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Surgery scheduled for 6/8...what to expect?

KimD592KKimD592 Posts: 435
edited 06/11/2012 - 8:53 AM in Back Surgery and Neck Surgery
My MRI and CT myelo both showed several disc herniations throughout my t-spine, but T8-9 and T9-10 are the worst and are compressing my spinal cord. I am having surgery on June 8th to decompress. The surgeon made it sound pretty simple. I don't know the technical term for the type of surgery, but he said that they make two small incisions in my back, over the areas of the herniated discs, remove a small piece of bone covering the discs, and basically cut away at the discs to relieve the pressure on my spinal cord. It's done as a same-day surgery, and he said to expect to need help with the kids for at least two weeks. After that I'll be able to start PT.

I guess I was under the impression that surgery on the t-spine was more complicated because they had to go through the back, so I was reluctant to think about surgery because of that. But when he told me he could go through the back, I felt better about it. Is this because he is not doing a fusion, that he is able to operate posteriorly? What are the chances of it re-herniating after surgery? I'm afraid to have this surgery and then end up having to go back for more.

I'm only 29 and have three kids to take care of, so having surgery was truly not an easy decision.



  • Hi there.
    Have you gotten a 2nd opinion? I'm only asking b/c with any surgery, you want to get a 2nd opinion.

    You are right, Thoracic area surgeries are 'rare' from my understanding. But your surgeon sounds like he may have experience here. Did you ask him what his colleagues would suggest for solution?

    Ask your surgeon the name of the procedure.
    It sounds like a microdiscectomy based on what you are explaining but do yourself a favor and ask just so you know.

    I have to say that I cringed when I read your history...the "I felt a pop"...that was me too. I know how much that hurts.

    I know you are thinking 2-weeks help with the kids is it but I suspect that is optimistic. You do not want to be lifting, bending, twisting for at least 6-weeks though you will likely start feeling better from the actual surgery after 2-weeks.

    I can't tell you what to expect on the thoracic area.
    I can tell you that while some back surgeries can be done as 'out-patient' (meaning you'll likely be released within 23 hours of surgery), they are serious surgeries. I don't want to scare you but at the same time, I do (a little) because I wish someone had told me these things.

    I had a microdiscectomy on L5-S1 and yes, out-patient surgery and small incision (under 2 inches). But asking questions will help prepare you mentally for what to expect so that afterwards you know it's ok to call your doctor if you have any concerns.

    As "simple" as it sounds, just remember they are touching your spine and your spine houses all the nerves that serve the rest of your body. So, make sure you ask lots of questions about risks, what to expect, best and worst case scenario on recovery, what to prep for, etc.

    My experience on this procedure on the lower back:
    - Surgery was out-patient but I did stay overnight b/c they felt it was better the first night to stay at the hospital so my family didn't have to worry. If they offer it to you, you may want to take the option. My family was very appreciative knowing they didn't have to worry about me the first 24 hours post-op.
    - Surgery was about 1.5 hours total (I needed a revision on the same level a few months later and the 2nd surgery did take a bit longer b/c they had to be extra careful)
    - incision was about 2 inches.
    - I was up walking within a couple hours of the surgery. Not very far but to the bathroom. Not sure if it will be the same with the T-levels.
    - You might get nauseous from the anesthesia but if you do, no worries. They will give you anti-nausea meds.
    - You will likely be hooked up to an IV or 2 before being released just to make sure you aren't dehydrated.
    - They will have a PT person come in and make sure you are mobile enough to go home. So if you have stairs they will make sure you are comfortable on climbing them. They will walk you around to make sure you aren't dizzy and your are strong enough to support yourself. This person will also teach you how to get in/out of bed carefully.
    - You won't be able to shower for about 48 hours
    - You will be sore from the surgery but overall if they are doing a 'micro' surgery, the smaller the incision, the less upsetting it is to the surrounding muscle/nerves so the recovery is a bit better
    - you will be tired for at least 2-weeks post op. Don't feel bad. You may even find you are very tired for up to 6-weeks b/c as you increase your activity, you will get tired
    - Ask about driving. I suspect you will not be allowed to drive for at least 2-weeks. Maybe longer
    - Ask about best positions to sleep in. I wish someone told me to avoid recliner. It was most comfortable but for lower back, it didn't provide the support I needed.
    - Get a grabber/gripper/gopher. It's a little device for about $20 (maybe less) that helps you pick up stuff off the floor so you don't have to bend. I even used it to help pull pants up. It's a life saver.
    - Try to pre-cook meals that will be easy to heat up.
    - Accept help from friends.
    - Little things that don't seem to have you bending, twisting, lifting...can be a problem. Don't plan to sweep, vacuum, dust. Even bringing groceries in the house can be too much. Taking laundry out of the dryer, etc. Be over cautious on these 'rules'

    I'm sure you will do fine.
    As for re-herniation...it's always a risk.
    With the micro surgeries, it tends to happen (in my opinion) because the surgeon's view is limited.

    I think the key is...be prepared mentally to go through ups and downs. It's hard going from a busy mom to 'resting'. Try to find a way to enjoy the rest and don't feel bad for "taking time to recover".

    I know my reply was long.
    I hope I didn't scare you too much
    I hope that some of the 'what to expect' was helpful.
  • No, I haven't had a second opinion. Initially my PCP referred me to an OS, who was reluctant to operate. He referred me to the NS for a second opinion, and the NS is the one recommending surgery.

    My surgeon told me that I won't be staying overnight in the hospital. However, I take that with a grain of salt because I tend to not do so well with general anesthesia, so I am actually anticipating an overnight stay. I figure I'll prepare for the worst, but hope for the best.

    Thank you for all of this wonderful information. This is very helpful!
  • In my opinion, seriously think twice. Read The List by Saltsworks; she wrote about everything you will need. I wish I had known before.
    As to the surgeon, I feel they view the actual surgery as an act, which they preform ; hopefully well, and it is totally in a vacuum. They do not see you and your recuperation that will easily take 6-12 months. It sounds like you are a single Mom. Does the doctor know that you won't have any help? My doctor's response was, ''I don't ask what everyone's home situation is''
    I am starting my 4th month after my 2nd surgery. The first did not stay in place and was redone at the 3rd month through the front (ALif) I am still in pain, not the same as before. All they will tell you is no BLT for 3 months. However as it takes bone 8-12 months to grow and fuse, that actually makes no sense. What your doctor won't tell you until after the surgery is that he/she wants you to ''be careful'' All that said, it's a huge betrayal, at least it was for me. I would assume for the worst, for a very long time. Then, if you truly want this surgery, go for it. In retrospect, with continual Norco, I was better then, than I am now. And I still need 2 pills (10mg each) per day. Still in pain, still cannot Bend,Lift,Lean,Twist for another 6 months. No sex,(well, they would say yes; but only if you barely move) no dancing no organizing your shoes! :) Basically worse than before. Think about it, please.
  • I'm definitely going to think about it carefully. Thankfully I am married and have a good amount of support around me, so that is not an issue. I have decided to get a second opinion, though. I will be going to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, which ranks 15th in the country for their NS department. My doctor's office is faxing my test results over to them, and one of their surgeon's, which does thoracic spine surgery, is going to review them and get back to me. I'm guessing they'll want to see me at some point. If they are unable to squeeze me in before June 8th, then I'll likely postpone the surgery until after I see the NS there. I want to go into this feeling as informed as possible.
  • KimD...so glad you are getting a 2nd opinion. It never hurts. It will give you a chance to ask some additional questions and get a fresh perspective even if he says a lot of the same stuff.

    It's so good you have a supportive family. It does make a big difference. Also, if possible, have your husband or an adult family member come with you. It's just as important to have an 'advocate' get to know your surgeon as well. This way the day of the surgery, your 'support system' feels comfortable that they've met the doctor and can ask their questions too.

    Good luck!
  • I told my mom I'd like her to come with me for the consultation with the NS at UPenn. Unfortunately, my husband cannot take off of work, as he has already taken a lot of time off for my various medical problems. He'll be coming with me the day of the surgery, but I'm glad my mom will come with me for the second opinion.
  • KimD592
    I had a micro-discectomy L5 S1, it has been the best decision I ever made, the post-op problems/suggestions made by other members are correct, its not easy afterwards but so worth it, it's been 4 weeks now and I'm pain free walking 3 miles a day, pre-op I couldn't walk stand or sit. You absolutely will not be able to lift, bend or twist for at least 6 weeks maybe longer. I understand your position when it comes to operating or not all I can tell you is that for me it was the right decision, th very best of luck, clare...
  • It's good to have somebody else come with you to an appointment like this. Write out questions you think of ahead of time. Check out this site - you may find some you hadn't thought of. I found it helpful to better remember what's discussed by having a note pad to jot down the answers to questions.

    Take care,

    4 level ACDF C4-C7 5-2-11, laminectomy & discectomy L4-L5 1/26/12, ALIF L4-5, L5-S1 12/10/12.
  • Kim,
    In a car accident in 2008 I broke T8-10. Most of them healed except T9 which completely shattered. I've spent the last almost 3 years being told to 'wait and see' while my vertebra crushed more and more, until I've finally found a NS willing to do something to help.
    Its not that they can't do T-spine surgery, its just that usually they don't unless they have to because they often need to go in through the lungs. I'm actually having a 6 level fusion next month (july 8th) completely posteriorly. The NS gave me two options with the only benefit to the posterior and anterior approach together being cosmetic.
    I have been told that healing from a thoracic surgery is often less painful than lumbar and cervical surgeries because you do not move or twist your thoracic spine nearly as much. I know how hard it is to find people out there who have had thoracic surgeries done (I've done my own hunting) and I like to think that it is because they have them done and move on because they feel better!
    I think taking your mom is a great idea and before my last appt I wrote a huge list of questions. Write them down, otherwise you'll forget something and be annoyed. Don't be surprised if the new surgeon's opinion is different, I've seen 3 NS this year and each one told me something different (while still passing me off to someone more specialized). Good luck, I hope your appt goes well tomorrow (right?)
  • SpineAZSpineAZ WiscPosts: 1,084
    Was wondering about your surgery, how it went, if you canceled, if you did a second opinion, etc.

    2 ACDFs, 2 PCDF, 3 LIFs; Rt TKR; Rt thumb fusion ; Lt thumb arthroplasty; Ehlers Danlos 
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