Before coming home from hospital make sure you understand:
- How to care for your incision
- How much activity you’re able to do
- If you’re allowed to drive (don’t forget to also check with your car insurance company in case they have any restrictions following an operation)
- Symptoms to look out for that require medical attention
- Any changes to your regular medication
- Changes to your diet
- What kind of exercise you can do
- How to manage pain
- How to manage constipation caused by painkillers
- When to see your GP
Protecting your sternum
If you’ve had an incision through your sternum, it’ll take approximately 12 weeks to heal. During this time you’ll need to protect it and avoid heavy lifting.
After major surgery, your body needs to rest. You can expect to be really tired and have no energy. Try and establish a daily routine that involves getting dressed and doing something interesting each day and an hour or two rest in the afternoon. Allow yourself 10 hours to sleep at night.
You’ll need to make a follow-up appointment to see your surgeon 4 to 6 weeks after your procedure to check your incision and address any questions you may have. You also need to follow-up with a cardiologist to review your heart’s functioning. You should also return regularly to your GP if you’re taking blood-thinners, so they can monitor your medication.
You shouldn’t drive for the first 4 to 6 weeks. Strong painkillers can reduce your reflexes, so wait until you can manage without them. As a passenger, remember to wear your seat belt; you may use a towel or a small cushion to prevent friction with the incision in your chest.
Returning to work
Most people can return to work in 4 to 6 weeks, but everyone recovers at a different rate. If your work is physically demanding, follow your surgeon’s advice about how much time to take off.
Once you can climb a flight of stairs without feeling puffed or chest pain, you’ll probably have enough energy for sex. Take things slowly and talk to your partner to manage their expectations. You may find your chest incision makes certain positions uncomfortable.
Watching out for problems
Call your surgeon if you experience:
- Fluid discharge or excessive bleeding from your incision
- Redness or changes in the skin around your wound
- Pain and swelling in your calf
- Unexplained or sudden shortness of breath
- Palpitations that persist or recur
- Vomiting or fever
- Mental confusion
- Ankle swelling.
Signs of a heart attack
If you experience pain, heaviness or tightness in your chest, neck, jaw, arms back or shoulders, you may be having a heart attack. If you have these symptoms:
- Stop and rest
- Tell someone about your symptoms
- If the symptoms last more than 10 minutes, call 000 and ask for an ambulance.