As I’m coming up on the three month mark since having my double bypass surgery, I’m happy to report that aside from some frustrating blood sugar issues, I am doing very well. I’m getting stronger each day that passes and I have learned so much about this recovery process that I never imagined. I’m finally, finally feeling somewhat back to where I was (only better) before this all started and so I thought I would put together a little post on what I wish I had known about bypass surgery before I had it. In hindsight, the fact that I was told I needed the bypass surgery the day before I had it was a huge blessing in disguise. I know now that I am the type of person that would have driven myself crazy with the anticipation of having to wait to have the surgery done, so having it done quickly was better for me. However, it gave me no time to read up and know what to expect afterwards, so I hope this might at least help someone.
Bypass Surgery Recovery Is Tough
I thought the surgery itself would be the most painful and difficult hurdle, but that was actually the easy part. After my surgery, I quickly learned that recovery was now my full time job and it was the toughest one I would ever have. I had NO idea how helpless I would be due to not being able to use my upper body strength. I had to have help adjusting myself in bed, opening my food containers in the hospital, using the restroom, taking a shower, and dressing myself. I was completely stubborn and determined, so working past a few of these issues (like the bathroom and shower situation) became my first order of business once I got home. My husband was amazing as my caretaker during this time, and I am so blessed I had help while in the hospital. Within a week’s time, showering was do-able, but it still required being very careful and having assistance to get dressed afterwards.
You will also deal with emotional recovery after the surgery as well. I cried everyday for a month straight after getting home from the hospital. I could not believe how fast my life had changed and was extremely frustrated by how long it was taking me to recover. I felt scared at times, like if I went to sleep at night I wouldn’t wake up. I also felt paranoid, like I wasn’t being told everything about my health situation. But most of all I felt guilty for now having to ask for help because I am the type that hates to have to ask for help. I have been told the anesthesia used during surgery might make you feel like this, but I think this is just completely normal after having this life changing experience. It’s important to remember if this happens that IT DOES GET BETTER. I was blessed again to have a mother and grandmother taking care of me when my husband was at work and they refused to let me get depressed about things. I would let myself have my daily cry, I leaned on those who were my support system, and then I moved on to something that made me happy, like playing time-sucking video games on my tablet and blogging when I felt like it. For you, this might mean watching TV or something else. You won’t feel like doing very much at all at first.
I also highly recommend the book Positive Mind, Healthy Heart! Take Charge of Your Cardiac Health One Day at a Time by Joseph Piscatella. This book was so helpful to me when I had some tough days and it really lifted my spirits. Piscatella is a bypass patient himself who is 40 years post-surgery and healthy. He has a vast collection of helpful books on heart health, motivation for heart patients, and cookbooks to help you grasp the new way of eating you have to adopt.
And another little tip? The first time you have to sneeze after heart surgery will hurt. I avoided sneezing until about 2 months out and it still felt uncomfortable the first time I did it. 10 weeks later it still makes me “brace for impact” before I do it. Coughing hurts, but not as much. They will give you a little pillow in the hospital like this heart-shaped pillow to hold to your chest to take the pressure off when you cough or sneeze. The pillow never made much difference for me, though.
Things That Made Recovery Easier
The most surprising thing I learned once I arrived home from the hospital was that I couldn’t sleep in a bed. The hospital bed was very deceiving, because I was propped up and adjusted by the touch of a button. Having a recliner (and a short one, because I am short) was a lifesaver because I slept in it for 4 weeks. I couldn’t lay flat in a bed because of the pressure I felt from my sternum healing and all of the pillows in the world at first didn’t help that situation. The recliner was my lifesaver. Eventually, I got tired of sleeping there and needed to stretch out a bit more. After week 4 I was able to prop myself comfortably in a bed using the arm pillow I talked about in this post.
So when could I sleep normally in a bed again? About 9 weeks after surgery, and I still use two pillows. I’m sure that number is different for everyone, but considering how much I love my sleep, it would have been nice to know beforehand.
Ladies? Listen up, because this next part is for you. Especially if you are very well-endowed up top. You will be given a surgical bra to wear after surgery and you will definitely need it because if you are well endowed up top your chest will feel like it weighs 500 pounds. I was given one in the hospital and another to take home, but I ended up having to order another one online because the ones I brought home began to eventually lose their ability to offer support. I live in a small town and no medical supply places near me carried these surgical bras, so I ordered this surgical bra for plus sized women. I am just now at 10 weeks able to wear a regular bra and it still feels a little weird. I even alternate between the surgical bra and regular bra when I feel like I need more support. And while we are talking about “girl stuff”, my cycles have been completely thrown off by this surgery, so there is that as well.
(UPDATE: My cycle returned 3 months after surgery)
Things Might Be Different
Your taste buds may also be a little different after bypass surgery. I suddenly found that some foods I used to love didn’t taste quite the same anymore. I also developed a craving for ice cold sodas that were clear or flavored water. This, from a Diet Coke addict! My husband made sure to stock me up with my favorite drinks before he would head out to work.
Your perspective on life may also change after bypass surgery as well. Naturally, you will probably feel grateful and even more appreciative of life and determined to make the most of it from here on out, and that’s great! One thing I have also noticed about myself is that the little trivial things I used to dwell on and worry about just don’t bother me anymore. I am trying to eliminate as much stress as possible and some of those trivial things just don’t have any room in my thoughts anymore, and I am glad. Your priorities become even more clear after a major life event such as this.
If you are facing bypass surgery, please know that recovery, although tough, is temporary. Almost three months out I am still having to remind myself of this. If you are impatient it can be very easy to get discouraged and frustrated, but it’s important to relax and take it easy at first so you don’t injure yourself while you heal. The last thing you want is a setback. My surgeon was very frank with me and told me that it may take me a whole year to feel completely healed from this surgery. At three months post-surgery, I’m feeling so much better. I can’t wait to see how great I feel even further down the road!