After valvular surgery, patients usually sleep most of the day. You will wake up in the sixth floor Intensive Care Unit (ICU), where you will remain one to two nights under the care of a nurse assigned solely to you. You will be connected to tubes, wires, and drains, although the breathing tube is removed before you awaken. Intensivists, who are specially trained to work in the ICU, will monitor you frequently and report your progress to the cardiologists on your team.
While in the ICU, you will begin to use an incentive spirometer to expand your lung capacity, relieve tightness in the chest that occurs after surgery, and break up any congestion that may develop. This makes patients cough, and is uncomfortable. You will be given a teddy bear to use as a splint to minimize movement of your chest, as well as pain medications.
While in the ICU, family members may visit for short periods of time — 10-15 minutes per hour, and only two visitors at a time. Before visiting, they must call ahead and receive clearance; phone numbers are posted by the telephone in the ICU waiting room.
Patients' chief complaint after surgery is fatigue; the anesthesia typically affects patients for about 24-28 hours. Patients may feel spurts of energy and then become very tired, and this is entirely normal. It is important that patients eat even if they do not feel like it, in order to maintain their energy.
From the ICU, patients then move to what is called a 'step-down' room for about a day. In the step-down room, tubes and catheters are removed, patients may walk around, and physical therapy starts. In this area, the ratio of nurses to patients is one nurse to three or four patients.
When ready, patients then move to a regular room for the remainder of their hospital recovery. Once in a regular room, patients may receive visitors during the regular open hours from 7 am to 10 pm. Our team will see you daily and discuss future management.
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When You Return Home
When you return home, you will typically feel tired for another week. Patients are encouraged to nap if needed, and to walk daily. Patients should eat your favorite foods in order to restore energy and build appetite. Patients should walk a minimum of 3 times daily at increasing distancing as tolerated.
Energy levels will improve in a few weeks. Patients are usually able to drive short distances in about three weeks. Most patients return to work about four weeks after surgery. Patients undergoing a chest incision should not lift anything heavier than 10 pounds for the first 6 weeks
Post-operative care is collaborative and includes the patient, cardiologist, and surgeon, for the rest of the patient's life. The cardiologist will make decisions regarding medications that should be taken after surgery.
Hospital nursing staff will call patients after three days, but patients should call the hospital if any problems arise during recovery. They will see their cardiologist within two weeks, and at the Center within a month. Follow-up EKG will be done at six weeks, and CT scan at six months after surgery. In most cases, patients return yearly after that point.