Frequently Asked Questions About Heart Surgery
Your doctor will tell you approximately how long you will be in the hospital. The length of stay depends upon the quickly you heal, but the average is usually at least four to seven days. Rest assured that the doctors will not send you home until they feel confident that you are ready.
The need for medications after surgery is highly individual. Your doctor or nurse will explain medications that may be necessary for you. It is important to follow the medication list that you will be given at discharge. Do not take your old medications and your new medications together unless instructed by your doctor or the nurse giving you discharge instructions. On occasion, a medication can be changed to one that will work better for you or have a dual effect that your old medication does not. So, if you take your old medications and your new medications you might get a double dose. If you have concerns or questions about this, address them with your doctor before you are discharged. The nurse taking care of you can help with this by relaying a message to your doctor if he/she is not available to come to your room.
Most patients complain of being stiff and sore. There will be soreness at the incision site. Pain medication will be given as needed as you recover. It is important, however, that you keep your nurse informed of your pain levels, so medications can be administered to keep you comfortable. Don’t try to “tough it out” and let the pain get out of control. It is very hard to get comfortable again if you do. Keep in mind that a comfortable patient heals more quickly.
It is possible that you will need blood products during or after your surgery. Your surgeon will discuss this further with you. Let your surgeon know if you do not wish to receive any blood or blood products.
Walking helps increase circulation, promotes the healing process, improves inflation of the lungs, and helps to decrease the amount of strength lost. Patients who are active as soon as possible after surgery, do better, heal more quickly and return to normal activity faster than those who are sedentary. Inactivity following surgery may contribute to complications.
There will be one incision in the center of your chest, the length of your breastbone. With bypass surgery, there may be one or more incisions on one or both legs, and/or arms. This is where the vein or artery is removed for use as a graft bypass. The skin will be closed with sutures or staples. With the newer endoscopic vein harvesting used here at St. Mark’s Hospital, often the incisions to remove these veins for grafting are very small in comparison.
Normal activities can usually be resumed during the first month except where normal activities require weight bearing of the upper body. You should increase your activities gradually, however, allowing time for rest.
Incentive spirometry is a breathing tool to promote good lung inflation. You should continue your breathing exercises for the first month after surgery.
After heart surgery, call your doctor or seek medical treatment if you have:
- Any signs of infection, such as redness at the incision site or surrounding it, a
- yellow/green drainage from the incision, or heat at the incision site
- A fever (higher than 101ºF) or chills
- Increased fatigue
- Shortness of breath
- Swollen ankles or weight gain greater than 3 pounds in 24 hours
- A change in your heart beat
- Any other unusual sign or symptom