Most people are discharged home between 3 to 12 days after heart surgery. Within 3 to 5 days, most patients are eager to leave the hospital despite some apprehension about giving up the security of an expert medical team. It is important that your loved one - and you - be patient with the pace of recovery after discharge from the hospital.
While the majority of patients go directly home from the hospital, some may need to go to a rehabilitation facility first or require home health care. It is important to keep an open mind about what will be needed at discharge to ensure a successful recovery. In most instances, discharge alternatives are discussed before surgery but decided only afterward.
It usually takes about 6 to 12 weeks to recover after coronary artery bypass surgery, though everyone recovers differently. Both the cardiologist and primary care provider will offer guidance.
Secure transportation home from the hospital with a friend or family member.
If your loved one lives alone, arrange for a close friend or family member to stay for a few days (or share the responsibility among multiple people).
Write out a schedule for who will be responsible for grocery shopping, meal preparation, housekeeping, assisting your loved one with bathing/hygiene and dressing, and transportation to follow-up appointments.
Note that your loved one's health plan may have benefits to assist with post-surgical recovery, such as medical equipment and supplies for them or their home, transportation, and meal delivery.
What can I do to assist my loved one?
Go with your loved one to their follow-up visits with the healthcare provider.
Assist and ensure your loved one:
Takes their medications as prescribed (all of them, every day, on time).
Goes to cardiac rehab, if prescribed by the cardiologist.
Takes care of their mental health, as a large portion of people who undergo heart surgery experience depression. Observe for signs and symptoms and discuss them with your loved one and their health care providers.
Appetite - may eat too much or too little.
Sleep - may oversleep or not be able to sleep.
Mentation - may seem slow to respond, confused or not make sense, or disengage from conversation.
Emotions - may cry for no reason, and/or act irritable or angry.
Makes lifestyle changes.
It’s important to follow healthcare provider recommendations on improving lifestyle by making changes that will include quitting smoking, a heart-healthy diet, getting regular exercise, and lowering and managing stress.
Understands the normal after-effects of surgery and assure them that they often go away within the recovery period (6-12 weeks) after surgery. These may include:
Chest pain around the site of the chest bone incision
Discomfort or itching from healing incisions
Swelling in the area where an artery or vein was taken for grafting (arm, leg, chest)
Muscle pain or tightness in the shoulders and upper back
Fatigue, mood swings, even depression
Difficulty sleeping or loss of appetite
Asks the doctor for specific instructions, especially concerning:
How to care for healing incisions
How to recognize signs of infection or other complications
When to call the doctor immediately
When to call 9-1-1
When to make follow-up appointments
Regular daily routine
Although your loved one won't be able to return to all of their usual daily activities right away, developing a regular daily routine during the recovery period will help your loved one build their strength, recover faster, and get on the path back to normal. Some examples of things to include in this daily routine, or use to build upon:
Getting 6 to 8 hours of sleep a night, which includes going to bed at the same time each night.
Waking up at the same time each morning and performing bathing and hygiene (hygiene only, if not bathing) and dressing shortly after waking.
Getting dressed in regular daytime clothes, not remaining in pajamas or a housecoat. This will help your loved one feel like being more active.
Eating a good, heart-healthy breakfast, moderate lunch, and light dinner.
Planning the day so that your loved one is tired at the end of the day (ready to go to bed), though not too tired throughout the day.
Resting between activities.
Note that if they need to rest for more than 1 hour after an activity, they may be pushing too hard. Do a little less the next day.