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Jim Blog

The Temptations.

Not the wonderful soul band from the 1960’s and 1970’s, I mean the temptations that life puts in front of us as we grow older. From mid-teens on, people and situations put loads of temptation in front of us. It is normal. It is normal because it’s life. It’s normal because we, as patients, want to be treated like everyone else. We want to be included in what our peers are doing. Life as a teenager, or young adult, can be tough enough with a CHD, let alone coping with the pressures of school and college. And, if we are left out of sport, leisure or social activities because of the CHD, it can be very demoralising.

I want to be clear here. I am not advocating that patients should or should not take part in what is going on around them. CHD patients must learn their own limits, be responsible and act accordingly. Safety and health always being the priority.

Smoking : Smoking never appealed to me and I’m glad it didn’t. Since the age of about 12 I’ve been asked do you smoke at every appointment, every admission and every clinic and not just cardiology. Cigarettes are so bad for your heart and lungs and can damage other organs as well. Avoid.

Piercings : Why would someone do that to themselves ? I think my body has enough holes in it as it is! Not for me, but piercings seem to be getting increasingly popular with both sexes. As with all needles, there is the risk of Infective Endocarditis (I.E.). It’s as horrible as it sounds and can be extremely dangerous. If you are to get a piercing, do not do it on a whim. It is highly recommended that you take a prophylactic dose of an antibiotic before the job is done. About an hour before. Always ask your cardiac team about piercings if you are considering getting one.

Tattoos : More needles involved here and some tattoos need more than one visit to be completed. Risks and advice regarding tattoos are basically the same as piercings. Again, always ask the cardiac team.

Alcohol : Ah, the demon drink! Living in Ireland, it is ridiculously hard to avoid alcohol. I don’t drink now, but I used to. You always get, “ah sure one pint won’t do you any harm”, by well meaning friends. Maybe it won’t, but are you going to stop at just one? I didn’t. My only advice here is if you decide not to drink, make that decision before you go out and stick with it. If you do take a drink, keep within your limits, be responsible and don’t let anyone persuade you to drink anymore than you are comfortable with. If you are old enough to drink, you are old enough to take responsibility for your CHD. Easier said than done, trust me, but it is crucial. There will, of course, be some conditions and medications that will rule out alcohol altogether. Everyone is different. Ask the cardiac team.

Recreational Drugs : This is an absolute minefield. My advice? AVOID ALTOGETHER. Apart from being illegal, they can be really bad for your health, with or without a CHD. Anything class A (heroin, cocaine, ecstasy etc) is an absolute no, nay, never. Don’t even think about it and if someone, a friend for instance, offers you anything like this, drop them immediately. But what about a joint? Again, I would avoid but it is hard sometimes. Imagine being a student at a house party? There’s a good chance that joint will be passed around and if you have a few drinks onboard… Of course, you are smoking and risks of this are outlined above. Some 15 years ago I had a joint in Amsterdam. But in The Netherlands, it is completely different. Some drugs, but by no means all, are legal, or more accurately, tolerated. Drugs are strictly regulated and there is lots of education and information available there. Rules about their content and their accessibility are extremely rigorous. Totally different to the way it is here in Ireland. In summary, best avoided.

Sex: The last occasion I had any sexy-time, now features on Reeling In The Years! Sex of course is physical exertion and as with all exercise you must know your limits and act accordingly. As with anyone else, contraception is very important. Condoms are well and good, but for women, things are more complex. Oral contraception or contraceptive devices could react with medicines or therapies. Please ask the cardiac team. Women and men, ask the cardiac team. Don’t be embarrassed, they have heard it all before….and usually from me!

To conclude, I don’t want parents to think that their daughter/son is going to go crazy once they reach a certain age. Nor am I saying that they will engage in any of the activities mentioned above. What I am saying is that the world is full of temptation and it will come along. That is the society in which we live. If as a parent you have concerns about some of the issues in this article, ask the cardiac team and talk to your heart warrior. About 30 years ago, I was 15, I had a blazing row with my Mother about such things. One of my older brothers intervened, “Ma, why don’t you try talking TO him rather than AT him ?” Sage advice.

If you are a teen reading this and you have any concerns, ask the cardiac team. Do not be shy, they have heard it all a thousand times. I’m 45 now and I still get the questions but now I brush it off. Your parents worry about you. That is their job, no matter how old you are and that won’t change. Ask every and all questions you want. There is no such thing as a stupid question but making a decision without being fully aware of all the facts is never a good idea. Yes, the internet has plenty of information on such issues, but it tends to very general. You are unique. Your condition is yours and yours alone and you need advice that is particular to you. Always, always ask the cardiac team.

Be Kind to Yourself.

Jim Blog
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