ready to be a nurse again

Thursday, November 21, 2013

this girl is finally going to put some scrubs on and be a cardiac nurse. i found out last week that i got a position on my old floor. i'm stoked to be back with some fabulous coworkers and taking care of people. cardiac patients are the best. most of the time anyways. 

*insert crazy happy dance dancing* 

in other news it's been SIX months since surgery (if you didn't know I had open heart surgery at the Mayo Clinic to fix a congenital heart defect in May) and its been full of ups & downs BUT i will say that I loved my time at Mayo.
i really got the inside look of being a cardiac surgery patient (i've always wondered if what i told my patients was actually true or just sounded nice in theory) and this cardiac nurse even learned a few tricks. 

{ Tips + Tricks | in the hospital }

when I found out i needed open heart surgery i was worried about nausea & puking more than anything else. i hate both passionately. i still cry every time i throw up. it's quite traumatic. of course after surgery you're nauseous and puking. I will forever love the ICU nurse that handed me this little silver tube called QueaseEASE. i actually just found out that's what it's called. i always just said "where's my nausea thing?"   

QueaseEASE utilizes aromatherapy to fight nausea. this was my first encounter with essential oils and i'm a huge believer now. not only is the smell distracting and soothing but it also totally helped get rid of my nausea. I kept that little sucker close. So why is it so amazing? it works fast. no waiting for it to kick in like anti-nausea medications. it's super easy to use. all you do is sniff. or violently snort if you're me and the world is ending because you are nauseous. 

everyone hospital needs to stock QueaseEASE or something similar. I haven't been able to find any to buy at stores back home. but it can be ordered online. also it lasts a long time. I still have mine and use it every now and then.

controlling pain
first of all people it's going to hurt after open heart surgery. the surgeons merely saw your sternum in half. nothing to get excited about. one might think this would be obvious but trust me it needs to be said. patients need to hear this before surgery. and they need to know what they can do to help control their pain. 

number 1. get your butt moving. this is one of those things i had wondered about - i always told my patients the more you move the less you will hurt. 200% true. sit in the chair if you are not sleeping. walk laps (emphasis on the plural) multiple times a day. walk when you're tired. even when you're sore. and especially after you go to the bathroom at 2am. just do it. and above all stay out of your bed. it's not comfortable anyways. 

number 2. pain patches (lidocaine patches). this was a new idea for me. and it's brilliant. the patches were cut in half and placed on either side of my sternal incision and chest tube site. they were on for 12 hours and off for 12 hours. I loved them. they provided consistent, extended pain relief. and apart from a little skin irritation there weren't any weird side effects. I really think that this is one of the reasons i did not experience a lot of pain or as much as i was expecting.  

number 3. pain is different for everyone. most of my pain the days after surgery was in my shoulders & back. I found out that this is because of how you're opened up and laying on the table. it messes with your back muscles. I loved back massages and my heat pad. both really helped with the muscles aches.

this shit is real. post-op day #3 was utterly miserable because I couldn't poop and I thought I was dying. the combination of nausea and stomach pain was horrible. not even joking. I am talking to nurses  - start giving it all asap. your patient will love you forever.

also prune juice is potent. that was the tipping point after receiving stool softeners, miralax, milk of magnesia, and getting a suppository. i have to brag. i lost nearly 3lbs after I finally went. i felt incredible after. there was totally a celebratory text that went out to some friends. 

heart pillow
i love these silly heart pillows even more now that i've had to use one. it never left my side and it really shouldn't. one of the hardest things after surgery is remembering to not push or pull with your hands. the only way i could remember was if i was holding/hugging this pillow. splinting (hugging the pillow tightly) your chest incision makes moving a lot less painful.

this was also a huge help when I got home. i continued to use it when moving around as a reminder and to splint. I also took it in the car with me cause those bumps hurt and i would place it under the seatbelt for some padding. also sleeping is a lot easier with this pillow. so basically I'm going to keep telling patient "don't leave your heart behind!"

catching some Zzzzzzzs 
i used every trick i knew and they worked. i slept with the head of the hospital bed elevated. pillows underneath my knees. pillows underneath both my arms. and i hugged my heart pillow. i discovered that i wasn't as stiff/sore if i repositioned several times during the night to lay on my side. pillows were my friend. now i can't be irritated when my patients want just one more pillow when they already have six.  

find some distractions. because there most likely will be times when you will feel horrible. for me this was when i got out of bed the first time. when my lung collapsed and I had a chest tube place at my bedside. and when I couldn't go to the bathroom. 

distractions help you focus on something other than what is going on or what you are feeling. my family & i figured out that my main distraction was ice cold wash clothes. we would fill up a pink basin with ice and then water and add some wash clothes. I put them on my arms, legs, neck, and forehead any time I need to be distracted and/or feel better. another distraction was music. i don't remember a ton from the day of surgery when i was in ICU. but i do clearly remember hearing my Katy Perry CDs playing. 

i may be in the minority but i love my scars. so i didn't follow any of the advice i was given because i was determined that my scar would not fade. if i have to have surgery i am going to have battle scars. in case you don't want a scar here are some recommendations.

stay out of the sun. put sunscreen on your scars. hydrocortisone cream (decreases redness). and vitamin E. 

pick me ups
visiting with friends & family. 
ditching the hospital gown for real clothes. 
coffee from Starbucks. 
showering was amazing. i felt like a new person. 
text messages, FB posts, flowers, and chocolate were all appreciated. 
walking. i felt more independent the more i moved around. 
and amazing health care providers. 

i'm so glad i packed.... 
my Captain Jack Sparrow pillow & zebra print blanket. 
real clothes. sweats, tank tops, bandeau (instead of a bra) fuzzy slippers, & cover up robe
hygiene stuff. tooth brush & paste. baby shampoo. blow dryer & straightener. 
heat pad.
camera & phone.
my own pink bejeweled water bottle.
and my family.

the best body wash
Kathy was my nurse on discharge day and she was full of great tips. one that i will tell patients about is Target's off brand of baby hair and body wash. comes in a yellow container. it's awesome. it's fine to use to was (gently) over your incisions. it smells good (like a baby's butt). and it helped my sensitive skin calm down after having those pain patches and EKG patches on it. that's all i used for soap for the longest time. 

zebra print suitcase

so now it's your turn. this is my story. what has worked for you, a friend, a family member or your unit, hospital, patients? please comment and/or ask questions freely. I love learning from others what has worked and what has not. I am so grateful for my experience. and I am very excited to get back to doing what i love and help others go through this experience knowing what to expect, having as many tools as possible, and hopefully ending up with some laughs and good stories.  


  1. Anonymous21.11.13

    Another insightful blog!! I'm so amazed by you :)

  2. This was SO helpful! My daughter (17 years old) enjoyed bubble wrap as a pick-me-up! Also all the dogs they brought in (pediatric hospital).

  3. Thank you for taking the time to comment! I'm so glad that you found this post helpful! Pet therapy is so wonderful... I wished I had been able to take my parents dachshund with me to the hospital. He's gotten me through a lot of bad days! I also love the idea of bubble wrap... there is nothing like releasing some stress and making noise! Best wishes to you and your daughter!!

    1. Hi LeeAnn,

      I have a question for you... can I e-mail you directly?

  4. How long until you were able to go back to work. I'm an ER nurse and heading into surgery myself Wednesday for a mitral valve...

    1. I was released to go back to work 6-8 weeks after surgery. I worked a couple weeks and for reasons not related to my surgery (flare up of an autonomic disorder) I had to take an additional few months off. Best of luck to you on your surgery... I hope that it goes smoothly and you're back to being a nurse asap!! I'll be sending lots of positive thoughts & wishes your way Wednesday!

  5. Anonymous29.12.15

    Thank you so much! I have my surgery scheduled for February and this has been helpful!

    1. Best of luck to you with surgery and recovery!! I'm so glad to hear this blog post helped!!

  6. I know this post is from a few years ago, but I just found it after searching Pinterest and I wanted to say thank you. I found out today that I'll likely have to have my aortic valve replaced sometimes next year. I'm pretty upset (because I'm supposed to get married next November) and a pretty terrified. This post has been helpful. I hope you're doing well and thriving now!

    1. Jill - I apologize that I am just now seeing your comment. I am so glad that you found this post to be helpful. Wishing you all the best for surgery and your recovery!! Open heart surgery seems like a different life now (4+ years later). I know for me I was nervous about the scar and how it would look. Honestly, I love it now and rarely does anyone notice it (if they do its because they have had surgery too and recognize it). Best wishes!!


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