Open heart surgery entails a lengthy process of recovery.
In 2018 there were approximately 500,000 open heart surgeries performed in the US. (Chu, 2018) Even minimally invasive heart procedures, which are less taxing to the body, may require a slow healing process. Being prepared with the right materials and a helpful environment can make things less difficult during your initial recovery phase at home.
I was reminded of the importance of following heart surgery recovery instructions while watching the Chiefs play in the Super Bowl this week (my heart rate was way up…).
In 2015 when Kansas City was electrified with the Royals being in the World Series, I had several home health patients that were recovering from open heart surgery. I remember encouraging them to record the games and watch with caution (well, I tried). Stress needs to be minimized during the healing phase!
Home health care plays a vital role in your heart surgery recovery process.
Clinicians will monitor your vitals, educate and assist with medications, guide safe activity progression, provide incision care, ensure you are following precautions, and the list goes on. There are many precautions and instructions to follow during the recovery process. It can be a bit overwhelming, and I have seen patients make some dangerous mistakes (including getting their heart rate up too high watching sports!).
General tips that may help you with your home recovery after heart surgery:
Keep your post operative precautions handy. Put them on the refrigerator with a magnet. Have them easy to find. Read and review them daily!
Have an updated list of medication instructions on the counter. It is imperative to follow your updated medication routine correctly.
Have a log sheet to record your vitals, and monitor them daily (at consistent times). This will come in handy to bring with you to your follow up appointments.
Have a daily activity log to record your performing exercise and walks. Your recovery will be most efficient if you follow your program faithfully.
Have a timer or stopwatch handy to time your walks. Much of your recovery will revolve around taking planned, timed walks.
Ask your physician or clinicians for specific diet instructions, and even recipes. A cardiac diet is tricky to follow, but there are a lot of recipes using herbs and spices that make it much more tasty.
Keep medication bottles and items you will need daily, on the counter, easy to access.
Wear soft loose clothing with easy access to your incision for wound care, and to minimize strain on your arms/chest.
Avoid extreme temperatures, including your shower! Most cardiac post operative instructions say “No Hot Showers”. A long, hot shower can increase your heart rate (yes, I did have to send a patient to the emergency department because he forgot).
Choose the right chair. Have a firm chair that allows you to elevate your legs, but also get up without too much difficulty. Most cardiac procedures require you to get out of your chair without using your arms for a bit. Rocky recliners or low couches can make your transfer up and out painful and difficult. If your chair is low, you could place a firm cushion on the seat to raise it up a bit. A couple of inches in height can make a huge difference in effort for a transfer! Here’s a transfer technique that may help you get up out of a chair without using your arms:
Scoot hips toward edge of chair (not too far)
Slide both feet back until they are behind your knees (not under)
Shift your nose over your toes
Push into you heels to
Propel yourself upward, and
Pinch your glutes in standing to support your balance
Check out this firm seat cushion that could help with ease of transfers (affiliate link):
Don’t get discouraged! Remember that recovery takes time. If you feel impatient, have some gentle activities (non-physical hobbies, puzzles, or books) to distract you from the frustration.
CLINICIANS: I have added a printable handout of TRANSFER SAFETY TIPS on my premium resources page! Here is a sneak peek… it is made to be printed in B/W, easy to understand and read, with space to add notes for your patient. You can tape this ‘professional instruction sheet’ to their walker as a reminder!
What tips and tricks do you include for heart surgery recovery? What have you found to be most challenging about this type of recovery? Subscribe to my email for weekly tips and health information for senior care and senior health.