What to expect after cardiac surgery
Cardiac surgery is surgery on the heart or blood vessels of the heart and is completed by a cardiac surgeon. There are many different types of cardiac surgery and different ways to complete these surgeries. The most common cardiac surgery is coronary artery bypass grafting known commonly as a CABG ‘cabbage’. Valve replacement or repair, and insertion of a pacemaker or implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) are regular surgeries completed by cardiac surgeons. Maze surgery and an aneurysm repairs are all come under cardiac surgery. Less common but obviously important and life saving surgeries include heart transplant and insertion of Left Ventricular Assist Device.
Immediately after the surgery
Recovery following one of the above surgeries depends on what type of surgery you had, any complications during surgery and any underlying health problems that may impact with your recovery. Attachments such as oxygen, chest drains, IV painkillers and drugs infusions, pacing monitor, possibly a catheter bag are the most commonly attachments you may be connected to post operatively.
You will be closely monitor by a specialist team in ICU or a cardiothoracic HDU directly post op. General anaesthetic, pain medication and pain itself can initially leave you feeling tired, disorientated and uncomfortable, all of which are normal. People are even known to see strange things as a side effect of pain medication. Adequate pain management is very important post op as it will allow to get moving and cough effective to clear any phlegm from your lungs. A supportive cough technique will be taught to you by both your nurse and physiotherapist.
Early mobilisation is an integral part of your recovery. All members of your team will encourage you to get out of bed day 1 post op as it is in your best interests. Your physiotherapist will be along that day to complete and assessment of your respiratory system and your mobility. Ensuring you can take deep breaths and clear phlegm that may have built up during the surgery while under anaesthetic is all part of your Physiotherapy treatment. Movement including getting out of bed, walking all help to get you to take deeper breaths and begin your recovery.
Weaning off oxygen therapy is also part of the physio therapist’s role along side the nursing staff. You will commence a walking programme that you will continue once you get home. This will focus on a gradual increase in walking duration over several weeks.
From ICU or cardio thoracic HDU you will go to a ward for further monitoring. Over the next few days and depending on your recovery all the previously mentioned attachments will gradually be removed if not already removed prior to this. This will allow you to move more freely and independently.
Education prior to discharge
Education on post operative precautions such as not lifting or carrying heavy objects will be explained to allow your wound and sternum time to heal. You will also be advised to hold off on gardening, driving and other strenuous activities for the first six weeks until you are reviewed at clinic. The pharmacist will also visit you to educate on your medication should this change. Other important team members such as dietician, specialist nursing and speech and language therapy may all play a part if indicated.
After discharge from hospital you will be followed up in clinic to ensure you are recovery well. From here it will be advised that you participate in cardiac rehabilitation to optimise your recovery and quality of life. Heart 2 heart are here for this part of your journey, so please get in touch to organise your first consultation.
Written by Olive McCafferty, Chartered Physiotherapist, currently works at the Mater Hospital and we look forward to welcoming her back to Heart 2 Heart in February. Olive worked with us on a part time basis of one day per week prior to answering the Call for Ireland. She will return in a full time capacity and will introduce a musculoskeletal service to Heart 2 Heart as well as bringing a wealth of knowledge in cardiovascular care.
Why not join our specialist cardiac physiotherapist, Karen Cradock, for our webinar on Wednesday the 9th of December if you are recovering from cardiac surgery? This a complimentary session via Zoom. Karen has worked in cardiothoracic units in Birmingham, Leeds and Sydney and now concentrates on the rehabilitative aspect of care so that individuals can benefit fully from the procedure.