Having a major operation like heart valve surgery can feel like a rollercoaster experience, and you’re sure to go through a range of emotions in the build-up to surgery. Getting your bag packed is a welcome distraction that will give you some sense of control. You’ll be in hospital for about a week, so having the right clothing and equipment and a few home comforts will make it that little bit easier while you’re recovering from your op. Here’s what to pack for your heart surgery hospital stay…
It might sound obvious, but make sure you take all your usual paraphernalia with you: reading glasses, walking stick, hearing aid, dentures and so on – whatever you need to function normally.
Bear in mind that with chest surgery, nightwear that buttons up the front will be easier to put on and change. As you may need to use a catheter for a few days, you might prefer to wear a nightgown rather than pyjamas. A dressing gown to relax in will keep you cosy while you’re sitting up in bed or starting to move around, while an eye mask and earplugs are a great way to minimise light and noise disturbance, especially at night or if you’re napping during the day.
Keeping yourself neat and tidy will help you feel fresher after your operation. Pack everything for your normal routine: a brush, comb, shaving equipment, shampoo, toothbrush and toothpaste, deodorant, wet wipes, tissues, moisturiser, hand cream, makeup and compact mirror. Medical staff will let you know when it’s okay to shower – take unscented shower gel or soap to avoid irritating your wound.
Comfortable slip-on slippers and shoes are the order of the day – don’t forget that you’ll want to avoid having to bend over to tie up shoelaces!
When you’re ready to be up and about, you’ll need loose, comfortable clothing. It’s normal to get some swelling after surgery and your chest will naturally be sore, so you’ll want to avoid any garments that could add unnecessary pressure. Hospital wards are usually kept warm, so take layers to get your temperature just right. Remember to pack underwear and socks and a dirty laundry bag, too.
You’ll need a sturdy, soft, supportive bra without underwiring to lessen the strain on your chest area. A front-fastening design will be easier to put on and take off without stretching, and a halter-neck or strapless bra is likely to rub less on your wound. Soft pads placed under bra straps can make them more comfortable – buy these in advance or improvise with tissues. Think about whether the underwear you already have is suitable as you might need to buy a differential bra before your hospital stay. Special post-surgery bras are available to buy on the high street or online.
Coughing or sneezing after surgery can’t be helped, but may cause discomfort. It’s important that you don’t try to stop yourself from coughing though, as this can lead to a chest infection. Many people find that it helps to hug a small cushion or a rolled-up towel to their chest to relieve the pressure – it needs to be the right length to cover the length of your breastbone. You can also use the same tactic to manage the pressure of your seatbelt when you go home from the hospital, if you’re travelling by car.
Be prepared with a cushion designed for the job – you can get your own Active Patients cushion here.
Paper and pen
You might want to jot down questions for the doctor and any information from medical staff doing the rounds – having paper and pen to hand will help to remind you and record anything important. Catching up on letter-writing to family and friends is a good way to pass the time, too.
Mobile phones and tablets
If you decide to take your favourite gadgets with you, you’ll have plenty to do at your fingertips. Do remember that there’s no guarantee your property will be secure so it’s up to you whether you’re happy to risk it. It’s worth checking beforehand whether your hospital has any restrictions on what you can use.
And if you do take your tech along, a power bank charger as well as an extra-long charging lead is a good idea.
Things to do
Listening to music is relaxing and low effort – think about packing a portable radio and earphones, or get a playlist ready on your smartphone or tablet, if you have one. A couple of good novels, magazines and puzzle books will also provide you with some easy entertainment.
You may want a snack between mealtimes, so pack a little change for vending machines and some money for the hospital shop for when you’re ready to start moving about.
Take a written record of any medication you’re already taking plus important phone numbers for key family members, friends and your GP – it will save you having to remember them, especially if you’re feeling woozy from the anaesthetic after surgery.
Here’s a handy checklist
Now that you’re in organising mode, why not take a look at our blog on getting ready for recovery when you return home so you can start planning ahead?