Before Heart Surgery

Preparing For Your Surgery

Before your surgery can be a busy time—you can expect visits from different members of the cardiothoracic surgery team. Besides your heart surgeon, team members include cardiovascular nurses and anesthesiologists. The team also includes nurse practitioners and nursing staff, who are specially trained in treating heart patients.

The heart surgeon's nurse or staff nurse will discuss what to expect before and after your heart surgery. He or she will serve as a contact person and coordinate your care. Your cardiovascular nurse will meet with you on a regular basis during your stay and will help make plans for your discharge home.

A respiratory therapist will explain the need for coughing and deep breathing, and will show you how to use a lung exerciser called the incentive spirometer. You need to use this after surgery to keep your lungs clear.

The anesthesiologist will see you and explain the type of anesthesia you will be given. Anesthesia will be given right before and throughout the operation, so you are asleep the entire time.

The surgeon and anesthetist will assess you, have you sign a consent form, and answer your questions.

Besides visits from team members, lab studies and X-rays will have to be done if they were not done prior to admission. A chest X-ray, electrocardiogram (EKG), blood tests, and a urine test are needed. A blood sample is drawn to identify your blood type and reserve blood in case you need it. We try not to transfuse blood products; however, they are ready if you need them.

Twice before surgery, you will shower and scrub the front of your body with a special soap on a sponge and brush that your nurse will give you. You should wash your chest first for two to three minutes, then the rest of your body. This soap puts a film on your skin, so do not use other soap after the scrub. Your body hair will be removed the morning of your surgery to make it easier to clean your skin and to lesson the chance of infection.

Before Your Surgery

Please leave any items of value at home if you can. This includes rings, watches, dentures, glasses, hearing aids, and money. Your clothes and other belongings also can be sent home. Your nurses will let your family know when you will need any of these items so they can be brought back. Nail polish, hair pins, hair pieces, contact lenses, or prosthesis should also be removed.

The time before surgery can be stressful, so before you go to sleep, you can ask your nurse for a sleeping pill to help you relax and sleep well during the night. After midnight, you should not eat or drink at all, except for pills given to you by your nurse.

If your surgery is scheduled early in the morning, you can expect to go to the operating room about 6 am. If they wish, your family is allowed to visit before you are taken to the operating room. They should arrive at the hospital before 6 am. Shortly after that, you will receive a medication to make you sleepy.

You will have to stay in bed until you are taken to surgery. If your surgery is not the first case in the morning, ask your surgeon or nurse when you can expect your surgery to begin. As a rule, surgical procedures are not started after 8 pm unless an emergency is involved, so you can expect to have your surgery before this time.