R.J. Cooper is not supposed to lift his arms above his shoulders, nor lift objects weighing more than five pounds, for the next six weeks. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)

The food at Johns Hopkins has been bad enough — “There seriously needs to be some culinary injections into medical institution food service,” Cooper says — but the worst part has been trying to relax in bed with little to stimulate his mind.

“It’s hard for me to just sit here,” Cooper, 43, said from his private room after open-heart surgery on Wednesday. “I’m bouncing off the walls.”

Cooper has had allies who've helped to improve life in that culinary-free zone known as the hospital. Fellow chef and friend Robert Wiedmaier brought him some lasagna, and Cooper’s mom brought him a batch of chicken and dumplings. When Cooper hasn’t been wolfing down those dishes, he has been sustaining himself on Cocoa Puffs.

Do the docs mind this rather unconventional recovery diet? “They just want me to eat,” the chef says.

The surgery itself, to correct a defect known as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, did not come without complications. Cooper had an irregular heartbeat after the procedure when the doctor restarted his heart. “When they restarted it, it had an extra beat,” Cooper says. “They shocked it,” and everything apparently returned to normal. The chef says he’s “way ahead of the game” in his recovery, which is why he’s returning home just a week after surgery.

Cooper has limited visitors mostly to family members while at Johns Hopkins, but he expects that to change once he gets back to familiar surroundings. It sounds like he’ll need the outside stimulus. “I have to be at home for four weeks so the sternum can fuse together,” Cooper says. “I can’t wait to get home.”