In most cases, full recovery after a heart procedure takes a few weeks. More complex surgeries may require several months. Now, the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic has changed nearly every aspect of daily life, including how patients recover from heart surgery.
While you’re recovering, it’s important to follow the instructions given to you by your surgical team. It’s also crucial that you take precautions to guard against COVID-19, which is proven to be more dangerous for people with heart conditions.
By taking a few extra precautions, you’ll increase your chance of recovering safely and returning to good health during this pandemic.
Following heart surgery, the body is in a weakened state and less able to fight off infection, including COVID-19. The best way to prevent infection is to avoid exposure to the virus in the first place.
- Wash your hands often, either with soap and water for 20 seconds or a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol.
- Avoid contact with people who are sick.
- Stay at home as much as possible.
- Cover your mouth and nose with a face mask if you are around others and stay at least six feet away from them.
- Clean and disinfect objects and surfaces you touch often.
Limit Your Caregivers
It is important to have someone at home to help you in the days and weeks after surgery. However, it’s best to limit your caregivers to one or two people, preferably those with whom you have already had frequent contact with, such as a spouse or adult child.
Your caregivers should also follow the guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19 as much as possible.
Keep Appointments and Rehabilitation
You will probably have several follow-up visits with your cardiologist or surgeon in the weeks after surgery. Don’t assume these appointments will be in person—call ahead to make sure. Due to COVID-19, some appointments are being done through telemedicine. However, we are still seeing patients in-person and have a dedicated process in place to ensure your safety.
Eight weeks after heart surgery, your doctor may recommend you attend cardiac rehabilitation, which can help strengthen your heart and increase your exercise capabilities. Due to COVID-19, onsite cardiac rehab may not be possible. If this is the case, your doctor may recommend a home-based cardiac rehab program using your own exercise equipment or everyday household items. Rehab sessions may also be offered through telemedicine.
Know the Signs of Trouble
Don’t be afraid to seek out medical help if you experience symptoms that seem out of the ordinary. Paramedics and hospitals have measures in place to protect patients from coronavirus exposure and keep you safe.
If you have any of the following symptoms, there may be a problem that your doctor should know about:
- Chest pain like you had before surgery
- Persistent bleeding or oozing from an incision
- Irregular heartbeat
- Chills or fever
- Extreme fatigue
- Trouble breathing or a sharp pain when taking a deep breath
- Weight gain of more than one or two pounds within a 24-hour period
- Sudden, severe headache
- New onset of nausea, vomiting or diarrhea
Fortunately, many of today’s heart surgeries are minimally invasive. This means recovery is often safer, faster and less painful than it was in the past. Still, there may be some level of pain during recovery.
To manage your pain, fill all prescriptions your doctor gives you. To avoid exposure to COVID-19 and minimize contact with others, consider having your prescriptions filled by the hospital pharmacy before you are discharged. Another option is to have your medication delivered to your house or use the pharmacy drive-through to reduce exposure.
Stay Positive and Reduce Anxiety
It’s normal to feel like you’re on an emotional rollercoaster following heart surgery. This usually goes away fairly quickly. However, COVID-19 may add an extra level of fear and anxiety about your health and the health of your loved ones.
To combat these feelings, try these coping mechanisms:
- Take periodic breaks from the news, including social media.
- Take care of your body by taking deep breathes, stretching or meditating.
- If recommended by your care team, go for walks outside.
- Eat healthy, well-balanced meals.
- Get plenty of sleep.
- Talk with people you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling.
Eat and Drink Right
Healthy eating and drinking during your recovery will help your body heal faster. Since COVID-19 has made grocery shopping challenging, consider food delivery services from your local supermarket or restaurant.
Just make sure what you are eating and drinking is heart-healthy. This means lean meats, fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Avoid foods high in salt, sugar and saturated fat. Also, stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water and avoiding alcohol.
If you have any other questions or concerns during your recovery, do not hesitate to reach out to your doctor’s office.