• coronary artery bypass graft;
  • postdischarge care;
  • naturalistic inquiry;
  • discharge planning;
  • nursing

Background.  Coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) surgery is a lifesaving intervention, but the early recovery period presents a number of challenges for patients, carers and nurses. Early and adequate discharge planning based on in-depth knowledge of the postdischarge experience can help to ensure optimal recovery.

Aim.  This paper reports a study to examine the range of postdischarge issues, concerns and needs of patients and their family carers after discharge after CABG surgery, and explore their perceptions of unmet needs 1 year later.

Methods.  A two-phase naturalistic inquiry was undertaken. Interviews were conducted with 30 patients and their carers 4–5 weeks after coronary artery bypass grafting (phase 1) and 1 year after the initial interview (phase 2). Thematic analysis was used to identify the major concerns of participants.

Findings.  Almost half the patients experienced heart surgery as a huge personal shock. Adjusting to life afterwards was difficult, and they experienced a variety of changes, including pain. An unexpected finding was a heightened sense of body awareness and the need for postoperative physical adjustments. The financial implications of surgery were a major burden. Lifestyle adjustments were important and led to suggestions for support services, using telephone support and/or community patient networks. All participants recommended strengthening discharge planning with more accurate information about what to expect during recovery, to help them anticipate fluctuations in health and wellbeing. Carers experienced a wide range of unanticipated feelings during early recovery and had to deal with a number of personal changes.

Conclusions.  The findings suggest a need to improve discharge preparation and provide enhanced home support services. Further research should evaluate models of periodic follow-up and mechanisms for mutual support, and compare the experiences of cardiac patients and their carers with those of other surgical cohorts.