Recovering After Heart Surgery
You can expect to stay in the hospital 4-5 days after surgery. This handout highlights some of the things you may experience while in the hospital and during your first few days at home.
Rest and Activity
Rest is important for good healing. At the same time, getting up and walking helps to speed recovery. Nurses will first help you sit at the edge of the bed. Next, nursing and physical therapy will help you to march in place, sit in a chair, and walk in the halls. You may be surprised how much better you feel each day. As soon as you are able, the Cardiac Rehab staff will help you to begin your exercise program.
Bathing and Incision Care
A nurse or nursing assistant will help you to bathe at the bedside. When washing, avoid rubbing your incision. Use a mild, fragrance-free soap and pat dry. Do not put any lotion or powders on your incisions until they are healed.
Showering is not advised while you are in the hospital. When you go home, you should shower with your back to the water. Do not let the stream of water flow on your incision until it is fully healed.
Your incision is covered witha skin glue to keep it closed and help it heal. In the hospital, your incisions will be covered with dressings. While in the hospital, your incision is cleaned daily and a new dressing is applied. After discharge, a dressing is only needed if drainage is present. If drainage is present, wash your incision as above and apply a new dressing daily. At first, the incisions may be red, swollen and have some drainage. As healing occurs, this decreases. It is important to not rub the incision to prevent removing the glue.
Tips To Speed Your Recovery
There are simple things that you can do to help speed your recovery. While in the hospital, focus on:
- Good breathing - once your breathing tube is out, the nurses will ask you to breathe deeply, cough and use a breathing tool (incentive spirometer). You will be asked to repeat these breathing exercises 10 times each hour while you are awake.
- Good pain relief - let your nurse know when you first begin to feel pain. Using the 0-10 pain scale posted in your room, aim to remain at 3-4 or below (mild to no pain).
- Good rest - take time to heal. While we want to have you active in your exercise program, you also need to take time to rest.
Coping with Changes
It is common to feel some changes in your mood and emotions for weeks after surgery. These changes may vary from being energized and upbeat to feeling edgy and even depressed. Your energy level and appetite may also vary at times.
As you get stronger, these changes should occur less often. In the meantime, try doing things that you enjoy and are within your limits. Take it day by day depending on how you feel. Share activities with your family and friends. Talk about your feelings. All of these things help you to heal and to feel more positive about yourself and your recovery.
If you feel depressed over several days, you need to call your doctor. While these things are not sure signs of depression, they are clues that you may need help and support.
- Poor appetite
- Trouble sleeping
- Sleeping, but not really feeling rested
- Finding it hard to focus
- Feelings of sadness
- Trouble regaining interest in others
As you heal, you will slowly regain your strength and independence. This may take weeks to months. Be patient. Be sure to give yourself time.
It's normal to feel a little anxious after leaving the hospital and when fewer people are nearby. People do much better when they feel as though they have support. It may be helpful for you to have someone stay with you the first few days at home. You will also want to keep emergency numbers and phone numbers of friends and family in a convenient place. When you feel able, call people and have them stop by for short visits. Take the time to read or enjoy your favorite hobbies. Make the most of whatever support you have available to you.
- If you are on a blood thinner, a nurse or pharmacist will talk with you about special precautions and cares.
- If you have a special diet, a nutritionist will talk with you about a plan.
- If you had a valve replacement, ask about special self-care precautions.
Important Phone Numbers
To Verify Insurance
To Speak With a Financial Counselor
|Cardiothoracic Surgery Nursing Unit||
|Clinical Nurse Manager||
|Patient Relations Office||
The information provided should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
Last Updated: 05/21/2012
Copyright © 05/21/2012 University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority. All rights reserved. Produced by the Department of Nursing. HF#5800
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