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Recovery: Some Thoughts for Those Who Just Had Surgery ~

gwennie17gwennie17 Posts: 2,957
edited 06/11/2012 - 8:42 AM in Recovering from Surgery
I was asked to repost this. It was written as a response on another thread.

Time for my monthly rant --

To those of you that were led to believe that this was routine surgery, all I can say is "SURPRISE!!"

It really upsets me that many spine surgeons err on the side of happy talk when it comes to recovery from any back surgery. They will tell you with minimally invasive surgery that it is less involved than open surgery, implying that recovery will be "easier." They neglect to tell you how hard recovery is from open surgery, and how even MIS takes a LONG time and is often done in baby steps. Just when you think you've turned the corner and are finally starting to feel better, there will be a set-back. I don't know anyone who just began getting better and proceeded to get a bit better every day after.

I feel we'd all be better off if surgeons leveled with their patients and let them know what they were in for.
Back surgery is unique. It is unlike any other surgical procedure. Just because the spine is so integral to the whole structure and function of the body and controls all movement and sensations, surgery is very complicated.

It is not like an appendectomy for example, where you have the surgery, the appendix is removed and you then recover from the surgery. With back surgery, you have the surgery, hopefully the doctor does what he set out to do, and only then does the fun begin. First you recover from the surgical process, and then the true healing begins. In most cases, there has been involvement with soft tissue and nerves, so there is a recovery process for them...and of course, nerve pain has an effect throughout the body. Muscles have to learn to rebalance and perhaps stretch or contract to accommodate the new positioning of the spine. ETC. So, the patient is healing and recovering on a number of different levels. And, through all of this, you look fairly "normal" and family and friends think you should be fully recovered after a month, just like you would be with a simpler surgery!

Do yourself a favor. Accept that this is MAJOR surgery. Learn to be patient with yourself and with the process. You will gain nothing by trying to hurry along your recovery. The body will heal at its own pace, in its own time. It will be easier on you mentally if you recognize this, realize it is perfectly "normal" and what almost all spineys are going through, and that if you can be patient, you will have the best chance of a successful outcome.

Good luck! (and, keep walking!)



  • Even though it was in my thread, I had to read it again. I do have to constantly remind myself. Even after I read this, I found myself feeding my son in his high chair, which required much leaning, and then he fell and hit his chin and without even thinking I immediately picked him up at floor level and rocked him and lifted him to kiss his chin...
    and the worst, my dad was watching him and I said his diaper needed changed and 15 minutes went by and he hadnt done it, and instead of getting assertive I did it, which required me leaning over. I just felt stupid afterwards and thought of your post.

    I know tomorrow I will feel these things. I should have just called my mom over to kiss his chin. Should have voiced my opinion to my dad. I swear I am going to print this post and tape it on the wall!!!!!
  • that was so well put - !
  • I wish I would have found this site before my fusion and read a post like this. Ahhh so true. I found out I was having a fusion 48hrs prior. Did not comprehend what was truely waiting ahead of me. This post should be handed oit at the docs office prior to surgery!

    I am so sick of people saying you look great...bt thry have no clue how you feel.I think I will start handing out copies of this post!!!
  • Thank you for posting this.
    I didn't understand after my first surgery.
    I am only grateful that my husband saw my suffering for months after what should have been an easy recovery. He knew something was wrong long before I did.

    I think when I struggled most is the last time my original surgeon said "I'll send you for the MRI but I doubt you re-herniated because like I said, the surgery was gratifying b/c we removed a big herniation". I wanted to smack him even though he didn't mean anything. He meant it should have been gratifying.

    My current surgeon is so calming, so realistic, so honest and tries to talk his patients out of surgery b/c he says it's not an easy road.

    I've been thinking about him wanting me out of work 4 more weeks and I said how aobut 2. He agreed to 2 and then transition from home 1/2 days (limit 4 hours) but today I was thinking he may be right.

    Reading this, makes me think even more, he may be right.

    People can't see the pain which is the worst.
    My husband yells at me and does so because he loves me. He doesn't want me doing anything b/c he knows it will take a year for me to 'feel somewhat normal' again.

    Gwennie - I'm glad you posted this. It reminds us we aren't crazy, whimpy, intolerant to pain, depressed, emotional....we are spine sufferers and we will have good days and not-so-good days.

    But we take it one day at a time.
  • I had my surgery 8th of Feb and feel pathetic. My pain meds have been increased and still just manage the minimum each day. Gwennie you have given me permission to be me and that includes more bad days than good so far.Crazy that my brain thought I could just leap up and pick-up my old life.My Hubby also yells at me-I thought he hated me-now I understand he's trying to help me. Thank you for reminding me to go get back to resting as my Quota of standing and sitting is now over. With Big Hugs and Loves- Paula
  • SpineAZSpineAZ WiscPosts: 1,084
    One of the biggest factors that we sometimes forget is most, if not all, of these doctors have NEVER had spine surgery (or any significant orthopedic surgery). So while they hear complaints of pain, requests for medications, and that procedures are not working, etc they really don't get "it".

    Years ago (93) I had my L4-S1 fusion with a great doctor. I was set for my third surgical follow up and the office called me and said they had to reschedule it for 2 weeks later as the doctor has been in an accident. I could come see their other associate if I wanted or could go to the ER but I chose to wait to see my doctor as he was the only spine surgeon in the practice). At my next appointment with him he says, with his arm in a sling after having to have his broken clavicle set surgically "You have no idea how much this hurts". I laughed, literally, loud and to the point of nearly falling on the floor. I had known him for so long and I don't hold back, so he asked why I was laughing as no other patient he saw that day had laughed (it was his first day back). I said "they didn't laugh out loud but they were inside". I said "You finally get what pain is don't you? You finally get what orthopedic surgery is like don't you?" and with a stunned look of "aha" and realization on his face he admitted he did and he had NEVER really understood the surgery, hospitalization, pain meds, recovery process, etc. In his life all he had ever had done was an appendectomy and tonsillectomy as a kid.
    2 ACDFs, 2 PCDF, 3 LIFs; Rt TKR; Rt thumb fusion ; Lt thumb arthroplasty; Ehlers Danlos 
  • dilaurodilauro ConnecticutPosts: 9,877
    into posts that are going to talk about bad doctors, bad surgeries, bad hospitals, etc

    The point of this initial thread was to point out that there is no such thing as a simple operation.

    While minimally invasive surgery will take last time than older styles of surgery, it is still a surgery.

    Ron DiLauro Spine-Health System Administrator
    I am not a medical professional. I comment on personal experiences
    You can email me at: rdilauro@veritashealth.com
  • My sister asked how I was doing, and I told her " well I forgot this was majoy surgery so I overdid yesterday and Im paying for it today." and she said, "Yes! You have to realize it was major...you were in the hospital for 3 days...it was just like a c-section, sara! You need to rest!" And I had to bite my lip not to say "hey my surgery is worse than that!!!!" I just smiled and said yes I will rest! ;-)
  • Good post Gwennie.

    These terms surgeon tell patients. Routine surgery. Minimally invasive. Day surgery. These terms apply to the process. Not how you are affected. For your surgeon it is routine, he will cut you open much less than past procedures did, the hospital will send you home same day. That is all true. They have expedited the process because it costs too much to have you hanging around the hospital. The surgeon does these in his sleep. The tools he has he can make a 1" incision and do amazing things inside you.

    Yes the process has improved. Yes the recovery time has been reduced. All that aside. I left the hospital; missing a disc, added; a big bolt, 4 screws, 2 rods, some stem cell glue, 3 incisions; muscle and nerves cut, bottles of pain killers. Oh and yes, it hurt like he11. After taking inventory of what I lost and gained and how I felt. Please don't say the word "minimal" around me. There was nothing minimal about it.

    Don't let a surgeon or others tell you it is minimal and take it in the sense of it is nothing. It hurts and will hurt for a while. You will have ups and downs recovering. It is not a simple linear recovery. It is a roller coaster ride. It doesn't last a week or two. It might take a year before you feel normal, more or less.

    Where in all that would a PATIENT think "minor" or "routine". It is a MAJOR disruption to your body and requires a long time to heal up.

    That said, my doctor was honest and told me up front it was going to hurt a lot. But long term I would be able to get my life back. That is the elusive goal we are all chasing after.
  • most recover in 3 to 6 weeks(ya right)
    I think this post should have been in the surgeons pamphlets they give you before the surgery.
    I would or should have read it every morning especially the first 3 months after
  • Good post Gwennie, I have to say I was really lucky with my Dr. He prepared me well. He told me outright it would be hell. But in his opinion worthwhile. Now the after care at his office was another story, but that's not the point. I knew going into my fusion what to expect. But knowing it and living it are certainly 2 different things. And I have the 8 inch scar to prove it. But all in all, I have great days and not so great days. I had to use my cane a bit today. But I am happy I had it done and really hope to avoid post fusion syndrome. I want no further surgeries, EVER Lol.

    Thanks for that reminder tho :)
  • We honestly can't expect too much out of our surgeons post surgery. The way my Dr explained it to me, he is a "carpenter". He is there to make sure his implants haven't shifted, and are holding solid. A lot of issues can be taken care of at the Pain Management or General Dr levels.

    Gwennie, your post is so true.
  • I remember my doctor explaining the risks before surgery. He said there was a 1-2% chance of damage to the spine. He also explained that all of the "normal" complications like infection exist.

    What he never explained was that there are other lesser problems that occur. Yesterday he showed me on the CT where he had removed bone from the pedicle to get into where he needed to work. Well that weakened the bone and now I have a fracture. He claims he has never seen this happen. I also have permanent damage to some of the nerves going to my eye. This he poo-pooed.

    I think we are so excited about the possibility of pain relief that we forget to truly consider the complications. When you mess with the core structure of the human body you are playing with fire.

    Is the pain relief worth my new issues? Yes I think so. It's easy to forget now just how bad it was before but I remember enough to say yes.

  • I finally gave up on the conservative approach and had my one-level fusion C5&6 a week ago. It was outpatient and my excellent neurosurgeon said the surgery went perfect. That sounds great, but I certainly feel like I've been stabbed violently in the neck. Another ortho said I'd be feeling okay after several days. What a crock!

    Even though this is an old thread, I'm glad I found it. I think the "outpatient" part is deceiving. Yes, my entire body is in shock from this. This is gonna take some time....

    Thanks Gwennie for validating how I feel.

  • Hi everyone, I find this forum researching about S1-L5 micro laminectomy to be practice on me next week. I am 38 y.o and my right legs is completely down since 2 months ago. Thanks for yours post and comments and I hoppe to follow of your advises.
  • j.howiejj.howie Brentwood, Ca., USAPosts: 1,732
    I feel as if this post could be written just for me. I know that it's true. And I think I should have it tattooed on the inside of my eye lids! So I can see it all day, every day. Thanks for re posting it. I don't think I saw it the first time.
    thanks, Jim ;)
    Click my name to see my Medical history
    You get what you get, not what you deserve......I stole that from Susan (rip)
    Today is yours to embrace........ for tomorrow, who knows what might be starring you in the face!
  • I guess I am the first one that doesn't see this quite the same. Ron is right, this real quick started turning towards making the surgeons look like they had other motivating factors besides helping us to "get our life back". We go to these docs looking for help in getting away from pain that most of us have never experienced to this level before. Getting help to overcome the fear of paralysis or loss of certain bodily functions. Depending upon our expectations, our fears and our own personal backgrounds, the results or surgical outcome can vary greatly.

    For someone who has never had any procedure done on their spine, who goes in for a minimally invasive procedure, they generally have the blinders on, not because of what the surgeon may or may not have prepared them for, but more so because of what they themselves heard or wanted to hear. So when their "simple" surgery turns into something drawn out longer than they expected or they didn't return home and begin to feel remarkably better almost instantly, they begin to cry "foul" and think something wasn't done correctly or they were "misled" into thinking this was going to be an easy procedure.

    Surgeons know the importance of the mind-body connection. If they feed into the fears that someone already has been developing based on our culture of watching shows like "House" and "ER" or shows on "The Learning Channel" then they may be doing more of a disservice to their patient. Making patients more aware of the possibility that they may become one of the "1-2%" who have unforeseen complications versus the average patient who comes through without a hitch, is that really a "healthy" or "well patient" approach to take?

    There is a big difference between someone who undergoes a fusion and someone who undergoes and AxiaLIF. It's simple physics and mechanics. What I think gets forgotten, is that most spine patients have no "frame of reference" as to what normal healing pain is versus abnormal healing pain. With the wonders of the Internet and our ability to congregate here and to communicate with others who have been through similar surgeries, the tendency to "commiserate" is greater and suddenly someone gets upset because they aren't healing as fast as someone else did.

    For our family and friends who have never been through spine surgery, they try to relate based on their own experiences. I chuckle to myself when a family member relates their hernia operation or broken leg to a spine procedure. They honestly believe it is relevant, and they will continue to do so until they themselves become a spine patient.

    We see names and procedures on here, but what we don't see are other factors like, age, sex, health, lack of health, fitness, lack of fitness, prior injury, lack of prior injury, medications, diet, weight, responsibility, lack of responsibility, the list is huge and always evolving.

    Of all the people who undergo spine surgery in the world, only 11,000 have made their way here. Why? Is it possible that it is due to the fact that many of the 11,000 have fallen into the "1-2% who will experience unforeseen complications"? For instance, in 2005 in the US alone, there were 349,400 spinal fusions recorded. (this statistic comes from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality) So if there's that many and more occurring and only 11,000 people find their way here to Spine Health, what are the other 100's of thousands of spine patients doing?

    I agree that it is vitally important to be an informed patient before ever having any type of spine surgery. I think it's also important to consider the messenger as well as the message. I'm not saying that the messengers here on Spine Health are poor messengers, not at all, in fact I think they are excellent. I'm trying to say that we should keep in mind why we're here in the first place and consider the possibility that the message has already been biased before it has ever been delivered.

  • haglandc said:

    Of all the people who undergo spine surgery in the world, only 11,000 have made their way here. Why? Is it possible that it is due to the fact that many of the 11,000 have fallen into the "1-2% who will experience unforeseen complications"?

    Very thoughtful analysis. Also, the 11,000 on this site are likely people who are comfortable on the internet.

    As a blogger and online Professor, I'm fairly adept at finding info on the internet, but ONLY to augment the info I get from Dr's, family and friends--just another tool in my arsenal.

    And, the internet is available 24/7...

  • j.howiejj.howie Brentwood, Ca., USAPosts: 1,732
    That had complaints, and 4 out of 5 were constructive criticism in my view. 1 out of 19 might be considered surgeon bashing. And I'm sure that 1 out of 19 surgeons deserve to be bashed.
    I think that what Ron feared might happen in this thread, never happened. I reread all of the posts. and most of them were bashing us, the patients.
    And I think the real intent of
    Gwennie's' post was in the last paragraph:
    Do yourself a favor. Accept that this is MAJOR surgery. Learn to be patient with yourself and with the process. You will gain nothing by trying to hurry along your recovery. The body will heal at its own pace, in its own time. It will be easier on you mentally if you recognize this, realize it is perfectly "normal" and what almost all spineys are going through, and that if you can be patient, you will have the best chance of a successful outcome.

    Good luck! (and, keep walking!)

    That's how I took it. But that's just my point of view. And different views are what makes the world go around.
    Thanks, Jim :?
    Click my name to see my Medical history
    You get what you get, not what you deserve......I stole that from Susan (rip)
    Today is yours to embrace........ for tomorrow, who knows what might be starring you in the face!

  • Have you seen that there is a thread under the back and neck surgeries, called 'March Surgeries'. Why don't you come and join us?

    There are some of us who have just had their surgery, and lots of us who are still waiting nervously for our day.
    Mine will be a decompression (laminectomy and discectomy) with fusion of L4/L5, on 19th March.
  • Thanks Jim. It never occurred to me that someone would take what I said as "doctor bashing." Now that I pause to consider, I suppose someone could take it that way....Both my surgeons were very clear about the length of recovery, the amount of pain involved, etc. But some patients are not as lucky.

    I did not write this realizing it was going to be made into a "stickie." I would have given it more thought if that had been the case. I was originally reacting to someone who had been told she could return to work two weeks after a discectomy. That amount of time had come and gone. She still was feeling terrible and now was feeling even worse because she felt something was wrong with her because she wasn't recovering as quickly as what her surgeon had originally told her...etc. So I was letting off steam....

    Regardless of intention, I just firmly believe people do much better when they know what to expect.

  • The major component of this sticky is to let those who are about to have surgery know that no matter what your spouse says, not matter what your friends think, no matter what YOU might expect, spine surgery is major surgery and comes with a long recovery process.

    It's different for each one of us, but it's imperative to know up front that you have to be prepared to be in this for the long haul if you have spine surgery. Patients and loved ones BOTH need to understand this and be ready to accept it.

    You also have to follow your surgeon's orders, take your meds, get walking as soon as you can, take it easy when you need to, and be prepared with post-op must-haves ahead of time so that you're not having to have someone run around looking for stuff that you need once you get home.

    I believe that there are too many people, no matter what they're surgeon says, who believe they should be ready to get back to normal in a couple of weeks. But they need to be prepared that you probably won't even be normal in a couple of months. Again, spine surgery is major surgery and as such, the recovery is a long one. Just be prepared.

  • j.howiejj.howie Brentwood, Ca., USAPosts: 1,732
    I had a reply typed up to add a few points and when I reread it. I deleted it. As I often do.
    But I am so glad you posted your re-post! It made me step back and take a good look at tings I'm doing wrong. And in general, wrong thinking on my part. So thank you for posting it! And after the first 3 sentences, "C" gave some very valuable information. All is good!
    Good luck, Jim =D>
    Click my name to see my Medical history
    You get what you get, not what you deserve......I stole that from Susan (rip)
    Today is yours to embrace........ for tomorrow, who knows what might be starring you in the face!
  • Gwennie, Thank you for your post! It is perfect for all pre/post surgery spine patients. I wish I had found this site before or soon after my 1st surgery(which as you mention even minimal back surgery is not easy)so I would have known the facts. I thought it was like reg. surgery.Now I know I did too much, too soon w/o knowledge.

    My dr had told me I would need a fusion eventually and warned me that a fusion was something you need to hold off doing for as long as you can because it is hard to go through,takes time to heal,once you have spine surgery there is no going back, and that you need to be prepared ahead of time. But no specific instructions except the common no BLT, etc. I didn't have a clue! I was so alone in this battle until I found SH and comforting words from those that have been there,had ideas to help and understood. But I wish I had read this first!

    My dad is going to have a fusion on 4/7. I have been trying to get him to check out SH. He doesn't have a clue! He actually thinks he is going to be back at work in 3-4 weeks. He will be 74 soon and his job requires him to travel by car to several states in his region and there is a lot of sitting and standing at stores with concrete floors! He thinks he is strong and will be fine! I am printing your post to send him! He lives in Louisiana so he didn't see me prior/post surgery.Although he calls often to see how I'm doing he hasn't witnessed the truth!LOL! I tried not to complain/tell the truth because I didn't want to worry him plus you know how we think others get tired of hearing it or don't get it. Well, I'm really worried about my dad going through the surgery with his health,age and depression after if he can't get up and get going like he wants to, he's a workaholic!

    Anyway, thanks Gwennie and everyone else! This is perfect timing for my dad!

    Thinking of you today!
  • On November 17,2009, I had a L-5 lumbar discectomy. I had a wonderful surgeon. The herniation was so bad and in a awkward location, that he had to drill a hole on the side of the spine (Sorry I do not know terminology). I knew full well what I was getting into. I had been having steroid injections for the past four months. They were not working. I was hopeful because I did not want to do what I knew had to be done.
    Oh I forgot to mention. I quit a 20 yr smoking habit on the same day!
    I had some really rough times. I knew I had to just take literal baby steps. No bending, lifting, reaching, or carrying anything heavier then a half gallon of milk. And I did that for 2 months. I had a setback at Christmas time. I had a muscle spasm from sitting at friends house on Christmas Eve. The spasm last 3 weeks. But I survived.
    Tomorrow, March 17, it will four months since my surgery and four months without a cigarette.
    I am walking almost everyday for an hour a day. I am working on losing the weight I gained. I get twinges that tell me to slow down. My leg will hurt at night sometimes (but nothing that makes me want to go to the Dr).
    I know that I can come back here in another four months and say that I am even better then now.
    So I have to say that with all that I went through with this, it was worth it.
  • You probably are okay. I did something similar and my
    doc said I probably just injured an old muscle not one
    that is trying to heal. It is very frustrating trying
    to figure out what you can and cant do. It is really
    trial and error. EXCEPT after I did a couple things
    I knew I wasnt supposed to. I decided then to follow
    the rules the doctor gave me so that I would recover
    much better./ It is hard but I make myself ask for
    help if I need it. Hang in there - you have a child and
    it is harder.
  • When I met my Ortho and decided to have my fusion with him, he told me." We are going to be seeing alot of each other, and if we are going to work with each other you have to follow my rules and do exactly what I say," He meant it and said he wouldn't do the surgery unless I agreed. He also told me that it was a long recovery from a 2 level PLIF and that I had to learn to be paitient cause it wasn't gonna heal overnight.
    I am 15 months post op, am still having pain, after having hardware removed. At my last vist he told me that because I have had 9 surgeries in 2 years, he felt that I needed to give my body more time to heal. This guy has never sugar coated anything, and has done everything from writing a 6 page letter to my Insurance Co to get the fusion done, to drive 2 hours away on a weekend to Mayo Clinic to get some expert opinion on a sacral tumor he was uncomfotable with. So after all we have been through together, I feel I need to keep the faith in him. He has been wonderful to me, and said right now he will be my rooting section as I try to walk and hopefully show any improvement.
    There are great Dr's out there, and I am glad I found mine. I hope that others can find the type of surgeon I did. Even though my recovery has been slow, I knew going in that everyone is different. And since I have had so many surgeries, my body is just gonna take more time.
    So everyones story is different. But hopefully, Gwennies advice on remembering that is is a Major Surgery and recovery is a process that varies from person to person, but keep the faith and a positive attitude. It is very important.
  • This is a great thread.

    I had a different experience with my surgeon. He told me it was going to be extremely tough. He doesn't mince words. He told me it would take 2 years to get to where I would get and that I would have to change my lifestyle and quit my job. I thought he was trying to scare me. He wasn't.

    My biggest complaint about my surgeon is once he did the surgery I was on my own! His assistant saw me for check ups and told me NOTHING! I had zero guidance as to how to recover in fact they gave me an outdated recovery sheet that said "do not move for 6 weeks!" which is one of the reasons I'm so stiff now.

    Also people don't think I'm okay, they know somethings wrong because I'm still so stiff. I lost a large amount of my range of motion. It is slowly coming back. I am fighting every day in every way to get my body close to where it was before the surgery. I know I can't be who I was but I want to be as good as I can get.

    We each have our stories and it is sooooo true that spine surgery is a journey, easier for some than others.

    It's great that we have each other to talk to to help us get through this!

  • that thread about sums it up
    right on
    I also did not get any instructions to follow,
    seems I was kicked to the curb, and it sounds as though alot of us were
    now I know that most surgeons (very unfortunate for us) are there only to perform surgery & know of nothing else - however, if the nurse could just say "try your best to move & dont get yourself stoved up, or you'll regret it"
    Surgeons are just people, some good & some bad.
    lynn, you got outdate material, but I didnt even get that,,, also didnt have a bowl movement for a week,,,
    NOT a surgery that I want to remember - it was all horrible!
    still stiff & spasms almost 1 yr later
  • I couldn't have said it any better. What I got out of it was that spinal surgery should be in a class of its own because no way, no how is it ever routine or minimal.

    I totally agree that once this option is placed before us, we should research all we can. Ask your doctor what type of surgical procedure is he wanting to do and is it the best choice for YOUR case. I'm glad that I found this site before my 2 surgeries because I set out to see what it was really like, straight from the horses' mouth so to speak ;) Nobody is a horse here okay? LOL

    You just can't get this info and all the great personal experiences from a pamphlet at the doctor's office. I was able to get a sense of what I might go through and for how long, and also the ups and downs when it comes to recovering.
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