How long does it take to heal from open heart surgery?

by Carolyn Thomas       @HeartSisters

Unless they’re undergoing minimally-invasive cardiac surgery, most heart patients facing open heart surgery may in fact hear a range of responses to “how long will it take?” because of the added complexity of getting their sternum (or breastbone, the long flat bone in the centre of the chest) cracked open right down the middle. 

This procedure is called a sternotomy.  As you can imagine, a cracked-open bone takes longer to heal afterwards than a simple soft tissue incision does.

But how long?  Cleveland Clinic cardiologists suggest this:

“You’ll do most of your healing – about 80 per cent – in the first 6-8 weeks after surgery”. Complete recovery can take about one full year.”

But when University of Toronto cardiac surgeon Dr. Bobby Yanagawa pondered the same question online recently, he received a surprisingly wide range of answers from other physicians in response to this post on Twitter (10/8/2020):

“As cardiac surgeons who see patients at a 6-week follow-up appointment, we don’t really have a good sense of how long it takes to recover from a sternotomy.

“I used to say three months, but now I say 3-6 months. I suspect a survey of patients will reveal that it takes much longer for complete recovery.

“Is a survey needed?”

Here’s just a sampling of dozens of responses from cardiac surgeons and other docs to Dr. Yanagawa’s Tweet:

1. “I tell patients they can do most things at three months, but for up to a year they will have some pain and remember they had surgery. It would be great to have the data, for sure.”

2. “Usually people take six months to recover. The more active and healthy at baseline, the sooner – but even then a minimum 6-8 weeks, it seems.”

3. “3-6 months needed to recover? Problem is this is a non-starter in 2020 post-COVID. No one can afford that much time off or not full work capacity when job losses are mounting. No wonder it’s hard to pitch surgery to our patients during pandemic times.”

4. “I think it’s all in the expectations we set as surgeons. I tell them six weeks, and most are pain-free and back to regular activity at that time. Cardiac surgery should be enabling, not disabling.”

5. “When patients follow up with me, I tell them they can do most things at three months, are mostly healed by six months, and may still have pain up to 1-2 years (mostly twinges of pain with certain movements).”

6. “Yesterday I saw a patient for chest pain one year after bypass surgery. Her pain was from keloid at the scar” (a raised overgrowth of scar tissue) – “the kind of things that are not recorded in studies.” (Another cardiologist recommended a referral to a plastic surgeon for treatment of  keloids).

7. “Maybe the definition of ‘recover’ varies. Patient expectations: pain-free, baseline function. Doctor expectations: good healing, improving function. Since people will heal variously, might be good to align expectations e.g. “At three months, we hope to see _____”

8. “Some bypass surgery patients complain of pump head (dizziness and fatigue) up to 10 weeks post-op. I agree we need a survey to see what’s going on with them.”

9. “It will also depend on the care provided after hospital discharge. If the patients are sent home straight after surgery, the recovery seems to take forever. If they go to recovery centres with physiotherapy, dietitians and an overall holistic recovery approach, then recovery is shorter!”

10. “There are so many variables in recovery after cardiac surgery. Cardiac rehabilitation enhances recovery. It’s imperative to get people moving and back to their baseline as soon as possible.” 

And even some responses from cardiac surgery patients themselves:

11.  “I had a mini-sternotomy with wires at age 52, and while I had minimal pain afterwards, I had complications at six months (pleural and pericardial effusion). I didn’t feel close to ‘normal’ for a solid year, then two years before I felt like myself. Depressing when they tell you it will take 6-8 weeks!”

12.  “I am nine months post-op; from the get-go I have been dealing with clicking, instability and pain. I found out it was a sternal non-union (a persistent fracture of the sternum after three months without signs of healing). “Now trying physiotherapy in hopes to avoid another sternotomy.  Long story short: yeah, I’d say it takes longer than three months to recover.”  NOTE: read more about how non-invasive pulsed ultrasound therapy has been successfully used in the U.K. to treat sternal non-union).

And these two comments from the When-Doctors-Become-Patients world, in which doctors have open heart surgery:

13.  “I followed up on a surgical colleague post-op – shocked at how long and difficult the recovery was.”

14.  “I’m an interventional cardiologist who needed a sternotomy at a young age. After three months, I felt ‘okay’ enough to work.  But just barely. I couldn’t imagine true physical labor at that point.”

This small one-day snapshot of varying responses to a sternotomy healing question (with answers essentially ranging from six weeks to one year) may seem puzzling to some patients.

That’s an impossibly wide range of possibly correct answers.

And few if any of the answers even mentioned the psychosocial recuperation impact of being diagnosed with a heart condition serious enough to require profoundly invasive cardiac surgery.  See also:  When Are Cardiologists Going to Start Talking About Depression?

Given this reality, I commend Dr. Yanagawa’s open call for feedback, acknowledging that his own post-op advice to patients has dramatically changed from three months to now 3-6 months – and additionally suggesting a survey of patients.

But instead of asking other cardiac surgeons what they’re telling patients, how about instead asking patients what their lived experience has been like? 

As the University of Calgary’s Dr. Doreen Rabi answered that tweet:

It is so important to include patients in defining what ‘recovery’ really means. I have heard repeatedly when I speak with patients that they ‘don’t trust’ their body for two years after a cardiac event/surgery. Anecdotal for sure, but compellingly consistent.”

Last year, a systematic review of studies on patient-centred adult cardiac surgery recovery published in the Journal of the American Heart Association reported, in a remarkably under-stated conclusion, that “the evidence base for post-operative patient‐reported outcome measures needs to be strengthened.”(1)   TRANSLATION: The studies they found were small, mostly done in single centres, 71 per cent male and 88 per cent white.

So in answer to the original question: “Is a survey needed?”, we might be tempted to say, What took you so long?

The promising news is that such surveys do exist, and some heart patients themselves have already been asked.

In 2016, for example, Dr. Sari Holmes and her team at the University of Maryland in Baltimore published a study using a heart patient survey called C-SPEQ –“Cardiac Surgery Patient Expectations Questionnaire”.(2) Although prediction of poor outcomes or longer recovery time after open heart surgery is most often focused on physical and surgical factors, these researchers suggested that the wide variation in these predictions may also be affected by psychosocial aspects that are not typically even considered by cardiologists.

In this study, the higher the patients’ pre-surgery C-SPEQ survey scores, the greater their rate of depression and perceived stress, and the longer their recovery time.

The study’s conclusion:

“Negative pre-surgery expectations have a detrimental impact on both recovery and quality of life following that surgery. Pre-surgical education might better prepare patients, reduce negative expectations, and improve psychosocial outcomes after cardiac surgery.”

What else might help speed up sternotomy recovery?

♥  Cardiac rehabilitation for almost all heart patients is recommended in current practice guidelines of all cardiovascular societies worldwide as a Class I recommendation (which means that a procedure/treatment should be performed/administered). Studies have shown that completing a course of rehab classes can significantly lower your cardiac risk. Most cardiac rehab programs this year have had to move online due to COVID-19.  Ask your cardiologist about participating in a virtual rehab program like this series of exercises developed by Vancouver Coastal Health for their heart patients.

Keep Your Move In The Tubeis a recovery concept developed by a Texas-based team of physical therapists, occupational therapists and cardiac rehabilitation specialists to help prevent sternal wound complications.(3) They claim that the common “Don’t lift more than 5 pounds” hospital post-op warning to new heart surgery patients is the opposite of what they need to hear. Instead, this team teaches recovering hospital patients to safely move or lift (e.g. getting out of bed) that involves keeping elbows tucked into the sides (as if inside an imaginary “tube”) while lifting, pushing or pulling – with the goal of faster recovery. This concept is also expanding to other hospitals (including in Alberta, Canada).

♥  What you can do ahead of time:  You may assume that your recovery will start as soon as you’re safely out of surgery. But a key predictor of speedy healing is often how healthy you are before that day. So if your surgery is scheduled (i.e. not an emergency procedure), you  may have some time between now and your surgery date to work on issues like smoking or other steps you can take to become as healthy as possible.

And for cardiac surgeons who, like Dr. Yanagawa, are wondering how to answer that “how long does it take?” question from patients, consider surgeon Dr. Lisa Brown’s suggestion. Here’s how this researcher and Assistant Professor of Thoracic Surgery at the University of California-Davis responded to Dr. Yanagawa’s original Tweet:

“Start collecting patient-reported outcomes!”

Why didn’t somebody think of that?

 

  1. Makoto Mori et al. “Characterizing Patient‐Centered Postoperative Recovery After Adult Cardiac Surgery: A Systematic Review” Journal of the American Heart Association. 2019;816 Oct 2019
  2. Holmes SD et al. “Development of the Cardiac Surgery Patient Expectations Questionnaire (C-SPEQ).” Qual Life Res. 2016 Aug;25(8):2077-86. 
  3. Adams J et al. “An alternative approach to prescribing sternal precautions after median sternotomy, “Keep Your Move in the Tube”. Proc (Bayl Univ Med Cent). 2016;29(1):97-100. doi:10.1080/08998280.2016.11929379

See also:

– Recuperation and a red leather chair

Learning to love your open heart surgery scar

Convalescence: the forgotten phase of illness recovery

Learning to live with heart disease: the fourth stage of heart attack recovery

34 thoughts on “How long does it take to heal from open heart surgery?

  1. I had open chest surgery 15 months ago to remove a tumor. Now my question is what kind of exercise fit to me so that I can push or pull at least 50 lbs? Buy the way I’m a 52 year old male.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Elson – The answer to your question really depends on a number of factors: for example, if your sternum was cut open during your chest surgery and if so, how has your healing progressed, or your previous ability to push/ pull 50 lbs, or how much exercise you have been doing in the past 15 months to regain your strength – and other general health and physical-fitness unknowns. If possible, make an appointment with a physiotherapist or sports medicine clinic to help guide your progress. And for more specific answers, please ask your surgeon.

      Good luck to you!

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  2. I am turning 70, just had open heart surgery 4 weeks ago. I had two days to get my ducks in a row. I had a positive attitude going in. Wanted to live for more then a year. Mine was stenosis of the artery and it was genetic. I was adopted and had no family history.

    My MD heard something off at a physical. I encourage people to go to their doctors every 6 months; I could have dropped dead. I do all the exercises and will start cardiac rehab in a few weeks. Have always been a healthy eater but not great at cardio.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Beryl – what a stroke of luck that your doctor noticed something was “off” during your physical.

      I’m so glad you’re heading for cardiac rehab soon – it’s the perfect place for you and I’m sure you’ll notice little by little that you’ll be feeling stronger and healthier as your rehab classes progress.

      Keep up the good work – take care, and stay safe. . ♥

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  3. Had a quad bypass on Feb 13th. It’snow May 1st. Was up and walking two days out, and off prescription pain meds in about 8 days. Was driving on day 10. Pulled the staples (in leg) on the 29th because I was waiting for a staple puller. Currently, resisting scratching the itchy areas, and compensating for occasional dizziness. The only thing I’m watching is not cracking open my sternum. For that reason alone, I’ll stay on “light duty”. Otherwise, no major issues as far as I can tell.

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    1. Hello Michael – your recovery seems uneventful – but this is not a race. Driving on Day 10 after open heart surgery, for example, was NOT a smart idea because sternums are NOT healed by Day 10. Not to mention driving with dizziness!

      There’s a sound reason that physicians warn bypass surgery patients not to drive for 4-6 weeks post-op – unsafe for you, and more importantly, unsafe for other drivers and pedestrians around you. Here’s why.

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  4. Only being 8 wks in, at 4 wks I saw my surgeon, was told to return to normal activity. Go ahead and drive, run sweeper, go back to work.

    Today was the first time I drove in 2 months. It was tough. My heart doctor who I saw at 7 weeks told me it would take 6 – 8 months to feel better, and only let me work 2 days a week because my job can be physical.

    I am in cardio rehab, but I worry about my mental state. And that so much has changed within me. I am 59 and have been very active. My family likes to tell me to take it easy, take it slow, don’t do too much.

    I am just floored that it may take me months more to feel better.💝

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Susan – very good news that you’re in Cardiac Rehab. This program will help (both physically AND mentally). No doctors warn us before hospital discharge to expect the emotional and psychological fallout from such a serious cardiac event. You’ve just had major cardiac surgery. Your body needs to heal slowly and carefully from that alone, and your mind and your soul need to heal too! You might find this series of posts from Dr. Wayne Sotile helpful. He’s a cardiac psychologist who really “gets” what newly diagnosed heart patients are going through. At the bottom of that post are some additional links to other useful sites.

      What your body and your heart and your brain have just gone through is major stuff. It’s not like minor surgery. Many heart patients are shocked by how long it takes to start feeling like “your old self”, but when that healing starts to become more and more evident, you will look back on this time and be proud of yourself for surviving what many do not.

      I also think (as a former distance runner) that it can feel much more challenging for formerly active people like you to adjust to this slower part of recuperation than if you’d been a couch potato all your life. You WILL get through this!

      Meanwhile, learn as much as you can about what’s happening with your heart – your cardiac rehab supervisor and rehab-pals can help with that by sharing what they’ve learned, too.

      Good luck – take care and stay safe. . . ♥

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      1. Carolyn, Thank you so much for you kind words and support. I am so glad a found you. You have been so helpful, and my husband feels a little better too cuz I can tell him why things are going on and that I will come out the other side.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Welcome back Carolyn. Well, its been almost 10 months since my triple bypass. I am feeling so much better. Just finished up pulmonary rehab. I had some pretty bad infections in my lungs in June.

        I am back to work full time since August. My chest still has some pain, but most of the time if I don’t see my scar I forget about the surgery. Which is a big surprise cuz 8 months ago I would have told anyone I will never get over this.

        It makes me laugh today.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Hi again Susan – TEN MONTHS! Can you believe it?

          I think many of us in those early overwhelming days of becoming a heart patient truly believe that we won’t ever be able to “get over this”. It just seems too much to bear. Yet very slowly, little by little, day by day, we somehow seem to be able to look back on how far we’ve actually come – even if it’s the baby steps.

          It doesn’t mean, as you say, that there won’t be symptoms or issues that pop up over time to challenge us. There’s a great quote from Emory University researchers about “rolling with the punches” that basically says: “I learned how to roll with the punches by rolling with the punches!” In other words, we had no experience recovering from heart disease before we had heart disease. Nobody teaches us how to manage a medical crisis. But we can slowly work on editing “the narrative of what happened to us” over time. I wrote more on that here.

          You are already editing your own narrative, Susan! When you first wrote to me, you said: “I am just floored that it may take me months more to feel better.” Months must have seemed like years back then, when you were just 8 short weeks post-op. You could have gotten stuck in that bleak scenario, but now look at you: working full-time and making jokes about “forgetting” about your surgery unless you see your scar!

          They say that the first year post-cardiac event becomes a major milestone in the life of a heart patient. I hope you will plan your First Heart-iversary with a special celebration. You and your brave little heart have come a long way together.

          Take care, stay safe out there. . . ♥

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  5. 12 years after open heart surgery due to cardiomyopathy, my chest muscles still hurt. Doctors say it isn’t my heart, but I am not convinced. Other than Echo, MRI and CAT scans, isn’t there anything else to determine why I still have this pain? Sometimes it is excruciating. I have gone to the ER several times, they say there is no evidence it’s my heart. I ache all over to the point of feeling weak and nauseous sometimes.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Cathy – TWELVE YEARS?! That’s so awful! Although most patients experience post-op chest pain after open heart surgery, it’s unusual to suffer for years afterwards. Yet something is causing your pain – but what? So if it isn’t heart-related, what IS causing this pain?

      I’m not a physician so cannot comment specifically on your case, of course, but I can tell you generally that some studies have identified something called “post-sternotomy pain syndrome” (PSPS) which can persist for a long time, or suddenly reappear long after the sternotomy (the surgical splitting of the sternum (breastbone) during open heart surgery.

      If you have a regional Pain Clinic in your area, please make an appointment to get help solve this painful mystery, and if it isn’t heart-related, to rule out other possible causes (nerve damage, costochondritis, etc). Good luck and take care. . . ♥

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  7. Hello Carolyn,

    I hope you are well.

    You know my case but I try to write a shorter version.

    I was 37 years when I got three venous bypasses 1983. I had had three intramural heart attacks.

    Having been four days in the intensive care unit, I came to a normal station. I was in a small room with four other women. I had to reach a shelf above my head to get my suitcase in order to have underwear etc. One of the older patients helped me. I washed myself in a small sink 4 days after the operation. Toilets were outside, and I had to walk in an ice cold corridor. I had to tap the wall to get there.

    I was sweating day and night and could not sleep a night. I was so weak that I could not even eat at the table like the other women. My chest was hurting all the time. My surgeon came only once during the 10 days I was there, and ordered warm compresses. By the way he told me, I must take marcumar (an anti-coagulant drug) the rest of my life and that my heart had looked like an 80 year old woman’s and that those severe blockages take at least 10 years to appear.

    The other women were 15 – 20 years older than me and I wondered why only I had chest pain. I was out of breath and could hardly speak. But I had to laugh – these women told such impressive stories of their life that we all laughed to tears.

    After ten days they brought me with an ambulance to my home hospital. All there were astonished in what a bad condition I was. The next day a doctor with a 20 cm long needle came in and ordered me to sit on my bed with my back to him. He pierced the needle between my ribs and removed 1/8 litre of bloody fluid. I had had a pleural effusion — I read it afterwards in the medical report. Now I could breathe and walk and sleep. The gave me Lexotanil for anxiety, which the station doctor refused to give me in the heart hospital.

    My operation was 8 December and I came home 31 December. At home, I did everything a housewife does, cooking, cleaning, shopping etc. Six week after the operation I came to a rehabilitation in a wonderful area. I made friends and the second day we made a long walk in the snow covered forest. After 2 hours walk, I had chest pain but I did not tell anybody – I was not yet allowed to leave the house.

    A week there and one morning I had yellow eyes. I had got hepatitis C from the blood transfusion during the operation and was sent to a hospital into an isolated room. There I had a big room for me alone. I could sleep and read – I had taken a suitcase full of books to the rehab. Three weeks isolated and I was healed. Marcumar was banned off my medicaments. At that time there was not any other cure for hepatitis C.

    All this happened 37 years ago. Meanwhile I have got 10 – 12 stents in two of the bypasses and have had three heart attacks.

    I have done cross country skiing and walking all the time. I must say two months after the operation I could live my earlier life.

    I was not depressed, not even as I got the diagnosis. I was anxious, but over the years I have lost the fear. When I have angina pectoris pain, I take 5 mg nitro.

    I am more afraid of getting corona than a heart attack. Help yourself, otherwise nobody will help you.

    I had my 74th birthday three weeks ago.

    All the best for you Carolyn.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Mirjami and thanks for taking the time to share your amazing story here. You are one of the pioneer open heart surgery patients (and while still in your 30s! So young!) yet despite all these really awful complications since then (pleural effusion, hepatitis C, many stents, three heart attacks!) you continue to be an active cross-country skier!

      I feel the same way: I’m far more frightened of the corona virus than of having another heart attack (maybe that’s because you and I both know we can survive heart attack because we’ve already done that – but we’ve never had a virus like this one before!)

      Happy belated birthday to you! You are a remarkable role model to the rest of us for, as cardiologists like to say: “Exercise is medicine!”

      Keep doing what you’re doing – stay safe, and take care! ♥

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  8. Hello Carolyn, thanks for this topic.

    My open heart surgery was in 2015 in Vancouver, at St Paul’s. Part of the getting-ready-for-discharge procedures was showing the nurses the ability to do that tucked elbow push to get from a prone position. Works like a hot-damn and I still use it.
    I would say my physical recovery took about 3-5 months but more interestingly, I had a hard time in a way I can only describe as spiritual.

    I get acupuncture regularly and after the surgery I was trying to explain to my acupuncturist what this odd feeling of just not being right was. I could only explain it as it felt like something had escaped when my chest was opened.

    He said, your chest was cut open and your heart was manipulated…your heart chakra was disturbed. So, that was something he focused on for treatment.

    A realization I had as I rummaged around looking at accounts of other OHS patients and their post-surgical lives was so much of the language used to describe near and long-term effects of surgery so closely fit with descriptions of near-death experiences.

    I think the medical community misses the profound spiritual effect of open heart surgery as a near-death experience.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Alane and thanks so much for sharing that perspective on your open heart surgery. I believe that this focus on physical recovery only is, not surprisingly, pervasive throughout the practice of surgery. Studies point out that surgeons’ communication focus with the patient is on PAR (the Procedure, the Alternatives, the Risks) and NOT on the profound psychosocial or spiritual aspects of what’s about to happen to those patients.

      That odd feeling you describe of ‘just not being right’ after surgery (or what researchers like Dr. Kathy Charmaz call the “loss of self“) is common – yet also commonly ignored on hospital wards. Discharge planning rarely includes even a mention of the psychosocial or spiritual fallout from having just had your chest cracked open, your heart stopped and then cut open.

      I’m glad that you and your acupuncturist found a way to help address that effect.

      Take care, stay safe! ♥

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    2. Alane, thank you for sharing your experience. I had quadruple bypass surgery a year and a half ago and yes it felt like something is missing. I am seeing a therapist and that helps but I don’t feel like myself and there is no one, around me, who understands.

      I have began my yoga and meditation practice that I have avoided since surgery. I’m hopeful that this will help me.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Hi Carolyn —

    When I read the opening question about how long it takes to heal after open heart surgery, my first response was “Two years.”

    Much of the initial material is focused on the physical recovery from open heart surgery, and then  you quote Dr. Rabi: 

    “I have heard repeatedly when I speak with patients that they ‘don’t trust’ their body for two years after a cardiac event/surgery. Anecdotal for sure, but compellingly consistent.”  

    This makes psychological sense; my experience as a psychologist and heart patient  is that it generally takes two years to get over a trauma  —  and open heart surgery easily qualifies as a trauma.   

    In the first year after a trauma each season/holiday of the year can set off anniversary reactions of what life was like before at the time; in the second year, one is rebuilding and creating a new sense of normal.

    This does not mean that for two years one will be always depressed or anxious or struggling to feel normal.  There are positive things that come out of trauma — learning to take care of one’s self and body, learning to live with vulnerability, connecting with caring others, even perhaps developing a spiritual attitude about the specialness of being alive and breathing and having a beating heart. 
     
    It has been my experience that most cardiologists and physicians underestimate and discount the psychological aspects of recovery after major surgery; I would hope that pre-surgical education include dealing with the psychological as well as the physical recovery.

    As usual, thanks for your posts…  You are providing a wonderful service..

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi, Dr. Steve – thanks so much for your kind words, and especially for sharing your informed perspective as both a psychologist and (more importantly, I think) as a heart attack survivor who has survived a number of cardiac events.

      When you say “most cardiologists and physicians underestimate and discount the psychological aspects of recovery after major surgery”, I believe you are 100% correct. As cardiologist Dr. Sharonne Hayes (founder of the Mayo Women’s Heart Clinic) described:

      “Cardiologists may not be comfortable with ‘touchy-feely’ stuff. They want to treat lipids and chest pain. And most are not trained to cope with mental health issues…”

      I’d like to think this reality is changing, and that med school training is now focusing more on the psychosocial fallout after a serious diagnosis. It simply makes no sense to “underestimate and discount” psychological aspects of recovery, or to ignore what you once called the swirling emotions that surround a cardiac diagnosis.

      The patient struggling psychologically is also the person who is unable to follow recommendations – like take your meds, exercise, quit smoking – or any other doctor’s orders. Physicians then simply call these people non-compliant“…

      Take care, and stay safe!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Carolyn: At this point, I am almost proud of the number of “Non-compliant” notations in my medical records. I even got a “non-compliant” when I sought a second opinion that said I needed immediate intervention.

        One needs to find one’s individual path to healing, and I suppose one of the lessons from trauma is that doctor’s don’t know very well what is right for you individually….

        So important to become one’s own advocate and have a collaborative relationship with physicians.

        Thanks, I had almost forgotten I was non-compliant.

        Liked by 1 person

  10. Thanks for this post. I had open heart surgery in an emergency situation because my heart had been punctured, so I had zero expectations. And because my situation going in was different, I would assume recovery was different as well.

    But even in a “standard” open heart surgery, there are lots of different variables. All of these attendant circumstances play a role… my chest was black from CPR bruising for several weeks, so there was soreness from that and then of course from my sternum being sawed open.

    I was in decent shape before the event and I’m sure that helped, but my body was essentially jump-started a couple of times and my cardiologist suspected the effects from that went on quite a while.

    I’d say that I felt much better after 6 months. It’s important for people to realize (especially docs) that every patient is different- their status going in is different, their support post procedure is different, and I really believe a person’s own approach – state of mind- is very important.

    For me, my dominant emotion was exhiliaration at being alive and well… and that took me through quite a bit of pain. I was fortunate that many people sent messages of encouragement and support. I know that helped.

    But I don’t think there’s one pat answer. It is like asking how long does it take someone to cook dinner. It depends. There are lots of factors.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Helen – oh, I agree! Your own remarkable experience with open heart surgery was indeed a serious emergency – starting with an accidentally punctured heart muscle during a cardiac ablation procedure, acute cardiac tamponade, two cardiac arrests, and emergency open heart surgery to repair the tear! No time for any discussion about recuperation predictions… I can’t imagine that any of your doctors could have possibly predicted much about your future recuperation on that day.

      The physical after-effects of being resuscitated during your cardiac arrests must have taken a toll all by themselves – even without the added effects of open heart surgery. No wonder you felt exhilarated afterwards because you’d survived not one but two cardiac arrests!

      Every patient IS different, and every path to recovery, as we can see from patient comments, is unique as well. Thanks for sharing your own unique recovery experience here!

      Take care, stay safe… ♥

      Like

  11. Hi Carolyn…
    I had 2 open heart surgeries 15 months apart. I won’t go into details of the procedures but will address recovery as I experienced it.

    Both times the only markers I remember were:
    1) in 6 weeks you can drive a car
    2) Cardiac Rehab is the best bet to improve recovery

    I realized as I was recovering much more slowly than anyone in my online support group … I was totally unprepared for my recovery.

    And I had worked for years in the cardiac surgery ICU!

    So many things I experienced: fatigue, post-pump brain fog, sternal Non-Union due to diabetes, depression and muscle weakness from new medications … on and on. I never expected.

    It seemed the only recovery markers they talked about were driving, going back to work and sex. Of which only driving applied to me. I was so fatigued I couldn’t even get to rehab after going for a couple of weeks.

    Do the surgeons have knowledge of this and just don’t tell us because they think we will not have the surgery???

    My point is that you are correct. More accurate and specific information about recovery needs to be gathered so that INDIVIDUALIZED pre- surgical and Post-surgical education and SUPPORT can take place.

    I felt very alone post-op and not understood because “I should have been better by now” according to all the research.🙄

    Open Heart surgery is a Big Deal and a very personal experience. Nothing I’ve experienced truly accounts for that…except possibly the online support of others who have gone through the experience.

    Surgeons tend to feel they did their job with expert cutting and the recovery process belongs to someone else. I saw it when I worked in their ICU and I experienced it personally.

    My saving grace was a cardiologist who took over after surgery and partnered with me through the minefield of my recovery.

    Ignorance is not Bliss!

    Blessings to ALL of our Heart Sisters!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Oh Jill – thank you for such a comprehensive description of your complex recuperation. As an experienced cardiac surgery intensive care nurse, you must have felt blind-sided that, despite your background, you still felt unprepared for what was about to happen.

      The part of your comment today that both broke my heart and made me furious was this:

      “Surgeons tend to feel they did their job with expert cutting, and the recovery process belongs to someone else. I saw it when I worked in their ICU, and I experienced it personally.”

      I observed that kind of attitude in the online responses to Dr. Bobby’s original comment on Twitter – one specifically that stuck in my craw:

      “It’s all in the expectations we set as surgeons. I tell them six weeks, and most are pain-free and back to regular activity at that time. Cardiac surgery should be enabling, not disabling.”

      The implication is clear: my surgery patients should NOT feel disabled after what I’ve done for them, and if they do, it’s about their unreasonable expectations… Pity his poor patients who might be “recovering much more slowly” – as you describe your own recuperation.

      Thank you again for this – take care, stay safe… ♥

      Like

  12. Hello Deborah – thank you for this overview (not only felt good for you, but I’m sure that your experience will resonate with other women reading this!)

    I loved your nurse’s quirky explanation of your atrial fibrillation diagnosis. In a way, she’s very correct – a number of studies have found that acute or new-onset post-op atrial fibrillation (POAF) is in fact a common complication following cardiac surgery, affecting around 35% of cases – sometimes blamed on local or systemic inflammation?

    A 2017 paper published in the European Journal of Cardio-Thoracic Surgery, for example, reported in typically understated research-speak: “Clinical efforts to prevent and manage POAF following cardiac surgery have thus far presented a major challenge and results have been less than optimal.”

    In so many ways, you were an ideal cardiac surgery candidate – and who knows? Had it not been for your AFib diagnosis, that 6-week recovery prediction may well have been correct for you!

    Take care, stay safe… ♥

    Like

  13. I had a very difficult (painful) postoperative recovery, but I believe it was a normal experience for most patients.

    My physicians told me I would be back to normal in 6 weeks. I am 9 years out and still experience pain where the sternotomy wires were knotted.

    And no, no one goes back in my chest if I can help it.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hello Dr. Anne – NINE YEARS! Your comment on wires reminds me of another cardiac surgeon’s response to Dr. Bobby’s original Tweet; an Edmonton cardiac surgeon wrote:

      “We’re the only surgical specialty that fixes bones with steel wires. All other specialties that deal with bones (orthopedics, plastic surgery, oral/maxillofacial) moved away from wire to rigid fixation with plates and screws. Bones heal better and faster with rigid fixation as shown in multiple trials.”

      That comment prompted a discussion among the surgeons on wires vs. plates (there are of course pros and cons to each choice). Still, when considering heart patients like you, nine years out, still experiencing pain where the sternotomy wires were knotted…. 😦

      Do you think your colleagues are aware of these examples of longterm pain?

      Please take care, stay safe…♥

      Like

    2. To Dr. Stohrer –

      Much to my dismay…I had to let someone back into my chest to redo the surgery that was not done properly the first time. So I never say never, and I cringe every time I have a cardiac cath because I’m well aware that untoward complications could mean a trip to the OR 😱

      Like

  14. It’s been over 3 years now. I was told 6 weeks to 3 months, but it was made clear to me that everyone’s recovery rate is different.

    I was fairly physically fit – aerobics and weight training 3 times/ week – pre-surgery. My only post-surgical pain was at the spot where the heart and lung machine tube was inserted near my shoulder and that went away after a couple of weeks.

    When I described the pain to my doc as a really horrible muscle ache, he explained that the tube had to be squeezed between muscles and that’s what it was! However I developed post-op atrial fibrillation which required an extended hospital stay and angina which comes back to bite me about once a month.

    One of the nurses, who got my sense of humour and quirky imagination, told me the A-fib was a sign my heart was pissed off at me for fooling around with it! Had a good laugh at that.

    Back to work in 3 months. Back to the fitness class in 4 months, never at the same level of intensity but steadily increasing. Fatigue is ongoing and not crippling. I allow myself to rest now.

    Between years one and two I wouldn’t give myself a break, thinking “I must be better by now!”. Scar keloid is pretty severe – still red and lumpy at the top – and very itchy at times.

    Don’t care about it enough to get plastic surgery. I’ve never done this kind of overview before. It felt good to write it down.

    Thanks, Carolyn!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hello Deborah – thank you for this overview (not only felt good for you, but I’m sure that your experience will resonate with other women reading this!)

      I loved your nurse’s quirky explanation of your atrial fibrillation diagnosis. In a way, she’s very correct – a number of studies have found that acute or new-onset post-op atrial fibrillation (POAF) is in fact a common complication following cardiac surgery, affecting around 35% of cases – sometimes blamed on local or systemic inflammation?

      A 2017 paper published in the European Journal of Cardio-Thoracic Surgery, for example, reported in typically understated research-speak: “Clinical efforts to prevent and manage POAF following cardiac surgery have thus far presented a major challenge and results have been less than optimal.”

      In so many ways, you were an ideal cardiac surgery candidate – and who knows? Had it not been for your AFib diagnosis, that 6-week recovery prediction may well have been correct for you!

      Take care, stay safe… ♥

      Like

    2. Hello Debra,
      My keloid scar was painful and looked bad and I happened to mention to my dermatologist when I went in for my yearly skin scan. He injected something into the area and it improved markedly.

      It might be worth checking with a dermatologist, as it made a big difference for me.

      Like

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