Paving the Road to Recovery During COVID-19: Seven Steps to Keep You Safe After Heart Surgery

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August 19, 2020

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Since elective surgeries have resumed, more patients are seeking help at Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute for a wide range of conditions, from peripheral artery disease and complex valve repairs to minimally invasive cardiac bypass surgery, the specialty of Joseph McGinn, M.D., the Institute’s chief of cardiac surgery. He is relieved to see patients avoid delays in their care.

“With any planned surgery or procedure, we must weigh the risk of delay against the benefit of moving forward,” Dr. McGinn explains. “In some situations, it may not be safe to delay further.”

Taking proactive steps can increase patients’ chances of recovering safely and returning to good health. In most cases, full recovery after a heart procedure takes a few weeks; more complex surgeries may require several months.

Here are some guidelines to help pave the road to recovery during these extraordinary times:

Avoid Exposure

Following surgery, the body is more vulnerable less able to fight off infection, including COVID-19. Coronavirus is spread mainly from person-to-person through tiny droplets in the air when people cough, sneeze or even talk. The best way to prevent infection is to avoid exposure to the virus in the first place.

As you recover, remember to:

Stay at home as much as possible. Avoid public spaces, especially if they are crowded or enclosed.

Cover your mouth and nose with a face mask if you must be around others, and stay at least six feet away.

Wash your hands often, either with soap and water for 20 seconds or a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol.

Cut Down on Caregivers

Having someone at home with you in the days and weeks after surgery can be very helpful. Still, it’s best to limit your caregivers to one or two people.

• If possible, it’s best for your caregiver to be someone you’re already in frequent contact with, such as a spouse or adult family member.

• Caregivers should follow guidelines to prevent the spread of infection, including wearing a mask outside the home, washing hands frequently, distancing from others and avoiding crowded public spaces where they might be exposed to the virus.

• If your caregivers go out or are exposed to others, you may wish to ask them to wear a mask at home when they are near you. Deborah Birx, M.D., coordinator of the White House’s coronavirus task force, recently suggested wearing face masks at home can prevent transmission of the coronavirus to vulnerable individuals in a household.

Keep Your Circle Small

Visiting someone who is convalescing is a normal custom, but these are not normal times. Every visitor who comes into your home increases your risk.

• Unless they already share your household, avoid close contact with other people — even if you know them well or they are family.

• Maintaining distance doesn’t just apply to those who appear sick. Be wary about getting too close to anyone. Some people, including children, are asymptomatic carriers, which means they not show signs of carrying the virus and can pass it on to you unknowingly.

• If you do get visitors, do not touch, hug or kiss them. Do not shake hands or bump elbows. Wave and greet them from a distance.

• If you do allow visitors, keep a list of their names and when the visit occurred. This will help with contact tracing if someone becomes sick. Memory alone can be unreliable.

Stake Your Space

• Especially if you live in a multi-generational household: Those who share your home may be going out for various reasons, such as work or errands. As much as possible, stay in a specific room and away from them. If possible, use a separate bathroom.

• If you need to be around other people (or even pets), wear a mask or covering over your nose and mouth.

• Avoid sharing personal household items, such as dishes, drinking glasses, cups, eating utensils, towels, or bedding with other people in your home.

• Frequently clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces such as phones, remote controls, counters, tabletops, doorknobs, bathroom fixtures, keyboards, tablets, and bedside tables.

Know the Trouble Signs

Keep an eye out for symptoms of COVID-19 and post-surgical complications. Don’t be afraid to seek medical help if things seem out of the ordinary. If you are showing any of these signs, consult your physician or seek emergency care:

  • Trouble breathing or a sharp pain when taking a deep breath
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
  • New confusion
  • Extreme fatigue, inability to wake or to stay awake
  • Bluish lips or face
  • Persistent bleeding or oozing from an incision
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Chills or fever
  • Weight gain of more than one or two pounds within a 24-hour period
  • Sudden, severe headache
  • New onset of nausea, vomiting or diarrhea

Feed Your Recovery

  • Help your body heal by nourishing it well. Follow a heart-healthy, balanced diet of lean meats, fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy. Also, drink plenty of water.
  •  Avoid foods and snacks that are high in salt, sugar and saturated fat.
  • If you’re having a planned procedure, make sure you have plenty of provisions at home before your surgery. That way, you won’t have to worry about shopping during your recovery. Also, consider food delivery services to keep your pantry stocked.

Watch for Stress

Heart surgery can bring on a rollercoaster of emotions. This is normal. Concerns about COVID-19 may add to your stress and anxiety. Take breaks from social media and news coverage, which can increase distress. Instead, stay connected with family and friends via phone and video chats. Rest, relax and do something you enjoy. If recommended by your care team, go for walks outside. If you start to feel overwhelmed, share your feelings with people you trust.

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