What is life like one year after a spinal fusion? If I could go back to the day of my surgery, here’s what I’d want to know before they rolled me off into the Operating Room.
My one year “spineaversary” was on May 26, 2017, and I started working on this post a couple of days beforehand. I’m not exactly sure why it’s taken me so long to write this – maybe because I still have more questions than answers? Regardless – I wrote this post especially for anyone who is debating whether to have back surgery, is awaiting their surgery date, or is in their first year of recovering from a spinal fusion. It isn’t all puppies & rainbows, but the truth rarely is. xo – Sharon
It’s me – er, you. It’s been about one year since our spinal fusion, and I have good news for you: We survived!
You really have no clue what you’re getting yourself into, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Sure, doing a bit more research beforehand would’ve been wise. But honestly, I don’t think there’s much more you could’ve done to prepare yourself for the weeks and months ahead – at least not without scaring yourself half to death.
But since we’re having this talk, there are a few things I want to tell you before they roll you off into the OR.
1. From here on out, you will have to be your own advocate – not just in the hospital, but all throughout your recovery. The sooner you learn this, the better. If you need more pain meds, ask for them. If you don’t ask, the nurses will assume that your pain is under control. Now is not the time to be shy. Press the damn call button.
2. You are allergic to Steri-Strips. Tell your surgeon, and save yourself a couple of weeks of unbearable itching.
3. I know your surgeon said he wants you up & walking ASAP, and you will be. But keep your expectations realistic. For the next week or so, the only walking you’ll be able to do is to & from the bathroom. It’ll be another week before you’re able to walk downstairs. Listen to your body and take it slow.
4. Speaking of slow…recovering from a spinal fusion is a long, slow process – much longer and much slower than you’re expecting it to be. Your surgeon told you that it’ll take about 6 weeks to recover. And while you’ll be through the worst of it after 6 weeks, it’s going to be more like 6 months until you feel normal again.
5. Don’t let #4 scare you. Recovery does not equal inactivity or isolation. In a few weeks, you’ll be up & about, taking the kids to the beach and the pool. By mid-summer, you’ll be well enough for a 4-hour road trip. In the fall, you’ll travel to Washington, DC with your family. And by Thanksgiving, you’ll be walking around Disney World like a boss.
6. When you get home from the hospital, you’ll want to have a shower chair, a grabber, and a couple of good ice packs (for when your ice therapy machine from the hospital quits working). Also make sure you have a TENS unit ready to use (and with replacement pads ordered) on day one.
7. You’re going to need help, so get over yourself and ask for it. Your friends won’t say no. In fact, some will surprise you with their generosity. (If I told you who, you wouldn’t believe me.) The messages, the care packages, the flowers, the food, the favors – these gestures will mean so much. And they’ll change you. They’ll inspire you to be a better friend, to give of yourself more generously, and to step up to help, even (or especially) when nothing has been asked of you.
8. Since we’re on the topic of needing help, you are going to need Vic’s help way more than either of you anticipate. You’ve told him that you won’t need him to stay in the hospital with you, but you’re wrong. Luckily, he’ll ignore you. You’ll be especially glad of this tomorrow night when you get all tangled up and nearly rip out your IV while trying to use the bathroom in the middle of the night.
Once you get home, he’ll be on round-the-clock caretaker duty. He’ll bring your meals to you in bed. He’ll help you in & out of the shower. He’ll pick up your medications. He’ll put your socks on for you. But it won’t be all work & no play. He’ll move a TV into the bedroom (for the first time in 13 years!), and you’ll spend most evenings eating dinner & watching House of Cards in bed. Despite the circumstances, it’ll be a special time for both of you.
9. When it’s time for your 2 week follow-up appointment, you’ll want to leave your walker at home. Don’t do it! You’re going to do a lot more walking that day than you think. Put aside your vanity and bring it.
10. Speaking of vanity? Take more pictures. It’ll be a while before you feel up to writing, but eventually you’ll want to share your experience, and you’ll get tired of sharing the same 3 photos over & over. No one expects you to look good right now.
11. At your 3 month follow-up appointment, you’ll be told that physical therapy is optional. THIS IS BS. You need to begin PT as soon as you’re cleared for it. Please trust me on this.
12. As soon as you get home from the hospital, log on to Facebook and search for “Spondylolisthesis & Retrolisthesis Support” and request to join THIS group. This will be your #1 source of information for the next 6 months.
I know you have a lot of questions about what life will be like post-op. Will you be able to run? Practice yoga? Take a dance class? Will your scars be huge? Will you be able to feel the hardware in your back? Will the pain in your hip go away? Will you still have back pain?
And look, I get it (obviously). But here’s the thing. The answers to those (very valid) questions aren’t important right now. What you need to know TODAY, the day of your surgery, is this:
You are doing the right thing.
You will have less pain after surgery than you do right now (not today, of course, but in a few weeks).
Your quality of life will improve after surgery.
You will not regret having this surgery. Even in those fleeting dark moments, you will know in your heart of hearts that you made the right choice.
You will not only survive, but you will thrive. You will dig deep and find courage that you never knew existed. You will learn that you have a much higher tolerance for pain & discomfort than you think. You will find support & love in unexpected places. You will persevere, and you will inspire others to do the same.
So lay back and relax. I know it’s scary, but try not to worry. Because trust me, YOU’VE GOT THIS.
Catch you on the flip side.