. Giving a smoke is what you do to earn cigarette karma so there will be a friendly smoker who’ll give you one when you run out and the store is closed, as well as to pass 10 minutes in companionship with someone else.
To the first question: I see your point, but I am a representative of the hospital. It would be embarassing at the least if I were seen by the wrong parties enabling bad health. Whether I would actually be seen? Hasn’t happened yet, but there is some small risk. I’m not sure if I could get fired for it.
To the second question: I don’t love the woman. I don’t even particularly like her. She’s a very nice person, but I don’t really see myself taking her to the picture shows. If I didn’t feel a small obligation to feed her addiction, I wouldn’t talk to her at all, and I’d be fine with that. Perhaps if she had the body of, say, Jennifer Connelly, the mind of Steven Hawking, and the verissimilitude of Bill Clinton, I’d be more open to a relationship. But honestly, she ain’t all that.
OK, so you don’t want to be her friend, that’s cool. I only brought it up because it was in the title. The rest of your post seemed more concerned with being her aquaintance and giving her smokes.
Check the hospital policy if you’re worried about being fired. IMHO, it’d be excrutiatingly shitty of them to fire you for giving an adult a legal object outside of your work (is she a patient of the hospital, even? It sounded to me like she was at a private residence across the street from the hospital). I’d sooner expect them to ban employee smoking outside of work hours, which I also think is ridiculous and shitty. There are plenty of nurses and not a few doctors smoking outside our hospital, and I bet more than a couple came out immediately after yelling at some patient to quit smoking. But someone in HR will know the actual answer.
If you’re looking for moral permission to give the woman cigarettes, you now have it, from an anonymous stanger on a message board. Go forth and sin some more.
“To the second question: I don’t love the woman. I don’t even particularly like her. She’s a very nice person, but I don’t really see myself taking her to the picture shows. If I didn’t feel a small obligation to feed her addiction, I wouldn’t talk to her at all, and I’d be fine with that. Perhaps if she had the body of, say, Jennifer Connelly, the mind of Steven Hawking, and the verissimilitude of Bill Clinton, I’d be more open to a relationship. But honestly, she ain’t all that.”
Jennifer, Steven, and Bill all have people that would piss themselves blind to give them a cigarette, or anything else their little hearts might desire.
You give to a old lady with not much going for her, with no expectation of any return.
The hospital seriously frowns on smoking, and yet provides two smoking areas. Some doctors use them, though they do so very anonymously, and use handsoap and breathmints like they own stock in said items. Some patients use the areas as well, and I’ve seen no repercussions from that. So I guess that answers that.
And I second Bosda’s wonderful answer.
So why do I still not want to help her out? Let’s peel back a layer of the onion. For one, I tend to dislike mooches. Cigarettes are fargin’ expensive. (But good point on fag karma.) For another, I’ll happily kill myself, but I’m uncomfortable enabling another’s death. Thirdly, it’s a pain in the ass to cross that street – twice – just to make myself late. Lastly, I really don’t enjoy the woman’s company. As I said, she’s very nice, but it’s not like I want to spend time with her.
Wow, I sound pretty selfish!
dahfisheroo, she’s not old. My guess is late 30s or early 40s. Must suck to be dying at that age.
Thanks for the input, everyone. It probably won’t kill me to give up one cancer stick per day, and do a good deed in the process.
Eh, I’m probably the cheapest person here, but I’d still give her one. It’s only a quarter-pack a week, which in PA with my brand is around a dollar. Not that much to spend on someone who’s dying.
The issue about being late for work is more problematic. Maybe drop by after work from now on? Be upfront and tell her “my bosses are getting on my case, I won’t be able to come here at this time anymore, but I’ll still see you every now and again.” And then do it, maybe not every day, but enough that she knows you didn’t skip out on her.
And “enabling another’s death”? She’s dying anyway, and not in the way that we’re all dying a little bit every day. Experiencing a chronic, terminal illness has to be just that much worse when you add nicotine withdrawal to the mix.
I would just make some changes so you don’t get in trouble at work but I’d not stop seeing her and giving her smokes every once in awhile.
While I see little harm in giving her a smoke now and then, I don’t know that you are obliged to do so every day, especially given the need to cross a busy street twice. Once or twice a week seems reasonable to me.
My opinion: You clearly are affected by her. Listen to what your subconscious is telling you. Doesn’t matter that you don’t like her. Leave your house ten minutes earlier, to make sure you can give her a cigarette and a chat, and are not late for work. Talk to her even though it’s a pain in the ass. Conceal your identity over the street from your colleagues if you can. Give her a little happiness before she goes, and relieves you of the burden forever.
I should also say why I’m saying this. I have been fortunate enough only been seriously ill once, on a drip for one week. During this time, my then-girlfriend’s parents were separating, and she chose their crisis over mine. I was essentially abandoned during a very scary time. So I appreciated company like the deserts appreciate the rain. Some coworkers visited me, as did a few friends (one of whom is now my wife, but don’t let that put you off). I was low as shit, and pathetically grateful for the company. I didn’t forget their kindness.
As far as “enabling another’s death” - sweetie, cigarettes are not gonna kill her. Whatever she’s dying of is going to kill her. When my spouse was diagnosed with cancer, the docs said to keep smoking, because the stress of stopping was of far more concern than the cigarettes in this situation. That’s right - the doctors encouraged smoking, because it was a terminal patient. (They also encouraged eating all sorts of things that should have been off limits - they were more concerned about weight loss than cholesterol levels, for instance.)
I’d bet that she’d appreciate any time that fits your schedule - earlier, after work, whatever. I’ve been in a similar situation - it’s damn awkward to make conversation with someone you don’t know that’s so desperate for company. If you can manage it, do it. You’ll feel better, and you’ll make the world just a tiny bit nicer.