After your heart valve surgery, you will be placed in the intensive care unit (ICU) where you can be monitored continuously. You will have help breathing during surgery and for a while afterwards, from a tube that has been placed down your throat and positioned in your lungs.
You will probably wake up with this tube still in position. It will be removed as soon as you are stable and awake enough to breathe on your own. You will not be able to talk while this tube is in. Other tubes will come from your chest near the heart to drain extra blood and fluid from the surgical area.
Intravenous lines will give you fluid, blood and medications as needed, and you will have a bladder catheter to drain urine. You will be hooked up to a monitor that shows your heart rate, heart rhythm, blood pressure and other measurements that the nursing staff will use to assess your recovery status. You will receive medications to ease your pain and anxiety as needed.
The typical length of stay in the ICU is one or two days. It is important to remember that every patient recovers at a different rate. The nursing staff will monitor your recovery and remove the tubes as appropriate. From the ICU you will be moved to a cardiac medical-surgical floor where your heart will continue to be monitored, but there you may be more independent and active. The health care team will continue to support and instruct you in recovery care, rehabilitation, medications, nutrition and other needs.
When you are discharged from the hospital, you will not feel fully recovered. As with the recovery period immediately following open heart surgery, home recovery varies from patient to patient. Typically, it will be 6 to 8 weeks before you are able return to your normal routine. You will gain more energy and strength each day during these weeks; however, it is normal to experience some ups and downs. You will need to allow yourself time to rest when you get tired to help speed your recovery.
A few weeks after your surgery, you will have a follow-up visit to your surgeon or doctor. You may need to undergo tests such as an electrocardiogram, echocardiogram or chest x-ray to assess how your new valve is working. Blood work may also be performed to assess your medication levels.