Guest Post: Helping in Recovery from Open Heart Surgery

Ken Myers holds a master’s in business leadership from Upper Iowa University and multiple bachelor degrees from Grand View College.  As president of, Ken’s focus is helping Houston-based parents find the right childcare provider for their family. When he isn’t working, he enjoys spending time with his three children and his wife.

Well, this has been a hard few months for my family. My mother underwent surgery on her neck to clear out a blockage about eight weeks ago and then two weeks ago went in for a triple bypass. My step mother also went in for a bypass three weeks ago. I don’t know why, but it seems like everything comes all at once.

After my mother’s first surgery, which was only the second time she had even had surgery in her life and the first time was over twenty years ago, she had a very hard time recovering. She was very weak and could not seem to stand the pain of the cut on her neck. Of course the doctor had told her that this surgery would be painful because he had to cut around some nerves and that could mean that she would lose feeling in her ear or even part of her face. Thankfully it was just her ear that is numb and hopefully in a few more months that will go away. However she took a long while to recover from this first surgery but the bypass needed to be done as soon as possible to prevent a heart attack or stroke.

When we went to the hospital to do the bypass it was a very hard time on us both. I took her to the waiting room and she was so nervous she couldn’t stand it. Right as they came to get her she appeared to have a stroke and could not move her legs or talk. We all freaked out and they admitted her to the hospital for testing. It turned out she had a mini stroke, the kind that does not cause any permanent damage. After a day or so in the hospital and lots of tests the doctors decided to go ahead with the surgery.

Wow, I never knew my mother was so stubborn. She did not say anything but she kept coming up with things to delay the surgery. Her stomach hurt, her chest hurt, she had a headache. On and on it went. It was just nerves and stress because the doctors had run all the tests and she was healthy. Thankfully the nurses figured out what the problem was and gave her something to help her sleep the night before we went in.

The surgery went well and they got all the bypasses taken care of. I stayed in the hospital with her for five days after the surgery until the insurance would not pay anymore and they made us go home. She was not really ready to leave as she was very afraid that something would happen. Eventually we made it home and she felt better being back home. However she could not go up the stairs to her room. To accommodate her I let her sleep in my room and I slept on the couch.

It was very hard on us both. The hospital had no bed for me except a pull out chair and there is no rest in a hospital to be sure. Nurses are always coming in and out and the doctors make their rounds at three in the morning. We were both exhausted when we got home.

Then it was still hard even at home. She had trouble getting up to go to the restroom and the doctors had told her if she did not get up and move around she would get pneumonia. She also had to use a breathing machine to keep her lungs clear. She could not use her arms to get up however or risk tearing open the stitches on her chest.

Strangely enough it was not the pain from the cuts that bothered her. Rather it was the weakness and the place that the doctors removed the drainage tubes. She did not want to get up or do anything because she was just so tired.

I did not want her to get pneumonia though so I made her use the walker they gave her to at least go outside and walk around a few feet before she could lay down again. Eventually she got to the point where she no longer fought me when it was time to use the breathing machine or even to take her medicine. She refused to take any pain medication except for Advil because pain pills made her feel funny.

And then it got worse. Just when we had a system going her hip started hurting. Due to her laying around more than usual her nerves in her hip got irritated and hurt her so bad she felt that she could not walk. Well, that would not work! So I got a neighbor to help me get her to the car and I took her to her doctor. Thankfully he was able to give her a shot and some pills that would reduce the irritation and allow her to walk almost immediately.

To say it has been stressful is an understatement. It is very hard to be a caretaker for a person who is just out of surgery. But my mother did not want to go into a rehab hospital and the insurance would not pay for a nurse so we had no other choice.

Some things I would recommend to caretakers after surgery is to make sure that you get enough rest. Call on friends or family to help out at least for a couple of hours so that you can get out of the house and get refreshed. I asked a friend of the family to come one day and stay with Mom until I could get some food at the store and run a few other errands. It really helped me out a lot.

Another thing to watch out for is hurting yourself. I almost hurt my arms really badly because I was lifting up my Mom to try and get her to the bathroom and so on. There are ways you can lift someone without hurting yourself. Ask a nurse before you leave the hospital to show you how to do it right.

Make sure you let the person who had the surgery, like my mom, do as much as possible. They need to use their strength to get more and the more you do for them the less effort they have to put in. This can also help with issues like being depressed or bored. When someone feels useless they will often get down and feel badly. However if you make them do what they can they feel like they are being productive and taking care of their own needs again.

I know how hard it is to stay on top of things both as a caregiver and as someone after surgery. I was in a major auto accident at one point in my life and could not walk for a long time. It was very hard for me to accept help especially because I was young and felt invincible. However I eventually learned to do what I could do and ask for what I needed. I am thankful I could be there for my mom like she was for me after my accident.

It is very hard being a caretaker and takes lots of love and compassion. I was not made to be a nurse and I know that nurses and doctors must be called to be able to handle this all the time. However there are ways that you can make it for at least a short period of time. I am thankful my mother is healing and I will not have to do this forever though as I do not think I could handle being a long term caregiver. I am in awe of those people that chose this as a career or are willing to take care of other in this way over the long term.

Thanks for the submission, Ken! 


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