A survivor’s advice for patients

Debra Becker is a heart disease survivor. Her guest blog will share her story and her advice for others in four installments. This is Part 2. Read Part 1 here


Debra Becker
Debra Becker

This past October, I had unexpected open heart surgery to repair my mitral valve after several major cordae (chords) broke. Seemingly healthy with no known personal history of heart disease, I exercised regularly and maintained a healthy diet. Although everyone’s recovery is unique, there are numerous side effects you’ll likely experience after cardiac surgery.

This article focuses on what hospital patients should expect during their first days after surgery.

  • My first word after the breathing tube was removed was WATER! I normally drink water continually, and felt incredibly parched! It’s standard practice to limit liquids to highly restricted quantities for a couple of days following surgery.
  • Solid foods will be gradually integrated into your diet, until your body tolerates them.
  • Expect a low sugar diet in the first days after your surgery, when glucose levels can easily fluctuate. These levels usually quickly stabilize.
  • Expect a low salt diet, too; excess salt can increase blood pressure, stressing your heart and blood vessels.
  • Personal hygiene is essential. Brush and floss your teeth and rinse with an anti-bacterial mouthwash at least twice a day. Until you are allowed to bathe, ask a nurse to wash your hair while following restrictions about wetting your skin.
  • The day after surgery, you will begin breathing and coughing exercises to reduce the risk of lung complications.
  • Muscle pain and tightness: I was unprepared for body-wide muscle pain and tightness that followed my surgery. My recommendation: engage the services of a skilled, licensed massage therapist (with your surgeon’s approval).
  • Swelling, especially of the chest, legs and feet.       Diuretics will likely be prescribed to eliminate excess fluids.
  • Dehydrated, flaky skin; the air in my hospital room was extremely dry. If this is the case for you, I suggest bringing in a personal humidifier as well as applying high quality moisturizers/serums a few of times per day, especially on your face, neck and hands.
  • Weight may increase from IV fluids and inactivity and later decrease after your body releases excess fluids.
  • Anemia, treated with ferrus sulfate (iron).
  • Fatigue: my long pre-surgery walks around the hospital became one or two laps around my unit.
  • Restricted sternum range of motion; my chest glued together layers of skin, with self-dissolving sutures beneath the skin and sternal wires holding the breastbone together. Lifting puts too much pressure on the sternum while it’s healing. If the muscles in your core and your arms are used, you’ll feel it in your sternum, so you won’t be allowed to lift with your arms or use your core for at least six weeks post-sternotomy. If you get past the pain, there’s a risk of your sternum bones separating, which will land you back into the OR.
  • Consult your doctors for advice if you are unclear about medical instructions or if your prescriptions are causing unwanted side effects.

Thanks for reading my American Heart Association blog!


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