Heart disease is the foremost killer in the Western world, thanks to smoking, high blood pressure and fatty diets. Although a heart attack is predictable in many people because they collect risk factors like football cards, for many it comes as a bolt out of the blue. Coronary artery bypass surgery is now more commonplace than having your tonsils out, but that is not to say it’s a breeze. Quite often a heart attack or heart surgery is the first time a person comes face to face with their own mortality, or faces the prospect of losing their partner. During the early weeks after the event, the foremost thing on your mind has to be your immediate survival and even if the question of resuming sex did occur to you, it’s hard to get the opportunity to ask.
Ward rounds before discharge from hospital have to be seen to be believed. You might have the surgeon, the registrar, a resident or two, the physiotherapist,”, dietician, occupational therapist, ward pharmacist, nurses, spouse and assorted relatives crowded around the bed discussing anything from your latest cardiac echo to a warning about never smoking again. ‘Any questions, Mrs Jones?’ ‘Well, Doctor, my husband and I were actually wondering whether a big orgasm might bust my stitches and kill me?’ is probably not the first question to spring to your lips under the circumstances. Many people are sent home wondering whether they will ever be able to have sex again.
Jack is a man in his late sixties. Married for forty years, he had recently undergone heart surgery. He told me, ‘We had always enjoyed a good, relaxed sex life. In fact the last twenty years have been better than the first twenty. After the operation I knew I would be able to do it, but I didn’t know if it would be normal. For the first few weeks I was too tired to really even think about it but as I got stronger we thought it was time to give it a go. I had to reassure my wife that it wasn’t going to hurt me. You see, I had asked my doctor if it would be alright, and he said that when I could walk up two flights of stairs I wouldn’t have any problems with sex. At first the chest wound made sex uncomfortable in some positions, so we tried out some different positions to see what was best. Anyway, we took it slowly and now after a couple of months things are pretty much back to normal.’ He smiled warmly at his wife. ‘Yes, we’re doing alright.’