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Coronary Artery Bypass Surgery: Day One of Recovery - Topic Overview

What happens in the first 24 hours after CABG surgery?

After your coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) surgery is finished, you will be transferred to a cardiac intensive care unit (CICU) or surgical ICU so that specially trained hospital staff can monitor your condition. The recovery process is different for every patient, so the amount of time you spend in the specialized ward will vary.

When your need for monitoring decreases, you will be transferred to a step-down unit in the hospital in preparation for your return home.

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During your recovery from bypass surgery, you will hear one universal theme: Everyone heals at a different pace. Your experience may vary from the typical course discussed below.

Immediately after your surgery

General anesthesia is used during the CABG procedure, so you may be unconscious for several hours after surgery. Exactly when you wake up depends on a number of things. For example, additional medicines to control complications during or after your surgery may keep you unconscious longer.

While you are still unconscious, you will probably be taken to the intensive care unit, a special ward reserved for people who have just had significant surgeries. You might be in this unit for 1 to 3 days. A longer stay does not mean that your CABG surgery was not successful. It may mean, for example, that it is taking more time for your anesthesia to wear off or for fluid in your chest to drain.

As you wake up, you may notice several sensations. You will probably feel very groggy. Anesthesia can make you feel nauseated, so your stomach may feel queasy. You may also notice immediately that you cannot swallow or speak because of the tube placed in your throat to help you breathe. You may also hear a lot of noise: the equipment and monitors used in most intensive care wards can make a lot of beeping noises.

Although the effects of anesthesia usually help with the discomfort from CABG surgery, you still may experience some pain after you are awake. To relieve this discomfort, your nurse will give you pain medicine through your intravenous (IV) line directly after surgery.

When you become more alert, your doctor will prescribe pain medicine. You may have a small machine that allows you to control when and how much pain medicine you get, although this is more common after 24 to 48 hours. This machine (a PCA pump) has a device that you hold in your hand with a button to press to start medicine flowing through your IV line.

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