To help ease the stress that accompanies spine surgery, we've compiled a checklist of items that will help considerably during recovery, both in the hospital and at home.
These tips are tailored for anyone undergoing back or neck surgery that involves a hospital stay, but many of them will apply to the recovery from just about any type of surgery and hospital stay.
Important items to bring to the hospital
Crocs. You will want to wear slip-on shoes for several weeks (and maybe more) following the surgery so you don't have to bend over to tie your shoes. Any slip-on shoes will work. Crocs are a favorite because they are easy to get on, have some grip on the sole, and can be worn both indoors and outdoors. They are useful in the hospital, as you will be encouraged to get up and walk around as much as possible soon after the surgery, and easy to wear on your the ride home from the hospital.
Sports water bottle. You'll be encouraged to drink a lot of liquids while in the hospital. If you don't want to have to sit up for each sip, bring a sports bottle with a squirt top so that you can drink while laying down or reclining without spilling all over yourself.
Laxatives and/or stool softeners. Chances are your doctor won't bring up this subject, but it will be an important issue to you following the surgery. Post-operative constipation is a common occurrence and it can be a major source of pain and discomfort. Prune juice, apple cider, and/or over-the-counter laxatives and stool softeners will all help prevent postoperative constipation. Your hospital will likely provide these, but you may want to bring up the topic with your doctor, and/or bring your own preferred laxative, just to play it safe.
Lip balm and hand moisturizer. The air in the hospitals is almost always uncomfortably dry, so it's important to bring your preferred type of lip balm and moisturizing cream. You may also want to bring along saline nasal spray. If you keep these items in a small toiletry bag on your tray table you can reapply as needed, without asking for help.
Toiletries. You may be allowed to shower, and you'll definitely want to brush your teeth. You may want to bring baby wipes or moist wipes so that you can freshen up without taking a shower. You may also want to bring a small bottle of hand sanitizer to keep nearby to easily clean your hands.
Additional things you may want to bring to the hospital
Extra socks. If your feet tend to get cold, you may want to bring a pair of warm socks. Even if it's warm outside, many hospitals have the AC turned up pretty high. Some people bring slipper socks.
Foot cream. If the nurses put the special booties on your feet to help prevent a blood clot, you'll want someone to put some moisturizer on your feet to prevent soreness.
Comfortable robe. You'll be encouraged to be up and walking around as soon as possible after the surgery, and those hospital gowns don't afford much coverage in the back. If you bring PJs, make sure they button up the front so you won't have to reach over your head to pull the top on.
Ear plugs. If you're a light sleeper, use ear plugs—or noise cancellation headphones—to help you get some rest, or at least some peace and quiet. Hospitals are busy, noisy places. An iPod or other music will also drown out the noise. Some people also bring eye shades to help them sleep more soundly.
Scratcher. Bring some type of long stick for getting those hard to reach itches. A long-handled wooden spoon will work just fine, but you can also get a cute long-handled back scratcher.
Your own pillow. Some people sleep a lot better with their own pillow(s). If this is the case for you, bring your own pillow from home. Some people also bring a comfy blanket from home. Basically, anything that will help you rest more comfortably is a good idea. If you're having neck surgery, such as an ACDF or cervical artificial disc, check with your doctor and/or nurse ahead of time and ask if there is any type of pillow that they recommend for you.
Recuperating at home
In addition to everything from the above list, there are a number of things that you may want to have lined up to help you with your longer term recovery at home, such as:
Mini fridge. For many types of spine surgery, you'll be doing a lot of your recovery at home and you probably won't want to be running up and down the stairs during your first few days. A mini fridge in your room allows you to stock up on water, juice, and other essentials for the day. A cheaper alternative is a cooler that can be filled with ice packs or ice to keep your juice and snacks cool.
Ice packs. Ice is a valuable pain reliever. Applying an ice pack to numb the painful area will go a long way to easing pain and discomfort. An ice massage can be very soothing. If your doctor or nurse doesn't bring it up, ask about how to use ice or cold packs for postoperative pain control—it can really help.
Online support. Having a laptop or iPad in bed with you can help you keep in touch with others—you can find others going through similar experiences with supportive and informative discussion forums while recovering.
The Spine-health forums are a great support system
Grabber. After lumbar spine fusion, it is likely that you will be told not to bend over or reach up for anything for a while. A simple grabber can help you pick up items off the floor and reach for things from an upper shelf. They can usually be found at stores like Walgreens or Walmart (in the pharmacy area) for around $10.
Watch: Video: How to Make a Moist Heat Pack
Heating pads. Starting about two days after surgery, the doctor may allow you to use heating pads to alleviate local pain and discomfort. You may also want them to apply to the areas of your body that weren't operated on; for example, if you just had lower back surgery, you may want a heating pad for your neck—it can be soothing and help keep your neck from getting stiff.
A squeeze bottle. After a fusion surgery, it's tough to twist or reach, even just to clean up after a bowel movement. You can use a squeeze bottle filled with warm water. Moist wipes also work well.
Extra pillows. A few well-placed pillows add support. Try placing one under your knees while lying on your back or in a reclining position, which will take stress off the low back. Use firm pillows to prop yourself up to a reclining position while in bed. If you're a side sleeper, you'll want a pillow to tuck between your knees to keep your low back at rest.
Shower mat. So you won't slip in the shower.
Shower brush with long handle. These will help you get clean without bending, twisting or reaching. You can pour liquid soap or liquid moisturizer on the brush.
Recliner or extra cushions. In the weeks following surgery, sitting can be painful or uncomfortable. It is best to avoid sitting for long periods. A recliner can help ease pressure on the low back, and sitting on something cushioned, such as an inflatable donut pillow or hemorrhoid pillow, can make sitting more tolerable. If you're having an extensive surgery, you may want to consider renting an adjustable bed for the postoperative recovery period.
Other things you may need (or may want to discuss with your doctor)
Shower seat and handicap rails in the shower. Not everyone needs these, but it is something you may want to discuss with your doctor.
Toilet riser. This will help immensely with going to the bathroom, especially if you're a woman and drinking all the liquids you're supposed to! Risers with hand rails to lean on are most helpful.
Cane or walker. You may feel more comfortable walking with some added stability, and if so, discuss getting a cane or walker with your doctor.
Devices such as shower chairs, toilet seat risers, walkers, and canes are usually covered by insurance, so check with your doctor and have it sent home with you from the hospital if possible. These types of equipment are also available to rent or buy from most medical supply stores, and are often available second hand (and inexpensively) at Salvation Army or other resale stores.
For those of you preparing for surgery, best wishes for a successful surgery and a speedy—and uneventful—recovery!