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    Caregiving After Surgery for Heart Failure

    If you're taking care of someone close to you who just came home after surgery for heart failure, follow your doctor's instructions carefully. Take these steps to help your loved one get on the road to recovery during the first 6 to 8 weeks after his operation.

    Care of the Surgery Wound

    Protect the area around the incision:

    • Keep it clean and dry.
    • Use only soap and water to clean it.
    • Eat a healthy diet to help healing.

    Call the doctor if you see signs of an infection around the incision, such as:

    • Increased drainage or oozing
    • Opening of the wound
    • Redness or warmth
    • Fever greater than 100.4 F

    You should also call the doctor if your loved one says his sternum (the breastbone) feels like it moves, or if it pops or cracks with movement.

    Pain Relief

    It's normal for your loved one to feel some discomfort at the incision, as well as itching, tightness, or numbness. But the pain shouldn't be similar to what he felt before surgery.

    He'll get a prescription for a pain medication before he leaves the hospital.


    Your loved one's doctor will tell him when he can get behind the wheel again. This usually happens 6 to 8 weeks after surgery, or less if it was a type of operation called "minimally invasive." Until he gets the OK to drive, he can be a passenger as often as he likes.


    The doctor will tell your loved one when he's allowed to get back to his regular routine. But for the first 6 to 8 weeks, follow these guidelines.

    Slowly get more active. Household chores aren't a problem, but standing in one place longer than 15 minutes isn't recommended.

    If it's heavy, don't mess with it. He shouldn't lift anything over 10 pounds. It's not a good idea to push or pull heavy objects either.

    It's OK to climb stairs if the doctor agrees. But it's not a good idea to do it several times during the day, especially when he first arrives home. When planning activities, try to arrange them so your loved one goes downstairs in the morning and back upstairs when it's time for bed.

    Walk every day. The doctor will give his guidelines about exercise when your loved one leaves the hospital.

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