Prolonged waiting for major elective surgery has been a problem in several Western countries for many years. In Iceland coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) surgery was installed in 1986 and this descriptive study was conducted to describe systematically the experience of Icelandic people waiting for CABG surgery with the purpose of gaining information about what nursing services these people need during the waiting period. The survey used a mailed questionnaire developed by the authors. The target population consisted of people awaiting coronary artery bypass graft surgery at the National University Hospital in Iceland, at two predetermined days with a 10-month interval. The return rate was 81·8% (n=72). Mean time on the waiting list was 5 to 6 months. The waiting for surgery had negative effects on the work and daily life of the majority of the subjects and they were dissatisfied with their health status. Prominent symptoms were fatigue, shortness of breath, chest pain, anxiety and depression. Most patients (86·6%) experienced stress with 28·4% of them reporting a serious level of stress. The majority reported considerable negative influences of their illness on their spouse and family, particularly on their emotional condition. The conclusion drawn is that shortening the waiting period for CABG surgery should be a primary objective; however, that may be unlikely with the present Icelandic health care system. Therefore, helping the individuals and their families live with the lengthy wait is a necessity.