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How do you afford back surgury?

sstbmadsenssstbmadsen Posts: 15
edited 06/11/2012 - 8:37 AM in Back Surgery and Neck Surgery
I need a spinal fusion, but am very worried because everyone around here makes it seem like you need to take months and months off from work. My surgeon said I would need to take 6 weeks off from work.

How are people able to do this? I have about 3 weeks of paid time off, after that, I would have to bite the bullet and go unpaid. I have a mortgage, 2 cars, and credit card debt. I can't go without a check, but this back pain is driving me INSANE.

How do you all do it? Any ideas?


  • How about a few more details? What levels are you having fused? Do you know what type of procedure you are having -- minimally invasive, PLIF, ALIF, 360 etc,?

    Have you had any previous surgeries on your back? Tried various conservative treatments, etc.? Fusion is a very invasive surgery and is usually done as a last resort when nothing else has worked. Six weeks, in my layman's opinion, is a short, optimistic recovery time.

    Of course it depends on your job and whether you have pain when standing or sitting...but six weeks is still an optimistic time frame...three months is a more realistic time frame, and safer, too, as the fusion will be further along and will be harder to damage.

  • Ok, here is my radiology report:

    L3-L4: Degenerative disc disease with loss of the normal disc height and signal and a large left paracentral grade 2 protrusion effacing the thecal sac and contacting the L4 nerve root origin. Severe left lateral recess stenosis is identified at this level. The neural formina are intact however.

    L4-L5: Degenerative disc disease with loss of the normal disc height and signal and a broad-based grade 2 central/right paracentral protrusion effacing the thecal sac and contacting the right and probably left L5 nerve root origins. There is severe right lateral recess stenosis. Right neural forman is spared however. Left neural foramen is intact. Centerally, the canal is moderately to severely stenotic.

    L5-S1: Degenerative disc disease with loss of the normal disc height and signal and a broad-based grade 2 central disc protrusion flattening the thecal sac and displacing the right and left at S1 nerve root origins poststress laterally. Mild right neural foraminal stenosis is also seen.


    1. Large disc herniation at L3-L4, L4-L5, and L5-S1 as described.

    I fell down my stairs about 8 months ago and since then have had intense sciatic pain on both legs. I tried NSAID's, Physical Therapy, I had a Nerve Root block (unsuccesful for the most part) and have seen a Neurosurgeon and an Orthopedic Surgeon who specializes in back surgury. I take 3 10/500 lortabs a day.

    Both surgeons suggested that a microdiscectomy would help relieve my pain, but that ultimately, I would probably need a fusion, due to the fact that it would be 3 level microdisc surgury, and due to the fact that I have central disc protrusions(means they have to take more of the lamina out, thus weakening the spine).

    I have decided to stick with my orthopod, as he is more experienced. I do not know all of the details about what type of fusion he wants to do as at my last meeting I was feeling a little better and we decided to wait 6 weeks to set the surgury so I can lose some weight. (I was 310 pounds.) Well, in the last week, the pain has been unbearable. I can't do anything comfortably. I can't sit, stand, lie, nothing. I can't do any of the physical therapy excercises because they all hurt like the dickens. Because of this, I have made an appointment to meet with him this Thursday to set up something. (BTW, I have lost 15 pounds and counting.)

    Everyone says I'm going to need 3 months for recovery, but I don't know how that is even possible. How can you afford to do that?

    Anyway, I'm at my whits end. I have been crying, depressed and can't do anything without pain. Something needs to be done and soon. 8 months of exruciating pain is enough in my opinion.

  • Your report reveals some stenosis and foraminal narrowing in addition to the disc bulges. These things all contribute to nerve root compression, which is likely the cause of all your pain that is in your legs, hips, feet, etc.

    It sounds like you have done your homework, have tried conservative measures and have consulted with more than one specialist. It is nice when they agree on what needs to be done. If you had the three discectomies, you'd no doubt end up with a fusion at some point.

    Why don't you discuss the financial aspects of the downtime with your surgeon. I'm sure he's heard all this before and may have some ideas that we don't have.

    It is possible that you will heal quickly and it won't be a big problem. Have you talked with your employer and explained the situation? There must be a way that this will work out...as it looks like you need the surgery.

    Hopefully others who were in your situation will respond.
  • taking the time off is no problem. I can get 12 weeks off no questions asked.

    The issue is $$$$. I don't have enough to last me through 12 weeks of not working.

    This is such a bitch.
  • I guess it's also really important to know what kind of work you do.

    I have a very easy job, but with one troubling requirement - the need to occasionally lift up to 45 lbs. That little item cost me 5 1/2 months. I had to use all my vacation, sick and then go on unpaid FMLA. The last 2 weeks I got a little bit of short term disability pay. I'm still trying to pay off the money I had to borrow to live for those months of no pay.

    Oh, and I was almost not allowed to come back to work at all!!! My human resources department was trying to talk me into taking long term disability - you can only go on long-term if you are not expected to ever return. I was SHOCKED. It was a horrifying experience. I don't consider myself disabled, but to feel like I was being steered into it??!! It was an awful bottom-dropping-out-of-my-world feeling.

    It is not fun.

    But... I had a 2-level fusion. Not a microdiscectomy, which is less invasive.

    Still - you will have restrictions and in my humble (and NOT medical) opinion, I see a lot of micro's re-herniate easily by doing too much post-op.

    Good Luck, sorry to make things seem so awful.
  • I am a Child Protective Services social worker. I don't have to lift anything. My time is mixed between sitting at a desk and driving to homes and schools talking to kids and families. Where did you borrow money from?
  • I'm a librarian - so heavy books were my issue. Sitting and driving might be your bugaboos. The driving is a big no-no if you are on meds and the sitting for any period longer then 20 min. is sometimes a big problem, Oh, and my NS didn't want me getting in a car accident and ruining all his good work.

    I used no-interest and low interest credit card offers. I was all paid off on everything but vehicles and the house, so I get CC offers all the time. Unfortunately they are all coming due now - now I'm looking at a loan from my 401k - ugh, hate to do it, but it beats paying interest to someone else. Hopefully my case will get mediated and resolved sometime soon and I'll be able to pay off all my waiting medical bills -so far they have been patient and haven't demanded THAT money from me - well except for all the thousands of dollars of deductibles over the last 4 years!
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