During your recovery from heart surgery, you may experience a wide range of emotions, from happy and energetic to tired and angry. Progress after heart surgery can be slow, so please do not become discouraged. Some suggestions to help you cope with your recovery:
- Stay involved with your family and friends.
- Share your worries.
- Get up and get dressed every day.
- Go outdoors every day (weather permitting).
- As you feel better, get back to activities that you enjoy.
- If after six to eight weeks you are still feeling depressed and are having trouble going back to the activities you enjoy, contact your doctor.
It is normal to have aches and pains after surgery. You will receive a prescription for pain medication but you may also use acetaminophen (Tylenol) or any non-aspirin product instead. Be sure not to exceed four grams (4,000 mg) of acetaminophen in a 24-hour period.
Continue using the cough pillow, which supports your chest when you cough.
Elastic stockings are worn to prevent or lessen leg swelling. They should be worn during the day and removed at night. Have someone help you with them to avoid straining. The stockings can be machine washed and dried. Once you are active and have no swelling, you may not need to wear them.
Have someone nearby when you shower. Use mild soap, rinse your incision with water and pat dry. Do not scrub your incision. You should have a small chair or stool in the shower with you in case you need to sit and rest. Do not take a bath until your incisions are completely healed.
Look at your incisions daily, checking for any increased redness, drainage, open areas, swelling, or tenderness. Call your doctor if these symptoms occur. Most patients have internal sutures, which will dissolve in time. If you have steri-strips on the incision, they can gently be removed in the shower after one week.
You may not have much of an appetite at first, but this should improve with time. Eating a balanced diet will help you recover. For coronary heart disease, your diet should be low cholesterol, low fat, and high fiber. Limit your intake of red meat, eggs, and fried foods. Increase your intake of fish, chicken, fresh fruits, and vegetables. Try to limit your caffeine to one or two cups each day.
Constipation is common after cardiac surgery due to inactivity and some pain medications. You should have a bowel movement on a regular basis. If you become constipated, take a laxative of your choice, such as milk of magnesia, or ask your pharmacist for suggestions of an over-the-counter laxative. If you are taking iron pills, remember your stool will be black.
You will also receive a prescription for a stool softener called Colace, or docusate sodium. Stop taking this medication if you have diarrhea. To avoid constipation, drink enough water, eat a high-fiber diet, and follow your exercise program.
It is important to take all your medications as prescribed. Common medications after heart surgery include aspirin, a cholesterol-lowering medication, and blood pressure medication. Some medications are temporary. If you have an artificial heart valve, you may be on a blood thinner. Some medications require occasional blood work for monitoring kidney and liver function.
- Check with your cardiologist to see what medications are right for you.
- Always bring a copy of your medications and doses to your doctor's appointments to confirm proper medication and dosing.
Check and record your temperature. Call your doctor if your temperature is greater than 101° or if your temperature is between 99.5° and 101° for three days in a row.
Weigh yourself every morning after you urinate and write it down. Call your doctor if you gain more than five pounds in two days, feel more short of breath than usual, or you are unable to lie flat due to shortness of breath.
Try to split up your routine, to avoid becoming tired. For example, gather all your clothes at one time to avoid extra work.
For the first four to six weeks after surgery (or until your doctor says you are able to) you should avoid driving a car. Driving can be stressful and your reaction time may be slowed due to some of the medications you are taking. As a passenger, place the cough pillow under the seatbelt for protection.
Housework should be limited to light work around the house, such as washing dishes and dusting. DO NOT move furniture. Avoid activities that involve reaching above shoulder level for long periods (such as washing windows or hanging out clothes), as this will increase your heart rate. Keep cleaning supplies in an easy-to-reach area to conserve energy. Use a short stool to sit when cleaning low-level surfaces, or try to use long-handled mops and sponges to reduce bending and stretching.
Returning to Work
You and your cardiologist will decide together when you should return to work after surgery. You may be able to do some paperwork, take phone calls at home, or return to work part-time at first. Work that requires lifting should be restricted for at least two months and only after you have spoken with your cardiologist.
You may resume sexual activity once you are able to walk ¼ mile briskly or climb two flights of stairs without discomfort. It is important to remember that you should communicate with your partner about what position is most comfortable and least stressful. Please remember your sternal precautions.
- You may enjoy going out to dinner with family and friends.
- Sports generally should be avoided for the first two months.
- If you golf, you may chip and putt during the first two to three months.
- When your incision heals completely, you may wade in a pool, but do not swim laps for two months.
- Avoid saunas and hot tubs.
- Discuss any other sports with your cardiologist before you participate.
When to call your Cardiac Surgeon
- If you feel more short of breath than usual or are unable to lie flat due to shortness of breath.
- If you gain more than 5 pounds in two days
- If your temperature is between 99.5° and 101° for 3 days in a row