A Plan is Forming: The Recovery

spine titanium hardware lumbar fusion

In my last blog post I talked about my condition and what surgery would be like.  This post is the second part and talks about recovery over both the short- and long-term.

Recovery

Apparently I’ll be in a world of hurt after surgery. I can expect a multi-day hospital stay, AND my doctor has stressed more than once that I will be in so much pain for the first three weeks after surgery I’ll want him dead. Ha! That part cracks me up. I will be expected to walk soon after surgery, usually on the first day. It won’t be far, but the doctors want you up and moving. This is the part that I’m looking forward to as my previous surgeries all involved crutches, knee scooters, and not being able to walk for 2-3 months.

I am expected to walk daily up to my pain tolerance to help things heal. I shouldn’t bend, lift, or twist after surgery but somehow the doc also says I’ll be able to tie my own shoes soon after surgery?! I’m skeptical. I bought myself a clearance pedometer / fitbit / etc. as I want to track my progress as my distance I can cover increases. I love data, and watching my number of steps increase week over week will be VERY motivating!

Of course I asked the doctor when i could start riding the indoor bike trainer, and he said likely at the three week point! Yeehah! I don’t know how I will go from “wanting to kill him” at 2.9 weeks, and then at 3 weeks be on the trainer? Hmmm. I then asked when I could ride a ROAD BIKE outdoors again, and he said I’d probably have to wait 4-6 months after surgery for that. Boo. I didn’t even bother to ask when I could handle the bumpiness of gravel or the jarring of mountain biking. Also, I will need to stay very upright during trainer time, so I’m brainstorming ways to modify one of my road bikes without having to re-cable the dang thing to reach upright bars.

I’ll likely be on heavy painkillers for the first 4 weeks, which means no driving. I’m not looking forward to being dependent on others 24/7 and being “homebound” again.  The post-op appointment will likely be at 6 weeks to check on things, and I expect to go back to work full time sometime between 7-8 weeks. For some they are back to work sooner, some much longer. Time will tell.

Long Term Prognosis

As I mentioned above, this approach to a spinal fusion holds 95% or more of the time. I found this statement which makes me feel even better about the procedure —

The L5-S1 segment at the bottom of the spine is not a major motion segment as it is deep in the pelvis, and it is also not really designed to move much. This is an important point because if this level is fused, it does not transfer a lot of stress to the other levels of the spine.

After an L5-S1 fusion, the spine is still biomechanically much the same as it was preoperatively, and most patients will not perceive any difference in their motion after a one-level lumbar fusion.

Synopsis

I’m scared shitless but ready to get this thing done. I don’t have insurance approval yet so there’s no surgery date set. My current “quality” of life is poor enough that I’m looking forward to such an extensive surgery if it means getting my regular life back. I spend most of my days in bed or reclining, I can’t bike, and I can’t build Legos on the floor with the kiddo. Luckily my job can be done from my bed most days, otherwise I’d be on disability leave already.

The other day I was feeling good so I decided to shave my legs in the shower, and when I bent over to the side to shave my calf I felt a sharp twinge in my lower back and down my left leg. Shortly after that leg began it’s pins and needles routine and hurt like heck for the rest of the day. Dammit. I’ve done a better job since then avoiding any bending or twisting, but it’s hard! I’m stubborn and am still doing a lot of things for myself that I should really let my boyfriend do … oh well.

I’ve done a good job in the last week or two dialing in just how much movement I can tolerate on a given day. It’s resulted in me being a lot cheerier day to day as long as I take breaks when I need to. I have hope, and keep reminding myself that I’m lucky my surgical outcome is predicted to be so good. I can return to ultracycling when this hell is over, so let’s get a move on!

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