How can I help my Dad after heart valve replacement surgery?

Pretty much just what it says right up there. My Dad has known for a number of years now that he has a congenital problem with a heart valve and that it would eventually need to be replaced. Well, he had a checkup recently, and was told that it had moved from a 90% blockage to a 92% blockage, so the time is now, or soon in any case.

His surgery is scheduled for October 31st and I’m planning on flying in a week later, hopefully coinciding with his being released from the hospital, and staying with him for that first week home so that I can help out however I can. There is plenty of family in the area that can continue to come by every day until he’s stronger and able to drive and such.

What should I know about what to expect in that early post-surgery time? I figure that I can of course do the cooking and the shopping and any driving and prescription pickup and all, but what else should I be aware of? My Dad is the sweetest, kindest guy I’ve ever known. He just radiates unconditional love and acceptance. How can I best take care of him?

I already floated the question in panache45’s thread, but I don’t want to get in the way of the deserved good wishes being offered to him and I’d like to put this out in the open where I have a chance of gathering more advice.

Finally, your opinion: I’ve found two different anatomically correct heart plushies, one that’s just a plushie and one that has an internal mechanism that makes it beat. Which one should I get for Dad? It’s the beating one, right?

I really depends. What valve is being replaced? Mechanical or animal valve? Will they be cracking his chest or floating it in via cardiac cath? What are you dad’s other health problems?

The main thing you can do is make sure he takes his meds correctly, and follows whatever exercise, bathing, diet, and wound care instructions his doctor gives him. This is usually in the form of printed instructions but try to read them over before you leave the hospital so you can get clarification on any questions from the discharge nurse.

The docs will tell him what to do and stuff. If they go through the sternum (my repair did), he will be at least 6 weeks, probably twice that due to his age, doing very little. However, it is highly likely that he is supposed to walk as much as he can while clutching his pillow to his chest. This will speed recovery. They will have him walking as soon as he is out of intensive care.

He will also have to take medications for a replacement. And an antibiotic for any dental procedures for the rest of his life. Make sure he does this.

I am not a doctor, just a heart valve repair patient. Follow the advice of the doctor.

Good questions all! It’s the aortic valve, they’re going in by cracking his chest, and he’s 71 and otherwise in excellent health and shape. I’m pretty much a compulsive compliant when it comes to medical instructions and so is he, so I’m not worried about that side of things.

I just want to make sure that I’m as prepared as I can be for the logistical and practical side of things. F’rex, I got a tip from my aunt that he should have shirts and pyjama tops that button up the front instead of being pull-ons, because he won’t be able to raise his arms for a few weeks. Also, to make sure that there’s always a clean set of bed linens so that if the sheets get spots of blood or discharge on them, they can be stripped and washed while the next set is put straight on.

I know that we won’t know what his surgical and post-surgical experience will be like until we get there, but I just want to think through everything that I can do beforehand. Partly, it gives me something to do with my own anxiety and lets me put it in a productive direction.

In my case, in all the time post-surgery, there was no blood coming out of me anywhere. And by the time I got home, I was perfectly able to raise my arms to put on t-shirts. I was worried about this too, but there hasn’t been a problem.

When you see him during the first day or two of surgery, he will have no memory of this period. I apparently had conversations with people I don’t remember seeing at all. And depending on the particular drugs he’s getting, especially pain meds, he may be exhibiting strange behavior and saying strange things. In my case, they initially had me on percoset, which made me very paranoid of everything. Vicodin or Tramadol are much better.

Let him sleep as much as possible. He won’t be getting much real sleep in the hospital, being constantly interrupted for testing, etc., but he’ll sleep like a baby when back home. He will hate always having to sleep on his back, but it’s necessary. And he will lose weight, only partially from fluid loss. His doctors will prescribe how much he should be drinking each day.

Has he had a heart cath test yet? That will determine whether he’ll need bypasses in addition to the valve replacement.

A few weeks after surgery his pain meds will run out, and he’ll take a turn for the worse, suddenly feeling some pains that he hadn’t felt before. Watch out for depression at this time. (This is the period I’m in now, and it’s not pretty.)

And learn what his limitations should be. Don’t let him do things he shouldn’t be doing yet, even if he thinks he’s ready.

For the record, I’d HATE receiving either of these. They’ll give him one in the hospital, and show him how to use it (yes, it does serve a purpose).

What I’d appreciate is some brainstorming around the house together to deal with little things that will otherwise not get thought of. If Dad can’t lift more than ten points for several months, are things going to sit in the middle of the floor until he can? Could he deal with the contents of that box, if only they could get pulled out of the box in the first place? Right now for example I can’t feed the cats because the vet only had 20 lb bags of kibble the last time I went, and I have a ten pound limit for a while. I could go buy smaller basa, but wait, not allowed to drive either. Being able to figure some of these out in advance sure would have been nice.

The worst thing is not being able to drive. You’ve gotta stock up on everything or rely on others to shop for you.

But I did some planning pre-surgery, to eliminate the need to lift heavy objects. Like buying cat litter in heavy bins, then pouring them into gallon jugs that are just light enough to lift.

But amazingly, after being home only 3 days, I was already doing laundry.

I cannot speak for this particular condition but I can say I’ve been going through some serious medical stuff lately (major mobility/pain problems and trying to put all my energy into getting to work so I stay employed/insured!), and my family has had to help out, and there are some things I didn’t really think about.

1 - Food. It’s a good idea not just to think of the week you’re there, but extended recovery time too. Some days when I’m very tired, I just can’t even think about making anything, but prepared foods tend to be not great when you’re ill (very high in sodium content) either. One of the best things my family has done is just drop off meals that I can stick in the oven or microwave. When he’s sleeping, maybe make some big batches of stuff that fits an appropriate diet, and freeze them in individual portions. Not just for dinner, either – I need to eat in the morning to get up my strength, but on my worst days that’s also the most painful and weakest time, so having things I can grab and eat are important.

Your tastes can change a lot when not feeling well, so I’d wait to ask him for what kinds of things to make until the actual time.

Keep in mind weight and accessibility. I can’t really handle a gallon of milk, I need smaller containers. Most jars and bottles are also a problem to open, even some other packaging can be rough. Small items covered in foil are easiest.

Also, disposable dishes and silverware are helpful.

2 - Stuff to do. You can’t sleep all day and it gets fantastically boring when you’re limited in how much you can move. Make sure there are accessible things to occupy the mind – not just theoretically, but that can be easily reached from the bed. And have more than one idea. I thought I’d want to read a lot but holding up a book is sometimes hard, so I end up watching or listening to things more often, or using my iPad.

3 - Bedding. As was said, you want multiple sets of linens in case being out of bed too long is uncomfortable. Having lots of pillows is nice too, to prop yourself up if you want to be in closer to a sitting position but aren’t quite ready to get out of bed. I also find that my needs in sleeping positions have changed and so having things like a wedge pillow, body pillow, etc. is nice. I ordered a bunch of stuff via Amazon to make myself more comfortable.

4 - Just being there. It’s lonely and isolating being stuck at home. Things like having dinner together, having conversations about what’s going on with you, it’s helpful. Once you’re gone after a week, too, stay in touch. Seriously, going a whole day in your house with no contact from anyone feels like an eternity after awhile (even for me, a devoted introvert, it’s different when you CAN’T leave). Even just a couple of texts is a very pleasant diversion.

5 - Get ahead of housework and chores. Make sure you’re leaving laundry clean (and accessibly put away), bathrooms and kitchen cleaned, garbage taken out. Is major stuff like cleaning gutters, leaf removal, snow removal covered by someone or hired out? Car maintenance done (it’s easier to recover enough to drive a little to go to the pharmacy than it is to manage going and getting your oil changed)? Mail gone through and bills paid?

6 - Make sure medications are organized. I’m sure he’ll have plenty of prescriptions and they all have different times you need to take them, with food or without food, et cetera. Make sure there’s a list or some system taken care of as it’s very easy to fall out of rhythm when you have a lot of them. Especially under the effects of medication.