What to expect after heart valve repair/replacement surgery?
After surgery, you will be placed in the intensive care unit (ICU) where you can be continuously monitored. You will have drains in your bladder, chest, and stomach. You will still be sedated. Your skin will be cool and pale, and your face and
hands may be swollen due to fluid from the surgery.
The nurse will check your vital signs and assess your condition thoroughly when you arrive. Blood will be drawn and sent to the lab. An EKG will be done. A chest x-ray will be done as you lie in your bed. Once all of the admission work has been done and your condition is stable, your family will be allowed to visit you for a few minutes. You most likely will not be aware of this first visit, as you will still be sedated from the anesthesia.
As you start to wake up, you will hear strange noises and people talking. The noises will come from the ventilator (which will still breathe for you until you are awake enough to breathe on your own), a warming blanket device used to help keep you warm after the surgery, and other equipment. Your nurse will be checking on your status very frequently for the first several hours after you arrive in the ICU. The respiratory therapist will make adjustments to the ventilator as you wake up more and start to breathe on your own. Your physician and other physicians working with him/her will be checking on your status, as well.
While the breathing tube is in your throat, you will not be able to speak. Your nurse and the other people in the ICU are very experienced in taking care of patients in this situation, and will ask you questions that you can answer by nodding or shaking your head to find out what you need. Your wrists will be lightly tied to the side of the bed to keep you from accidentally knocking out the breathing tube before you can breathe well enough by yourself. Your nurse will occasionally clean out the breathing tube to keep mucus from collecting in your lungs. This procedure will make you cough and may make you feel short of breath for a brief time
Every patient recovers at a different rate. Tubes are removed as recovery progresses. The ICU stay is usually a day or two. Then you will be moved to a cardiac medical-surgical floor where your heart is still continually monitored, but you can be more independent and active. The health care team continues to support and instruct you in recovery care, rehabilitation, medications, nutrition, and other needs.
After discharge, your doctor will ask you to return for a follow-up visit within three to four weeks. If you are feeling well at that visit, and the results of your repeat echocardiography are good, your doctor will schedule future visits at three-month or 12-month intervals.