After Disc Replacement & Spinal Fusion
I had a one level disc replacement and one level fusion a little over 2 weeks ago. I am in my mid 30s and had the surgery to treat my awesome genetic degenerative disc disease. While I could have had a 2 level disc replacement a year earlier (and no fusion) I had to wait for insurance reasons. Here's my experience, which is hopefully helpful.
(1) Before Surgery. I tried physical therapy for a long time. While it helped a little, it never relieved the chronic pain in my back and thigh muscles. A decided against the epidural and steroids because I felt that would mask the pain, but my two discs would continue to degenerate. (2) I did some research and chose an in-network surgeon. When I received the diagnosis of DDD, I was really upset because I worried about what would happen when I had kids some day. Would I be able to pick them up and run around with them? The surgeon assured me that if all went according to plan, I should be back to normal with no limitations. (3) Surgery logistics. The surgeon's assistant initially told me that in her experience, insurance never paid for a disc replacement and a fusion together in one procedure. If I had to pay out of pocket for the disc, it would be around $15,000 for the device. I asked her to try anyway, and luckily my insurance did cover both together. It's important to look at all the costs you'll face - the hospital, spinal surgeon, pulmonologist, vascular surgeon, and anesthesiologist. For me, neither my anesthesiologist or vascular surgeon were in-network and I had no control over that. They estimated it will cost somewhere around $7,000 - part of which will be covered by my out-of-network coverage. It's still a lot of money, but it could be worse. (4) Surgery. I had an anterior approach, so the incission on my stomach (diagonally smack in the middle) is around 3". My pain was managed in the hospital. I walked with a walker the second day, and on my own the third. I stayed 5 days, was on iv the first day, clear liquids the second, and soft foods until I went home. The car ride back was kind of brutal. (5) Recovery. The incission was closed with surgical glue (not stitches) so it's healing pretty well. I still don't love it, but it is what it is. For pain, the first week was unpleasant. I tried not to take too much Norco. The worst for me was the persistent pain in my side - like I'd run a marathon or something. That has subsided. I also have slight numbness and pain on my thigh, lower back ache, and heartburn/indigestion.