Care of Your Incisions
Following cardiac surgery, care of your surgical incisions should be the same whether the incision is on your chest, leg, groin or side.
Inspect Incisions Before Leaving the Hospital
It is very important to look at your incisions before you leave the hospital with your nurse so you can tell if there are any subsequent changes that should be reported to your doctor. If possible, have your spouse or caregiver look at your incisions with you in the hospital because the location of the incision may be difficult for you to see.
Take Your Temperature Daily
It is also important to take your temperature at the same time everyday, preferably in the early evening. Patients have found it helpful to keep a record of their daily temperatures.
When to Contact Your Surgeon
Notify your surgeon if your temperature is greater than 100.5 degrees Fahrenheit, as this could be an early sign of infection.
General Incision Care
General care of all incisions should include the following:
You should check your incisions daily for any signs of infection. Notify your surgeon if you notice any of the following:
- Increased tenderness
- Increased drainage
- Keeping your skin clean and dry will decrease your risk of infection.
- You should shower daily with warm water and a mild, gentle white soap or cleanser; good choices are Dove or Ivory. Avoid soaps that have artificial dyes or fragrances.
- Wash your incisions gently, do not scrub.
- Pat incisions dry with a clean towel.
- Do not take a bath or submerge your incisions in water (i.e. swimming) until instructed by your surgeon.
apply any lotions, creams, ointments, or powders to incision. This includes antibiotic creams.
Incisions should be left open to the air. Drainage from your incisions is not normal and should be reported to your surgeon immediately.
Some people have an area below their chest incision where drainage tubes were placed after surgery. This area may look like three or four little holes or slits. At times, you can have drainage from these areas for a few days after surgery.
Again, keep this area clean, but if drainage occurs, apply a small gauze or a Band-Aid to cover the area after showering to protect your clothes. Those areas should dry up and scab over in a few days.
If drainage persists over many days or if the area is reddened and tender, you should contact a member of the cardiac surgery team. Sometimes we use "steri strips," small paper strips, to hold the edges of the incision together. They can get wet with washing and will fall off on their own over time. If they are still on at the time of your follow up appointment, they will be removed.
Women who are large-chested should wear the surgical bra given to them in the hospital at all times. If the bra given to you is uncomfortable, you may wear one of your own that does not have an under wire.
Wearing a surgical bra will reduce pulling and tension on your incision and promote healing. Try to avoid having the lower edge of the bra rub against the incision. Patients sometimes find a sports bra helpful in that regard.
Please remove your bra two times a day for at least an hour for bathing and to allow your skin to breathe. ALWAYS wear your bra to bed or when lying flat.