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Recovering in the Hospital After Your Heart Surgery

You are now on the road to recovering after your heart surgery.

The days you spend in the hospital after your surgery are critically important. You have already come a long way. And while there’s a light at the end of the recovery tunnel, you still need to spend some additional time in the hospital to monitor your condition after surgery and ease you on the road to wellness.

Here you will find information about what you need to do during your time in the hospital after heart surgery to help you recover. Please remember to always talk with your care team about your own personal plan of care.

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Activity in the Hospital

As you start to wake up from the anesthesia and can handle a change in position, your nurse will raise the head of your bed. It is very important to your recovery that you move early and often.

Please do not try to get out of bed by yourself. Your nurse will assist you to sit on the edge of the bed and later to a bedside chair as you continue to progress. You will start by sitting up in a chair and progress quickly to walking. Each day you will increase the distance you walk. You should expect to walk three to six times a day. As you become steadier, you will be walking on your own or with family.

An important part of recovering is to get out of bed and move. Increasing your activity improves:

  • Blood flow
  • Breathing
  • A sense of well-being

The lists below are day-by-day goals for you as you get stronger after surgery. There is a list for each of the first 4 days after your surgery.

Day One of Heart Surgery Recovery

  • Get out of bed for all meals and keep your legs raised while in the chair. Exercise your calf muscles by pointing your toes up and down several times each hour.
  • Walk to the bathroom and in the halls one to four times with the help of the nurse or cardiac rehab staff.
  • Use the incentive spirometer or Acapella® tool at least 10 times each hour.
  • Cough and deep breathe often. Use the chest pillow for added comfort and support.
  • Ask for pain medicine every three to four hours, if needed.

Day Two of Heart Surgery Recovery

  • Stay up in a chair with your legs lifted up for most of the day. Exercise your calf muscles by pointing your toes up and down several times each hour.
  • Walk in the halls three to six times with the help of the nurse or cardiac rehab staff.
  • Continue to cough, deep breathe, and use the incentive spirometer or Acapella® each hour.
  • Continue to keep your pain under control.

Day 3 of Heart Surgery Recovery

  • Increase your walking time and distance with cardiac rehab staff, nurse, or your family. Exercise your calf muscles by pointing your toes up and down several times each hour.
  • Stay up in a chair most of the day.
  • Remember to keep your legs raised while sitting.
  • Walk in the halls three to six times with the help of the nurse, cardiac rehab staff, or your family.
  • Continue to deep breathe, cough, and use the incentive spirometer or Acapella® tool each hour.
  • Work with your care team and family to plan for your discharge.
  • Take a shower if you are feeling well enough.

Day Four of Heart Surgery Recovery

  • Continue to increase your walking time and distance. Walk in the halls three to six times with the help of the nurse, cardiac rehab staff, or your family.
  • Add stair climbing with the help of cardiac rehab staff.
  • Continue to cough, deep breathe, and use the incentive spirometer or Acapella® tool each hour.
  • Continue to keep your pain under control.
  • Continue discharge planning with your care team.

Before Leaving the Hospital

  • You will get complete information about your activity.
  • If you are going home, you should be fairly steady on your feet and need very little help.
  • If you need to go to a rehab or skilled care unit, you will continue your activity progression.

Controlling Your Pain

Managing of pain is an important part of your recovery. Easing the pain will help you to feel better and heal better. Pain medicine also helps more effectively perform your breathing and walking exercises, so you can avoid additional health ailments.

Tell your nurse before the pain becomes too bad. By taking the pain medicine as soon as you feel uncomfortable, the pain will be easier to control. For the care team to better understand and help lessen your pain, you will be asked to rate your pain on a scale of zero to 10, with zero being no pain and 10 being horrible pain.

When you’re facing and recovering from heart surgery, it’s important to arm yourself with the facts and know what you can expect in the days and weeks ahead. To learn more about heart surgery at UPMC, check out our What to Expect: Heart Surgery booklet.