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How long ddid your surgery actually take & what was your recovery like?

Started by Bunnysnax on 07/09/2011 4:41pm

Hello peoples! :)

I'm so glad this forum exists! I have learned a lot so far and I really appreciate everyone's input, be it good or bad! I wanted to pick your brains because I'll likely be having surgery soon!

So, here's my situation, latest MRI:

* Spondylolisthesis (Grade 2-3)
* Spondylolysis (Pars /defect fractures - bilateral)
* Ruptured L5 disc
* Severe compression of both L5 Nerve roots (+ assoc. leg pain)
* Plus, DDD to top it off.

I've done all the conservative stuff possible.

I've been dealing with this for years and I've recently had the worst flare up I've ever had. So, now, my neurosurgeon says that ultimately, the corrective surgery has to be done ( Posterior, 2 level fusion - L4-S1), however he says I'm the one that has to make the final decision as to when I'm ready to do it.

I've pretty much reached that point where I'm thinking of getting it done in January (I finish my Master's degree in December), since it has to be done and just get it over with.

So this is why I'm hoping to hear more about what you guys have individually experienced and in a similar or same spinal surgery.

Like, I want to hear about your experience... I have questions like, how long your actual surgery took in the OR, how long you were in the hospital, when you were able to take a shower, did you have a catheter, did they manage your pain okay, when they let you get up and try to walk, what was your experience in the hospital that first week, how the first few months were, if you had any complications, etc.

I really hope you'll share what you've experienced in your process. It will really help me, so I'll have a more accurate idea of what I might expect..

Thank you in advance! :)

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18 Responses

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Hi bunnysnax,
I had a L5-S1 fusion on March 25th of this year,and i am doing very well.I suffered for 2 years after a traumatic fall at work,tried all conservative measures first.My surgery lasted 5 and a half hours.They went through the front and then the back,and also took bone from my hip to fuse.I was in the hospital 5 days,first 3 days were the worst,but the morphine pump helped a lot.I did have a catheter for a few days,they got me out of bed and walking on the second day with physical therapy,it was hard.You have to stay strong,determined and focused.I started walking a little bit each day when i got home.After about week 4 almost felt like someone turned off the pain switch.I do have some bad days if i overdo it but honestly i am getting better and better each day.I am very happy i did the surgery.Wish you the best,hope this helped.
Nurse Nancy

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Thank you Nancy!
I really appreciate it.
I was worried about the hospital portion of things...I've never stayed overnight at a hospital, much less almost a week!

Did they put you in a big, bulky brace type thing afterwards? And how long did you have to wear it?

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Oh, Nancy - I forgot to ask.
How long was the actual procedure for you?
And what's your scarring like?

Thanks! :)

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Did you have your surgery? Since I had my surgery I have had nothing but problems.

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New to this forum, but thought I would share my experience as it has ended up positively:

My situation sounds sort of similar to the OP's. It started a decade ago with a mysterious ruptured (not just bulging) L4-5 disc. Because I was "young", my doctors all assumed "muscle problem", didn't bother imaging anything (and I was too young to know to push for that), and put me in a PT program that made it worse. 9 months later, I got an MRI and was diagnosed with DDD, told I'd always be in this much pain and sent home. I enrolled in graduate school and essentially learned to live with the pain (of the back and school ;)). Through the years, I tried all the conservative treatments including, though probably not limited to PT, personal trainers who specialize in geriatric conditions, changing my diet, massage, "pain management" (which, I learned, is just a nice way of saying, "we're going to pump you full of so many narcotic level drugs, you won't remember your name), seeing a therapist specializing in chronic pain and steroid injections. The latter worked the best, but only served to mask pain. By the time I graduated with my doctorate degree, two more discs had burst. At the discogram, the doctors couldn't even push fluid into 2 of the affected areas. So, in April of 2010, I had surgery consisting of disc replacement at 2 levels (L4-5 and L3-4) and fusion at a third (L5-S1).

The procedure itself was estimated at 3 hours but took 5. I was in the hospital for 4 days, 5 nights; I remember *very* little of it. Like another respondent, they had me up and walking within a few days (that is on purpose because it does you no good to only lay there). The recovery after that was long for me, mostly because of the fusion. The disc replacement, alone, would have only been a 6-week recovery. But because bone had to grow to bone at the site of the fusion, I was in a massive brace for 4 months. On the plus side, people weren't as likely to run into me and gave me a wide berth when they saw the brace - refreshing! At the end of 4 months, I was allowed to start physical therapy, which mostly consisted of helping my core muscles rehabilitate - and also working on scar tissue. My scar is about 6" long and runs vertically starting just below my belly button. It had to be slightly larger than what they say is typical because they were operating at 3 places in my spine. At 1.5 years, you can still certainly see the scar, but the redness has disappeared. To me, it's a small price to pay for freedom of mobility.

I'm not bungee jumping, and I stay away from activities that might result in hard spinal impact (i.e. falling on ice while ice skating), but the overwhelming theme in the recovery journal I kept has been "I have my life back." The change has been amazing. Am I still sometimes sore in my back? Sure. But it's more muscle pain, and I know that's from continuing strengthening. Not having to avoid situations with only stairs and no elevator, the ability to sit through a movie at the theater, and not needing to warn the children in my life to "hug very gently" are all testaments to why I call this a success.

I hope this was helpful, and I certainly wish you good fortune in whatever route you choose for your medical future.

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Hi ReadytoJump and Laura!

No, Ready, I haven't had the surgery yet. I'm doing my best to put it off until January 2012 so I can finish my Masters degree as I only have this fall semester left. I'm sorry you haven't had a good result from your surgery - can you tell me about it? What you had done, etc?

Hi Laura - wow - that's such a great post. So much of the information I was hoping for! Wow, so they did an anterior approach on you. My doc is suggesting a posterior incision.
Yeah, I know what you mean, about not exactly bungee jumping. But, hell, I can't do alot of stuff now that I used to, alot of it because of fear that I'll hurt myself. I figure, if nothing else, the security of knowing that my vetebrae won't slip anymore in itself, is a good thing.

I've heard over and over that the recovery is a long road, best measured in weeks/months rather than days - as is with other surgeries.

I'm grateful that you took the time to share your experience. There are alot of outcomes that have let people down - which is certainly something that is valid and that I have to be prepared for - so it's always a bit more reassuring to hear of the good outcomes.

Thanks for sharing!

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Hi bunnysnax,
Sorry it took a bit to respond,enjoyed some time at the river this week.Actual procedure lasted 5 and 1/2 hours.I have a very small scar in my lower abdomen on the right side,and about a six inch scar on back.Still healing though,so i would say it is a bit pinkish in color.Not bad at all,so glad i did the surgery.Best wishes,
Nancy

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Hi bunnysnax,
Sorry it took a bit to respond,enjoyed some time at the river this week.Actual procedure lasted 5 and 1/2 hours.I have a very small scar in my lower abdomen on the right side,and about a six inch scar on back.Still healing though,so i would say it is a bit pinkish in color.Not bad at all,so glad i did the surgery.Best wishes,
Nancy

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Oh,and i forgot to add,no brace.

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Hi Bunny, can I call you Bunny? :)

Anterior, yes. It was uncertain as I went into the surgery. They thought they might have to flip me over, mid-surgery, and go in from behind to do the lowest fusion. Apparently, once they got in there, they found they had enough room to only leave one side of me cut open. So, then what you're thinking is that my recovery was probably different - yes. I couldn't tell you what it's like for the posterior incision... but it sounds like some other folks on here are :)

Your long-term recovery attitude will be a good one if you decide to do the surgery. And I imagine many folks share it - I don't need to be an Olympic athlete, just function on a daily basis. To me, it's the little things: being able to cross a street in the time allotted by the crosswalk function; getting up from a chair without having to think about how/where to brace myself; even to this weekend when I just did 2 small, 3-mile hikes and, save some sore muscles, had no ill-effect.

Journaling also really helped me with my recovery. It wasn't anything I did publicly (though I know blogging and livejournal type stuff are popular these days), rather just for me. In addition to writing, I also kept an Excel file of my daily activities. In the beginning, this could be as basic as "made dinner" or "did laundry", and as time passed, turned into a log of my bigger exercises like walking and PT. It helped me because if I was having a bad day or feeling unmotivated, I could actually go back and SEE my progress.

I think that was all I was going to say, but the response posts keep disappearing when I hit "reply to post" - oh well :)

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Hello Bunny,
My name is Angie and we seem to have a bit in common, I had all the same issues with my back as you do, with the exception of DDD. I am 39 years old and had a posterior spinal fusion from L4-S1 in January of this year. My issues started about 2 years ago. To make a long story short, after about a year and a half, I could not walk or stand without excruciating pain. When we figured out what the actual problem was and decided surgery was the only option to "fix me" I was terrified, I read so many negative stories. However; mine is positive. My surgery was supposed to last 5 hours but ended up being 7 hours. The first thing I remember when I woke up was asking for help, they had me laying on my back and it hurt. I also remember thinking I wasn't in horrible pain. Many of the stories I had read said the person woke up in the most horrible pain one could imagine. It was nice to know this was not true. I had a catheter for 5 days, my stay in the hospital was also 5 days. The day after my surgery I was visited by physical therapy and occupational therapy, I was taught the best way to sit and stand. I must admit doing either was very painful. It did get easier with time though. I was not allowed to eat or drink until my intestines "woke up" which didn't happen until day 4 and then I only got a liquid diet. The worst part, for me, was rolling over. I could not lay on my back ( it just wasn't comfortable) so I alternated laying on my sides, but had to roll over at least every hour and a half. It was so painful for the first few days, but then it was better. I think all in all my pain was handled very well. Another thing that I wish someone had warned me about is about menstrual cycle. I do not know if you still have yours, but I do and I specifically scheduled my surgery 2 weeks after it. I did not want to deal with that on top of everything else. Well guess what day 2 or 3 after my surgery I started again. I was like no, I just finished my period. Well according to the nurses whenever one has a big surgery for some odd reason it starts your period again. I don't know if this will happen for you, they said it typically does.
My scar is about 6 inches long, at first I thought it looked like I had a really long butt because the incision stopped at the top of my bottom. It's looking better as time goes by though, and no shower for 2 weeks after surgery.
I am happy to say I have had no bad side effects, I have an ache or pain or two but I take no pain pills or other medicine and haven't since 3 weeks after surgery. I returned to work a month after my surgery and can walk/stand with no pain. I'm not running marathons but I CAN walk. My 6 month check up is next week and I'm hoping the few limitations I have( no lifting more than 20 pounds, no bending forward, no twisting) will be lifted.
Please feel free to ask any questions if I left something out, I hope I didn't give you too much information.

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Now take this in mind - I do nothing normal. I am 34 yrs old, female, and a cop (duh!):

I had a L4/L5/S1 fusion in Sept 2010 after other solutions failed (over 5 spine injections over 16 months and physial therapy). I had a grade 2-3 spondy, with an anular tear punctured completely through to the middle layer. I now have 6 screws, 2 rods, and 2 spacers. I was in surgery for approximately 6 hours, in the hospital for 3 days (which is the norm.) You do get a catheter that they want to take out right after surgery. Let me tell you going to the bathroom the first time sucks! Aside from that you are up right away, expected to roll to your side, push yourself up with your arm/elbow, and walker away! You will be shuffling. (Get some tennis balls for your walker in advance!) Day 1 or 2 got so bad where I finally begged them to contact my doctor for a morphine pump, which he approved. If pain medicine makes you puke be careful with it. It was the only reason I slept. Although waking up in pain the next morning had me puking and I had to have a full round of phrenigan, then zofran when that didn't work. I walked every day but Day 1 because I was difficult, according to the nurses, but Day 2 & 3 I was made to walk so I wouldn't get clots.

Be prepared as you will not be allowed to bed over (i.e. like touching your toes) for quite a while. You'll also heal faster if you don't. I cleared a path in my house prior to so nothing would be in my way. A month out I was able to try to get around better, though I didn't push it, and I was off all pain medicine. The less pain medicine you take 3 months prior to surgery, the less pain you will feel post op. Also, every surgeon will release you do to do more at different fusion rates (healing). Pleae don't push your luck and clear things with him.

Honestly, as far as personal hygene went, I was inside in the a/c. I had plenty of movies saved up to watch, and basically spongebathed quite a bit until I was steadier on my feet. Get this straight right now - periods still suck! Another good investment is a chair for the tub. You will almost fall getting in and out, and stepping over items is not a good idea. Four months out I was primarily using my cane to walk around the house. I still use the cane even now when I am really tired or I notice my balance is off.

Now the pain I am in is considerably less. I am still in pain. No matter what a doctor says, nerves are different in everyone. At month 5 I finally begged my doctor enough to go back to work part time and start physical therapy. I now wish I would have had the extra month. It has been a slow haul of resistance training and now finally being able to do almost all the ab work. The better shape you are going in, the better off you are. I just recently had a spine epidural to reduce pain, but my job requires that you don't use painkillers.

Unfortunately, I am almost coming up on a year out, and my spine has not formed right above the S1. They gave me a bone growth stimulator, from orthofix, and no matter how short of a time I wear it, by the time I reach hour 4 of use I go into a major migraine, but I am migraine prone anyways. I will probably be looking at a new surgery here shortly with some dead people bone (donor bone).

Like I said, I am in less pain, but still in pain. Mine was definately a worst case, had to have it, scenario. I do not regret my decision, although my career outlook is sketchy at best. Personal Opinion: Make sure the person driving you home does not have an older, bumpy car to ride in! Good Luck!

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Few things I forgot: My surgery was on my low back and the scar is about 3-4 inches and is barely visible. I did and do have a brace. It goes from just under your breasts depending on how tall you are to just under your belly area. I wear it if the day sare really bad, but remember, I am not totally fused.

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Wow, guys. Thank you for sharing your personal experiences!
It really helps someone whose about to be facing the same things. LOL @ the periods! Yep, I still get 'em and was thinking that will be a pain in the arse to have to deal with on top of a surgery! ACK!
I was curious about personal hygeine, too. Like, how to get to tushy and stuff when you can't twist at all! Someone here suggested a bottom buddy thingee that you can use to reach! LOL! Sheesh, all these little things we take for granted, huh?

Another suggested having a pack of wipes handy because you can't shower for a while. And Yeah, I totally plan to get a shower seat. I bet that first shower felt like heaven!

I really appreciate sharing all your info. I'm one of those folks who want to know everything, rather than hide my head in the sand and just go in without being informed.

I see the NS again on Aug 2nd, and I guess we'll be discussing all these things and finding out if I can wait till January or not. As my Spondy is unstable right now, I'm not sure if he will let me wait. I've only got one semester left in my Master's and will be done in December!
(*Shakes fist at the heavens*) LOL!

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Hi Bunnysnax
It is still early days for me but I wanted to share my surgery experience. My surgery was on Monday 11 July and took 4 hours or so. I had a cyst growing on to my spine which the surgeon discovered must have been there for years. In addition my L4 L5 were fused together with screws and plates because they had been distorted into convex angle by the syst and the bones were osteoartritic.
The full gravity of all the details was lost on me because I was so busy at work and ,apart from this site, did not have time to do much research. With the huge demands of so many deadlines to achieve before I went into surgery I was ignorantly almost looking forward to being stretched out in hospital recovering for a few days.( My surgeon had told me it should require 3 to 4 days in hospital.)
Reality dictated a 7 night hospital stay - every moment of which was essential in the post surgery process. Hindsight may alter my perception but so far I would say this period was my Mount Everest: The simultaneous impact of the intensely invasive physical experience, as well as the terrifyingly uncontrollable effect of the plethora of analgesic cocktails reacting with my antidepressant Effexor, is something I am currently still coping with 11 days after surgery - and I can easily see know why an 8 week recovery time is suggested.
I am still battling with every moment, despite a wonderfully supportive group of family and friends; my husband took leave and has been supporting me every step, my friends provide us with homemade meals and meaningful visits. It is all this love and support as well as the excellent nursing care that determines your experience.
Thank you for giving mean opportunity to share.
We all learn so much from each other.
Lot ion

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Hi Bunnysnax
It is still early days for me but I wanted to share my surgery experience. My surgery was on Monday 11 July and took 4 hours or so. I had a cyst growing on to my spine which the surgeon discovered must have been there for years. In addition my L4 L5 were fused together with screws and plates because they had been distorted into convex angle by the syst and the bones were osteoartritic.
The full gravity of all the details was lost on me because I was so busy at work and ,apart from this site, did not have time to do much research. With the huge demands of so many deadlines to achieve before I went into surgery I was ignorantly almost looking forward to being stretched out in hospital recovering for a few days.( My surgeon had told me it should require 3 to 4 days in hospital.)
Reality dictated a 7 night hospital stay - every moment of which was essential in the post surgery process. Hindsight may alter my perception but so far I would say this period was my Mount Everest: The simultaneous impact of the intensely invasive physical experience, as well as the terrifyingly uncontrollable effect of the plethora of analgesic cocktails reacting with my antidepressant Effexor, is something I am currently still coping with 11 days after surgery - and I can easily see know why an 8 week recovery time is suggested.
I am still battling with every moment, despite a wonderfully supportive group of family and friends; my husband took leave and has been supporting me every step, my friends provide us with homemade meals and meaningful visits. It is all this love and support as well as the excellent nursing care that determines your experience.
Thank you for giving mean opportunity to share.
We all learn so much from each other.
Lot ion

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Hi Bunnysnax
It is still early days for me but I wanted to share my surgery experience. My surgery was on Monday 11 July and took 4 hours or so. I had a cyst growing on to my spine which the surgeon discovered must have been there for years. In addition my L4 L5 were fused together with screws and plates because they had been distorted into convex angle by the syst and the bones were osteoartritic.
The full gravity of all the details was lost on me because I was so busy at work and ,apart from this site, did not have time to do much research. With the huge demands of so many deadlines to achieve before I went into surgery I was ignorantly almost looking forward to being stretched out in hospital recovering for a few days.( My surgeon had told me it should require 3 to 4 days in hospital.)
Reality dictated a 7 night hospital stay - every moment of which was essential in the post surgery process. Hindsight may alter my perception but so far I would say this period was my Mount Everest: The simultaneous impact of the intensely invasive physical experience, as well as the terrifyingly uncontrollable effect of the plethora of analgesic cocktails reacting with my antidepressant Effexor, is something I am currently still coping with 11 days after surgery - and I can easily see know why an 8 week recovery time is suggested.
I am still battling with every moment, despite a wonderfully supportive group of family and friends; my husband took leave and has been supporting me every step, my friends provide us with homemade meals and meaningful visits. It is all this love and support as well as the excellent nursing care that determines your experience.
Thank you for giving mean opportunity to share.
We all learn so much from each other.
Lot ion

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