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Teacher wonders about going back to work 2.5 weeks post op

Jan MartinJJan Martin Posts: 164
edited 06/11/2012 - 8:33 AM in Back Surgery and Neck Surgery
After being told by a neurosurgeon that he could do a discectomy and not getting any warm fuzzies, I saw a orthopedic/neuro surgeon who diagnosed not just a herniated disc but grade II spondylolisthesis at L4-L5. I am scheduled for discectomy/laminectomy and TLIF on July 29th. It will be minimally invasive. My question is - will I be ready to return to work on Aug. 18th? That's just 2.5 weeks post op. Classes start the following week. At work I am on my feet all day and bend over my students' desks.


  • Hi..I am a K teacher and had microdiscectomy in 06. It took me a good 6 weeks to recovery. It was on 2 levels though. Not sure if the recovery from your surgery is going to be anything like mine but as a teacher..I know what you are going to be facing...you may need more time. Get another opinion if you aren't feeling comfortable with your dr. Make sure everything is good with what you are doing b/f you do it. Sorry I can't be more help ... take care and good luck! I hope everything works out and you get some relief. :)
  • Jan,

    I am a teacher and have had a TLIF for a grade II spondy. You should prepare to have at least 8 weeks after surgery to return to work and, even then, you will not be bending over student desks.

    Sorry, that's how I see it. If you just had the laminectomy, maybe, but not with the fusion. With spondy and I assume you are already unstable, a fusion takes a long time and its no picnic. If you rush back to work and interfere with the normal healing process, you're going to regret it and if you damage it, it may be irreparable.

    Wait until next summer, leave school a month early (I know that would be miserable, but...) and give yourself the time you need. A fusion is nothing to take lightly. Good luck!
  • I am a high school teacher, expecting to return to school the same day as you. I had a multi-level fusion on June 11th this year. I am still in the middle of recovery. I am only hoping to be ready by August 17th. It is a long recovery road that needs a lot of time and patience. I don't suggest you have such a surgery with so little time to recover. You will be miserable and will probably hurt yourself.
  • I totally agree with theothers take time to let it heal, Kids are unpredictable, with unstability and if they bump or jump on you you may be injued more easily. I was in same position I waited to have surgery in 08 until Easter time with the break and summer coming I figured it was a good time to do it.
  • Hi Jan, I concur w/ the others (I teach 2nd grade). I had my PLIF (w/ extra lammies) in Jan 08 & I was off for 9 months. Granted, I had priors, & maybe you have a "virgin back" so may recover sooner, but "bending over the desks" will probably be forbidden after the fusion for quite awhile, if ever again.
    And you know, as Adam said, how unpredictable students' movements are, etc. I am totally protective of my back & almost paranoid of kids bumping into me, pushing me (accidently of course) etc. I wore my soft brace all last year as a reminder for me not to BLT & for them to "stay away"...!
    My spondy was also @ L4/5, as is my fusion. That is a hard area to heal, as there's where you do most of any bending,etc. So the less you DO do, while you heal, the better the outcome.
    Can you wait another year? How bad is your pain? Can you do some conservative stuff until say, like May/June of next year, then use the summer(altho that's only 3 months, which is still pretty short) to somewhat recover?
    BTW: my NS released me last year w/ firm restrictions that HR & my admn followed & made many accommodations to my room so I could teach comfortably & not hurt myself. Remember: you are going @ your STUDENT'S pace, not yours. No time to rest, lie down w/ an ice pack or take meds @ school
    Good luck...keep us posted. I would say wait, if you can, or have your surgery & plan on 3 months (12 weeks) of Family Medical Leave or use your sick days, etc. And even 3 months is pretty soon, I think.
  • Thanks to everyone for the advice. Sounds like I should have done something in the spring. I suffered horribly at work through this last year and especially this past spring. I teach 7th grade science and the kids were pretty good about understanding my pain. There were days that I would stop in the middle of class, sit down, and try to pull myself together while a few tears spilled over. I don't think I can wait. I can't sleep because of the pain and so I am not functioning mentally very well these days either. I will contact my surgeon and discuss this with him as well as call my HR. That's what cummulative/family sick leave is for, right? I'm trying to stay optimistic.
  • ...and find out how many sick days you've accrued. You are entitled to 12 weeks of Family Med Leave, which actually may come out of your sick days bank, but if you need more than 3 months of (12 weeks) like I did, it rolled right into long-term disability thru our teacher's union contract/agreement. If you find all this out ahead of time, you can fill in the paperwork, have your NS sign off & then give it to HR b4 your surgery. (I did this w/ the fusion recovery.) My admn also ordered a long-term sub, so my class was covered the whole semester I missed, Jan-June of '08. That assured me I would return to my same grade level. Had I needed longer than 9 months (believe me, I considered it!) I could also have had a short-term sub last Sept, but I returned to school & made it thru this year...but man oh man! Some days.....!
    I totally hear you about pain while teaching--my kids were angels & many times by 2PM I also, like you, was in tears & they would bring me Kleenex! (7 & 8 yr olds....so precious!) By 3:30 I was a zombie from the pain, as no meds at school, of course! Then had conferences, after-school faculty mtgs, etc...on the weekends last year I did NOTHING! I was just exhausted. And that was w/ 9 months off to "recover"!

    Sounds like you need your surgery now. So go ahead, you'll do just fine, but allow more than 2.5 weeks to recover. Call HR & secure your leave..that way you can clear your mind afterwards & concentrate on healing. Perhaps from now to 2nd quarter (Oct) if you're having min invasive, but you may just want to see how you feel & wait until 2nd semester (Jan '10) to go back. Sorry--didn't mean to say "back" --let's say "return"!
    Keep in touch!
    Teaching is a tough job--takes a LOT of mental energy as well as physical--it is a dual-deal and you'll need time off to heal both areas!
  • I have been off since early April and will be going back in 4 weeks. You need to give yourself time to heal. I still worry if I will be able to make it through a full day because I have good days and some not so good days. Hope you get everything taken care of.
  • Donna, Jan & others who may face returning to the classroom while still in pain (like me..) some things that come in handy: ice packs kept in lounge freezer so you can use them PRN during the day; seat pads, esp the TempurPedic ones to use during conferences &/or faculty mtgs or anytime you have to sit more than 10 minutes during the day; grabber, or "designated student" to reach for things for you; arrangement of classroom so everything can be handy w/o any BLT-ing from you; if you use an over-head or ELMO, raise the cart so you don't have to bend AT ALL to change transparencies or materials (it adds up during the day, you think you're not bending, but you are..); you probably can't use any anti-inflams like Advil or asprin while you fuse, so you'll be hurting by lunch & may want to self-massage your back--shut the room door & pack your lunch & eat in the room to get those 30 minutes of mid-day relief;
    lie down during lunch (seriously!) anywhere you can (I used my room); drink plenty of water & have a few protein bars handy, as healing takes incredible energy & you'll be using a lot teaching & that will "short" your bone healing if you don't replace your nutrition (I would get light-headed really quickly & then reach for a Power Bar during recess); move around frequently, as holding any position for long will hurt, esp sitting (see above w/ seat pads);clear your schedule after school, go home & crash. I learned to say NO! to almost everything non-school related. Tough to do, but you have to "save" your energy for school. As Donna said, there will be good days & bad days & I might add, some REALLY bad days...yet you gotta keep on (we have 183 days)& stay w/ the students.... I was so tired after this year, I couldn't move by the last week of school. Now that I've rested a bit, I think this next year will be easier. But I still hurt all the time. So I will do "all of the above" & pace myself even more now that I know how LONG this recovery really is!
    Good luck, Donna! And you too Jan! And all the other teachers who plough thru the day for the students' benefit at the expense of our own, sometimes!
  • I am so glad to know I am not alone. I don't have an HR or admin. that is supportive. When I had my microD, it was an awful fight. If I have this next surgery, I don't know what I am going to do. Sounds like you have a great school system that is very accomodating and supportive. I get in trouble b/c at the end of the day...I go home and don't come back for the evening "fun" activities or the weekend "fun" activities. I do all my required conferences, etc. But on my evaluations,it always says that I need to be more involved with after-school activities. They just don't understand how much pain I am in. I am lucky to come home and make dinner for my family without being in tears the whole time. I had a ct scan w/myelogram again today so we will see what happens next... Thanks for your tips. :) I will add you all to my buddy list in case I need "teacher friends"...lol!!:)
  • Just another perspective, EVERYONE is different - but, I had a fusion done (minimally invasive) 3 weeks ago. I am still taking pain pills but I am able to work. Luckily, I only work (tutor kids) part time so I can be flexible in my hours but if I HAD to go back to work at 3 weeks, I could. It would require a lot of RESTING at night and weekends and maybe an occasional day off just to help out but it is possible and that was with a fusion which is more difficult than what you are having done - so you should plan to be flexible about what you can handle but it isn't impossible to be able to work at 3 weeks post op.
  • I agree it is possible, & I had an open procedure + 2 priors, so I'm coming from a different place, BUT if you're in charge of a whole room-ful of students (I had 19 2nd graders all day long) it can be exhausting even w/o having had surgery, of any kind, let alone spine surgery.

    I'm only speaking for myself, of course, but there is no way I could have returned to school b4 I did. Maybe w/ a minimally invasive surgery, it would have been different? Jan, I hope that's the case for you!Maybe not @ 2.5 weeks, but let's hope for less than 9 months! :) You sound like a great teacher so I hope you'll return to the classroom just as soon as you're ready..and may that be as soon as it's possible & safe for you to do.

    Backpain-sorry you have an un-accommodating admn..I know how it is to go home after school in tears & then have to do more house-work things....the thought of doing anything "fun" at that point would be impossible. Non-spineys just don't "get it". Let us know how your CT scan went & what you'll do next.A 3-level would put you down for a semester--better warn your admn about that one!

    I'm sure I've said too much tonight. Time for an ice pack & a dumb movie. We still have some summer vacation to recoup our losses, right?!

  • Lumbarlynne- Thanks for the encouraging news. I guess my post was unclear, I am having a fusion. My husband had a discectomy/laminotomy a few years ago and was back to work in 6 weeks climbing ladders and climbing under desks (AV engineer). The point of that info is that neither one of us has a clue what I will be in for with the fusion.

    Lakeside - I had a good giggle over your description of your walk. Sounds all too familiar. You work experiences will come in handy, I'm sure.

    Backpain - Lakeside is right. Anyone who has never experienced this cannot relate. I don't think my admin had any idea how much pain I have been experiencing and how hard it was for me to go in to work everyday. I love my job but it is way more physically taxing than most people can imagine. I see 90+ eleven year-olds every day and work my buns off every minute I am there. And, I think it is easier to go to work and deal with the pain than to write sub plans!

    So, a lot of this comes down to the unknown. I had ACL repair surgery on a knee 9 years ago. I had it done 2 weeks before the end of the school year so I would have plenty of time to recuperate. It hurt pretty bad but I worked hard at PT and was able to get back to school in the fall. I'm glad I had the whole summer. This time, I'm obviously not as prepared. If I know I'll be able to function, then I can start planning for my year. If I know I won't be able to then I have to start finding out what I need to do to let the powers that be know that. I hate not being in control!!!!
  • I had a 2 level fusion and some other work on my back done and I went back after 3 weeks. I was supposed to be off for at least 2 months but because of a sick day issue and it being my 1st year, I didn't feel comfortable taking that much time off. I actually felt it helped my recovery to go back to work. I didn't sit at home and worry about trying to get better. I also didn't do anything that could hurt me. I didn't lift/bend or even lean over students' desks. Other teachers were also willing to help and I stayed out of the hallways during class changes!

    I am almost 3 months out now and feel great! I am so happy I had it done when I did. I am up to walking almost 4 miles a day and feel so much better than I did before.
  • I missed the last three months of the school year. Actually I thought I could return the last two weeks but my principal decided to have the sub finish out the year. boohoo

    Looking back I don't think I could have lasted the whole day with my 2nd graders. Sitting down was the worst and still have some problems. Luckily, teaching is not sedentary.

    I am going back this fall and feel confident about returning. So bottom line for me: even though I only microdiscectomies (2 in one month), I could not have returned in 2.5 weeks.

    In addition, I was covered under short term disability insurance since I can not accrue my sick days.

  • I would plan on NOT being able to return and plan accordingly. Even if you feel terrific at three weeks, that is not to say you will feel OK at six weeks.

    At three weeks, the steroid that is injected as they are closing you up has barely had a chance to wear off. Many fusion patients feel an increase in pain around the one month time.

    I had open fusion so perhaps it is a much tougher recovery, but I think you'll find with the spondy, that you will find it a long recovery. All your soft tissue in the spine will have to readjust to its new positioning. My surgeon, who takes a very contemporary approach to everything and has NO RULES for his patients, told me that if I worked outside the home, he would tell me to plan on six to nine months off.

    Just don't make the mistake of comparing this surgery to your ACL repair surgery. I have heard both surgeons and patients say that fusion does not in any way compare to knee or hip replacement. It is a BIG surgery and progress is slow. It requires a great deal of patience and perserverence. Very few people sail through quickly and without complications.

    I do not mean to scare you. That is not my intention. But you need to be prepared and be ready for the possibility that it will take several months at the very least. The worst thing you could do after going through all the trauma of fusion would be to feel you HAD to go back to school and to push it. Trust me. You will not want to need a revision because you did something during the recovery process that messed things up.

    I was still on all my pain meds at eight weeks, and this was not that unusual. At three months, I felt much better, but it still took awhile to get my strength back. I did not start physical therapy until 16 weeks. Obviously everyone heals at a different rate, and there are variations in all our surgeries...but any article you read on a medical website, spinal clinic or hospital will say it takes nine to twelve months for complete healing to occur.
  • Right you are, Gwennie. Seems you & I had the same procedure @ the same time (Jan 08) & I also didn't feel very well until about 5-6 months out (last June). Fusion is HUGE surgery, no matter how it's done & the recovery is slow, boring & fraught w/ potential complications. I am 90% fused now @ l.5 yrs, but NS had said to allow 2 full years to know what I have left, what I'll just need to live with, etc. Current MRI shows adjacent level deterioration above & below the fusion now, b/c there is no movement anymore @ L4/5 so the other levels need to accommodate the stress/torque etc. That's pretty normal, he said. So for the rest of my life, I will need to be careful not to do much BLT-ing & I have a life-time lifting limit of 10#'s maximum.
    I also was on dilaudid for 6 months + valium & I still take both PRN now. And no Advil/asprin until you show signs of fusion, so there's a lot of imflamatory pain you can't do much about. And my hardware responds to weather changes, so many times last winter (while teacing) we'd have storms & it felt like a sledge-hammer in there all day...& you can't stop or lie down or take meds... (We are a drug-free school zone..)
    And b/c I lost feeling in my whole right leg, now I'm paranoid of FALLING DOWN or tripping or getting my foot caught in a desk-leg, etc. So my class was very aware of that & always kept the room very hazard-free for me. Getting up off the floor after story time was LOL!! Re-arrange myself to kneeling position & have 3 kids help me up...they were sooo sweet! They helped me all year & were just wonderful.
    Anyway,Jan, it's just like everyone here says: be careful, allow plenty of time to recover & be prepared for pain that will morph from one area into another as you heal. And I noticed w/ the spondy correction, all the surrounding tissues/muscles had to find their "new" positions & that hurt! Yikes!
    What a "faculty mtg" this thread is! Good luck to us all as we approach the fall semester. Sometimes I wonder how I made it last year....but I did. And you will also, if you are careful, cautious & respectful of the assault on your body/emotions the fusion entails.
  • Here's something factual written by Gerald Rodts, M.D., a professor of Neurological and Orthopedic Surgery at Emory University:

    "The process of healing a fusion can take many months or well over a year to be complete. For these reasons, it is important to realize before surgery that positive results will be slow to realize and patience following your surgery will be necessary. A fusion is not a quick fix; rather, it is a commitment of patient and surgeon to a long process of improving your back and leg pain. Total or 100% cures are rare. Realistically, patients can expect a dramatic and lasting improvement in their back and leg pain."
  • Gwennie,Gardner, and Lake -
    Great info from you all. I do need to be realistic. My husband has been trying to reassure me that it's okay for me to not go back to work. I feel guilty, like I'm letting the kids and other staff down. I was spooked by School Policy I read the other day about required lead time for notice and that the employee and the employer have to "agree" that it is a "convenient" time for the employee to be out. What the heck does that mean? They can tell me it's not a good time?
  • ...that means your surgeon may want to write something to HR that you need this procedure & will be out for awhile, regardless of how "convenient" the time is. I'd do that b4 your surgery so there are no "surprises" later. Your admn can get a short-term sub to start your year & you could leave your return date open, depending on how well you feel/heal.
    What does your contract say? I would think that would be clearer about your Family Med Leave, sick day provisions, etc.
    I think this "convenience" clause is there to keep people from taking mid-year vacations to Jamaica?!
    Or other non-essential leaves, etc.
    If your NS states that you need this to forstall further physcial damage (like mine wrote) I would think there'd be no problems. You are wise to check on it ahead of time, as you seem to be doing.

    Just my 2 cents.
  • Those are the things I went through plus lots more...when I had surgery. I had gone out in March 06. I was to the point that I was unable to walk. My DR took me off work and I was doing PT 5 times/wk. My surgery wasn't decided until late in April. Long story short, before I even decided to have surgery...I was told by my school that I would not be returning to school that they had hired a long-term sub to finish the year for me! Needless to say, I contacted the union and we had many conversations. To this day, my principal & I have a tough relationship now. I tried to get a transfer the following year and she denied it!! They have all the power! Good luck Jan- Definitely know your rights, your contract and have your DR write letters..keep copies of everything for your records!!!
  • My HR person was a cold, unsympathetic soul. She wanted a dr's note. When I told my co-workers about what was going on, they could not believe it that she needed a doctor's note that I was going to have surgery.

    Good grief. Did she think I was going on vacation? When I had to take sick days for extreme pain, she asked if I had a doctor's note to stay home (for short term disability). I had wished that I was still working for public school because I had accrued more than 25 days

    Hang in there.
  • Sorry that you had to go through this.

    I am wondering what kind of a relationship I will have with my principal when I return this fall. He hasn't returned any of my emails. What's up with that?
  • Gardener, did you have a good relationship b4 all this? I know you missed the end of the year...have you talked to him since?

    Often when admn are "silent" it can be a good thing. Unless you've had issues in the past, I would think your relationship will be OK. Maybe he's on vacation?Assume the best.

    I tried to give 110% last year, almost going above & beyond what I should have, just so I wouldn't seem "worrysome" to the admn, to prove that I could be counted on to do my job, etc. Never took even a single sick day (amazed myself) always did recess & bus duty, conferences, extra mtgs, even some early PM extra events (not all of them tno) so that people wouldn't say "yeah, she's using her back as an excuse to get out of (insert: whatever)" It was tough, to say the least, but I know my admn was aware of my pain levels & how I ploughed thru anyway. She has been very understanding & I know that's unusual. Perhaps your admn will be as nice?

    How many in YOUR 2nd grade? I just checked my class roster & found out I have 20: 14 boys & 6 girls...yikes! I better pile in the ice packs! :)

    You hang in there, also!


  • That is how he has been labeled by others and me. He is fairly new at administration, and I am new to school as well. This will be his 3rd year as a principal.

    Luckily, the head honcho (not him) had a multi-level back fusion around the same time I had my surgeries and he has been supportive.

    I will probably have 16 or 17. had 17 last year. Wonderful kids. I was REALLY depressed to end the year without them. Whoa...you do have a lot of boys. Last year I was lop-sided too. I had 11 girls and 6 boys. That was challenging.

    Good luck with the upcoming year! I already have started going to school to weed out STUFF.
  • Gardener, sounds like your admn may have "bigger fish to fry" instead of returning your calls, etc. I wouldn't worry about that, but I know you are keeping him in the loop, etc. Admn don't like surprises...
    And that's great that the higher-up admn has had spine surgery...he'll "get it" for sure.
    I know how you felt, losing your class last year.
    I lost 2 classes---1st one w/ my cyst/tumor surgery+dural repair (only 3 weeks apart) then the year I had my fusion. So hard to turn them over to someone else...I used a lot of Kleenex!
    Yes, boys outnumbering girls is challenging! That's why I front-load my school agenda to save as much energy as I can for the rigors of each day & not wear myself out w/ the "little things" like BLT-ing, etc. You'll need to really pace yourself--your back will be talkin' to you by afternoon recess, for sure!
    Weeding out STUFF...! Yes! Be sure you have help lifting things, etc. And my custodian has been an angel helping me lug things, move things, etc. I ended up throwing a lot out...I looked @ each relic & asked "Did I use this last year?" & if it was "No", it got tossed.
    BTW: be sure you have some extra seat pads, etc around the room. I just can't sit for more than 15 min at all, but the TempurPedic pads make it somewhat endurable. I stand during conferences & faculty mtgs. People do understand...and if they don't, well, tough!
    Enjoy getting your room ready...but be careful! :)

  • Yes it is possible to go back after 2 weeks. Not easy but can be done. I just had a four level fusion back on May 13 and all went well. I actually did research work after the first week out and went back into the office after two weeks. I used to teach but now I work in management in a company and I am in and out of my car all day, in and out of my office and up and down stairs. I just had to learn to slow down a bit, take a 15 min nap at lunch and rest when I got home. a month out I didn't need the nap anymore. I walked about 2-4 miles a day and I think that is what helped a ton.

    Good Luck!
  • Jan--I use to be teacher and know how hard it is to struggle through each day with so much pain. My leg pain started when I was still in college and became severe my first year teaching. I made it through that year and became pregnant so my husband and I decided I would take the folowing year off. BTW-i still had no diagnosis of why I was having such bad leg pain. In 2007, I went back to teaching at a new school. I taught 2nd grade. My leg still hurt but I was ready to move on with my career. Once the school year started, I developed a new problem Rheumatoid Arthritis. I was very sick and in excruciating pain. All of my joints hurt along with my leg and then the extreme fatigue I felt. I had to break my contract due to all of this. I stopped working at Christmas break. Fortunately I had a wonderful principal who was very understanding. I was not fined for breaking my contract. I am still not teaching. It took until 2008 to get a diagnosis on my leg pain which was a deteriorated disc at L4-L5. I since have discovered one at C5-6 and L5-S1. I have now been dianosed with DDD. So, why am I telling you my life story??? BTW--sorry about the long post. I had 360 fusion at L4-5 in Feb 2009. Last month doctor said I am 50% fused. still in a brace and still not bend, lift twist at all. I guess if I absolutely had to, I could work now but, I would not have been able to until last month at the earliest. One thing to remember after surgery is to keep walking. My doctor told me at 3 months that I should have been walking 2 miles a day I started then because I had not been told to walk prior to this. I began to notice a HUGE difference in amount of pain once I started. Doctor advised me not to do more than 2 miles right now but I guess every doctor is different in what they want you to do.
    So...long story short :) I would not go back in 2.5 weeks. Especially not to such a demanding job as teaching that allows for no breaks and no naps during the day.
    Again--sorry to tell you my life story Good luck on your surgery.
  • I am sorry that you are having such a hard time. You sound too young to be going through this! I have an appointment in 4 days to speak with the surgeon and ask more specific questions about work. My surgery is on the 29th so I need to know what to let my admin/HR know concerning work. I hope to have at least 4-6 weeks before I have to go back. I don't know why I feel so guilty, I took time off when I had my babies.

    Take care.
  • I went for my pre-op today. I guess I was being a smidgeon naive. Actually, I think the details really took me by surprise. I was shaking and sweating through the whole thing! I will be in the hospital 4 days, the surgery will not be minimally invasive, I will not be able to drive for a minimum of 6 weeks and will wear a brace for 6 weeks. Of course besides thinking about pain and functioning, work issues were flying around in my head. On the way home, I got testy in the car with my husband and wound up bursting into tears. :''( The good news is that when I started making phone calls to school/HR, I was pleasantly suprised. The benefits manager returned my call right away, already had my information pulled up (accumulated sick days, etc.), and was extremely helpful, filling me in on what I need to do to start the FMLA process. I also called school and spoke to one of the APs and he said he and the other admin. were not surprised to hear that I would need the time off and not to worry that they would make sure that a sub was lined up and my only concern should be to get well! Thank goodness. #:S I am relieved on many levels, but also now am getting very nervous! :SS

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