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Returning to work after a PLIF

sleeprgirlssleeprgirl Posts: 695
edited 06/11/2012 - 8:38 AM in Back Surgery and Neck Surgery
How long is it taking most people who have strenuous jobs, as mine (nurse anesthesia), after a one level PLIF? I am a planner, and I just need some insight about what I'm up against. My surgery is 11/23/09; I'm single, and am trying to prepare financially for this recovery period.

Thanks all!!!



  • If you are having an open surgery, I would plan on three months to return full-time. Obviously, everyone heals at a different rate, and each surgery is a bit different, so it is hard to guess how YOU will get along. The open surgery takes a lot out of you. Even if everything goes perfectly, it takes awhile to get your strength back.

    I'm sure you'll get many opinions. ;)
  • My first surgery was a two level TLIF. I PUSHED hard to go back half time with a 20# lift restriction at 4 months, surgeon thought it should be 6 months. I also insisted on PT, starting with water therapy. Unfortunately, other complications came along, but that is what initially happened.

    Everyone is different, but I would not think you could return before 4 months in your job. Even if you are not lifting/rolling patients, the amount of time you spend standing, bending to tube someone, reaching overhead for IV bags, etc. would be hard. The best situation would be one where you could change positions at will, don't know if you have a stool you can sit on at the head for a break. But long surgeries and standing? That's going to hurt bad for a while.

    My big concern was definition of impairment under the nurse practice act in my state. Yeah, even on meds I can figure in my head better and quicker than most with a calculator, but IF something happened, I would be up a creek if I was on meds.

    I'm not trying to discourage you at all, just trying to give realistic expectations from my perspective. I pushed hard for PT to strengthen the muscles and I think that can help. I would see what you can do in PT so you don't re-injure yourself or hasten your timeclock of adjacent level disease.

    Please keep us updated on what happens!
  • Thank you both for your insight. For me, there is no light duty; it is all or nothing. So...when I go back, it has to be full-time. If I go back and get into trouble, there is no one to help me. I have to push patients, stretchers, ICU beds, do CPR if necessary. I have no point of reference about the restrictions after surgery, and do know that it all depends on how I do post op, also. I know there is no crystal ball and I will just have to deal with it at a later time.

  • My surgeon said realistically three to six months -- I didn't realize you had to do all that other stuff besides standing near the patient, monitoring, etc. I'm usually out when I hit the OR!!
  • I think it depends on the individual. I am only 10 days post surgery and feel really good. NO way I am going back to work (I am a teacher and coach) but I might try to return after Thanksgiving Break. I am already anxious to get into the gym to start PT but I am going to wait until my next visit with my doctor which is Nov 9th where they take a catscan to see how the fusion is going. I think the 3 month timespan is pretty good..
  • I have seen the nurses working and wow, very physical job!! When I was being wheeled into the OR, the nurse couldn't find help and pushed me herself, I just remember her having to steer and barely avoid hitting other people, then having to get into the elevator she banged my bed on the door! She kept apologizing, poor thing! Can't imagine doing that now at 10 weeks out. Can you go back to work on a restricted assignment? Doing the anesthesia without the physical stuff (not familiar with hospital policies), well, now that I am typing this, I realize even the CPR issue can't be avoided. Tough decision. I wish you luck on what ever you decide.

  • It has been difficult for me to consider what is going to happen to my career after the PLIF. There is no light duty in anesthesia; and while I do not want to ever unduly stare anyone, anesthesia is not benign, and I can't tell you all the things I have had to do to make sure patients are stable and safe. A few months ago, this guy woke up and turn completely over, and we had to put our bodies over him to protect him from falling, as some people wake up in an aggressive state. I have always done what was needed for my patient; but now, it could really be to my detriment. After talking with friends and family this week, I am realizing that my job now is to work towards a strong and healthy back, and let the rest go for now.

    I so appreciate all the support here, it is truly a blessing!!

  • Just an idea, my mom was a critical care ob/gyn nurse for a gazzilion years when she hurt her back (runs in the family it seems) and she went into teaching, the taught at a nursing school for the last 10 years of her career. Just wondering, can you go into a different sub specialty or teaching of some kind?
    P.s. I have always been fasinatated by anesthesiology, I heard it said that it is "99% bordom, 1% sheer terror" is that right?
  • I would have to get my PhD to teach, and I'm turning 50 a week after my surgery. So, teaching could be a long term option, but there is no money in teaching.
    You have to actually give anesthesia to earn a living.

    Giving anesthesia can be boring. But, the more complex the surgery, and health problems the patient has,the less boring it becomes. I used to give anesthesia for heart surgery...that was very interesting. With my back issues...I prefer a little boring...LOL

  • I agree!!! Crazy stuff is made for our youth, boring becomes nice the older we get!! I read a book many years ago written by a female nurse anesthetist (I am sure I spelled that wrong, sorry!), It was her story and some of her experiences on the job. I sure wish I could remember the name of it, was very interesting. Hope you get a chance to work again soon. Hang in there.
  • Hi Lisa,
    I haven't had surgery yet, just Epidural injections, so I can't help you about recovery time. But I wanted to ask you why you are having a posterior approach to the fusion rather than an anterior approach? I had a NS say he'd perform a fusion on me posterior and an OS say he'd do it from the anterior approach. Do you have any thoughts on this?

    Thanks and I wish you all the best, with a successful surgery!

  • Something you might find interesting to look into, is Practice Management. It is an incredible field and many nurses "retire" into it because their knowledge and experience is so valuable to the smooth functioning of any medical practice or hospital, a nurse applicant generally blows all the other applicants out of the competition.

  • I guess we are doing the posterior approach since it is just L5-S1, and the remainder of my spine looks stong. For me, both anterior and posterior approaches for 15 yrs, posterior appears simplier to do. Also, going anterior has its own inherent risks. This is just my simple opinion however. My surgeon is using a 360 degree portable X-ray called an O arm, which provides 3D imaging while he is doing the procedure. Also, he uses another piece of equipment called a Stealth, which again, gives this procedure great precision. Knowing that he uses the latest technology in the U.S., gives me much more peace about the surgery.

  • At least you have the peace of mind knowing that they'll do a great job on the anesthesia for you!! You're having surgery right before Thanksgiving. Guess you won't be cooking this year. Are they doing anything about the spondy?

    Liz -- what approach the surgeon takes is in part a product of the doctor's training, what he feels most comfortable with, and of course, your particular situation. Sometimes a person's body makes the decision as there may be more room one way than another way to access the part of the spine they need.

    I have heard that an anterior approach is easier to recover from, but frankly, I don't understand why it would be. Seems to me that having all your organs temporarily rearranged would be at least as traumatic as having the large back muscles cut. Sounds like you need a third opinion to help you make up your mind!
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