Preparing for Your Heart Surgery

Read the information in this guide and share it with your family. Make a list of questions to ask your doctor.

For more information visit Tests and Procedures, Diseases and Conditions and Tools and Resources.

Start making healthy lifestyle choices

Healthy lifestyle changes don’t have to wait until after your surgery. Here are a number of things you can do to prepare:

If you smoke, quit! It is one of the most important things you can do while waiting for surgery. Call the Heart Institute’s Quit Smoking Program at 613-696-7069.
Follow a heart healthy eating plan. Attend the Heart Institute nutrition workshops; call 613-696-7000, ext. 19641.
If you have high blood pressure, keep track of your blood pressure readings. Take your blood pressure medication as prescribed by your doctor.
If you have high cholesterol, make sure you take your cholesterol medication as prescribed by your doctor. Know your cholesterol levels.
If you have diabetes, take your diabetes medication as prescribed by your doctor. Keep track of your blood sugar.
Reduce stress as much as possible. Identify the greatest sources of stress in your life and start planning ways to deal with them.


Healthy eating while you are waiting for surgery

Good nutrition before your surgery is important and may help you recover and heal more quickly after your surgery. It is important to make sure that your body is getting the right nutrition at this time. Here are some tips that will help you eat well before your surgery. For more healthy eating tips see the “Top 10 tips for healthy eating”. To see the schedule of nutrition classes offered at UOHI, please consult our Calendar.

  • Eat at regular times: Eat breakfast within 1 to 2 hours after waking up. Don’t wait too long between your meals. It’s harder to make healthy choices when you’re hungry.
  • Plan healthy snacks: Try whole-grain crackers and peanut butter or hummus, a piece of fruit and a few unsalted nuts, or frozen berries and plain Greek yogurt.
  • Include protein sources in every meal and snack: Try nut butters on your toast, add canned fish to your salads or chicken to your soups. Cook more meat than you need and freeze the extra. The meat is ready to reheat and add to dishes when you need it.
  • Have easy-to-prepare meals and snacks on hand for when you don’t feel like cooking, such as granola bars, nuts, seeds, trail mix, or cheese and crackers. You might want to use a service like Meals on Wheels or ask friends and family to help you with groceries and making meals.
  • Don’t be afraid of fat: You need fat for good health, and it adds flavour to your cooking. Use plant-based fats such as olive or canola oil.

If your appetite is poor while you are waiting for your surgery or you notice that you are losing weight without trying to, tell your physician. They can refer you to the outpatient registered dietitian in Cardiac Rehab at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute.

What to do if your symptoms change

Notify your doctor or the regional cardiac care coordinator if you have more episodes of chest pain or problems with breathing.

The regional cardiac care coordinator:

  • Is part of the surgical team at the Heart Institute
  • Is the person you can call if your condition changes
  • Can be reached from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. at 613-696-7062
  • Is covered during off-hours by the Nursing Coordinator — call 613-696-7000, press 0 and ask for the Nursing Coordinator

If your condition suddenly gets worse, call 9-1-1 or go to the nearest emergency department.

Preparations for coming to the hospital

Before you are admitted, make arrangements for:

  • The items on the Patient Responsibility Checklist, at the beginning of this book.
  • Someone to manage your personal affairs, if you do not have a spouse or partner to do so. Arranging your power of attorney (POA) is recommended if you do not have a partner or spouse. More information can be found online.
  • Time off work. If you work outside the home, arrange to be off work for about three months (for procedures that are minimally invasive, check with your surgeon). Confirm your sick leave benefits, including employment insurance or social assistance while not working.

Managing Your Medications

Keeping an updated list of your medications and following the steps below will help you improve communication with your health care team and reduce the risk of complications.

Do not change, stop or add any medication without first discussing it with your doctor.

Take only the medications prescribed to you on discharge.

Make a detailed list of your current medications

You can use the medication list provided in this guide (see Appendix) to help you track your medications. You will need this list during your appointment at the Pre-Admission Unit and when you are admitted for your surgery.

List all of your medications on the form provided, including:

  • Prescription medications that you take regularly
  • Prescription medications that you take only as needed, such as nitroglycerin or pain medications
  • Any herbal medication, such as ginseng or gingko biloba
  • Other medications, such as vitamins, laxatives, aspirin or Tylenol®

Keep this form up to date. Ask your nurse, doctor or pharmacist if you need help to complete each section. Keep it with you at all times and bring it to all your appointments so that medical professionals are aware of the medications you are taking.

When you are discharged from the hospital, some of your medications may be changed. Your nurse will review your prescriptions with you. Make sure you understand all of the changes, and be sure to ask questions if you don’t understand.

When you fill your prescriptions, review the list with your pharmacist to make sure that nothing has been missed or duplicated.

Wait Times for Surgery

The Province of Ontario uses a waiting list management strategy to make sure people get their surgery at the right time.

The strategy includes:

  • A system that keeps track of all wait times for heart surgery in Ontario
  • Information about your specific condition, to make sure you get your surgery at the right time
  • An opportunity to call the Regional Cardiac Care Coordinator between
  • 8:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. at 613-696-7062 if you have questions about the wait time.
  • A website to monitor provincial wait times

Pre-Admission Unit (PAU)

Once you have a date for your surgery, you may be scheduled to visit the Pre-Admission Unit (PAU).

Appointment Date:       Time:

To get to the PAU, take the elevator up one floor from the main lobby of the Heart Institute and check in at the reception.

For your appointment, please bring:

  • This guide
  • An up-to-date list of your medications. A blank form is provided for you in Appendix 1.
  • Your medication bottles, safely packed in a labelled bag or case
  • Your provincial health insurance card and proof of any other health insurance
  • Any documents or information from your doctor
  • Your reading glasses
  • A family member or friend who can help you by taking notes or asking questions
  • Any walking aids that you regularly use. This will help with planning your care after surgery.
  • If you speak a language other than English or French, please bring someone who can translate for you.

The Purpose of Your Appointment at the PAU

At your appointment, you will have a physical exam and medical history taken by a nurse. You will also be assessed by the anaesthesiologist.

This appointment will give you information about preparing for surgery and what to expect immediately after surgery. It will also help plan your discharge from the Heart Institute and your recovery at home. Come to the appointment with any questions or concerns that you may have.

At Your PAU Appointment

Expect to be at the Heart Institute for about 2½ hours. Some of your blood and urine tests may be repeated, and you may be referred to other health care professionals such as a social worker or physiotherapist, depending on your specific situation.

What to Bring on the Day of Your Admission

When you are admitted, please bring the following:

  • Your updated list of medications OR your medication bottles safely packed in a labelled bag for review during your admission
  • The contact information for your designated contact person with whom we can share your information
  • Your provincial health insurance card and proof of any other health insurance

Prepare for your surgery by:

  • Removing any make-up, nail polish or perfumed skin products
  • Leaving all your valuables at home

When you go to surgery, your family will be asked to take home all your belongings, including the bag of medications you brought with you.

Once you have been transferred out of the Cardiac Surgical Intensive Care Unit (CSICU), your family can bring you your housecoat, shoes, walking aid and personal items that you usually use.

Wearing a Bra

Some women are uncomfortable because the weight of their breasts seems to pull at the chest incision. In this case, wearing a bra may decrease the discomfort. Other women find wearing a bra uncomfortable because of the breastbone incision. Putting gauze over the incision where it comes in contact with your bra may help. Wearing a cotton sports bra may be more comfortable. Front closing bras are easier to put on. Wearing a bra one size larger may also be more comfortable for you. Another alternative is buying a bra extender so that you will be more comfortable.