Open Heart Surgery, Part 1 of 4

Pre-Op

A note about this series: I’ve written the first 3 blog entries for those who might undergo open heart surgery and those caring for them. I suppose you can also read it if you’re just curious, but it might not be interesting. 😉 Parts 1-3 offer practical information from my perspective, and Part 4 covers my surgery story, as well as its impact on me both physically and emotionally.

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Most people don’t have the luxury of scheduling their open heart surgery (OHS) in advance. However, mine was scheduled a couple of months in advance and I still felt somewhat clueless. These are a few things I wish I had known.

Some doctors and hospitals will give you prep info, but many just hand you a list upon discharge, telling you all the things you need to buy. In my case, I didn’t really feel like taking a shopping excursion 7 days after my OHS (when I was discharged). Thus, sections “B” and “C” below are mostly a shopping list.

If you’re a friend or family member of the OHS patient, people may ask you, “What can I do to help?” It can get pretty expensive to purchase all these things, so if you have people who want to help, this is a very practical way they can extend a helping hand. I suggest setting up an Amazon Wish List including the things I’ve listed below, so people can purchase the items and either bring / ship them to you directly.

A. BEFORE YOUR SURGERY:
– Arrange for someone to check your mail or have the post office pause delivery.
– Pre-pay all your bills for the next 6 weeks.
– Arrange for transportation to / from the hospital.
– Arrange for transportation until (and to) your follow-up visit. You won’t be allowed to drive until then (usually 4 weeks).
– Move all frequently used items in your house to waist-level. You don’t want to bend or reach up.
– Clean your house thoroughly. You’ll be more susceptible to illness and infection upon your return home.
– Arrange for one friend / family member to stay with you as an “advocate” during your entire time (24/7) in the hospital (more on this in post #2)
– Determine where you’ll recover. (Tips: You shouldn’t be alone for the first few weeks, and you won’t want to climb stairs.)
– Ask your doctor if they can give you copies of the discharge paperwork and pamphlets in advance. If they can’t (they may not have access to it), go directly to the hospital to ask for the advanced copies. This will help you prepare.
– Some of my friends set up something like “Take Them A Meal” to provide food for my family while they were staying at the hospital with me. This was incredibly helpful. You could extend it throughout your recovery time as well, but be aware that you’ll likely have a severe decrease in appetite, and most things won’t taste good. You might also be on a “healthy heart” diet, which would restrict the options for what types of food people would need to bring (usually low sodium, high protein, mild flavors).

B. DURING YOUR STAY AT THE HOSPITAL:
Peppermints – to prevent nausea and dry mouth; these were a mainstay for me.
Cough drops – to help with sore throat
Plastic water bottle / cup with lid + bendable straw – I couldn’t hold a cup up to my mouth, but I could get close enough with a spill-proof, straw-equipped, lightweight water bottle.
Essential oils + diffuser – I used Young Living’s frankincense and lavender.
Eye mask – it’s hard to sleep in the hospital, but this helped.
Ear plugs – the machines beeped all night, so my advocate (more info in post #2) and I both used these.
Lip balm – my lips were so dry after surgery, so I applied this constantly.
Moisturizer – the hospital might have some, but it probably won’t be awesome.
Muscle rub – my back and shoulders hurt far worse than my incision (they say that’s normal).
Clay heat / cold pack – as I mentioned, my back hurt a lot, and this clay pack lasts 4x longer than gel (ask your doctor / nurse to make sure you can use this, as it may affect your blood pressure).
Grabber – it hurt to extend my arms, so this helped in the first few weeks especially.
Loofah on a stick – showering is hard.
Dry shampoo – this helped me avoid washing my hair, which is the hardest part.
Shower cap – I needed a big, durable cap since I have a lot of hair. This one is the best!
Pajama shorts / pants (loose-fitting, drawstring) – I liked having something to put on under my hospital gown during my mandatory walks around the hallway. They need to be very loose so they don’t cut off your circulation, and you’ll likely gain weight from the fluids. I needed 1-2 sizes up from my normal size.
An advocate in the room with you at all times (#38 on this link) – I’ll cover this more in my 2nd post.

C. DURING RECOVERY (BUY IN ADVANCE!)
Button-up pajama shirts (as well as regular button-up shirts) – it’s easier than putting shirts on over your head.
Stretchy bras without underwires (for women) + bra extenders – because you may gain weight.
Slip-on shoes – it was hard to bend over to tie my shoes, but I needed comfortable walking shoes for the daily walks they encouraged (up to 20 min). These were perfect!
Paper plates / bowls / cups + plastic utensils – I did not feel like washing dishes.
Protein food options – they suggest protein for recovery, but I didn’t want much food, so this helped. I also ate Fage 0% plain Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, eggs, and oatmeal.
Blood pressure cuff – this is the most accurate one I’ve found. They asked me to track it 2x daily for the first 4 weeks post-op, plus I need one for checking it regularly.
Oxometer – for testing my oxygen while walking, lying down, etc. They advised me to keep it above 90.
Scale – they had me weigh myself daily, and this travel sized one was great for recovery.
Cottonelle wipes – they may give you these in the hospital, but if not, you’ll have backups.
Shower stool – I’ll be honest with you: I never used this, but I can see why it’s helpful. Showering was the single most tiring thing I had to do. It felt like I’d run a marathon.
Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser (Face & Body) – they suggested an unscented cleanser for face and body, and this was the brand my dermatologist recommended.
Unscented body wipes – for those days when I was too tired to shower.
Giraffe razor holder (for women) – this brilliant invention extended my razor-reach.
Lightweight folding bed tray – this kept my water, meds, peppermints, books, muscle rub, lip balm, eye mask, ear plugs, and cell phone all within my reach. It hurt to extend my arm to my bedside table.
Wedge pillow – I use this in both the horizontal and vertical positions, depending on my need at the time.
Chest pillow – they gave me a “heart pillow” at the hospital, but it wound up everywhere (the sink, the floor, etc.). I didn’t want to bring all those hospital germs home with me, so I replaced mine immediately. They’ll explain why this pillow is so important (it is).
Ibuprofen – I was able to get off my prescription pain meds pretty quickly, at which point I transitioned to ibuprofen 2-4 times a day for a few weeks.

I hope this helps! Can you think of anything I’m missing? If so, add it in the comments!

Disclaimer: These are just my preferences. You’ll want to consult with your doctor and health care professionals to see if your situation will be different than mine.

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