After Aortic Surgery FAQ

What happens after surgery?

After surgery, you will be transferred to our Intensive Care Unit (ICU), for 1-2 nights, where we monitor your vitals closely. An incentive spirometer measures lung capacity and works to expand your lungs, relieve tightness in the chest, and break up congestion. In the ICU, family members may begin to visit for short intervals.

From the ICU, we transfer you to a step-down unit. In the step-down unit, tubes and catheters are removed, and you will be able to move around more freely, before being discharged home.

How much pain will I feel after surgery?

Like any surgical procedure, aortic surgery will involve some post-operative pain as the body recovers. To help alleviate the pain, you will receive pain medicine through a patient-controlled analgesia (PCA) pump, as well as a “cough buddy” (a stuffed teddy bear) to squeeze as relief in the ICU. Over-the-counter pain medications are typically sufficient after the first few days.

How long will it take me to recover?

Recovery time can vary from person to person and depends on multiple factors, from how healthy you are when the surgery is performed to your individual response to the surgery. There are certain things you can do, however, to optimize your recovery. Being well-rested, as well as reducing or quitting smoking in the months leading up to the operation, may significantly decrease your recovery time.

Most people remain in the hospital for 5-7 days, and report feeling weak for a week or two following surgery. It takes around six weeks before the sternum is completely healed, so heavy lifting during that time is not permitted.

When can my children visit?

Young children are not permitted in the Intensive Care Unit, but they may visit you on the recovery floor after the first few days. By this time your drainage tubes will have been removed, and you will have the energy for little visitors.

When will I leave the hospital?

Most people are discharged from the hospital 4-7 days after the surgery. We do not discharge you before you are ready to be home; before discharge, you will need to climb a flight of stairs and walk 150 feet. Some undergoing surgery may need to go to an acute rehabilitation facility close to home, which our team will help to arrange for a seamless transition.

How will I feel when I get home?

After returning home, you will typically feel tired for another week. Nap when needed, and be sure to get plenty of exercise walking. You may feel intermittent soreness in your chest; be sure to continue to use the breathing device and cough buddy provided as necessary.

When can I shower?

You can shower as soon as you arrive home. Blot your incision dry and try to avoid rubbing. The bandages covering the wound will fall off over time, and can be peeled off after 10 days if they have not come off on their own.

When can I resume sexual activity?

You can resume sexual activity after discharge. Bear in mind that you cannot support your weight with your arms, so you may have to adjust positions accordingly.

When can I drive?

You can drive after 3 weeks, as long as you are feeling mentally stable, not fatigued or taking narcotics. It is important to drive defensively as your breastbone is not fully healed for 4-6 weeks, so an accident can have serious consequences.

When can I back to work?

Going back to work is an individual decision that depends on the individual response to surgery and your medication regimen. If your occupation does not require physical activity, 3 weeks is usually enough. For those who need to do physical labor, 6 weeks is necessary. If you are entitled to medical leave, we advise taking one month off.

Will I need to resume old medications, or take any new ones?

Your care is provided by a team approach, with your surgeon and cardiologist working closely together. You should schedule an appointment with your cardiologist immediately after discharge to determine the appropriate medications regimen.

When will I see my surgeon again?

You will have an appointment with your surgeon 4 weeks after discharge, but your surgeon and nurse practitioner are available by phone any time, by calling the office (844) 792-6782 (844-RX-AORTA). If any issue arises prior to your appointment, we would like to hear about it.