Recovery in the Hospital

Find out what you can expect after open-heart surgery as you recover in the hospital.

After open-heart surgery, you can expect to stay in the hospital between four and seven days. Your care team will keep you as comfortable as possible during your stay. Our care coordination team can help you plan for your needs after you leave the hospital — including information about our outpatient Cardiac Rehabilitation Program.


Your family and friends may visit while you’re in the critical care unit. Visiting hours are flexible and at the discretion of your nurse:

  • We suggest family members call before visiting, at 650-940-7175.
  • We recommend designating one contact person to keep family members and friends informed. You can ask your nurse to call this person with updates on your condition.

Be sure to review our current general information for visitors at El Camino Health.

Pain Management

Our goal is to keep you as comfortable as possible after surgery, so it’s important to let your nurse know how you’re feeling. Your nurse will ask you to rate your pain between 0 (no pain) and 10 (worst possible pain). You'll receive oral pain medicine as needed to control your pain.

Pain Management

Your Part in Recovery

There are a few things you’ll be asked to do as part of your recovery. Please let your nurse know if pain prevents you from participating:

  • Breathing and coughing exercises. To help keep your lungs clear and prevent infection after surgery, you’ll perform lung exercises every hour (at least 10 times) using an incentive spirometer. The handheld device helps you keep your lungs active during the recovery process and helps you take in more air and oxygen. You’ll take the device home with you and continue these exercises for two weeks.
  • Physical activity. The morning after surgery, you’ll begin to walk with help from your nurse. Each day, you’ll increase the time you spend walking. Walking will strengthen your muscles, help your body regain function, and prevent postsurgical complications such as blood clots or pneumonia.

You'll continue these activities during your recovery at home.

Transfer to the Telemetry/Cardiac Unit

Once your condition is stable, usually one or two days after surgery, you'll move to the telemetry/cardiac unit on the third floor of Mountain View Hospital (El Camino Health) to continue your recovery. You’ll be expected to:

  • Alternate periods of resting in bed, sitting and walking. You shouldn’t sit for more than 45 minutes at a time. After periods of sitting, you should get up and walk.
  • Increase the number of walks — distance and speed aren't important. You’ll be asked to walk at least five times a day.
  • Get out of bed and sit at a table for every meal.
  • Rotate your ankles and point and flex your feet when you’re resting in bed.
  • Eat and drink, even if you don’t feel hungry. Healthy foods nourish your body and help you heal faster.

Cardiac Rehabilitation

You'll begin rehabilitation while you’re still in the hospital. A rehab specialist will help you increase your activity gradually to prepare you to leave the hospital. We strongly encourage all our patients to participate in our Cardiac Rehabilitation Program, an outpatient program that begins four weeks after surgery or as soon as your doctor feels you’re ready.

Find out how we help you prepare for hospital discharge.