Changing Lifestyles, Changing Habits: The High-Tech Heart: Recovering from Surgery
Many people lead productive, healthy lives after heart surgery, but getting
to that point takes patience and determination. It's a lot
of hard work and commitment. It's important to have realistic
expectations about this.
times, you hear about how well somebody you know has done
after a heart operation, but you don't hear about what it
took to get to that point. People don't like to complain,
and when it's all over, they're probably not dwelling on the
difficulties anymore. But if you know what happens each step
of the way in your recovery, you'll be better prepared and
less likely to be disappointed.
recovery period can take three, maybe even four months for
some people. It comprises about four stages:
After the Surgery
you wake up, you're in the intensive care unit (ICU). There
is likely to be a tube that goes from your mouth into your
windpipe (an endotracheal tube), and you'll probably be attached
to a mechanical ventilator, a machine that breathes for you.
also probably have an IV or other type of tube in your arm,
your wrist and under your collarbone or at the base of your
neck. There will be tubes that drain fluid from your chest,
and a catheter that empties your bladder.
few days after the surgery are probably the most difficult.
The endotracheal tube makes it impossible to talk, but that's
often removed within hours. The other tubes aren't painful,
but they're uncomfortable. You'll be asked to sit up within
hours after you're awake, and this can be painful because
of the incision. You'll also need to cough and breathe deeply
to prevent pneumonia, and this can be painful too.
can be painful if you've had an incision in your leg, and
you will be asked to walk soon after the surgery. Getting
up and moving around can help prevent the formation of blood
clots, which is one of the complications of bypass surgery.
period of your recovery, don't hesitate to ask for pain medication.
You may also want something to help you sleep, because the
ICU can be a noisy place. The constant monitoring, while necessary,
can also make sleeping difficult.
people, all the tubes are out after two or three days. If
they're able to walk a little, it's time for the next phase,
which is usually a step-down unit specifically for cardiac
patients or a regular hospital floor.
Remainder of Your Hospital Stay
beginning of this next phase, you'll probably feel like you're
being monitored about as much as you were in the ICU. Nurses
and respiratory therapists will continue to ask you to do
breathing and coughing exercises several times a day, and
they'll be taking your pulse and blood pressure frequently.
not to have much of an appetite at this point, and you may
be given high-protein drinks until your appetite returns to
normal. A dietitian will begin working with you now to talk
about healthy eating habits. Before you leave the hospital,
your dietitian may provide you with ideas for a month's worth
of heart healthy meals.
therapy is another important component of your hospital stay.
It helps you recover strength and movement and it helps restore
conditioning to your heart.
complications during this period include:
or lung problems, which is why the breathing exercises are
problems, especially depression. The surgery itself is enough
to cause the depression. Heart surgery can cause feelings
of anxiety, and that's understandable. The medications you
begin taking after surgery can also have an effect on your
mood, so it's no wonder that many patients suffer from depression
after heart surgery. Be sure to tell your doctor if you are
feeling depressed, because there are a lot of ways to manage
this condition. And you're recovery may go more smoothly if
you do treat the depression.
progressing without complications, chances are you'll go home
in 10 days to two weeks.
have to take it easy for several weeks. You'll probably see
your surgeon and a cardiologist a couple of times during this
many people find difficult is that they're not supposed to
drive for at least six weeks after the surgery. Your breastbone
is not completely healed yet, and steering a car can delay
the healing process. Additionally, an accident could cause
serious chest injury, because your breastbone wouldn't be
able to provide the protection it normally does.
this period, you may find standing for any period of time
to be painful. Usually, patients are asked not to stand for
longer than 30 minutes the first month after the operation.
After that, it's possible to stand for as long as you like,
provided it doesn't cause leg swelling.
to watch out for at this time is infection of the incisions.
Call your doctor right away if you:
any part of the incision becoming red, swollen or draining
six weeks after the surgery, many people are back to their
regular activities. People often go back to work about three
months after their operation, but this is something you should
talk about with your doctor.
Over the Long Term
you've recovered, you're ready for the most important aspect
of life after heart surgery: adopting a healthy lifestyle
and sticking with it. The surgery can fix existing problems,
but if you don't eat, exercise and manage stress according
to recommendations of your healthcare team, you may find yourself
with the same problems that got you on the operating table
in the first place.
let all your hard work during recovery go to waste. The best
way to avoid more surgery is to eat the right foods and keep
yourself fit. Encourage your family and friends to help you
in this process.
The American Heart Association; R. Cicala. The Heart Disease
Source Book. Lowell House/Contemporary Publishing Group, Inc.
Los Angeles, California90067, 1998.