A Day in the Life: Caring for Heart Surgery Patients


Nicole Roberts, BSN, RN, loves her role as a coordinator for patient care on Munson Medical Center’s cardiothoracic nursing unit. She and other team members help patients recover from what for many is life-saving major surgery so they can return to the “amazing” lives they lead.

“The moments that make me the proudest are when somebody comes in very sick, they are vented, they have a lot of lines, they have other possible therapies that they need, and then I see the day-by-day progression,” she said. “It is just really nice to see them go from super sick to totally turning around.”

The Cardiothoracic Floor

The cardiothoracic floor features a well-trained nursing staff who work in coordination with the Cardiothoracic Surgeons of Grand Traverse team of providers to ensure patients and their families experience a positive outcome.

Nicole and other critical care nurses on the team are trained to “land a heart” patient coming out of surgery. The unit also includes nursing staff who focus on caring for patients once they are past the critical phase of recovery.

A Typical Day on the Floor

On typical days, two-to-four patients arrive on the unit out of surgery. Each critical care room has life-sustaining equipment such as heart monitoring screens, medication pumps, IV bags, and a ventilator to assist with breathing, as the patient begins recovery in the few hours after surgery.

Nurses and other team members stay focused on monitoring the patient, providing meds, and working through the initial protocols that have been established in conjunction with the cardiothoracic surgical team. The patient is monitored closely for heart rhythm, breathing, and blood pressure. Lab draws will be needed to evaluate the ability of the blood to coagulate, blood sugar, electrolytes, and other measures.

For a typical patient, the care goal is to remove the breathing tube within six hours and help the patient get to the point they can eat ice and talk with their family. By the next morning the goal is to get the patient into a chair and up for a walk later that day. The average patient stay is five to seven days.

The floor’s care team takes part in daily patient rounds that include the cardiothoracic surgical team and other support staff, such as pharmacists and respiratory therapists, to ensure each patient continues on an effective and appropriate care plan.

“We are really good about communicating and making sure that when you walk through the doors you feel comfortable and assured you will have really good care,” Nicole said. “Some people come here unexpectedly and we really try to thoroughly go through everything such as what surgery will be like, roughly how long it will take, what we will do for them after surgery, and when family members can come and see the patient.”

Nicole said former patients often send notes of thanks or stop by the unit to hug staff for the great care they received.

“What motivates me to come to work every day is knowing that I am making a difference in our community and taking really good care of patients,” she said.

Learn more about Munson Healthcare heart services at munsonhealthcare.org/heart.