My dad is having heart bypass surgery. Making his recovery comfortable?
January 30, 2013 5:28 AM   Subscribe

My dad is having heart bypass surgery. How can we make his recovery more comfortable and more interesting?

My 70 year old father is having open heart surgery tomorrow. He's generally in somewhat good health and this surgery is being undertaken as a preventative measure. A blockage in his cardiac artery was not treatable with angioplasty or a stent. I want to know how I can make the next few weeks more comfortable for him. I'm assuming he'll be in a lot of pain early into the recovery, probably on pretty strong pain medicines. Once he starts coming to, how can I make his immediate environment more comfortable? What should we treat (as in YAY treat) him with? What can we do that would make his recovery awesome? Foot massages? Keep the curtains closed/open? Buy him an iPad? He's a pretty introverted guy whose favorite pastimes are yardwork and reading.
posted by Captain Chesapeake to Health & Fitness (8 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
My father in law (in his 60's) had quadruple bypass surgery on Labor Day. He was completely asleep for the first 24 hours afterwards and then was zonked on heavy pain meds the next 24 hours. He spent 2 nights in ICU and then was moved to a cardiac unit for 2 nights. He looked like hell, very swollen and a little jaundiced, so maybe prepare yourself for him to actually look very sick. It was upsetting to my mil and husband.

He LOVED my iPad while he was there. Once he was awake he was pretty bored and looked forward to our being there during the day. When we weren't there and he was awake, he was on my iPad, so I think that might be a good gift for your dad. Bring a pillow with you when you bring him home from the hospital, to pad his incision from the seatbelt, also if you have a car that sits higher (we have a Nissan Rogue), a small step stool to boost him up into the seat really helps quite a bit. He'll have to sit in the back or have the airbag turned off in the front for several weeks until he's given the OK from his dr to sit up front again.

My fil also slept in his recliner for a couple weeks, it was difficult for him to get out of bed from a flat position and turning from side to side was painful. He tried a wedge pillow from Bed, Bath and Beyond, but ultimately he thought the recliner was more comfortable.
posted by hollygoheavy at 5:46 AM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

An iPad is a great idea - books may be a little bit difficult to concentrate on during those hospital days. Most people just out of that surgery feel a little lost for the first day or two after due to anesthesia and time spent on the ventilator while they're in the immediate recovery stage in the ICU. When I worked on this type of floor at a hospital, my patients always wanted magazines instead of the books they had brought with them, so an iPad for surfing the web or a pass to better homes and gardens or whatever interests him on the iPad would make for nice non-stressful reading.

This may be a no- brainer for you but a lot of people don't always realize this in the moment: limit visitors. If you are the main guy to contact for your dad, make sure there aren't people calling at all hours or visiting at all hours and if your dad looks at all tired, be the one to shoo them out. I don't know what your dad's personality is like, but a lot of people will be lying there so exhausted they can't keep their eyes open and the visitors ask, "Do you want us to go?" but the patient doesn't want to be the one to tell people to go, even though their eyeballs are rolling back in their head.

Some people need a visitor or two to keep them company so they don't go out of their gourd, but it's really hard work to recoup from this surgery, and most of the exhausting stuff happens in the first 2-3 days as they're removing wires and tubes from you, and even taking a deep breath is a lot of work. Your dad will probably be getting visits from a dietician, the cardiac rehab nurse, physical therapy, occupational therapy, and possibly other specialties and teaching if he has other common issues that arise during recovery, so to some extent it's okay for him to rest his eyes and brain during the day so that he can try his best to pay attention to these things when they arise. Families get very concerned that people are sleeping during the day sometimes, but the reality is that there's no way to not be woken up at night time for medication and vital signs and assessments so sleep is just not going to be what it is at home. Best to catch rest where you can, because its a busy few days with a lot going on.

You sound like you are already thinking in the right direction - I think this is an exciting surgery because its a very rough initial recovery and a long 6weeks of cardiac rehab and careful living after that, but usually, afterwards, people really feel pretty good. Usually better than they have in years. I'm not in that line of nursing anymore, and I really miss the happiness of seeing really sick people put in a lot of sweat and tears those first few days, knowing they'll probably be up and around doing awesome in a few weeks. They'd swing by my unit after their appointments at cardiac rehab with a big smile, just to say hi. Always made my day.

Good luck! Sounds like your dad is in good hands.
posted by takoukla at 6:09 AM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

An iPad is a great idea. If reading is too tiring, he can listen to an audio book or podcast.

If he's allowed to wear his own pajamas instead of a hospital gown, several pairs of cheery pajamas might be nice (nobody likes those hospital gowns!).

I've found that cards are better than flowers or balloon bouquets if well-wishers want to send something. Flowers and balloon bouquets don't last that long and take up a lot of room.

And for when he gets home - shower chair. IME a shower chair is one of the most helpful "small things" that make a big difference post-surgery or when one has a painful or debilitating health condition.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 6:50 AM on January 30, 2013

My 75-year-old dad had open heart surgery almost exactly one year ago. Definitely prepare yourself for his appearance right after surgery--my dad looked like he'd been punched in the face, which was a little shocking.

takoukla is right on with advice. We really did not realize how BUSY my dad would be before he was discharged! LOTS of visits from various hospital departments, docs, etc. (He did request paper and pen for taking notes during these.) Mandatory walking up and down the halls to prevent blood clots. Mandatory breathing exercises to be done several times a day. Tons of check-ins from nursing staff--day and night. He was pretty exhausted due to all of that and wasn't really up to much else, so we limited visits to immediate family. He liked it when one of us was there during mealtimes--he wasn't too hungry but I think it helped him to feel more like eating if one of us was there.

Another thing we found that we needed to do was help keep him "un-confused" about what day of the week it was, time of day, etc when he was in the hospital. All of his normal daily rhythms will be off, plus he'll basically lose at least one full day to being under anesthesia and coming out of it.

He also really wanted his own clothes after the first couple of days. He found that a front opening (not a pullover) sweatshirt-type jacket worked well for keeping his upper body warm when propped up in bed--plus flannel pajama pants. Try to get him into anything except those gowns as soon as he can!

Today my dad is like a new man after his surgery! Best of luck to your dad!
posted by bookmammal at 6:54 AM on January 30, 2013

Stephen Tobolowsky had a series of podcasts about his experience with heart surgery.
Crossing the Rubicon is the first episode. In the second and third parts he goes into a lot of detail about the experience and how his recovery was.
posted by vespabelle at 9:55 AM on January 30, 2013

I know my uncle also slept in his recliner for a while after his triple bypass, but when he did go into his own bed, he had a small pillow he hugged to himself to get in and out of bed when he did the whole roll to the side, arms crossed over his chest procedure. I think he found it easier to get out of bed that way and not be tempted to put his arms behind him to get up (a big no-no) and still feel like he had something to hang onto. It also helped my aunt remember not to grab onto an arm, which is also a big no.
posted by oflinkey at 10:59 AM on January 30, 2013

My dad said it hurt him to brush his teeth - he was basically having to hold the toothbrush still and move his head - so I bought him a nice electric toothbrush. He also wanted mouthwash because he said something was causing a metallic taste in his mouth.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 3:45 PM on January 30, 2013

OK, last Feb. I had a triple bypass. Let me repeat the advice above to not freak out when you first see will not be pretty. My wife was prepared for it, but still was pretty shaken.

Life was centered around pain for quite a while. Make sure he takes his pain pills since he needs to relax in order to heal. The downside is that pain pills = makes you stupid. Ipad is a nice idea, but all I wanted to do for a couple of weeks was vegetate and sleep. Pretty much all I was able to do. I actually looked forward to a couple of months to catch up on reading, but that didn't really happen.

My wife went out before I got home and bought a recliner. I spent 2 months in it 24/7. Bed was out of the question.

He should walk as much as possible. Start slow, a few minutes at a time around the house, but the more active he can be the better. Depression is a major issue, healing takes time and it gets frustrating. It's been 11 months and my sternum is still tender. When a buddy asked me a week ago how long it was until I felt normal, I told him I'd let him know.

BTW: the heart attack & following surgery was the best thing that ever happened to me. All medical personnel that read my reports tell me that my situation is normally diagnosed during the autopsy. I was lucky to make it to my next birthday, which is today. I feel great.
posted by jeporter99 at 6:02 PM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

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