You will recover in the hospital after coronary artery bypass graft
(CABG) surgery until your doctors feel it is safe for you to go home. During
this time, staff on the cardiac recovery floor will help begin your
rehabilitation and educate you on how to care for yourself when you return
home. You must demonstrate that you are capable of performing basic daily
functions, including walking and sitting upright, before your doctor will agree
to release you from the hospital.
The staff on the cardiac recovery floor will assist you in achieving
the criteria that assure them that you will be safe when you go home. Your
family and friends can play important roles in your recovery.
Typical criteria to be released from the hospital include the
When you arrive on the cardiac recovery floor, you will have a small
tube just below your nose that supplies oxygen to your lungs. Although it may
be painful, it is important that you try to take deep breaths. Taking deep
breaths is the only way to use your lungs to full capacity. If you fail to take
periodic deep breaths, you are more likely to develop pneumonia.
You will exercise your chest wall muscles during your recovery with a
machine called an incentive spirometer. This machine requires you to inhale
forcefully through a tube connected to an air column containing a ball or a
similar device. As you breathe inward, the ball within the air column moves up.
How high the ball moves up shows how much air you inhale.
A healthy person who has not had surgery can typically inhale
forcefully through the spirometer until the ball reaches the very top of the
air column. But when you first arrive on the cardiac recovery floor, your lung
capacity may only push the ball halfway up the column. By the end of your
hospital stay, you should regain your full lung capacity. As you use the
spirometer, your nurse or respiratory therapist will also work to improve your
breathing function by asking you to breathe deeply and cough. This action keeps
your lungs moving and increases their capacity.
Most people who undergo CABG surgery retain large amounts of fluid
after surgery. The majority of this fluid is usually water. Your nurses will
make sure that you are getting rid of the extra fluid by:
Before you can leave the hospital, you must be able to eat and digest
your meals. Although at first you may not be hungry enough to eat much food,
you will need to get all the energy that the food provides as you become more
active in the days following your CABG surgery. It is important that you eat
meals that are low in salt (which helps you to get rid of extra water) and low
in fat (which helps prevent plaque from forming on your new bypass grafts or
the healthy portions of your coronary arteries).
Along with putting you to sleep during surgery, anesthesia has
several side effects. Two of the most unpleasant side effects are nausea and
constipation. While nausea will soon wear off, your constipation can leave you
uncomfortable for several days after your surgery. Your nurses can give you a
medicine to promote bowel movement. However, eating may actually be the most
effective means of ending constipation, because food will push waste through
You should also be able to sit up in a chair for at least an hour by
the time you leave the hospital. Sitting up is a good way to expand your lungs
and help them reach full capacity. Sitting also helps:
You should try to walk about
100 ft (30 m) four times a
day. This usually means a trip around the hallway of the cardiac recovery
floor. You may need help at first. Walking is especially important because it
shows that you are physically able to get around after you leave the hospital.
Walking also helps:
You may meet most of the criteria to go home but may not be able to
do certain things well enough to go home. In this case, you may go to a type of
assisted-living facility instead of to your home. Nurses and rehabilitation
specialists at an assisted-living facility can help you work toward getting
During recovery, the hospital staff can help you a great deal. You
will need to move around despite your incisions and to breathe deeply despite
As you prepare to leave the hospital, your medical team will give you
many instructions about how to care for yourself. You may want to have a folder
or binder to keep this information organized. Many of the hospital staff
members who have helped you recover during your hospital stay may not be
available when you are at home. So it is very important that you pay
close attention to all the instructions that they give you.
Your hospital stay is only the beginning of your recovery from CABG
surgery. In the weeks that follow, you will continue to work back to the life
you were leading before your surgery.
April 6, 2012
Rakesh K. Pai, MD, FACC - Cardiology, Electrophysiology
& John A. McPherson, MD, FACC, FSCAI - Cardiology
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