Saturday, June 20, 2020

Series: Open Heart Surgery. After ("Stuff" and precautions)

This is the final post on the open heart surgery series.  If you want to look back at the others, here are the links:

Series: Open Heart Surgery.  Before (Planning).
Series: Open Heart Surgery.  During (Stress Management).

This post will address - as the title implies - the period of time following the surgery. The main focus will be on creature comforts that will make your life easier/more comfortable in the days following the surgery.  I will also provide some basics about sternal precautions, adaptive equipment, and exercise, but you will get most of that info from your treatment team prior to leaving the hospital, so obviously, defer to whatever specifics they give you.
I'm just some chick.
I mean, The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

As far as a general idea of what to expect while you're in the hospital, you should refer to the Stress Management post.

So.  Creature comforts.

I had been hospitalized for several days in February for pancreatitis.
That sucked for me.  But to my benefit for my cardiac surgery, and to the benefit of anyone reading this that needs to plan for something similar, it was a learning experience.  Specifically, I was able to identify:

1) what sucked
2) how badly it sucked
3) how long the suckiness lasted
4) what could be done to diminish the suckiness.

There are many things that you will not be able to do anything about.  You're going to feel sick, and low-energy, and in pain.  And while there may be nothing you can pull out of your overnight bag to help with those things, you can put them in the hands of your doctors and nurses and let them work their magic.

But as far as the little corner of the universe that you DO have control over, here is a packing list.  For some items, I'm including links to specific items I purchased, but this is not a sponsored post, there are no affiliated links or whatever.  Get what I got or borrow things or purchase elsewhere.  You do you.


Phone and charger: The outlet may be on the wall behind your bed, so bring the longest cord you have.
Toothbrush, toothpaste: hospital will provide both, but they will be crappy.
Deodorant: ditto above.
Dry shampoo: you may not even care about the state of your hair at this time, but if you do, this will help.

This kind of product is available anywhere.

Ponytail/clip: when I'm on my back for days on end, my preferred style is what I like to call the "hospital-bed top-knot".

I present to you the "hospital-bed top-knot". Pay no attention to the grey.

Hospital gown: The first few days I was so sick, what I was wearing was the furthest thing from my mind.  But when I was in the hospital earlier in the year, I hated the struggle to keep me arse covered, keep it from falling off my shoulders, and the difficulty trying to wash up at the sink.  So I bought myself this gown that I found on Amazon.  It's actually made for someone having a baby, but it worked perfectly for me as a heart surgery patient. The staff had no problem with it and they found it actually made things easier for them.  I thought washing at the sink was easier in this gown than it was in the standard-issue hospital gown.  And it was more discreet, as it had snaps down the back.  The only problem is that if I sat on it wrong, a snap or two would open occasionally. I just learned to pull the excess fabric to the back prior to sitting and that seemed to solve the problem.

Perfect access for wound care.  If you thought anything else, get your mind out of the gutter.  

Travel pillow: I brought a travel pillow with me because it was small enough to fit in my overnight bag, but a big standard bed pillow would also be great.  You definitely need something to improve your comfort, because those hospital pillows?  It would probably be hard to design something that would be less comfortable.  I suppose you could fill a sack with Legos or something.  Nope.  I stand by my original statement that nothing could be less comfortable.  Bring something from home. In fact, if you want to get super fancy, put a couple drops of lavender oil on whatever pillow you bring.

This looks like the one I used.  I love it!

Slippers:  The hospital will provide you with those one-size-fits-all socks with the non-slip treads on them.  I am positive that whomever designed the hospital pillows designed these socks, because they are scratchy, knobby things from hell.  Non-slip footwear is required whenever you get out of bed, but my feet prefer to go commando in bed, and I was too sick and impaired to put those socks on my feet every time I needed to get up.  Slippers were perfect.  The ones I already had at home needed to be pulled on around the heel, so I bought these slippers that I could slip on, but had just enough of a little lip in the back that they stayed on well.

These are the ones I got. Make sure your slippers fit well so they stay on securely.

Eye mask: I'm not an eye mask wearer at home, but I brought this with me and used it quite a bit.  It really did help.  This specific one was nice because it didn't sit flat against my eyes, it has kind of a dome, so I could actually open my eyes when wearing it.  Not sure why I need to open my eyes while wearing an eye mask, but hey, I pay the big bucks for all those extra features.

Ear plugs:  My eye mask came with ear plugs, too, but my ears always reject ear plugs.  My ears are rebels.

This is the set I used, and it worked well.

Jacket: I had known that I was going to have drainage tubes with this surgery, I was just not prepared for what that really meant.  I thought they would be little bulbs, not the ginormous Frankenstein tubes with the boxes that I saw emerging from my body when I woke up.

No no.  Not this.  Not in your wildest dreams.

I had three of these babies.  If you want to see the tubes coming out of my body, see the "during" post.

This is what I bought, only in grey.

Obviously, the jacket has not been created that could tuck those drain boxes into little pockets.
However, I did find it useful anyway,  See, the hospital gown they used had a little pocket to hold the telemetry monitor.

Something like this.  This is not a picture of me. I am not an elderly man with a cane.

Anyway, like I said, I wanted to use my own gown, which did NOT have a telemetry pocket.  I hate the way the monitor pulls the hospital gown forward and down. So I was able to wear the little jacket and slip the monitor in the pocket.  That being said, a little pouch of some kind that you could wear around your neck or sling over your shoulder would work just fine.  I just wasn't prepared for my post-op reality.

So that's pretty much it for the contents of my overnight bag.  I think I also had some lip balm, Tic-Tacs, and a couple of magazines.  I didn't bring any books, because I knew I would be lacking in powers of concentration, plus I always have some loaded on Kindle and Audible if I really wanted to read.  Magazines were perfect for the last day or so.  Prior to that, I couldn't so much as watch TV, honestly.

I had gotten a couple things for home, as well:


Tote: This lightweight tote really helped me in my first couple of weeks home.  I used it to cart around my phone, glasses, pulse oximeter, journal, medicine, etc.  You have to be careful not to overload it, as usual sternal precautions include not lifting anything over 8#. But better to have all that crap in one tote that you can slip onto your arm, than to try juggling all of that when walking around, especially when you may still be a bit unsteady on your feet.

I liked this one because it was so lightweight, had lots of compartments, and was on sale.

Wedge: I bought this wedge to help position myself comfortably for sleeping in my bed.  Lying flat on your back can be uncomfortable and make it harder to breathe after open heart surgery.  This really helped.  In fact, I just stopped using it, and I'm one month out now.

You can position it like above, or upright for a more reclined/seated position.

Tank tops: I'm not much of a bra-wearer in normal times anyway, but I certainly wasn't going to start fussing with one after joining the Zipper Club.  I have a bunch of tank tops that I always liked to wear under my scrubs for work, and these fit the bill for post-surgery recovery. A little bit of stretch, low cut so they don't bother my scar much, and just enough structure to lend a little support.

Not sure if this is the brand I have, but it looks similar.

I think that covers it insofar as products for hospital and home.  I did not use any adaptive equipment, but many people need it and find it very helpful.  Here are a few things to consider:

Toilet seat riser: This is a device that - you guessed it -raises the height of your toilet seat.  You don't want a commode over your toilet, or a riser with armrests, because you are not supposed to push up through your arms after open heart surgery. Armrests would just be tempting the devil.

Toilet seat riser

Shower bench: The first few times you shower, it will be difficult.  My first day home, in fact, I asked my sister to wash my hair, and even so I was exhausted after the whole ordeal.  Using a shower bench helps to conserve your energy, and if you are having any problems with balance or extreme weakness, a bench will keep you safer.

Again, forego the armrests so you can forego temptation to push through your arms.

Power recliner:  This would be a pretty pricey item to buy for your post recovery time, but it would make your life easier. I have a recliner, but it's just the kind with a lever on the side to pull to get the footrest up or down.  It was more than I was allowed to push/pull, so in the beginning I had to get someone else to operate the lever.  That got old pretty fast.  Then I learned how to keep the footrest up and just kind of straddle the footrest when I wanted to get up or down, lol.

We all need a decent recliner in our lives.  It might as well be a power one!


Because your chest has been opened up and then wired back together, you will need to follow sternal precautions to allow the cartilage, muscles and skin to heal properly.  Again, I will defer to your specific treatment team for your specific parameters for your specific body and surgery, but in general, here is what you will need to follow:
1) Do not push through your arms to rise up or lower down to/from any surface, including chair, bed, car, shower bench, etc.  Generally, the higher the surface, the easier, so getting in and out of a low car will be more difficult than getting on and off a higher chair like a kitchen stool. If anyone assists you, they should give support at your back, not pull through your arms.
2) Do not push/pull/lift/carry anything more than 8lbs, which is roughly equivalent to a gallon of milk.
3) Brace your sternum  (incision area) with the heart pillow you got at the hospital (or any other pillow, really) whenever you need to cough or sneeze, or if you get a case of the hiccups.  Also clutch this when getting up off a chair or out of bed, at least in the beginning.  And try not to sneeze if at all humanly possible.  Because, my God in heaven.  Hurts like a mother f-er.  Sorry for the "language", but my God.
4) Don't raise both arms overhead at the same time, and don't reach both arms behind your back at the same time.  One at a time is okay, though.

I'm not going to cover incision care here, but inspect your incision daily, and follow the washing instructions given to you by staff.  And don't soak in a tub while you're healing.


Exercise is going to be an integral part of your recovery, but it is important to follow the specific instructions given to you by your treatment team in terms of what exercises you should be following, as well as the timeline.  And at some point into your recovery period you may get involved in cardiac rehab, as well.  I will be meeting with my surgeon for my follow-up appointment soon, and I plan on asking about that.  But in the beginning, I followed the walking protocol I was given which started with one ten minute walk a day, then increased to two ten minute walks, then one 15 minute walk, and then increasing the number of minutes per day in one minute increments till I reached the end goal (where I am now) of 40 minute walks. My first few walks? I needed someone to accompany me, and I didn't travel far in the ten minutes, let me tell you.  But now I'm walking on my own and going two miles in the 40 minutes.  Not bad, one month out, if I do say so myself.

"Just put one foot in front of the o-therrrr..." Sing it with me!

"Take me home, country roads..."  Are you still singing?

I couldn't get the cows to sing with me.

That's okay.  Just keep on walkin'!

And that's a wrap!  I hope this was helpful to all of you out there who will be going through something like this.  I have heard from a lot of you, and I wish you the best!  Please feel free to leave me a message below, or to contact me through the Mended Hearts forum, or message me privately or through Facebook or whatever.  Or send me an owl.  The point is, if you have any questions, I am more than happy to help.  It's not an easy thing to go through, so we could all use all the support and information we can get.  Am I right ladies?  And gents? 



  1. very helpful, thanks for sharing. i like your writing style - snarkily funny...

  2. I second the above commenter about your nice writing style.

    Wish I’d found that fufu hospital gown earlier - too late to come before the surgery now. ;) (9 days away)



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