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Leaving hospital following a major cardiac event can be a disquieting time, not unlike walking out on a tightrope without a net. The comfort of a nursing station seconds away has gone; the knowledge that instant, expert help, should something go wrong, can no longer be summoned by the push of a button, can cause unnecessary stress.
It’s important to have as much in place at home as possible before leaving the hospital so that the transition for you and your caregiver is as smooth as possible. It is also the beginning of a remarkable journey of emotional and physical renewal as you face the beginning of Your Life - Part Two.

"I was really surprised that I was only in hospital for four days. I mean, open heart surgery is a pretty drastic procedure, so I was completely shocked when they told me, You’re going home tomorrow. I’d only been out of bed for a day. I wasn’t prepared for it psychologically and suddenly I had to make a major adjustment. In the hospital I was cocooned for four days and now, suddenly, that cocoon was gone. I felt like I was being thrown out into the world.

"Kingston General gave me two huggies for holding over your chest when you cough or for getting in and out of bed. I’ve still got them and they were essential in making sure I didn’t use my arms or elbows to get in and out of the car on the trip home.. And it was a long, tiring trip. So don’t overdo it. Get the most comfortable car you can, take a break to stretch, walk a little, a few steps, and loosen up. It’s essential."

"Frankly, I was scared that first night home. It’s amazing the scenarios that go through your head at 3.00 am when you’re wide awake and waiting for the morning, which never seems to arrive. You convince yourself something drastic is going to happen and how will I handle it. Eventually I woke my wife and talked about it and felt better immediately and finally went to sleep. It helps to have an understanding caregiver."

"When I arrived home it was all very surreal – like I was there but I wasn’t there. My daughter was jumping up and down, happy to have me home, but I was in some pain and all I wanted to do was lay down, with lots of pillows and go to sleep. The next day was much better. It’s so important to have that bed ready and to ensure peace and quiet."

"It wasn’t until after we had arrived home that I realized that my husband had some prescriptions to fill. It was a real dilemma. It was late and our drug store was 15 minutes away and due to close and I didn’t want to leave him for that length of time. Fortunately a neighbour offered to go into town to get the prescriptions filled. So, yes, make sure all that is looked after before you leave the hospital."

"All being well, you should be able to do most things, only very carefully, but one thing they tell you to avoid is using your arms for lifting or for stretching. Getting out of chairs is quite difficult, so you have to learn to use your legs to ease yourself to a standing position."

"Getting in and out of bed can be a hoot because you can’t use your arms to ease yourself off the bed or to assist you getting in. It’s surprising though, how adept one can become in gaining the confidence to literally roll off the bed and straighten-up in one movement. Ideally, have your caregiver there to assist you because it’s almost a reflex action to use your arms for support or leverage ... and you just have to protect that incision."

"A problem I had was walking. I’d had a triple-bypass in December and it was bitterly cold outside and the sidewalks were snow-covered and slippery. So I walked inside ... walked and walked and walked ... probably drove everyone crazy. But the hospital stressed its importance – a little at a time and then gradually increasing the distance."

"My cardiologist told me to avoid exercise in either extreme heat or when it’s very cold. So I go to the local mall where they have an early morning walking group, before the stores open, and you can walk a measured course and monitor your progress. And window-shop at the same time."

"The drive home – that was quite an experience. I didn’t realize just how weak I was when I came out of the hospital. I was in the back seat so I could stretch my leg where they’d taken a vein out. It was pretty tender. The trip was about 130k door-to-door, which is a lot of cramped sitting. Fortunately, half way home, we were able to stop at my son’s for a washroom break and a rest. I was so glad to have a bed ready and waiting for me when I finally arrived home."

"The hospital didn’t tell me much when I was discharged and one thing I discovered about this surgery is that you are your own healthcare advocate. It’s entirely up to you to learn everything you can. I came out of the hospital without any literature or the Heart and Stroke book, Road to Recovery. So I did my own research, on the Internet and going to the library, and basically played it by ear until I found the support group."

"It’s so important to take the medications prescribed for you and to know what they are for. And know the side effects. I went to my doctor and told him I was experiencing the side effects of the statin he had me on. After I’d described them to him he took me right off it and prescribed something else. And I always carry my nitroclycerine with me. Always. I discovered it has an expiry date so I renew it every two years."

"It’s important to understand your condition. It relieves any fears. If you understand what’s wrong with you then you understand why you have to do certain things."

"It’s up to you to learn as much as you can about your situation. I keep a pad and pen at the ready and, if I can’t find the answers myself, I have a list of questions when I next see my doctor. There’s a risk of being intimidated by doctors, but if you demonstrate your concerns strongly enough, you get their attention."

"I would have liked some more information on what the surgery will do to me afterwards. Will my life change that much? That’s why getting into the support group was so helpful. Hearing how other people coped and managed."

"It’s very important to advocate for yourself with doctors. The higher in the echelon the doctor is, the more intimidating they can become. When you get up to the level of a cardiologist, you can be terrified. I’m not. Some of those who go to the same cardiologist as me say he is intimidating, but not to me. I ask the questions I want answers to and don’t leave until I get them."

"It occurred to me that, just because I’m a senior, it doesn’t mean I can’t speak up or complain or ask questions of doctors or cardiologists. It’s so important. It’s your life. Your future. When you go to some doctors, if you’ll let them, they’ll whisk you in and out in 90 seconds and you’re left wondering how come your questions didn’t get answered. You’ve got to get their attention, make them listen to you, and not be simply a patient on an assembly-line."