Recovering after Heart Surgery
You can expect to stay in the hospital 4-5 days after surgery. This handout
highlights some of the things that may happen while in the hospital and
during your first few days at home.
Rest and Activity
Rest is important for good healing. At the same time, getting up and walking helps
to speed recovery. Nurses will first help you sit at the edge of the bed. Next,
nursing and physical therapy will help you to march in place, sit in a chair, and
walk in the halls. You may be surprised how much better you feel each day. As
soon as you are able, the Cardiac Rehab staff will help you to begin your exercise
Bathing and Incision Care
A nurse or nursing assistant will help you to bathe at the bedside. When washing,
avoid rubbing your incision. Use a mild, fragrance-free soap and pat dry. Do not
put any lotion or powders on your incisions until they are healed.
Showering is not advised while you are in the hospital. When you go home,
you should shower with your back to the water. Do not let the stream of water
flow on your incision until it is fully healed.
Your incision is covered with a skin glue to keep it closed and help it heal. In the
hospital, your incision will be covered with dressings. While in the hospital, your
incision is cleaned daily and a new dressing is applied. After discharge, a dressing
is only needed if drainage is present. If drainage is present, wash your incision as
above and apply a new dressing daily. At first, the incisions may be red, swollen
and have some drainage. As healing occurs, this decreases. It is important to not
rub the incision to prevent removing the glue.
Tips To Speed Your Recovery
There are simple things that you can do to help speed your recovery. While in the
hospital, focus on:
Good breathing – once your breathing tube is out, the nurses will ask you
to breathe deeply, cough and use a breathing tool (incentive spirometer).
You will be asked to repeat these breathing exercises 10 times each hour
while you are awake.
Good pain relief - let your nurse know when you first begin to feel pain.
Using the 0-10 pain scale posted in your room, aim to remain at 3-4 or
below (mild to no pain).
Good rest – take time to heal. While we want to have you active in your
exercise program, you also need to take time to rest.
Coping with Changes
It is common to feel some changes in your mood and emotions for weeks after
surgery. These changes may vary from being energized and upbeat to feeling edgy
and even depressed. Your energy level and appetite may also vary at times.
As you get stronger, these changes should occur less often. In the meantime, try
doing things that you enjoy and are within your limits. Take it day by day
depending on how you feel. Share activities with your family and friends. Talk
about your feelings. All of these things help you to heal and to feel more positive
about yourself and your recovery.
If you feel depressed over several days, you need to call your doctor. While these
things are not sure signs of depression, they are clues that you may need help and
Sleeping, but not really feeling
Finding it hard to focus
Feelings of sadness
Trouble regaining interest in
As you heal, you will slowly regain your strength and independence. This may
take weeks to months. Be patient. Be sure to give yourself time.
It's normal to feel a little anxious after leaving the hospital and when fewer people
are nearby. People do much better when they feel as though they have support. It
may be helpful for you to have someone stay with you the first few days at home.
You will also want to keep emergency numbers and phone numbers of friends and
family in a convenient place. When you feel able, call people and have them stop
by for short visits. Take the time to read or enjoy your favorite hobbies. Make the
most of whatever support you have available to you.
If you are on a blood thinner, a nurse or pharmacist will talk with you about
special precautions and cares.
If you have a special diet, a nutritionist will talk with you about a plan.
If you had a valve replacement, ask about special self-care precautions.
Important Phone Numbers
Billing (608) 262-2221
To speak with a financial counselor (608) 263-8770
Cardiothoracic Surgery Nursing Unit (608) 263-8720
Clinical Nurse Manager (608) 263-8725
Spiritual Care Services (608) 263-8574
Patient Relations Office (608) 263-8009
Your health care team may have given you this information as part of your care. If so, please use it and call if you
have any questions. If this information was not given to you as part of your care, please check with your doctor. This
is not medical advice. This is not to be used for diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. Because each
person’s health needs are different, you should talk with your doctor or others on your health care team when using
this information. If you have an emergency, please call 911. Copyright © 11/2015 University of Wisconsin Hospitals
and Clinics Authority. All rights reserved. Produced by the Department of Nursing. HF#5800