For this reason, please consider the ideas, the thoughts and the research provided below. There are potential challenges that may arise during the patient's recovery from heart valve surgery.
It is very important for caregivers to understand that recovery from heart valve repair and heart valve replacement surgery can be a challenging process for patients.
In addition to the physical trauma inflicted upon the patient's chest, ribs and heart, the body must also resolve the lingering effects of general anesthesia, cardiopulmonary bypass (heart lung machine) and other drugs.
While many caregivers often search for an explicit answer to the question, "How long is recovery from cardiac surgery?", the reality is that no one answer exists. To learn more, please see "How long did it take for you to feel 100% recovered?"
Instead of focusing on a specific timeline for recovery, we encourage caregivers to establish various milestones which demonstrate progress throughout the recovery process.
Prior to the patient's homecoming, you may want consider how the patient will function upon his or her return.
Remember that the patient's ability to function may be limited to even the basic, routine elements of daily living – including dressing, showering, eating, sleeping, etc.
For example, many patients which undergo median sternotomy experience ongoing chest soreness after leaving the hospital. While pain medications (including Vicodin) are prescribed, many patient chose to use a recliner during the early recovery to lessen the pain.
Upon the patient's discharge from the hospital, you will most likely receive select instructions for patients after heart valve surgery. These instructions may include:
- Limits on amount of weight to be lifted
- Use of prescription medicines (Vicodin) for pain and sleep
- Instructions for Coumadin and PTINR testing
- Timeframe for reengaging in sexual activity
- Causes for concern and complications
- Incentive spirometer exercises
- Coughing exercises using big, red pillows
- Pain scale awareness
- Nutrition counseling
- Restrictions driving, work, alcohol consumption
- Incision care with gels, creams and ointments
Research suggests that between 30%-50% of heart valve surgery patients experience cardiac depression. Dr. R. Scott Mitchell, professor of cardiovascular surgery at Stanford states, "I think the cause is entirely unknown, but it could be the psychological effect of anticipating the surgery; the prolonged time under anesthesia, which is about four or five hours; or the results of the heart-lung machine."
This can be a very difficult time for patients as they experience worry and feelings that something is wrong. For many people who have had bypass surgery, regaining emotional strength is a tougher challenge than recuperating physically.
In light of this research, please monitor the emotional well-being of the patient as cardiac depression can occur up to several months after surgery.
As we have learned within our patient community, the use of cardiac rehabilitation for patients after heart surgery is under-utilized even though the benefits of cardiac rehabilitation are praised by patients around the world.
Commenting on the impact of cardiac rehab, Dr. Robert J. Matthews, a cardiologist and internal medicine physician in Los Angeles, notes, "Although cardiac rehabilitation programs are usually thought of as primarily exercise programs, they also offer psychological benefits that tend to help resolve transient depression. With many special medical conditions, other patients who have been through the experience can provide meaningful psychological support."
Prior to surgery, we encourage caregivers to locate an effective cardiac rehabilitation program for their patient.