Recovery from Cardiac Surgery at BIDMC
Learn what to expect after cardiac surgery, from the Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit to your home.
After your heart surgery, you will be taken to the Cardiovascular Intensive
Care Unit (CVICU). Here, your team of specially trained doctors, nurses,
respiratory therapists, and others will provide constant care and
Several hours after your surgery, you will begin to wake up, and may see
several people around your bed. This is routine. Many patients feel
confused and anxious when they first wake up, but try to remember that you
are never left alone in the CVICU, and you are being watched very
Because of the special needs of patients who have had cardiac surgery,
visiting hours must be restricted in the CVICU. In general:
One or two close family members may visit between 12 and 8 p.m.
Visits should last about five minutes.
CVICU nursing staff may alter visitor guidelines depending on your
Designated Family Spokesperson
We understand how important it is for your family to receive information
about your condition. We ask that families designate one person to be a
main spokesperson. The staff will be in close contact with the
spokesperson, who can relay information as needed to the rest of your
family and friends.
The First Day After Surgery
When you first wake up after your heart surgery, a breathing tube will
still be in your throat. Your lungs need help until the anesthesia has worn
You will not be able to speak while the breathing tube is in place;
however, our nurses are very skilled at communicating with patients who
cannot speak to find out what you need.
After the breathing tube is taken out, you will be a little hoarse and may
have a sore throat — this is normal.
Heart Monitor, IV Lines and Tubes
In the CVICU, you will be connected to a monitor that shows your heart
rate and rhythm.
The IV lines put in before your surgery will still be in place.
A large IV line in your neck allows the nurses to give you medication
and monitor your heart.
A small tube in your wrist or groin allows nurses and doctors to
monitor your blood pressure and take blood samples.
Tubes in your chest help remove excess air and fluid from around your
heart and lungs.
The chest tubes are connected to a suction machine which will make a
While you are connected to this equipment, you will not be able to move
around much. The chest tubes, and most of the other equipment, usually are
removed a few days after surgery.
Some patients need blood transfusions during or after heart surgery. If you
have any questions or concerns about blood transfusions, please discuss
with your surgeon prior to your procedure.
Your Care in the Hospital
Your Care Team
In addition to your nurses and doctors, you will see other health care
providers in the CVICU and on the postoperative unit, depending on your
Cardiac surgery fellows and residents (doctors in training who work
closely with your surgeon)
Nurse practitioners and physician assistants
Social workers and case managers
As you recover from heart surgery, members of your care team will work
with you to make sure that any surgery-related pain is well controlled.
Patients usually receive pain medicine by IV at first, and switch to
oral medicine soon after.
Our goal is to make sure that you are comfortable enough to participate
in the important activities that are part of your recovery, such as
coughing, deep breathing, sitting up in a chair, walking, or undergoing
Recovery from Surgery
Most patients leave the CVICU the day after surgery. The nurses in the
CVICU will help you out of bed and into a special chair. A nurse will
bring you to the postoperative unit in this chair.
You will stay on the postoperative unit until you are discharged from
the hospital; for most patients, the usual stay is three to five days
Getting Back on Your Feet
Many people are surprised to hear that they will be out of bed as early
as the day after surgery. But starting to move around again is probably
the most important part of your recovery. Most everyone also walks up a
flight of stairs with a physical therapist before leaving the hospital.
You can expect to have healing pains for a few weeks, but they will
lessen as your wound heals. You will receive detailed information about
the healing process before you go home.
If you have clips (metal staples) in your chest, they will be removed
at a follow-up appointment two to three weeks after your surgery.
Going Home: Taking Care of Yourself
Instructions from Your Care Team
Your nurses and doctors will give you detailed instructions about how to
take care of yourself during your recovery. For example:
Do not lift anything heavier than 10 pounds for 10 weeks.
Do not drive for about four weeks after surgery.
Record your body temperature and body weight each day:
bring this information with you to your follow-up appointments.
If you are working, ask your surgeon how much time off you should plan.
Most people are out of work for one to two months following surgery.
You will also receive information about things you can do to ensure a
"healthy lifestyle" after surgery — things that will help your heart stay
as healthy as possible, such as:
Getting into a regular exercise routine
During your recovery, there may be days when you feel tired or frustrated.
You may feel like you should be getting better faster than you are.
Look for signs of improvement from week to week, rather than day to day.
Try to remember that the long-term outlook for most heart surgery patients
is excellent. Pace yourself according to your own body's signals, and
discuss any concerns you have with your doctor.