Recovery & Support
Going home after heart surgery can be overwhelming, and it may take you some time to adjust to a new routine as you heal. Your recovery process will involve both physical and emotional healing. You will have days when you feel energized to move around, but also days when you feel tired and can't do things for very long. While this is normal, Cedars-Sinai will help you get you back on your feet and back to doing the activities you love.
Care Options After You Leave the Hospital
Home Care Nursing
Most of our patients will be set up with a visiting nurse service when they leave the hospital. A nurse will visit your home 2 to 3 times a week to make sure that your wounds are healing and you are recovering well. Your social workers and home care coordinators will talk with you about this service before you go home.
If the home health agency does not call you within 24 hours after you go home, please call 310-423-4446.
Skilled Nursing Facility
Some patients may wish to go from the hospital to a skilled nursing facility (SNF) before going home. The decision will depend on your needs, if there are any safety concerns or on insurance coverage. A social worker will visit you in your room to tell you and your family about your choices.
Make Your Follow-up Appointment
You need to see your surgeon about 7 days after you leave the hospital. Do not wait more than 10 days. The surgeon will check to see how your cuts are healing. Call 310-423-3851 to schedule this appointment. If you still have sutures (stitches) or staples, they will be taken out during this visit. You will get appointments for more tests if you need them.
Take Your Medications
When you leave the hospital, the nurses will give you a new list of all your medications. They will tell you how to take the medications and give you written instructions. Make sure that you understand the instructions. Ask as many questions as you need to.
Many of your medications might be different from the medications you took before your surgery. It is very important to take only the medications that are on the new list. Carry this new list of medications with you. Take it to every doctor visit.
Recovering at Home
Be sure to get plenty of rest—at least 8 hours of sleep a night and take naps during the day. Eat healthy foods. Try to avoid stressful situations. Your body is using all of its energy to heal. Healing requires time and hard work before your body can do things that are difficult or take a long time (for example, long walks, exercising and activities that last all day).
To help your recovery, carefully read this list of postoperative instructions:
- Keep using your incentive spirometer until it is easy to raise 3 balls and hold them up for 2 seconds.
- Do NOT drink or eat anything with caffeine for at least 4 weeks after your surgery. Caffeine can make your heart beat faster.
- Eat all your meals sitting in a chair. Do not eat while you are lying down. There is a danger of choking or getting food or liquids in your lungs (this can cause pneumonia).
- For 6 to 8 weeks after your surgery, do NOT lift anything that is more than 10 pounds. Your sternum needs time to heal. For example, a gallon of milk weighs almost 10 pounds.
- Do not drive until about 4 to 6 weeks after your surgery. Your doctor will tell you when it is safe to start driving again.
- If you have closure strips, let them fall off by themselves—don't pull on them. They usually fall off in 1 to 2 weeks.
- It is safe to shower every day, but do not take a bath until ALL the scabs (dried blood on your cuts) are gone. This will take about 8 weeks.
- Use warm water and soap on your hands to gently wash your cuts. Do not use washcloths on your cuts. When it is time to rinse, turn so that the shower water is hitting your back. Let the water flow over your shoulders to rinse your chest and cuts clean. To dry, gently pat yourself with a clean towel.
- For at least 6 weeks, do NOT put any lotions, oils or ointments directly on your cuts. It is safe to use them after all the scabs have fallen off.
- If you are taking pain medication or iron pills, you might be very constipated. This means that it is hard to have a bowel movement (poop). You can take stool softeners, and you should eat a high-fiber diet. Examples of high-fiber foods include bran cereal, prunes, pears and beans.
- Keep eating your heart-healthy diet. Eat food that is low in salt and saturated fats, such as fish, chicken, turkey, fruits and vegetables, whole grain breads and pastas, lentils, peas and beans.
- Walk 3 times a day and add other physical activities when you can.
When to Call Your Doctor
It's normal to have some bruising, swelling and soreness where you had your surgery. But if you have any of the following symptoms, call your doctor.
Call your surgeon if you have:
- A fever above 101 degrees
- A fever and chills together
- Redness that gets larger and moves away from where you had your surgery
- Liquid that comes out of your cuts
- Any of your cuts open
- More swelling where you were cut
Call your cardiologist, internist or primary care doctor if you have:
- Chest pain that does not go away
- Chest pain that doesn't seem to come from your cut
- Chest pain that feels similar to the kind you had before your surgery
- Shortness of breath (you can't take a deep breath)
- Dizziness or faintness (feeling like you are going to pass out)
- Sudden swelling of your feet or ankles
- Sudden weight gain (2 or 3 pounds gained between going to sleep and waking up the next day, or 5 pounds in one week)
- Racing or irregular heartbeats (palpitations)
- Total exhaustion (you don't have the energy for anything)
REMEMBER: If you have any worries, call one of your doctors. It is better to ask a question and find out that you are OK than to wait too long before you get help.
If you cannot reach any of your doctors or if you have an emergency, call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room.
Returning to Work
You should plan to take at least 4 to 6 weeks off from work. Returning to work depends on:
- The type of surgery you had
- How quickly you recover from your surgery
- The kind of job you have
Please tell your surgeon and your cardiologist the kind of work you do. They will want to be sure you are healthy enough to go back to work safely.
Heart Institute, Division of Cardiac Surgery
Important Cedars-Sinai Phone Numbers
We are here to help you in any way. Please use the listings below to reach our most commonly requested team members.