Oncologist Dr. Belinda Yeoh and a patient


The operation

The procedure

After you have received your premedication to make you feel drowsy you will be transported on a trolley to theatre. The anaesthetist will then put some I.V. lines in your veins and put you to sleep.

The surgeon cuts down the midline of your chest, through your breastbone to reach your heart. During the operation your body will be kept cool to protect vital organs so that they need less oxygen. A heart-lung machine (bypass pump) takes over the function of your heart and lungs whilst the surgery proceeds. The details of what happens next will depend on the type of cardiac surgery you need and your surgeon will be able to discuss this with you.

If you need a blood transfusion, all blood products used for transfusion in Australia are strictly screened to protect patients against hepatitis and AIDS viruses.

Once the operation has been completed you will be moved to the Cardiac Recovery area.

Visiting in Cardiac Recovery

Following the operation you will spend approximately 24 hours in Cardiac Recovery. The operation usually takes between three and five hours. We do not advise that relatives wait in the hospital during the operation. It is generally better if your relatives can go home, visit family/friends or go and have a quiet cuppa with a friend. The time will go much more quickly for them if they do this. It is important that we know where to contact your relatives. A contact number should be left in your history.

Once the operation is over it takes about an hour to get you settled in Cardiac Recovery. Your relatives will be able to see you once you are settled.

Only the immediate family or your closest friend will be allowed to visit you while you are in Cardiac Recovery; not more than two visitors at a time and remember that you will need to rest.

Telephone enquiries can be made by ringing 03 9496 5000 (patient enquiries). On identifying their relationship to you, their call will be put through to the Cardiac Recovery Area.

When can family ring to see if surgery is over?

For patients who have morning surgery, family are asked to make the first call after 1pm. For patients who have afternoon surgery, family are asked to make the first call after 6pm.

It is a good idea to appoint a ‘spokesperson’ to relay information to the rest of the family and friends. This maintains good communication and reduces the number of enquiries and calls to the unit.

Treatment in the Cardiac Recovery Area

When you return from theatre you will have a breathing tube in your mouth that will be connected to a ventilator to help you breathe while you wake up from the anaesthetic.

You will be unable to talk while the tube is in place but the staff are very good at understanding what you need. When the tube comes out it may take a while before you regain your voice and it may be a bit hoarse initially.

You will also be connected to a cardiac monitor and have several IV’s, an arterial line, urinary catheter and chest tubes. These will be removed over the next day or so.

During your stay in Cardiac Recovery you will receive pain relief via the IV but it is important to let staff know if the pain gets too severe.

Though you are awake and aware of what is going on, you probably will not have much memory of your time in Cardiac Recovery because of the drugs for pain that are used.

Return to the cardiac ward

When you are well enough, usually after 24 hours you will be transferred from Cardiac Recovery to the ward. For the first day or so you will go into a special monitored bay where we can keep a close eye on you. You will not have the breathing tube in but you still have the chest tubes, cardiac monitor and urinary catheter in and you will have an oxygen mask that will help with your breathing.

The next day you will probably have all the tubes out and have a shower if you feel up to it.

We will continue to take blood tests and do chest X-rays during these first couple of days back in the ward. This is an important time to work hard on your physiotherapy. The physiotherapist will help you with your breathing and coughing exercises. We will give you pain relief to keep you comfortable and enable you to do these exercises.

You will be able to eat and drink now but you may find that you do not have much appetite and that your taste buds are not working. This is normal.

Once you are well enough you will be transferred into the general ward. Initially you will wear a small box for telemetry. This is a heart monitor with a small radio transmitter so that your heart rhythm can be watched from a central station.

The next few days are important to gradually increase your walking and catch up on sleep that you may have missed during the initial post operative period.