Home Care after Open Heart Surgery

Posted by Heart Hugger on May 25, 2021 7:50:59 AM

Portrait of senior couple, man putting a blanket on woman or wife while she sits on the couch, caring for a loved one concept after heart surgery during recovery

Whether you are recovering yourself or will be caring for someone after open-heart surgery, here are some tips and things you need to know to help you take ownership of the recovery process and help shape the very best outcome.

Taking care of Their recovery

The six to eight weeks after open-heart surgery can be the most challenging, but healing time depends on many factors like your health prior to surgery, and how well the patient cares for themselves during recovery. 

In general, you or your loved one will have multiple follow-up appointments so make sure that the support system or caregivers are aware of the dates and locations of appointments to assist. The patient's discharge plan may or may not be similar to others, so it’s good to have everyone interested in their care on the same page!

As for the incision, it’s very important to follow the discharge instructions regarding care. It’s normal for some straw-colored fluid to be discharged during healing, but make sure that the patient or caregiver contacts the doctor if they experience redness, warmth, puffiness, a change in the drainage, pain or tenderness, or a fever above 100°F. This could be an indication of a possible infection anywhere from several days to even weeks after discharge.

Patients may also experience a clicking sensation in the sternum that can be quite alarming, but keep in mind that the sternum bone is also healing and this will take time. If the patient experiences acute tightness, pulling, clicking, or grinding sensation they should cease the activity that brought it about and contact your doctor if it continues or becomes unbearable.

Give Their body what it needs to heal

Your body has gone through something very major, and it needs time to heal. It is normal to feel exhausted while recovering from surgery and conversely it’s also normal to experience insomnia! Know that the body is hard at work healing from the ordeal of surgery and that the discomfort, pain, and all-around disruption will require some patience and time to overcome.

After open-heart surgery, the patient may not feel like eating much at all, and if you are a caregiver this can be disconcerting. But their appetite will recover right along with the patient, and there are some things you can do in the meantime to give their body the nutrients it needs. Focus on eating small meals throughout the day instead of two or three heavy ones. Limit salt and fat intake by steering clear of restaurants, take-out, or frozen meals (even though they are convenient for patients and caregivers!)

Every area of one’s life is impacted before, during, and after major surgery, so it’s normal to experience moodiness, anxiety, depression, fear, or anger as you heal. While you are allowing yourself this time to heal and nurture your body, it’s also important to allow yourself the time and attention you need to recover psychologically as well. 

Getting back to normal life

After open-heart surgery, life will never be quite the same; in fact, it might be even better! As the patient continues to heal, their doctor and other individuals involved with care will be able to recommend when they will be able to start exercising, traveling, returning to work, or taking on more strenuous recreational activities. If you are someone who is caring for a loved one after open-heart surgery, one of the most important things you can do is encourage walking (when approved), a daily routine, personal care, and self-care for yourself as well.

If you are feeling hesitant about the stability of the incision or would benefit from some peace of mind as a caregiver, you may want to consider discussing a support harness or post-operative bra. The support and comfort that can come from either of these great options can help speed your recovery by reducing your anxiety, your perception of pain and stabilizing your incision and sternum as well.

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