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What About Respirators After Open Heart Surgery?

Posted by Adam Pick on August 14th, 2007

A greeeeaaaaaaaaaaat question just came in about waking up in the ICU. It reads, “Adam, when I come to (wake up) in the intensive care unit will I be on respirators after open heart surgery.”

There are two possibilities here. “Yes”, you will be on a respirator connected to a vent tube or breathing tube, after surgery. The other answer to this questions is again… “Yes”, you will be on a respirator after heart surgery.

The only difference between the two “Yes’s” is whether or not you remember it. :)

I know that’s a little tricky but you have to remember that your mind and body will be heavily sedated from the anesthesia administered during your cardiac procedure. That said, the body will need some help “waking up”. Specifically, your lungs need some help. For that reason, most patients are on respirators after open heart surgery. The respirator can also help clear any excess fluid out of the lungs.

My Picture Just After The Vent Tube Is Removed
(This picture was taken about four hours after open heart surgery.

As the USC Cardiothoracic website writes, “To help you breathe, an endotracheal tube (breathing tube) is inserted during surgery. This tube is connected to a respirator that assists your breathing. Because you will not be able to talk or swallow while this tube is in place, your nurse will anticipate your needs and ask you questions that require only a yes or no answer. Nod your head to say yes, and shake your head to say no. When you are fully awake and breathing on your own, the breathing tube will be removed, and you will be able to talk.”

It’s quite dislocating to have a plastic pipe stuck in your throat. Plus, no one told me about the vent tube prior to surgery. I had no ability to talk after surgery. Instead, I used a pen and notepad to write notes to my family. I was only awake with the breathing tube for about an hour or so. It was so liberating when they took it out.

I hope this helps answer the question about respirators after open heart surgery.

Keep on tickin!

Adam Pick
Written by Adam Pick A dad, a husband and a patient, Adam Pick founded this website in 2006 to educate you about heart valve surgery from diagnosis to recovery.
You can get the latest updates about heart valve surgery from Adam at his Facebook, and Twitter pages. Click here to email him.


Mack Hickman says on February 18th, 2008 at 12:10 am

So what happens when you have heart surgery and you cannot get off the respirator?
My father recently had heart surgery and within two days was off the respirator and put in a room for recovery. A few days went bye and he had difficulty breathing. He ended up rupturing the wiring in his chest from coughing and had to have an additional operation to fix. Fluid was found in his lungs which caused all of this. Now since the second operation, he has not been able to come off the respirator. While in the open heart recovery room, they found problems with one of his lungs which required an additional operation to help clean it out. Three surgeries and he is still on the respirator. I was told the longer you are on it, the harder it is to get off. My father has been in the hospital now for three weeks. He is heavily sedated… What should I expect…


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