for Mood Swings During Heart Surgery Recovery
Mood swings enter into the recovery picture and they can
be very disconcerting. By undergoing open heart surgery, every cell in
our body receives a call to arms. Head and heart will need time to
realign, because a powerful body shake-up has just occurred.
Here’s a composite snapshot on the blues drawn from
several patients I’ve interviewed: The first four to six weeks you
can expect tears to come for no specific reason. You can expect to wake
up in the morning feeling down, even temporarily hopeless. During any
day after a positive couple of hours you can expect a reversal. But remember
too, the operative word here is temporary. Things will change.
You will go back to feeling your true self again.
In the meantime, what can you do to shift your mood?
I have often found that reviewing what I am grateful for
in my life can dissolve tension and negativity. I turn to that activity
often and can feel so much better after reminding myself of all my blessings – my
partner in life, my children and their partners in life, our grandson,
our entire family’s level of good health, the blessed environment
in which I live. By simply saying thank you, even out loud as I consciously
visualize the abundance in my life, I am restored and renewed.
What else can be done to avert intermittent depression?
If depressive episodes are running you more than you are on top of them, discuss
your symptoms with your health care professional. Here are some other
diversions and coping strategies:
- Take a walk in the fresh air. Force yourself
to get some exercise despite lethargy
- Set your mind to finding a good book that really involves
you; don’t try too hard to cover “important” material.
- Explore meditation. Try sitting in peaceful solitude,
following your breath, even just five minutes a day.
- Go into prayer. Explore the “faith effect.” A
University of Michigan study in the fall 2004 issue of Journal of
Health Psychology reports on the ongoing research to identify a
mechanism that triggers the “faith effect” in patients undergoing
open-heart surgery. U-M researcher of integrative medicine Amy Ai and
her colleagues, “pioneers in the new field of positive psychology,
link optimal expectation with faith.”
- Watch some comedy that tickles your funny bone – Comedy
Central? Saturday Night Live?
- Listen to favorite upbeat music.
- Bake a cake with a friend (rest when you get tired),
- Exchange supportive phone calls with another heart
patient. Swapping experiences is especially valuable to put smaller
questions to rest.
- Sit in the sunshine; take in a view.
- Don’t play The Lone Ranger. Ask for help! Call
on old friends as well as new ones.
- Review your prescription mix with your doctor.
- Discuss taking a sleeping remedy or an antidepressant
for the short term.
a Cardiac Rehabilitation Program — Eureka!
Two months after my surgery, through my cardiologist’s
referral, I was cleared to begin a physician-sponsored cardiac rehabilitation
program. Some patients are healed enough to begin sooner, some later.
The gym facility where I live in Santa Fe, NM, called the Center
for Living Well, is spaciously housed in the basement of our one
hospital. In the last thirty years, thousands of cardiac rehabilitation
programs have sprung up far and wide in the U.S. alone, all featuring
similar characteristics. Here are some of my program highlights.
Beginning a cardiac rehabilitation program is truly
an exciting moment. I was finally up to moving my body for real.
I knew I had made tangible progress or I wouldn’t be there.
I was assigned an exercise physiologist, or case manager. After
a general orientation (completing a detailed questionnaire, learning
to take my pulse, oxygen usage and rhythm monitoring guidelines)
I was given a personal exercise worksheet. Preferably three times
a week for one hour, I was to track my gentle progress forward in
a customized program -- using the treadmill, bike, stairs, UBE machine
(aerobic ergometer), and so on. Adding weight training to the regimen
was to come later, at the discretion of my case manager. In addition,
numerous classes (stretching, therabands, free weights) and support
groups (smoking cessation, stress management, osteoporosis and diet
education) were all available in the package. Once a month there
was an “Ask the Cardiologist” Q&A hosted by one
of the New Mexico Heart Institute cardiologists. Most of all, the
staff were caring, devoted, highly attentive, good-humored professionals.
There was a palpable air of camaraderie and developing friendships
that evolved into a memorable support group experience for me.
I was accepted into the program provided I agreed
to wear a wireless heart monitor during exercise. What a good thing!
My heart was still ricocheting in and out of irregular rhythm (atrial
fibrillation). There was always someone at a computer screen monitoring
my rhythm. If, as is more likely with exertion, my a-fib returned,
even if I didn’t notice, a nurse or exercise physiologist
would check in with me. How was I feeling? Did I feel lightheaded?
Did I need to slow down? Maybe end my session for the day? Your
pulse is x, let’s check your blood pressure.… Since
a patient’s inclination may be to push through (my common
approach in the past), the permission to simply stop, give yourself
a break, can be welcome. I felt completely taken care of. With so
many dedicated professionals around me, and the new friends I was
making, I could never run too far into trouble. Although physically
challenging at times, the cardiac rehab environment made for a positive,
In the book, Heart Attack: Advice for Patients
by Patients (Yale University Press, 2002), most of the eleven
contributors go out of their way to rave about their cardiac rehab
program experience. “The highlight of my day…”, “I
credit the program with getting my life back on track…”, “I’ve
been a member now for ten years and I know it is keeping me healthy…”, “My
wife is now in the program with me. We’ve made some great
friends….” The social and emotional support received
can be priceless. Rather than returning to one’s previous
gym or yoga class, many heart patients take advantage of ongoing
membership in their cardio-directed program.