Once Surgery is Over

Heart surgery patients are taken to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) immediately after surgery and remain there for several days. Once your vital signs are stable, immediate family can make a brief visit.

You will have several temporary wires, tubes and lines attached to your body that assist with your recovery:

  • Breathing Tube/Ventilator: a breathing tube will be in your throat. It is attached to a ventilator, which breathes for you until you are awake and strong enough to breathe on your own. The breathing tube is most often removed the day of surgery or early the next morning. You may receive oxygen through a facemask and later by nasal prongs. You will be asked to cough, deep-breathe and use a incentive spirometer hourly to expand your lungs. Pain medications will be given so you can cough and deep-breathe better. It is very important that you do these things to help speed your progress.
  • Gastric Tube: a small tube is placed from your mouth or nose into your stomach to keep the stomach empty of air and fluid. This helps prevent risk of vomiting. This tube is taken out when the breathing tube is removed. You will then be able to take ice chips and liquids by mouth and your diet will slowly return to normal.
  • Heart Monitor: your heart rate and rhythm are obtained through pads placed on the skin. Your blood pressure is obtained through a small tube placed in a blood vessel in your wrist. Heart pressures are obtained through a small yellow tube placed into a vein of your neck. In most cases, all tubes are removed in 24 to 48 hours.
  • Chest Tubes/Pacemaker Wires: chest tubes allow blood and fluid that form inside your chest to drain out. The tubes are usually removed the first or second day after surgery. Temporary pacemakers, which assist the heart rhythm if needed, are placed in all patients. They will be removed within three to four days.
  • Intravenous/Bladder Tube: Intravenous (IV) lines allow us to give you fluids and medications after surgery. The bladder tube drains urine and allows us to watch your fluid balance and kidney function. 

After the ICU, you will be moved to a telemetry unit where your heart rhythms will continue to be monitored. You will be urged to begin small tasks with help form a nurse such as coughing and deep breathing, eating, getting out of bed, walking in the hallway and bathing. By the third or fourth day after surgery, you should be able to carry out these tasks by yourself.

Once you become more active, you will probably feel some pain or discomfort around the area of the incision. This pain is due to the spreading of your breastbone, muscles, and ligaments during surgery. As you heal the soreness will gradually go away, but it may take many weeks. 

You will stay on the telemetry unit you are discharged from the hospital, typically four or five days after surgery.

After you are discharged from the hospital, it is important to make an appointment with your family doctor, the cardiologist and your heart surgeon for follow-up care.