Lumbar fusion scheduled

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Regular Member

Date Joined Jun 2007
Total Posts : 138
   Posted 12/19/2007 7:37 PM (GMT -6)   
Hi Everyone!  Hope you are all in realtive states of comfort, somehow.... So often I think of all the posts here & the problems we all endure every day, with such strength & dignity. 
Question:  Anyone recently had a lumbar fusion (@ L4/L5) and can help me prepare for mine?  I have tried everything (shots, steroids, pills, PT, massage etc etc etc ) but the spondy is worse, the discs are herniated & my right leg is almost useless, yet burns my neurosugeon has scheduled a 1-level L4/L5 fusion for Jan. 11th.
No horror stories, please, only practical advice on how to prepare, what to expect, etc.  I'm going into this with a positive attitude & with 2 lammies behind me, just want to know if you (whomever responds) are happier now than before, and what you may have done to ensure that result.
Thank you!  As always, I am in awe of this site's collective wisdom!  Please share, if you are so inclined!
2 lumbar surgeries for L4-L5-S1 cystic tumor & post-surgical CSF leak complications. (Fall of '06). Central canal stenosis, severe degnerative arthrosis, grade 1 (21% shift) spondylolisthesis @ L5-S1 area, sensory & nerve function loss & radiculopathy in r leg/foot, on-going facet pain, sacral/illiac pain, lots of epidural fibrosis @ L5/S1.

Regular Member

Date Joined Dec 2007
Total Posts : 450
   Posted 12/19/2007 8:49 PM (GMT -6)   
I know that being in the best possible shape you can be helps the most. Other than that, I don't know what you can do to prepare. I do know that AFTER the surgery and I was home, walking as much as possible helped some with the muscle aches. Of course, my surgery wasn't a "simple" fusion, I ended up with lots of hardware in me. The first few days I could only walk the driveway and back with my walker, each day I would try to make it a little further.

Hopefully someone else will come along with more info for you.
Mochiah/a.k.a. Sue
cervical fusion 2006, with great result
L4-5 surgery with cages, plates, and screws in 2005, I have continued pain 

Regular Member

Date Joined Jul 2006
Total Posts : 495
   Posted 12/19/2007 8:55 PM (GMT -6)   

I've had my L4-L5-S1 fused. It was done in 2003.

As far as preparing for the surgery my tips are:
-Make sure that you have someone to stay with you for at least 2 weeks. You will not be allowed to drive, and normally at about 1 week you have to go in to have the staples removed.
-Make sure that you have a good comfy recliner - preferably one that rocks - it's quite hard to get up and down post surgery. Also for me it was my "spot" for about two months. People knew if I was in the room - that seat was mine to sit in.
-Make sure that nothing you will need to reach is below your waist. Bending is going to hurt, a great deal. Get a stack of books and put them beside your recliner or your bed, make sure that your not going to need to bend to grab shorts out of a bottom drawer or anything like that.
-Get a shower seat. The first week or two out of the hospital, at least for me (once approved by your surgeon) felt amazing. But was exhausting. I mean you could have just woke up, taken your shower, and your ready for bed again. Also if you can get one of the back scrubbers with the long handle - it makes getting your feet and legs soo much easier.
-Make sure that you don't have anything planned for the first few weeks - as exhaustion hits when it wants to. Also you HAVE to take it easy on the back. For those of us who are used to just pushing through and dealing with the pain to get things done, it's very hard to rest and relax. I was told by my surgeon that I was WAY overdoing it.
-Get plenty of pillows. It's hard at first (or was for me) to find a position that didn't hurt, or wasn't uncomfortable, the pillows really help.
-Remember after surgery that if it's on the floor - it stays on the floor. If you drop the only pen in existence it's not worth picking up, just believe me on this.
-If you have pets - the need to be somewhere else (outside, locked in a room) when you get home. A pet jumping on you is just not worth the trouble.
-Same things with kids - kids need to know they can't jump on your lap, run up to you to hug you, things like that, every jolt is going to hurt.
-Make sure that you have "quick foods", soups, hot-pockets, things like that, for if you get hungry and happen to be alone at the time. And make sure they are easily reachable.

To give you a brief summary of my surgery -
I went in that morning - with my husband (who got leave from Iraq just for it) - I was really nervous - and eventually told them so - they gave me a relaxant that helped lower my raising blood pressure, and keep me calm. I don't remember anything after that until I woke up in recovery. I remember a whole bunch of nurses all doing this or that to me in recovery. I also was told by a nurse that I was demanding someone went and told my husband I said I was okay - they wouldn't go - and at one point I said fine you wont do it I will, and started trying to pull things off of me - finally someone left the room - it appeased me enough that they said they were going to go tell him - he said they never did - and by law they can't - well - they don't like you trying to get up in recovery - it's a no no.

I was awake and not on and off in recovery - the same for the first hour I was in my room. Then they had a physical therapist come in to show me how to sit up, she said she'd be back in a few hours to help me get up and walking. Well, I wanted to be up and walking then - so she helped me. I got to the door and was ready to go back. For me the worse pain (other than bending) was from where they took the bone graft from. It still hurts now when the weather is getting bad. Anyways... They want you up and walking - it helps prevent blood clots - and improves circulation. They'll also give you a breathing thing - to use so they can make sure that your lungs are okay after being put under. Basically it was walk walk sleep. I had a nurse come in about every four hours to check my bandages - the surgeon came in daily to look and make sure things were okay. I was in for five days - the last 2 of which were because they couldn't keep my temperature below 101.

The ride home was HORRIBLE. I'm not going to sugar coat it. We lived an hour from the hospital, and it was painful. We got me home - and I went right to sleep. Then it was get me out of bed ( a little harder without rails to help you). We gave me a sponge bath because I couldn't get my back wet yet. On the day they took out my staples, things looked great. The staples came out and I really didn't feel it all. I was home after yet another painful ride. about 4 that night, we started noticing increased drainage from the site. By 10 it was a steady drip. At 12 midnight it was a small stream whenever I sat up. We called the surgeons answering service who had him call me (he called back in 8 minutes) and he said he'd meet me at the hospital ER. I got to the ER and was admitted right away my temp was 102. I'd developed an infection of some sort that was causing tons of fluid so I was back in for four more days. I was then on antibiotics for 2 weeks just to prevent another infection.

Would I do it again? In a heart beat. I will admit that my pain is back, my last pain doctor after tons of shots, told me that he believed it was scar tissue build up. BUT I got two years of immense relief that I wouldn't trade for anything. I've been told the chances of the pain coming back like it has are about 10%. I'm okay that it's back. I know I tried.

Things you might want to do if you haven't are to check up on your surgeon, make sure he doesn't have any major complaints, or anything going on with the medical board. Also - ask your surgeon point blank, how quickly he will respond if you feel you have an emergency. If you have an emergency, how long will it take him to meet you at the hospital?

I wish the best of luck! And take care!
"When we come to the edge of the light we know, and are about to step off into the darkness of the unknown, of one thing we can be sure; either God will provide something solid to stand on... or we will be taught to fly.'"

"Cause when push comes to shove You taste what you're made of, You might bend, till you break Cause its all you can take; On your knees you look up Decide you've had enough, You get mad you get strong Wipe your hands shake it off, Then you Stand" From "Stand" by Rascal Flatts
Dx.: Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, Ulcerlative Colitis, Chronic Inflammation of the Colon, Ruptured & Fused L4-L5-S1 w/pinched nerves, Degenerative Disc Disease, Chronic Costochondritis, Back Muscle Spasms, Asthma, Benign Tremmors (hands)

Regular Member

Date Joined Dec 2007
Total Posts : 43
   Posted 1/1/2008 11:53 AM (GMT -6)   
I, too may have to schedule the same. I am scared to death!!! Please keep us updated once you get well enough. Good luck to you.

Forum Moderator

Date Joined Feb 2003
Total Posts : 16773
   Posted 1/7/2008 12:10 AM (GMT -6)   
I cannot add anything further than what TDoren did. She has been there and done that and what she said about walking is the absolute truth. Follow your surgeons directions to the letter. He can only do so much, the rest of it is on you once you get home. A surgeon I know very well does not allow his patients to ride home in a car sitting up, he does not allow his patients to sit up the 1st six weeks afusion. You can sit of course to go to the b/r and to eat and thats it. His patients either went home in an ambulance laying down or they laid down in a van or car if possible. They even had to go in an ambulance for the 1st post op visit. He says sitting puts too much pressure on a new fusion and you want it to stay in place and have time to become solid.
No riding in a vehicle the 1st 6 weeks only to a dr appt and thats it. Think about what could possibly happen if you were in an accident.
You can also buy one of those little gizzmos that will pick stuff up off the floor. My friend had to use one when he had his hip replaced, said it came in real handy. As T says-absolutely no bending.
Good luck Lakeside and Mamma, I know you both will do just fine. Susie

Regular Member

Date Joined Jan 2008
Total Posts : 20
   Posted 1/9/2008 12:17 PM (GMT -6)   
Dear Lakeside, I agree with the other advice as far as preparing for the fusion....being in the best shape you can be is quite the "Catch 22" isn't it? I'm sure you aren't able to engage in any strenuous exercise but I found walking to be the best for me before and after both cervicle and lumbar fusions with very involved instrumentations and complications. Of course those walks were on my "good back days". As long as I didn't over do it I found walking to be the most comfortable position pre and post surgery. It was much more pleasant than sitting, standing or laying down. Knowing that it was helping prepare me for the surgeries and then the healing process just aided my fortitude and allowed me to stick with it. Forgive me if I'm being repetitived because i haven't read all the other posts but one thing I learned that was somewhat counter intuitive for me was icing the source of my lumbar pain. I was ignorant to the possitive effects and always applied heat...kinda the remedy for cold damp conditions seemingly causing some of my worst episodes throughout my life. Once my spine problems were discovered after 45 years of misdiagnosis, (hard to write without some whining) I learned a lot about the science and "mechanics" of my condition. Regardless of the cause of the pain...nerve root impengement, spinal chord problems, Stenosis, Anky...etc the body's reaction to extreem pain usually results in spasms and more pain. I found ice to be very helpful with the inflamation, swelling and spasms...more so than 45 years of mega doses of motrin, flexeril and all the other muscle relaxers combined.....most of which are no longer considered healthy treatments. Going into surgery without any spasms or tightness is a real plus. I's suggest ice even if the pain didn't merit it. My neurosurgeon explained to me that a relaxed back is much easier to work on and the recovery time is much less painful and lengthy. My thoughts and prayers will be with you...I hope your procedure brings you fantastic results!

Regular Member

Date Joined Jan 2008
Total Posts : 20
   Posted 1/9/2008 12:27 PM (GMT -6)   
I had a chance to read the other's posts and it sparked so many thoughts and memories.....Funny how we can surpress the tough stuff. I realize you are seeking pre surgery advice but here's something worth mentioning for after the procedure.....avoid reaching forward, especially with both hands/arms extended. An example would be standing at the kitchen sink and reaching straight out to grasp a plate with one hand and start to wash it with the other. Having both arms extended straight out, waist high to chest high range brought me pain very similar to that of the diskectomy (sp?)...the procedure where they poke the areas with a sharp needle-like object to try to map the exact location of the most sever pain regarding nerve root and chord...OMG. I levitated when they accidentally hit the spinal chord and stabbed it versus probed it....whew! That's how it felt when i stuck my arms out....we don't realize how many times we perform such a motion until our backs are a mess.

Veteran Member

Date Joined Nov 2007
Total Posts : 6795
   Posted 1/9/2008 1:04 PM (GMT -6)   
You must be in your final preparation stages. Most of the advice I see in earlier posts is pretty accurate, although I just had a lumber fusion on 9/11/07 - L4/5 & L5/S1, and the recovery is very slow but manageable. I think a lot depends on what type of procedure your surgeon is doing. I had a minimally invasive procedure and still was under many restrictions about bending, sitting, lifting, etc. but I've found overall I've not lost much mobility or flexibility. Unfortunately, the procedure has not yet helped my radiculopathy and neuropathic symptoms in my feet, and I'm told that nerve healing could take a hear or more - and it's possible the nerves won't heal. I wish someone had told me that up front. I am still working with an excellent physical therapist, though, and the muscles around the incisions are finally beginning to relax. I got on the treadmill for the first time for 5 minutes on Monday and was thrilled!

I bought one of those reach tools to have at my home, as I live alone, and it was a godsend. I also got a highhat seat for the toilet and a shower chair - both of which I'm still using. Insurance paid for them once I was in the hospital, but I paid for the reach tool so it was there when I came home, and I didn't have to send more people out to run errands. It is shocking, but I had to fight the physical therapists in the hospital to let me have a cane to take home!! I maybe should have had a walker, because as I said I live alone. And after nearly a week in the hospital I returned home and stayed alone. I had family I could call, and people shopping for me, etc. I couldn't drive for 4 weeks and am just slowly returning to work (although I lost my part time job in the process, which is in another post). I still need help with things like taking out the garbage and snow shoveling, and fortunately found a neighborhood teenager to give me a hand, but I have to pay her. I've managed being alone because I had to, but it's hard and if you've got someone that can stay with you for a few days or a couple of weeks that's great. I had a lot of microwave meals in my freezer, which I still am using way too often, and wish family would have brought me homemade meals more often, but I had already asked so much of them I couldn't bring myself to ask for more. Things like cleaning the house have gone for months without being done, but over time I've learned to accept that those things may never be done as I used to do them.

I wish you all the best. Please let us know when you're back as soon as you're able to write!
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