Having to undergo major heart surgery is a huge shock to many. You'll be experiencing many feelings as you await the day of surgery:
- guilt about being a burden – 'If only I'd looked after myself better'
- grief – disbelief, shock, denial, anger
- fear of complications during the operation
- negative self-image (including anxiety about scars)
- fear of the future
- fear of dying.
Fear and anxiety are normal reactions
You may feel very alone with your fears. The confusion of being in a new environment can add to this. However, it is perfectly natural to be anxious about having a major operation.
And you can take comfort from knowing that heart operations, although major, are common, and have a high success rate.
Knowing this, some people are surprised at how anxious they feel. They struggle to minimise their worries, but often find that this makes the situation worse.
Accept your feelings
It is important to try to accept support from family, friends and hospital staff – after all, needing support is a basic human desire.
Three things are worth remembering at this stage:
- It is very likely that you are still coping with feelings of grief over the discovery of a heart condition. This grief is intensified as your surgery approaches.
- Fear and anxiety are much easier to manage when you express them. You have a better idea of what you are dealing with, and so do others who could help you.
- Some people find it helpful to use prayer, meditation or relaxation techniques.
If you would like to talk things over, you could ask the nurse to contact the hospital social worker or chaplain.
You have a lot to cope with after heart surgery. Most of your energy and attention will be focused on your physical recovery.
Heart surgery is not a familiar experience in anyone's life, and it can cause a kind of shock reaction. Many people report that while still in hospital they were relieved to have made it through surgery, but then felt a little numb – some describe it as feeling out of touch or disconnected. It's as though your emotions are on hold for a while.
Often, patients say they know there are emotions there, but they can't seem to reach them. Others say the lack of emotions creates a sense or unreality, or that they even feel a little elated. These are very common experiences, and they happen not only after surgery but after any event we are not used to.
Tips from heart patient Sue
Most of this information was first published in You and Your Heart Surgery - an education booklet for patients, families and friends. © 2006 Northern Sydney Central Coast Area Health Service