A former girlfriend and still very dear friend of mine is now in the burn unit of a New York hospital with first and second degree burns to her face and hands from smoking while wearing a nasal canula delivering a high flow of oxygen. Her boyfriend tells me she’s going to be okay, but I’m still concerned about her. Not only am I concerned about her right now, but I also wonder what the future holds for her. She has a deteriorating heart and lung condition (primary pulmonary hypertension) with a bleak prognosis. She also has a bad liver. She has no business smoking cigarettes, even if she weren’t on constant oxygen, but the oxygen makes it extremely dangerous, as she’s just learned first-hand.
I didn’t even know that she was smoking. I guess she decided that if there’s nothing she can do to save herself from certain early death, she might as well enjoy herself more in the time she has left. One problem with this is that it’s a selfish way to think that ignores the needs of her family and friends to have her around and in as good health as possible for as long as possible. The other problem is that she could incinerate herself and her family by smoking around all of the oxygen she has in her room. I doubt that she’ll pose that danger anymore after going through what she is now, but what if she does? Is there anything I can do to help make sure that doesn’t happen? And even if there is, what should I do?
As adults, we are supposed to choose our own actions instead of having them dictated to us by others. Generally speaking, I can’t make her do right, nor should I. But what if her actions endanger others? What responsibility do I and others have to try to compel her not to commit them? And what if her actions only endanger herself? How much should we try to force her to take care of herself? And how do we handle it emotionally and spiritually when we realize that there is essentially nothing we can do to stop someone from destroying herself and even endangering others?
I don’t know the answers to these questions. I don’t know if there are any. I guess we just have to learn to deal with these kinds of situations as best we can as we go along. But I don’t envy my friend’s boyfriend and daughter having to grapple with these problems every day. And God only knows how many others are in the same boat with relatives and friends who continue to indulge their self-destructive and sometimes dangerous desires and addictions.
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