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Open Heart Surgery Post Op
I had open heart surgery in May (2018) to fix a hole in my heart that I did not know I had. Prior to surgery, I was not able to walk more than ten steps without stopping to rest.
Now, I am physically feeling so much better. But, I am still struggling with emotions that I can hardly explain. I imagine this is normal, but, I expected that by now the emotions would feel less intense as time goes by.
Normally, I am a very steady and stoic person who can handle just about anything.
I have great support with my family and friends, but, this is something I am unable to talk to them about. I have tried, but, I have a hard time and they don't really understand the enormity of what I am feeling.
Just wanted to know if this is normal this long after surgery and if there are ways to deal with it better than I am.
Thank you so much.
JamesPL, December 8, 2018 10:52pm EST
People react to heart surgery in different ways. Sometimes we need help to completely heal. I was warned about potential depression and advised to talk to therapists post op. Have you considered that at all? They can offer you ways to deal with the struggles you are having and help your recovery become more positive. Since you are unable to talk to friends and family about your struggles, professional help could be exactly what you need.
Please take good care and I wish you well!
jlhyde85, December 10, 2018 10:49am EST
I'm glad you found our community! As Jim said, everyone experiences open heart and recovery in different ways, and your emotions are definitely valid and real. I understand the isolation you're going through--for me, I looked so healthy and reovered so quickly that people didn't quite understand the magnitude of what had happened as I felt it. I'm still processing my emotions, now 8 years after my valve repair (this was my second open-heart), and have definitely sought out therapy in the past (to manage anxiety in a job I stayed in for the health benefits, and then to manage my postpartum anxiety) I've also sought the help of a life coach so that I could really figure out how to live my best life now. These days I find it helpful to write out my emotions first thing in the morning. I use Julia Cameron's Morning Pages guidelines (https://juliacameronlive.com/basic-tools/morning-pages/) and I keep a bucket list of things I want to accomplish and the steps I'm taking toward achieving those goals.
But I also found it helpful to read that 25% of patients experience cardiac depression! https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/heart-valve-problems-and-disease/recovery-and-healthy-living-goals-for-heart-valve-patients/post-surgery-milestones-managing-your-mood-expectations-and-goals
This wasn't something we talked about so openly in 2010, so I'm really grateful that mental health has become part of the discussion about cardiac care now. As Jim said, try giving your cardiologist a call and asking about local support groups and mental health specialists in your area. You are definitely not alone in feeling that your experience is difficult for your nearests and dearests to understand. Keep us informed of your progress!
Barbarapa, December 10, 2018 12:19pm EST
Thank you both for your support and replies.
When I had my surgery, they sent a physchiatrist to see me. I was really a mess as the same day I had surgery, my sister in law died. Unfortunately, it was not a very good visit with the physchiartrist. (I'm sorry, I don't know how to spell that word). She was very nice and all, but I am old enough to be her grandmother and she just didn't have the life expereince to match her academic experience. Also, she said all the "right" things, affirmed my feelings, showed empathy.....I have twenty some years of social work under my belt and I knew the script. I could have told her what she was supposed to say.
So, maybe she just wasn't a good match as we didn't connect and there might be another professional out there who I could connect with. But, I think what I am really looking for is someone to say, with all sincerity and knowledge, "I know how you feel...."
I was really dibilitated before surgery and after my recovery period, I am physically in better shape than I can ever remember being in my life. Like Jen, others see how well I recovered and don't seem to realize how much this affected me, more than just physically.
Once again, thank you for your thoughtful replies.
ivebeenivan, December 19, 2018 8:33pm EST
Hi Barbara - Thanks for sharing your feelings with us. Like you, I always felt more resilient than the average person until I was hit with six terrifying weeks of not feeling like myself after surgery #2. With help, it passed and I'm back. Everyone needs a tune-up. We exercise our bodies daily, yet forget about our minds. Remembering this helped me acknowledge the need for and to actually accept professional help and temporary meds to get me back to me. Please keep us posted. We're here for ya...
BL1970, January 17, 2019 5:56pm EST
So glad to meet you on this site. It is amazing that today, a lot of folks only rarely get the therapy or counselling needed to get through an incredible life changing event. You have gotten good advice from the sincere and empethetic " hearties." I have an aortic stenosis, and have had three open heart surgeries.
During all three surgeries, I never once received counselling or any such services at all. So I have gone through 41 years of what adult children go through due to not having psychiatric care before,during and after surgery: panic disorder, PTSD, suicidal thoughts.
The point is my friend, we have gone through some very invasive procedures, and need whatever mental assistance we can get. I went through this trauma for 41 years, afraid of my body, unsure of my valve, even though checkups said otherwise. Finally, I had to go through a rather drastic call for help, and was hospitalized for two months recently, whereI l learned I am not alone,(I found this site while getting therapy for my head, which literally saved my life.
Okay, so I have appointed myself to being an advocate for whatever emotional support one should insist on.
It makes a world of difference!
Peace, and stay on site. This is as good for me as I hope it is to you!
Kitawny, February 12, 2019 7:57pm EST
I had surgery in 2017. It’s a very scary thing to go through especially living so long with a hole in your heart and not knowing . I don’t know about but my hospital has a special psychiatric counselor who is just for heart patients. If it’s possible try and find one they do help tremendously.
jlhyde85, March 11, 2019 10:56pm EST
I'm just now reading your response to my earlier reply on your thread. I need to turn my notifications on. How are you doing? What you shared about losing your sister-in-law the same day that you had your surgery, I imagine, is just so much to take in and reflect on and absorb. I'm so sorry that you had a bad experience with the therapist. I think it can take a while to find the right person, though it sounds like you identified what you need both from professional help if you decide to pursue it and from other people in your family and community. I think I do know how you feel, at least with regards to losing someone in a time you are trying to regain yourself. How are you doing these days?