My ethnic background is Irish, Swedish, German and Norwegian. Being part Irish and German, how could I not drink alcohol?
Growing up, I didn’t have to worry about drinking until I was a teenager and my friends got into drinking. My doctors had always told me that I shouldn’t drink because of my heart problem. Some even went as far as telling me if I drank alcohol, I would die. As if I wasn’t dealing with enough, I had the pressure of knowing a drop of alcohol would kill me. So that’s what I would tell my friends when they asked me if I wanted to have a drink.
“I can’t or I’ll die,” I’d say.
“Yeah right! You’re not going to die!”
“Yes, I will. That’s what the doctor said.”
“Yeah, that’s what they told me. I mean I thought you guys were my friends. Why do you want me to drink so bad? Do you really want me to die?”
“No way. It’s cool. Just don’t tell our parents.” No problem I thought. And that was it. I only ever had to say it once. Plus, the best part was I didn’t know any better and we were all still friends. I had great friends.
I actually don’t think the doctors even knew how alcohol would affect my “plumbing” but chose to err on the side of extreme caution, aka scaring the hell out of me.
Of course I was curious and my freshman year in college opted to have a beer at a frat party (which I didn’t like), and got drunk for the first time on homemade strawberry daiquiris with two of my best friends during a spring break trip to Houston. I’d have an alcoholic beverage here or there but didn’t really have a desire to drink until I was about to turn 21. You should know I’ve always been a rules follower so pushing the limit or taking risks was never my thing. However, at the age of 21 I was a member of a sorority and we were getting amped up to celebrate my milestone birthday. It was customary to write every shot/drink you had on the back of your paddle. Well, I would drink but I wasn’t going to do shots…or so I told myself. We got to The Landshark and according to the back of the paddle I drank quite a variety over the next 5 hours. At 5’9” and 110 lbs., I was drunk but at least I wasn’t puking.
From that point on, my friends and I had a weekly bar routine. As it turned out, I liked beer. Especially, Labatt Blue on $1 schooner night at The Shark. Of course, we also loved Tuesdays at O’Malley’s and Thursdays at The Landshark and in between there was always Rick’s and Harper’s.
Oh wait! Actually, speaking of puking, once I learned I could actually have some drinks and I was still alive afterward, I started testing the waters even more. I remember being at Michigan State over the summer and a few of my friends and I went barhopping. I couldn’t tell you what I had to drink but I remember the first time I prayed to the porcelain God while begging Jesus to please forgive me and help me get through it without dying. Throwing up is not fun. I hated it and drinking to the point of throwing up is not cool, no matter what age you are.
After college, I moved to Nashville to work at Dell. My friends and I went out all the time and I do mean all of the time. My girlfriends would always tease me that because I was “in the south now” I should let the guys buy the drinks. Well, this yankee would first respond by rolling her eyes and then educating, “that’s not how it works where I’m from. If there’s a group of guys and girls that know each other, the guys buy one round and the girls buy the next. That’s how we always did it in college and besides, I don’t need a guy buying me a drink. I can buy it myself.” I always stuck to that rule. Until I didn’t.
It was a Saturday night and a group of girlfriends and I decided to treat ourselves to dinner at Amerigo’s. We had the spinach artichoke dip, filets and split a dessert. I had 2 Bacardi and Cokes (my go-to back then) and then headed to our favorite bar, Tin Roof. We were having a great night, dancing to The Seahawks when a guy who I didn’t know approached me and asked me to dance. Usually, I would say no but I decided to say yes. He seemed nice, good looking and a decent dancer. He suggested we grab a drink so we walked to the bar to order. “I’ll get mine,” I said. “No, it’s cool. I’ll get it.” Let the guy buy you a drink. The guy is supposed to buy the drinks. It’s the south. Deciding the safest thing to order was sticking to what I was drinking I responded, “OK. I’ll take a Miller Lite bottle.” He told the bartender and I watched the bartender grab the bottle and then a song I liked came on and I turned my attention to the band. I was about to walk out to the dance floor by myself when the guy handed me my beer and we headed out together. When I finished the beer, I suggested we get another drink but he wanted to go outside for some air and headed toward the exit. What? Why would we go outside? This band was the best and I loved every song they were playing. “I don’t think so. I really like this music. I’m going to get another drink.” He started pleading with me to go outside, taking my hand and urging me to leave the bar.
My head was starting to spin and I was completely confused. Who was this guy? I literally met him 30 minutes ago. Where were my friends? I knew they were around because we had made a pact not to leave each other. “I have to find my friends,” I said yanking my hand out of his and pushing away from him. He muttered something and took off. I found my friend, Lisa and explained the odd interaction. At that point I was starting to not feel well. We took a cab to her apartment because she lived closer to the bar and I already planned to crash at her place. I don’t know how long we were there before I started throwing up. I couldn’t hold anything down. My heart was racing BAD and my head was throbbing. I was delirious and weak and could barely move. She knew about my heart condition and we both agreed she had to take me to the ER. I don’t know how she got me there but she did. I remember her asking me at some point how much I had to drink and I told her the 2 cocktails at dinner and 3 beers. Lisa gave my Medic Alert card to the doctor and answered the doctor’s questions. I could barely talk or keep my eyes open. They drew blood, gave me an IV bag of fluid, and kept me in the ER for observation until 6am.
Turns out, the doctor suspected I had been given a date rape drug. Although Rohypnol “Roofies” did not show up in my bloodwork, she explained that there were others out there that at that time wouldn’t show up on tests; however, based on my symptoms she was sure that’s what had happened. To this day, I am grateful I listened to my instincts and did not leave the bar with that guy and that my friend took me to the ER.
The thing is, bad things happen to everyone and they don’t discriminate just because you may have a medical condition. I remember being worried that the doctor was going to yell at me when she found out I had a complex heart condition and I was drinking, so for a split second I contemplated telling Lisa not to take me. If you’re ever in a situation where you need help but are afraid of “getting in trouble,” GET THE HELP! The doctor didn’t yell at or lecture me about drinking with a heart condition. What she did, was remind me to always keep an eye on my drink and that’s a relevant lesson for anyone, medical condition or not.
Although that was a scary and eye-opening situation, I continued to drink socially, finding peace in knowing that was the first and last time I ever had a guy who I didn’t know buy a drink for me.
When I moved to Austin five years ago and started being treated at Texas Children’s I learned that the liver can be greatly affected by the Fontan surgery I had as a child. My Adult Congenital Heart Disease Cardiologist recommended I start seeing a Liver Specialist because recent studies showed a greater risk of cirrhosis of the liver in Fontan patients due to the blood flow being rerouted (which is the point of the surgery). Umm, excuse me? What?! You’ve got to be kidding me? “Why am I just now learning this?” I asked, trying not to panic. I’ve been drinking for almost 20 years… “Honestly, patients weren’t living long enough for us to discover this before now. The good news is patients are living longer and now we know.” Ugh, you have got to be kidding me…
In the five years since that appointment, I’ve seen a Liver Specialist three times. I had a liver biopsy two years ago which showed some fibrosis. I asked both of my doctors if I should stop drinking and they both told me that continuing to drink in moderation is fine. This may not be the case for everyone so I would encourage anyone curious about alcohol intake to check with their doctors.
In fact, I’ve met Fontan adults younger than me that have cirrhosis of the liver caused by the Fontan surgery- not alcohol and I’ve read far too many updates on social media about Fontan kids of all ages with liver issues. It is serious stuff and not to be taken lightly.
I’m grateful I’m able to maintain the lifestyle I am used to and that I can still raise a glass when I feel like it.