As I sit here and write this blog, I realize how important it is for people who have had or who are going to have open heart surgery to understand the aftercare. This care will start in the hospital with the nurses and therapists. You will go through bouts of depression, anger, mood swings and of course, guilt. You will think to yourself, can I do this? You can and you will get through this very difficult time. First you have to realize that your body has just undergone a major trauma.
Your body will determine its own healing time. Nothing the doctors tell you is written in stone; you should use it as a guide. You have to deal with the pain, so don’t be afraid to ask for relief. It can take a few days to get out of Intensive Care. Don’t panic if it is longer than you were told. You will be placed in what they call a Step Down Unit. All of your tubes should be removed and you will be able to walk around.
At first you will be very weak, so take it slow. Always keep your thoughts positive. You will be given a machine to breathe into. You must do this according to the instructions. It is so important to build up you breathing and lung capacity. Walking will be a chore; take it one step at a time and walk as much as you can. Sit in a chair, don’t lie in bed. Do not think about the future – take one day at a time.
You may have swelling in your legs, hands as well as tingling and numbness. This is normal and will eventually go away, but it may take 3-4 months. The medications that are prescribed to you may have some side effects such as fatigue and stomach discomfort. The doctors can give you something to relieve this problem. You will need to walk a certain distance and walk up and down stairs before you are discharged.
The real healing begins when you go home. The first thing you will want to do is shower. This will make you start to feel human again. You will need assistance with this; have a cup and a wash cloth ready. You can’t face the water with the bandages, and you might need someone to help you get dressed. Wearing very comfortable clothing like loose fitting shorts or sweats will ease some of the discomfort.
You will leave the hospital with a ton of information. Have someone listen in on the instructions as well. You will never remember all the details – don’t panic, this is part of the after effects of the anesthesia.
Don’t try lifting heavy objects. Sleeping in a recliner might be best, as I did for 8 weeks. When you try to get up, don’t use your arms to lean; this can cause a problem with your sternum. Practice using only your legs. Also have someone take a sheet or blanket, fold it a few times have them place it behind your arms to lift you from a sitting position. This will alleviate any stress to your chest.
The next big question that I hear all the time is, “When can I resume relations?” The only one who can tell you is you. At first this is the furthest thing from your mind. When you start to feel better, usually after 4 weeks or so, you may discuss with your partner and doctor. They may be apprehensive because of your chest. Take it slow; resuming normal relations will help your mental state.
Always remember keep a positive attitude and don’t think too far ahead. Do not rush the healing process.