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Patient journey

When we have confirmed that you need an operation, you will be placed on a waiting list. Your surgeon may tell you approximately how long you will have to wait and you will receive a confirmation letter from the cardiac surgery office.

Before the date of your operation, you will receive a letter from the pre-assessment nurses with an appointment. Occasionally, you may be contacted by phone.

Patient education session

You may be invited to our education session alongside other patients, where you hear details of how to prepare yourself for surgery.

You will have the opportunity to talk to some of our staff and ask questions in an informal setting.

Pre-assessment clinic

The pre-assessment clinic aims to physically and emotionally prepare you for your operation. It takes place in the Ambulatory Care Centre on level one of the Royal Victoria Hospital.

We will need to carry out some tests before you are admitted for surgery. You may be in the clinic for up to three or four hours. We recommend that a family member is present.

Every patient will have:

  • blood tests
  • an electrocardiogram (ECG), which records the electrical activity of your heart
  • a chest x-ray
  • swabs taken for methicillin resistant stapylococcus aureus (MRSA)
  • a discussion about your medical history
  • an examination with a physician
  • breathing tests

We will also talk to you about things to plan before your surgery, such as:

  • how much time off work you will need
  • your recovery
  • how to get home after your surgery

The pre-assessment clinic also gives you an opportunity to discuss any concerns you have. You will meet some of the staff and get a chance to see around our area of the hospital.
Download our leaflet ‘The road to recovery: A guide for patients waiting for cardiac surgery’.

Coming into hospital

You will typically be given one week’s notice before coming into hospital. You will also be given information such as:

  • admission time
  • what drugs you have to stop before your operation (if any)

Unfortunately, there are occasions when operations don’t take place as planned due to other circumstances. We understand how stressful this can be. If this happens, we will try to reschedule your operation as soon as possible.

Day of surgery

On the day of your operation, you will not be allowed to eat or drink. You will also need to have a bath or shower with antibacterial soap and shampoo. This reduces the risk of a wound infection after your operation.

You will be given an injection and tablets before your operation to help you relax. You will then be taken to the theatre on a trolley.

Recovery after surgery

After your operation, you will stay in the Cardiac Surgery Intensive Care Unit for at least one night.

On the first day after your operation, you will have intravenous drips in your neck and arm. You will also be monitored carefully by nursing staff, who will record your:

  • blood pressure
  • pulse
  • oxygen levels

On the second day after your operation, you may move into the High Dependency Unit. You will probably have a chest x-ray and some blood tests to make sure everything is progressing well. Nurses will help you get out of bed and physiotherapists will support you with deep breathing exercises.

Over the next few days and until you leave hospital, you will be regularly checked. Physiotherapists will help you with your mobility and you should be able to eat and drink normally.

Going home

If there are no complications after your surgery, you will usually be discharged within five to eight days. This depends on the type of operation you had. The doctors, nurses and physiotherapists looking after you will make sure you are fully prepared for going home. They will also answer any questions you have.

You will be given a letter to take to your GP, which explains what happened during your stay in hospital and what medications you are on. It is important to note that your medications may have changed from before your surgery.

If you were taking Warfarin before your surgery, your dose may change and you may be more sensitive to it. If you start taking Warfarin after your surgery, your dose will need to be monitored regularly. It is important that you inform any healthcare worker involved in this monitoring about your recent surgery and any change to your dose.

Cardiac rehabilitation nurses will contact you after your discharge to discuss your ongoing wellbeing and possibly invite you to exercise classes.

Review appointment

You will have an outpatient appointment with your surgeon approximately 6 to 12 weeks after your operation. You will receive a letter with the appointment date. Your recovery and medication will be reviewed at this appointment.

Cardiac Rehabilitation and Secondary Prevention Service

Cardiac rehabilitation is an essential part of your recovery journey. This service:

  • promotes recovery
  • reduces disability
  • prevents further illness

We work with you and your family and aim to:

  • help you learn more about your condition and treatment
  • help you manage your cardiac risk factors
  • help you regain your confidence
  • encourage you to lead an active and healthy lifestyle

A member of the cardiac rehabilitation team will contact you after your discharge from hospital.

Recovery advice

  • Avoid lifting or pushing any object over 10lbs (a full kettle) for at least six to eight weeks or until you have had your review appointment with the surgical team. This will give your breast bone time to heal.
  • Do not drive or return to work until your breast bone has healed properly.
  • If you live alone, you may need help for the first two weeks. Please speak to nursing staff if no one is available.
  • It is normal to feel aches and pains, especially around your chest and shoulders. However, you may still need painkillers. Talk to your GP if you cannot control the pain.
  • We recommend you walk every day. It is normal to feel tired so balance your activity with periods of rest.
  • You may lose your appetite a bit as your sense of taste may be affected. Eat small, regular meals to regain your strength. Your appetite will return to normal over time.
  • You may feel constipated due to pain medication. If this happens, try adding more fruit and vegetables to your diet and keep up the exercise.
  • You may experience some mood swings. However, these should improve over the first four to six weeks of recovery as you get stronger.
  • Sometimes patients can feel disoriented after the operation. Occasionally, patients may experience hallucinations. Please tell your doctor, nurse or a family member if this happens. Talking can help make sense of the situation.
  • You may experience some numbness and tingling after the operation, especially in your fingers. These feelings should go away over time, but you should always tell your doctor or nurse so the feelings can be assessed.
  • You can go on holiday if you feel well enough, but you should avoid flights abroad until after your review appointment with the surgical team. Please consult your GP and always inform your travel insurance company if you are in any doubt.

Locations where this service is delivered