Bypass surgery prolongs the life of patients with coronary artery disease, but there’s no getting around the fact that it’s a horrifying experience. It’s incredibly invasive — your chest is opened up with a saw; vein grafts are harvested from other parts of your body — and even if you are not one of the unlucky 1-in-10 who suffers serious complications, the psychological scars it leaves may be as deep as the physical ones. For a bypass operation to be successful in the long run, it must be accompanied by lifestyle changes. Within three months of their surgery, many postoperative patients actually feel better physically than they did before because of changes in diet and exercise habits. But when other medical problems such as diabetes, depression or high blood pressure coexist, recovery can be prolonged and complicated.
You don’t mention what medications your husband is taking, but the fact that your doctor did not volunteer to take your husband off them indicates that she sees them as necessary to your husband’s well-being. One of the things you can do is get a second medical opinion. Another physician might be able to devise a drug regimen that does not include decreased libido as one of its side effects.
A second option might be psychological counseling. It’s a pretty spooky experience, coming face to face with your own mortality. Contrary to what Hollywood would have you believe, Death does not look like Brad Pitt at all, but rather like the face in your mirror. It may be that your husband, consciously or unconsciously, is scared of a reoccurrence of his heart problems and thinks sex might precipitate one.
In the final analysis, I must confess that this is one area where I take the marital vows very seriously. “In sickness or in health.” Remember? Taking your sexual satisfaction into your own hands may not be an optimal solution for you, but I think it is better than turning your back on someone whom you profess to love and with whom presumably you had an entirely satisfactory life before his illness struck. Think of it as a temporary expedient, something you’re doing until your husband feels better. Invite him to watch or participate. He may surprise you! Above all, believe that he will get better, encourage him and support him. As difficult as this situation must be for you, realize that it’s 10 times as painful for him.