John L. Sorenson
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My Health

My aim here is to give a resumé of the dimensions of health and ill- health I have enjoyed/suffered throughout my life. As I have related a number of times, I was supposed at an early age (born 1924) to be “sickly.” Of course I have no recollection of actual conditions that may have led my family to apply that label to me, but this became my self-image to some degree. I was never robust, so perhaps the label had an objective basis. In later childhood I recall having frequent “colds” in the winter, but I don’t know that my incidence was greater than that of others in the family. (I now suspect that part of the problem was our being shut up in an overheated, dry house.) Anyhow, I lived through it. With repute of being “sickly” I didn’t get many chances at a boy’s he- man life. I didn’t get to swim in the pool in the creek (maybe I didn’t really want to), or throw showballs, etc. Long before the term came into use, I guess I was a nerd. I was not considered a “sissy,” just “sickly.” So I turned into a bookworm, as soon as I learned about the Public Library from my brother Randall. Yet I had a certain share in outdoor activities, bicycling, sledding, skiing (on homemade skis), hiking, playing touch football in the street, and so on. But always in moderation. There was never any possibility that I would become a jock, just “one of the guys.” By the time I got to junior high school I could sort of hold my own at touch football, for instance, and as I began to grow to reasonable height I decided to try out for the basketball team and was accepted. (No one ever taught us anything about b-ball, we just ran up and down the floor when not on the bench.) By that time I could be called tallish but “skinny.” Somehow, even with not very many pounds on me, from then on I avoided the “sickly” label. I still had sinus infections every winter (and for the rest of my life), but they were treated as just “colds” with a mix of mustard plasters on my throat, etc., the useless home remedies that made my mother think she was taking care of me. At about five years of age I had my first hospital experience, at the Budge Memorial Hospital in Logan, a tonsillectomy. Doctors at that time were on a tonsillectomy spree; they recommended taking the tonsils out at the first indication that those “useless” organs in the back of the throat were “infected.” (Nowadays the same “infected tonsils” would mostly be left alone.) I especially remember that occasion because the first food I was allowed to have was store-bought ice cream, probably the first I had had in my life. I have no idea how my unemployed dad paid that hospital bill, which must have been “huge”, on the order of $25 plus another $15 for the surgeon! Throughout the Great Depression years (1931-40) I am unsure that I ever visited a doctor. I continued “skinny,” in fact among my circle of friends in high school I was nicknamed Skinny Sorenson, but I was never considered sickly again as I had been. In 1942 when I went into the U.S. Army Air Force I was just part of the vast mix of service people, some of whom surely were lighter in weight than I was. The most notable health event for me was having three wisdom teeth extracted at one sitting by a not very competent service dentist. But more positively, I was well fed for three and a half years—much better than had I stayed at home. As a result I gained weight from under 130 pounds when I enlisted to 140 and more. Regular exercise (calisthenics and running) helped in that transition during the first 18 months of my service. During my mission, which followed military service, I was in good health with one exception. In Rarotonga I suffered fairly serious lower back pains. I was even hospitalized for a few days (to no particularly good end) under the care of Dr. Tom Davies (a New Zealand Maori, then the only M.D. in the Cook Islands, who later was knighted by the Brits for his service as head of the South Pacific Commission, a health services cooperative, and later was nominal head of the Cook I. government until his death a few years ago). I realized years later that ny chief problem was the metal bedstead I had been instructed to ship to the islands from New Zealand on which we slept but which sagged badly, with miserable consequences for my back. (I have had back problems at intervals ever since.) Throughout the early years I had to walk a great deal (we did not own a car until just before Martin, our seventh child, was born). Since then I have chosen to walk consistently (daily). This I credit with the general state of fitness I have enjoyed, and still do. I was then free from health problems for some further years. When I moved to Santa Barbara in 1964 to work at Defense/General Research Corp.) I had problems (mainly agitation) due to my thyroid gland. A doctor said it was probably due to a change in the water I then consumed, whose different chemistry caused the problem. No treatment was recommended and eventually the difficulty more or less disappeared. One by-product of moving to S. Barbara seems to have been my gain in weight (chemistry again?) to the range of 140-150 lbs., all to the good. I could now be called slender but not skinny! Back in Utah my back problem recurred. I began, again, to walk long, from our home in Orem on 1600 South to the campus and back, several miles per day. My back improved some. Eventually, meaning many years later (about 2006) I dealt with a back specialist in Orem who found via an MRI that I had severe spinal stenosis (compression/narrowing of the vertebral column). He gave me an injection of cortisone in the damaged area that greatly improved my condition for awhile (it would wear off after some time). I took advantage of that interval by being treated by a physical therapist who taught me a set of exercises that gave some relief later (I still do some of them). I have never returned to that doctor for another shot because my back was never desperate enough (besides subsequent shots are usually progressively less effective in reducing pain). In the last fifteen years or so I have been diagnosed as having marginally dangerous cholesterol, as well as having high blood pressure. With appropriate medication neither of those is now a serious problem. I also take medication for BPH, a weak prostate gland problem. My most serious health incident occurred in October 1985, when I had a full-blown heart attack. I was then chairman of the BYU Anthropology Department (and had been for seven years) where I was actively promoting new classes and programs to anchor the small department in the university’s curriculum, was teaching a substantial load of classes, and had just been released as bishop of the BYU 99th Ward (married students). Nevertheless at a weight of 156 pounds I did not seem a likely candidate for such an event. At the emergency room of the Utah Valley Regional Medical Center in Provo I was given an angiogram (balloon treatment) to free the blood flow near my heart and put in the intensive care unit for three days. After eight days I was released and declared well on the road to recovery. I never had a recurrence of the problem until about a month ago (‘fall 2012), when a set of symptoms sent me to the emergency room again. An angiogram showed that an artery adjacent to the heart was blocked but that coordinate blood vessels had grown around the blockage to allow continued blood flow. I feel considerably better now, although I am cautious about lifting or other exertion. In about 1993 I had a hernia repaired by inserting a nylon mesh over a weak spot in my abdominal cavity. It is actually remarkable to me that I have enjoyed as healthy a life as I have, considering my “sickly” childhood years. Never had a broken bone as far as I know. I’ve been hospitalized for only a few days in a lifetime of almost 89 years. According to my doctor I am in remarkably good shape. “Just keep doing what you are doing,” he says. I still walk from one to one and a half miles daily. I wish my back felt better, but I won’t be unhappy if it just stays the same. I credit this desirable condition to careful living throughout my life. I have been moderate in all my activities and food habits. I have carefully followed the guidance of the Lord’s Word of Wisdom (Doctrine and Covenants section 89) and acknowledge his protective hand over me in some dangerous situations. With my good wife Helen to watch over me, I hope that my years hereafter will continue sane, healthy and productive.
Reminiscenses by John L. Sorenson