It’s essential to organize a Home Team before you go in for heart surgery, even if you have little time before your surgery to plan it. On the other hand, if you have just gotten home from the hospital, don’t worry it’s not too late. A Home Team is a group of friends and family who are willing to assist you in your recovery following your surgery. Make a list of up to fifteen people, family and friends (but not your primary caregiver) who would be glad – even honored – to be called to help out. Pick a leader among these friends and engage her or him to contact the others about the tasks ahead. Set up a revolving schedule of assignments for your first three to four weeks at home.

Your Primary Caregiver Has The Most Important Role

Who will your primary caregiver be; your spouse, your partner, a friend, or another family member? In my new book, The Open Heart Companion: Preparation and Guidance for Open-Heart Surgery Recovery the following scenario is explained to help you better understand their importance: Suddenly your caregiver, your close personal ally, has the extended responsibility for all previously shared arrangements – nursing aid, household tasks, transportation, medical and social plan coordination. It can become overwhelming and too much for one person. That is why it is essential that you line up a supportive Home Team to pitch in. Your primary caregiver needs assistance and taking care of too. Once you are home and recovering, he or she is now “on” 24/7. He or she also needs continuing acknowledgment, appreciation and love from you. Plan to regularly express your gratitude. Find out how your loved one is feeling – every day. Though sometimes you won’t feel like it, remember to smile, and show you care and appreciate all that is being done for you.

Five basic tasks to assign to your Home Team

1. Dinner nightly
Some friends will like to prepare a home cooked meal for both patient and caregiver, while others can pick up a heart healthy take-out meal. Since the reality of landing back home means the primary caregiver has antenna focused on you continuously, your caregiver loved one will appreciate the sit-down break at dinner time.

2. Buddy system
During the many hours and days of convalescence, neither patient nor primary caregiver wants to feel isolated at home. Anticipate a buddy system in advance. Is there a friend who has been though open-heart surgery who will agree to check in with the patient regularly? Is there someone that the heart patient can call spontaneously? Many basic questions can be answered this way, by a friend or family member. Naturally, any substantial recovery question requires picking up the phone and calling your designated medical professional. Maybe you know, or know of, a former heart patient who also is a medical professional? Arrange chat times (perhaps twice weekly) with him or her. Primary caregiver and patient should also plan regular phone time with a best friend independently, to be free to let their hair down to tell it like it is.

3. Running errands
Who – friend or neighbor – would be willing to be counted on to run to the pharmacy or to deposit or pick up laundry or dry cleaning? How about someone who will shop for staples at the supermarket or buy a box of thank-you notes? Recruit a list of volunteers beforehand. It’s critical to have this in place to enable you to focus on getting well.

4. Housekeeping
In the hospital take-home instructions, there are very specific physical directives that must be honored while the sternum (breastbone) is healing. You are not to lift more than five to ten pounds for four to six weeks. As well, you are to avoid pushing/pulling activities with your arms, and also avoid heavy one-armed lifting for three months. This eliminates carrying groceries, carrying a toddler, vacuuming, shoveling snow, mowing the lawn, raking leaves – even wiping up a kitchen counter with a sponge can be challenging in the first couple of weeks. It is best to schedule others for regular housekeeping duties for at least four to six weeks and/or consider hiring a house cleaner for the short term.

5. Chauffeuring
An open-heart patient may not resume driving for six to eight weeks – until the sternum is fully healed. Because you don’t want to risk re-injuring the sternum should a passenger airbag need to be deployed, you might be advised to ride in the back seat using the shoulder seat belt. That said, you can ride in a car as soon as you’re home – to a medical appointment, to the store, to eat out. However, all these outings become a lot of driving for the primary caregiver, so line up chauffeur volunteers.

Recovering from heart surgery can be challenging, but with these tips and more tips on planning ahead found in The Open Heart Companion you can ensure that your recovery will go smoothly.