Musings With Ken Haynes


Hunting whitetails in Maine back in 2001, a cow moose suggested I see a cardiologist.  Her intuition was spot on, leading to my quintuple bypass.  I didn’t get to thank her, she having left shortly after she spooked when I made a sudden noise stumbling on the rocks in the stream she occupied a few yards away.

This was in no way bad luck.  The great majority of us have our heart attack before a bypass, meaning our heart is already damaged.  The bypass mitigates but does not eliminate the damage, making life expectancy shorter and outlooks more limited.  With ten of my veins from ten to ninety percent blocked, the open-heart surgery equated to winning the lottery.  My still-healthy heart and open veins have lasted most of this millennium.

But Madam Moose should not have been my advisor, and I had made several mistakes.

About eight of us were hunting whitetails in central Maine.  We had around four square miles to ourselves enclosing a mountain that rose about 1,400 feet from the bordering river.  I had map and compass and always knew approximately where I was, having hunted there a few times before.  That day I had been dropped off at dawn on a logging road, and asked to be picked up on another road at dusk.  To get there I would “still hunt,” hoping that the party’s random movements in the area would send deer to me.

Around 1:00 pm I was crossing a small stream full of melon-sized rocks, my rifle slung.  My foot slipped and I made a loud clatter as I regained my balance.  In the same moment, about twenty feet away there was a huge commotion as the moose spooked, scrambled up the bank and disappeared.  I had never seen a moose so close or moving so fast, nor had I ever heard such thunderous noise in our quiet woods.

The event provoked what I can only call a giant startle that froze me in midstream.  In the next moment I experienced what felt like an adrenalin dump, accompanied by an unusual sucking feeling in my chest, a feeling of “not enough.” It didn’t register as pain, but as a feeling that something was wrong.  I sat down for a while and continued my day.  I was fifty-five years old.

Back home, sensitized to new sensations and realizations, things proceeded from stress test to catheterization to having my chest cracked open.  My wife worked some magic to get me under the hands of Duke University Medical Center's Chief of Thoracic Surgery.

You may have guessed my mistakes.  Although I knew where I was, my friends only knew my approximate location, and would not miss me until dusk, at which time they could only have found me with dogs.  If I had stroked, many of the nonlethal outcomes could have immobilized me.  Exposure would have finished me off.  A nonlethal heart attack would have the same result.  Even a radio or cell phone would have been useless in that timeframe.

A friend could have helped me somewhat, but at two hundred pounds he couldn’t have carried me.  The situation would have degraded to whatever first aid was called for, and the friend either bringing help or spending the cold Maine night to provide a good fire and plenty of cover.

Certainly I should not have been out there alone, but even at fifty-five I “knew” I was indestructible.  So learning point one is that you aren’t indestructible, and point two is that you should have a buddy close by.  Or two buddies.

Third, I did not know I was a heart risk.  So point three is that you need to know what I didn’t.  I was several hundred miles from my home, and at least thirty miles from reasonable emergency health care.  Had I known I was at significant risk, I should not have put myself (and my family) in such danger.

End of story. 

Be in good shape.  Listen to your body.  Own up to your limitations. 

Get the checkup, know your risk factors, re-examine the symptoms, follow the guidelines. 


Ken Haynes -- August 2023