Ex-smoker can point to better future

THUMBS UP: Tamati Parkes getting rehab from therapist Rebecca Ralph after he cut two fingers off.
THUMBS UP: Tamati Parkes getting rehab from therapist Rebecca Ralph after he cut two fingers off.

He watched the quit smoking adverts and wished he could but, when Tamati Parkes lost two fingers at work, he knew it was time to give up smoking.

Mr Parkes, 38, was working at the Silver Fern Farms meat processing plant in Waitoa when the ring and little fingers of his left hand were lopped off by a machine designed to cut through shin bone.

He recalls the throbbing pain and shock as his fingers dangled by a piece of skin and he remembers reaching for a cigarette.

"My body was crying out for it. It was the only thing that could calm me down," he said.

Mr Parkes puffed his first cigarette when he was just 11. At Waikato Hospital, he was told he would have to break his habit of a lifetime if he wanted his fingers back but he was so addicted he was willing to lose them.

"Three times they asked me if I wanted to do the surgery and three times I told them to cut them off because I wanted a cigarette."

He subsequently agreed to the operation and a team of surgeons spent 20 hours reattaching his fingers. Only the ring finger was successfully attached.

"Smoking narrows the blood vessels but the little finger is harder because it is so small," he said.

It was a life-changing event for Mr Parkes but, two months later, he can see the accident was a blessing in disguise.

"My health, my eating, my wairua - everything is brighter," he said. "I've got colouration in my skin or, as the boys put it, I'm tanned."

His sleep patterns have changed, he is looking forward to playing touch rugby again and he is saving a lot of money now that he has kicked the habit.

"I was going through 350 grams a week and that's like $150 to $180 per week. Now I can spend that on coffee, shirts and clothes.

"I can smell flowers when I walk down the street and you don't know how much of an impact you are on others."

He is also considering a change in career.

"I am looking to work with young children now and with our youth. It's all about giving back and helping with our rangatahi because that's where smoking starts."

It couldn't come at a better time with Ministry of Health statistics revealing the overall smoking rate is decreasing while the Maori smoking rate remains stubbornly high at 41 per cent.

"I want to spend the rest of my life encouraging our people to give it up," he said. "We are very stubborn and we have that hard mentality - go hard or go home - and it's even worse with our cigarettes."

He has a piece of advice for smokers who are thinking of giving up.

"Don't wait until you have to go to Waikato Hospital before you give up cigarettes. You just need to be positive and know that you can get a better life."

Mr Parkes' attends therapy sessions at the hospital every Thursday where his ring finger gets put to the test but there is one problem.

"I just need someone to put a ring on it."

Waikato Times