Columbia Heart Surgery
The most experienced cardiac surgeons. Call (212) 305-2633 for appointments.

Preparing for Heart Surgery: Tips For Family & Friends


Open heart surgery affects not only the patient but family and friends, too. That is why you are an important part of the healing process. Patients, family members and friends have helped us to develop this section so that you are aware that you are not alone.

  • It is beneficial to designate one family member or friend to maintain communication with your surgeon and the healthcare team. This will enhance the flow of information and decrease the chance for miscommunication.
  • Please respect the privacy of other patients and families by observing the visiting hours and rules of the floor.
  • If you are sick, please limit your visits to the floor. Open heart surgery and transplant patients are more susceptible to infection during their recovery.
  • Recognize that in addition to your loved one, you may also feel angry or depressed. Try to talk openly about your feelings. You may want to talk with a friend or other family member first.
  • Encourage loved ones to exercise. If you can, exercise with your loved one to give support and stay healthy too!
  • Join the Heart of Hearts Support Group that meets once a month at Columbia University Medical Center or join one in your area.

Visiting the ICU

We want to make sure your visit here is as smooth as possible. Therefore, we pulled together information of what you may encounter upon your first visit to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU).

It usually takes two to three hours from the time you speak to the surgeon until your first ICU visit. During this time, your loved one is being transferred to the ICU where numerous monitoring systems are set up. The nurse must also complete vital signs and tests so she/he may get an accurate picture of the patient's status.

Before entering the ICU for any visit, please use the phones in the waiting room to let us know you would like to come in. The phones are labeled according to the intensive care unit (MCTICU, HCICU, etc.). We request that you identify ONE person to call the unit for periodic check-ups. This ensures confidentiality (privacy laws prevent us from providing information to people who are not the main contact), improves communication, and prevents the nurse from being taken away from your loved one unnecessarily.

Your First Visit

During this first visit, your family member will still be asleep. The first several hours in the ICU are very busy. Therefore, we request that you limit your visits to only a few minutes. Usually, the following day is more calm and you may stay for longer periods of time. If you have a large family, check with the nurse for suggestions on how to stagger your visits.


A large amount of fluid is pumped into the system during open-heart surgery. Therefore, your family member may seem "bloated" looking. This may take a few hours or even a few days to disappear.


There are many monitors an intravenous drips (IVs) located behind the patient. Often those monitors beep and flash. This is completely normal. Sometimes, you may see your loved one coughing—which then sets off an alarm. Nothing dangerous is occurring. These alarms and numbers shown on the monitors help the nurses and doctors identify your family member's state of awakening.

Touch and Sound

You may touch your loved one and even hold his/her hand. Hands may still be cold from the temperature of the operating room. A warming blanket is used to speed up the warming process. We also encourage you to talk because he or she may be listening!


Your family member is NOT in pain. Plenty of sedation and pain medication was provided during the surgery. In the ICU we continue to provide them with medication.

More Heart Surgery Guides

For more information, call us at (212) 305-2633 or use our appointment request form.