Life in the Hospital After Open Heart Surgery

Leslie Lafayette Health Guide
  • My journey from open heart surgery to being home in my own wonderful bed would last five days and be filled with rapid progress and scary setbacks. And enough bedpan moments to fill a girl's diary.


    Actually, I'm foolin' with you.  They don't really use bedpans for open heart surgery patients for a few days. When you come out of major surgery you'll probably have a catheter. This isn't as creepy as it sounds - in fact, the foley catheter is pretty comfortable and you'll barely know it's there, until they ask you to take your first walk down the hall with it wrapped round and round and hanging from a hook.

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    As soon as I began to feel comfortable in my private ICU room with my own nurse, she announced (rather gleefully I thought) that I was being moved to the cardiac floor, where I would have a roommate. 


    No hospital should make patients share a room. They don't do it to you at the Comfort Inn, why would it be okay when you are very ill or recovering from major surgery? 


    There are so many things wrong with having a hospital roommate. Let me tell you about mine. She spoke another language and talked on her phone an hour at a time, and I couldn't even eavesdrop. She had the better bed next to the window. At least four people came to visit her at a time and they all spoke another language also. Also, hospitals set it up so that your roommate has a different nurse than you have, so you can't even ask her nurse to bring you a martini. It's uncivilized.


    Things finally settled down after dinner and we both hoped for a restful night. Have you ever tried to rest in a hospital? It's against the rules. Hospital personnel will meet just outside your room to have a confab at 3 AM. Lights, noises and even arriving lifeflight helicopters will jar you out of your desperate attempt to catch some z's and if that doesn't do it, someone will take your blood, weigh you, or do an xray right in your bed, at 4 AM.


    Now I am going to share something important about your aftercare in any hospital. Be sure you (or in case you are not on top of things, which I wasn't, a family member or friend) double checks your meds! You should know all the meds the patient takes and check the list of meds the nurse brings.  Despite all best efforts, mistakes are made. Frequently! In my case, despite indicating in several questionnaires that I took a beta blocker, it was NOT included with the 20-something other meds I received each morning. It didn't take long for my heart to notice this. Beta blockers should never be discontinued suddenly. My heart went into atrial fibrillation, an irregular heart rhythm, the afternoon of the second day after surgery. I felt warm, I felt nauseous and I knew something was amiss in my chest. The nurse came quickly and they did an immediate EKG. They started me on an antiarrythmic med I did not want to take but had little choice.  Until someone figured out that the beta blocker had been missing and gave me a Metoprolol, which brought blessed normal sinus rhythm in a matter of 20 minutes, I was a pretty uncomfortable and worried patient. 


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    The beta blocker arrived at the same time as the good news about the private room. They had found one for me and I was happily settling in and thinking things were looking up...when one of my team's doctors arrived to tell me I needed a blood transfusion. This was an event we had all hoped to avoid, despite the safety of the blood system. My surgeon had even worked hard to spare me from losing blood during my surgery , but I was still apparently anemic, and my doctors agreed my heart was working too hard and could use a boost. I was reluctant and I was, to be honest, scared to have a blood transfusion.  What would it be like? What would be the results?  (Next time: True blood, my hospital visit ends, and the long road to recovery begins.)


Published On: May 25, 2011