What to expect during your surgery and your stay in hospital as you recover from cardiac surgery.

Where do I report on my scheduled surgery date?

Report to the specified time and location at Royal Columbian Hospital that was given to you by the triage office. For non-English speaking patients, please bring an interpreter to assist with your admission.

Due to operating room scheduling, failure to arrive at the hospital at the requested time could result in a delay or cancellation of your surgery. You will be asked to repeat the antiseptic wipe body cleansing once admitted to the pre-operative area.

Bring entertainment or a book to read to pass the time until you are taken to the operating room or until your bed is ready.

What can I expect during cardiac surgery and post-operative recovery?

Heart surgery usually takes four to six hours, and sometimes longer. The surgeon will call your contact person after surgery to let them know how you are doing.

After surgery you will be moved to the Cardiac Surgical Intensive Care Unit (CSICU) in Royal Columbian's Health Care Centre (Green Zone). You will be asleep. You will breathe through a tube attached to a breathing machine (ventilator) for one to four hours. You will be able to talk once this tube is removed.

Your heart rhythm will be monitored through sticky patches (electrodes) attached to your chest. You will also have temporary pacing wires attached to the outside of your heart. If you have a slow heart rate, these wires may be connected to a temporary pacemaker. You will be given pain medication regularly. Tell your nurse if the medication is not helping your pain.

You will have an intravenous (IV) tube in the side of your neck and in one or both of your arms. These are used to measure heart pressures and/or give you fluids and medications. You will have a tube in your bladder (urinary catheter) to collect urine. You will have tubes in your chest to drain fluid and blood from around your heart and lungs.

Right after surgery, you will be on bed rest. Your nurse will help you to turn from side to side. Later in the day your nurse or therapy team member may help you sit at the side of the bed. Once you are fully awake you will start drinking fluids and may be given a light meal or snack to eat. You will sit up or stand at the bedside with help. Your health care team will remind you how to protect your breast bone when you move. 

What will I experience the day after my cardiac surgery?

The day after your surgery you will have a blood test, electrocardiogram (ECG) and chest X-ray. If you had valve surgery, you may start blood thinner (anticoagulant) medication such as Warfarin (Coumadin). A blood test will be done every morning to decide what dose of medication you should take that day.

Your heart rhythm will continue to be monitored through the electrodes and wire leads. You will continue to be given pain medication on a regular basis. Tell your nurse if the medication is not helping your pain.

You may be given oxygen through a tube placed just inside your nose (nasal prongs). The drainage tubes in your chest and some IV lines from your arms or neck may be removed. You will be encouraged to do your breathing and coughing exercises every hour using the spirometer.

If you have had bypass surgery the incisions on your legs may be wrapped with a tight dressing to prevent swelling. You will begin to walk and to get up into a chair. You will be moved to unit 2 South in the hospital's Columbia Tower (Blue Zone) once you are stable.

What will I experience two days after cardiac surgery?

You will have more blood tests. You will be weighed before breakfast to find out if you are retaining fluid. Your heart rhythm will continue to be monitored by the leads attached to your chest. Some patients may have irregular heart rhythms. You will continue to be given pain medication on a regular basis. Tell your nurse if the medication is not helping your pain.

You may continue to get oxygen through nasal prongs. The drainage tubes in your bladder or chest may be removed. You will be given regular food and continue to drink fluids. Tell your nurse if your stomach is upset or you are nauseated.

You will continue to increase your activity with regular walks and do your breathing and coughing exercises every hour using the spirometer. You will attend an exercise class.

What will I experience three days after cardiac surgery and beyond as I prepare to go home?

You will be weighed before breakfast to find out if you are retaining fluid. You will continue to be given pain medication on a regular basis. Tell your nurse if the medication is not helping your pain.

You will continue to drink fluids and eat solid food. Tell your nurse if your stomach is upset or you are nauseated. Your nurse will give you medication to help if you have not moved your bowels.

Continue to do your breathing and coughing exercises every hour while awake using the spirometer. Increase your activity. You will attend exercise class and climb one flight of stairs with a physiotherapist.

If you have had bypass surgery the dressings on your legs will be changed. The social worker or nurse may visit you to help you plan for going home.

Many cardiac patients are discharged on or after the fourth day post-surgery. Before being discharged from the hospital, you will have a blood test, ECG and chest x-ray. The temporary pacing wires will be discontinued if your heart rhythm is stable.

You will continue walking in the halls. Continue to do your breathing and coughing exercises every hour while awake using the spirometer. Continue to increase your activity. You will attend exercise class and climb two flights of stairs with a physiotherapist. You will continue to practice getting in and out bed on your own while protecting your breast bone.

What should I make sure to do when planning to go home?

Before you leave the hospital after your surgery, be sure to:

  • Ask about your anticipated discharge date and get all your questions answered
  • Learn about your heart disease condition, surgery and medications
  • Learn about any equipment that you may need to use at home
  • Plan what to will wear when leaving the hospital
  • Know the person driving you home and when they will pick you up
  • Arrange for a responsible adult to help you on your first week at home
  • Plan how you are going to get your prescriptions and get to your appointments and/or tests as you won't be able to drive for a while

Get more information and tips on recovery at home.