The recovery process is dependent on many psychological and physical factors. In this paper recovery refers to major, short-term illness often treated by surgery, which is not expected to result in permanent disability or handicap. Research reviewed which attempts to identify influences on recovery also shows how many patients are left with a degree of disability, usually for psychological reasons. It is suggested that the stress and impact of severe illness and surgery may have a long lasting, previously unrecognized effect. Nursing which studies the interaction of physical and psychological aspects of illness and care is seen as the most suitable discipline from which to assess recovery and identify risk factors. A study reported here with patients after coronary artery grafting, provides information on recovery and illustrates how many aspects of a patients' experience may help or hinder this process. Data is obtained from patients' interviews to give a wider, more humanistic evaluation of outcome than is usually employed for this type of surgery.