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Mind those premonitions

06/24/03 12:00AM By John Morton
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(Host) Commentator John Morton has a cautionary tale of potential value for all of us.

(Morton) Most of us get those subtle messages, warnings or premonitions, occasionally. Driving an icy, winter road, for example, we get the sense we'd better slow down. Seconds later, we encounter an overturned eighteen wheeler blocking the road. Often we ignore these premonitions, but paying attention to one earlier this spring, probably saved my life.

With the bountiful snow last winter, I had more quality time on skis than during the entire previous decade. My race results weren't quite what I had hoped for, but, I rationalized, I'd been away from competition for several years. I concluded the season in March, in Presque Isle, Maine. A kilometer into the 10K Classic, I had the sense of skiing at altitude, a constriction at the base of my throat, and an odd tingling in my fingers, so I packed up early, and headed home.

Soon, I was jogging on a treadmill at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center with explicit instructions to sound off if the sensations I had experienced in Presque Isle returned. It was a minor consolation that it required a brisk pace on the tread mill to recreate the restricted breathing and tingling fingers. The results were conclusive, a 50% occlusion of the main artery supplying blood to my heart. The preferred treatment is usually angioplasty, but my blockage was not in a good location for this procedure.

My wife, Kay and I met with the cardiothoracic surgeon who had been recommended to perform a coronary bypass. Since he was training for the annual bicycle race up Mt. Washington, we hit it off immediately. He got my full attention when he mentioned that my heart would be stopped, my blood circulated and oxygenated by a machine for half an hour.

On May 28, family members accompanied me through the pre-op preparations. Finally, the anesthesiologist prepared an injection, and said to Kay, If you want to give him a kiss he'll remember, now's the time. I came to, several hours later in cardiothoracic intensive care. Three days after the operation, I was cleared to go home.

Since then it has been slow walks out the driveway, gradually reducing the pain medication, and enjoying wonderfully home cooked meals by Kay and thoughtful families in our church. I began cardiac rehab class a week ago, and I look forward to resuming training before too long.

Take it from someone who never smoked, always had impressively low cholesterol, and who has run more than 50 marathons, heart disease can strike anyone, anytime. If you are lucky enough to get one of those subtle premonitions, pay attention. And I'll see you again soon, at the races or on the trails.

This is John Morton in Thetford.
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