You are now home from the hospital, and while the healing process is well underway, or you would not have been discharged, there are miles to go. There seem to be so many instructions to remember. You simply will not be up to much in the first few weeks, and in some cases, for several more. I won’t understate this. Yes, an upbeat approach by the hospital medical staff may have sent you waltzing home and it’s thrilling to be leaving the hospital, where you haven’t been permitted to sleep through the night. Yet you are returning home greatly fatigued, with a medications schedule to manage, possibly a tank of oxygen, and perhaps recurrent irregular heartbeats or other complications that remain unresolved. Now is the time to dedicate yourself to the hard work of recovery. Alternating rest and exercise, and above all patience with the physical and emotional trials ahead, is your assignment for the next several weeks.
You and your caregiver will mostly be on your own unless your particular situation requires a treatment plan that includes post-op visits from a home health care nurse. Even if that’s the case, now is the time to review any guidelines your hospital medical team has given you about what to be aware of.
Recovery after surgery takes time. There’s often a feeling of “being all alone.” This is the time to find other open-heart surgery survivors and their caregivers to talk to. Swap stories, share information, hear what other families have gone through. Just knowing that you are not alone as you go through your rehabilitation can lift the veil of isolation. There can be a tendency to hold one’s surgery and recovery experiences too privately, but not reaching out to others will only deprive you of receiving compassionate support. If you are feeling isolated, do yourself a favor: reach out to friends and family, and look for a heart surgery support group locally or online.” However, whenever in doubt about what you may be experiencing specifically, contact your designated medical liaison for professional diagnosis or medical attention. No question or concern is too trivial.
For most of us, there is a difficult recovery challenge from the time we leave the hospital until we are healed and strong enough to enroll in a local rehab program. That’s one of the reasons for my book, to bridge this gap as so little medical attention is focused on the recuperation period that lasts anywhere from four to eight weeks. We thought getting through surgery was the biggest hurdle. However, the hurdle is greater when we are home on our own with not much progress to report fast enough — and without all those experts in the hospital to lean on.
Every recovery is different. If you’ve been told to expect improvement “two days forward, one day back,” you might be disappointed to experience instead only one good day (a period of energetic spunk) followed by two, three, or even four days of just plain feeling lousy. Even to meet the assignment of increasing your walking time from five minutes to ten minutes a day may feel like an insurmountable task at first. You may also be swinging in and out of temporary depression. (In my case, I wished the discharge nursing staff had emphasized the psychological challenges of recovery, not just the physical stresses.) Or, you may feel “off,” and think you might be coming down with a virus. That might be the case, but feeling off can be due to other things as well: you may have become anemic (as I did); you may be having an allergic reaction; sleep deprivation may have caught up with you-there are many possibilities. Know that everyone goes through discouragement, yet those who are informed to expect ups and downs will fare far better.