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FREAKING out about upcoming surgery

nataliebreckernnataliebrecker Posts: 9
edited 06/11/2012 - 8:53 AM in Back Surgery and Neck Surgery
I had L-4, L-5,S-1 laminectomy and fusion 24 years ago. I have had pretty bad back pain for the last year and am scheduled to have anterior lumbar interbody fusion with cages L4-S1 and percutaneous screw fixation and rods. This sounds like it's a pretty rough surgery with a very crummy recup period. Anybody out there have had this done and can you tell me realistically what the pain level will be and for how long, and what to expect? I am extremely frightened of the pain, because i wanted to kill myself from the last back surgery and said I would never, ever do it again. I would rather give birth 50 times or have a couple of hysterectomies rather than go thru this. Anybody have any insight?? Thanks so much


  • I'm sorry I can't help you because I haven't had any lumbar surgery, but I do wish you all the best. Just remember that you have to think past the recuperation pain to how you are going to feel when you are healed. That might make it all worth it.
  • Wanted to say hi and welcome you to the group! I hear you on the fear about having surgery as I too am waiting on a fusion.

    When is your surgery scheduled for? From what I have read, and I am sure many that have had this surgery will chime in soon, recovery can really vary. Be very careful post op, listen to doc. regarding BLT restrictions, walk, and rest. Have you taken a look at surgery "must haves" for an idea of things you may need post surgery? Will you have help post op at home?I'm sorry for how you felt post op last time, hope that you have help and someone to talk to post op (as well as us here)

    Wishing you all the best! Please keep us updated on how you are doing.

    >:D< Karen
    >:D< >:-D< : Karen
    L3-S1 herniation and bulges, stenosis, mod facet,ddd,impinged nerves,coccydinia
    discectomy/lami July 2011-unsuccessful
    adr L5-S1 Feb 2012
  • >:D< >:-D< : Karen
    L3-S1 herniation and bulges, stenosis, mod facet,ddd,impinged nerves,coccydinia
    discectomy/lami July 2011-unsuccessful
    adr L5-S1 Feb 2012
  • I had Cervical Surgery and am almost 7 wks out and feeling for the most part decent...I hope all goes as planned and you have help at home for post op needs...good luck and keep us posted....
    **Gentle Hugz** >:D<
  • Am scheduled for surgery July 22, 2011. Am going to an aneasthesiologist for transforaminal blocks this upcoming week to help with the pain. Am getting off all pain meds (Percocet, neurontin, butrans patch etc) so that the pain meds will work after surgery. I just hope I am not making a truly big mistake by having this surgery.
  • and thanks for your comments and encouragement. i truly appreciate any and all feedback!
  • Natalie,

    I'm facing a Laminectomy (L5/S1) and fusion at (L2/3/4) this year, and am far from thrilled. I've had two fusions in my neck just over a year apart, and now it looks like that mess will have to be redone plus more levels.

    Oddly I'm not freaked out over either of them, but freaked out over the recovery from the surgery! I found after my first fusion, my "pre-surgical stress" was a lot higher than it really needed to be - but of course none of us know that at the time.

    The key is if you are comfortable and have full confidence in your surgeon. If you trust him/her, and their feelings on the type of surgery you will need, that is fantastic. I know its hard, but try and think post surgery and getting on the other side, and a big step towards healing!! We are here for you. Gentle support *HUGZ*

    PCTF C4 - T2, Laminectomies C5, C6 & C7. Severe Palsy left arm/hand.
  • I was really scared about the post op pain even though my surgeon assured me that it wouldn't be that bad. I was amazed when I came round and it was true! I know that a lot of folks on here really suffer with post op pain but I didn't. I only took paracetamol in hospital.
  • Hello Natalie, I've had a post. fusion L5/S1 last year. I've also had T11/L4 lateral fusion with percutaneous placement of screws. I have not had ant. fusion yet, but am scheduled to in 2 wks. Well I have to tell you the good news about the percutaneous screw placement was not bad at all. After my scoliosis surg. (T11/L4) that was the only place my body didn't hurt. Suprisingly, since they don't have to do any pulling away of the muscles, I had very little back pain and had some swelling of the area, that was it. As for the L5/S1 surg.,I had a great deal of tailbone pain immediately after surg., the incisional pain lasted for about 10 days. the other good news was that my nerve pain was gone right away. You've had surg. before, but it sounds like you did'nt have enough pain meds post-op. Please talk to your surgeon about your fears about the pain. I felt the same way as you last year. I talked to my Dr. and the anesthesiologist that did my surg. They were great!! They made sure to give me the right blend of meds. and a nerve block. In fact when I woke up from surgery, the first thing I said to the recovery room nurse was "This isn't as bad as I thought it was going to be". Surgery is never pain free, but we can ask our Dr.s to optimise the situation. Good Wishes!!
  • I have had 3 fusions, a 360 with instrumentation (L4/L5), then 7 months later L1 to L5 and in March L5/S1. I have a LOT of hardware in my back!! The post surgery pain is greatest the first few days. The bone graft from my hip was much more painful and still bothers me after 3 years. I am fairly active and I know that helped with the recovery. Interestingly the last fusion was the most difficult to recover from, not the multi level fusion. That was because they had to separate the vertebrae to put a spacer in since my disc was such a mess. So pain level also depends on what they do when they get in there. I never expected to have the first fusion (I thought I would be good with a laminectomy), much less 3 fusions. But now that most of the pain is gone it has been worth it. The problems causing the symptoms (each fusion had a different cause) were solved with the fusions.


    Spinal stenosis, spondolysis, spondolythesis, L4/L5 laminectomy, L4/L5 360 fusion with instrumentation, L1 to L5 fusion with instrumentation and bone graft from hip, L1/S1 fusion with replacement disc put in and a nice bolt from my spine to my pelvis; PT, accupuncture, prolotherapy, many cortisone injections, 4 rhizotomies. Currently on tramadol.
    L4/L5 laminectomy, L4/L5 360 fusion with instrumentation, L1 to L5 fusion, L5/S1 fusion w/ disc replacement, left and right SI joints fused.
  • hi Joyful
    My last surgey (24 yrs ago)I was in the hospital for 10 days for the laminectomies and fusions(L4 to S1) was on constant morphine and demerol and percocet so i think the drugs were there. Was just in constant, excrutiating pain.. and I am not a pain wimp. as i recall the recup process was pretty horrendous with me being able to sit about an hour a day after 2 months. the rest of the time (23 hours a day) i was in bed.

    This upcoming surgery I am being operated thru my abdomen (with a vascular surgeon present in case of complications) to remove the disc at 2 levels and then flipped over to do the posterior screw and rod fixation. I do hope that they have improved the techniques and the pain management over the past 25 years. I recall that I could not turn myself over for the longest time and all I did was lay on my back for 2 hours, was rolled by nurses to my side for 2 hours and then rolled to the other side for 2hours. I couldn't physically do any of this by myself and felt totaly pathetic and in tons of pain. Truly felt as though a truck drove over my back a few times. A wrinkle in the sheet under my back cause me to wrythe in pain. (I must be like the princess and the pea)!!

    What pain meds did you find most effective to help alleviate your pain post-op. thanks for your help and info on this topic. I feel that gathering info and being an informed patient and knowing what to communicate to the Drs is really empowering for me and that I will feel more confident if there are some assurances that they want me to be as comfortable as possible.
  • the bone graft from the hip is soooo painful... hard than the fusion. it sounds as though we have similar conditions. I need the 2 spacer/cages at L-4 thru S1.
    i also need the instrumentation (rods and srews) at the same levels. Fortunately not grafting from the hip again. I have sponylosis, grade II spondylolisthesis. have done prolotherapy, prp, steroid injections, medial branch blocks, denervation/ablation, transforaminal blocks, etc. I really feel as though I have tried it all. The kicker is that I have been in pain for the past year and now that I have made the decision to have surgery, I am suddenly feeling less pain the past 2 days...so, me being so frightened, I am thinking "Gee maybe I don't need the surgery" Of course, my family thinks I am totally off my rocker and def thinks I have to have it because the life that I am leading is not the one I have led thru my adulthood. I have led an active life and have a joi de vivre and lately I am in bed trying to get comfortable from 2 pm til I go to bed.
  • Natalie,

    (Chuckling...with you), for some reason, and I went through it, as have many, our pain levels drop before surgery, giving us doubts!!! On my first fusion, I too had less pain about 4 days prior to my surgery, and my brain was like "do you really need surgery?" We have pain flares, and we have "good days"...for some reason (I sadly have no idea why), pre-surgery, we have good days.

    Look at the overall to make your final decision, not a few good days to make you back off. I hope all works out well, and you wake with most of your pain GONE!!!

    PCTF C4 - T2, Laminectomies C5, C6 & C7. Severe Palsy left arm/hand.
  • Natalie:

    Bob Dylan coined that phrase back in the 60's, but the concept is still true. So much has changed in the medical world during the past 25 years that you won't believe it (until you see the bill)! The procedures are so much more advanced than what you experienced years ago. As a result, the outcomes are so much better.

    For example, I had a two level fusion (L4-S1) in January of this year. During the prep process a lady entered the room seeking my consent for a procedure. Of course I asked what it was. She explained that it was similar to acupuncture, but what they did was insert needles (receptors) in my extremities and those needles contained light bulbs which would illuminate if the surgeon was touching my nerves. This provided the surgeon "real time" feedback about his work AND it enabled him to avoid nerve damage. All I had was a few puncture wounds on my feet and NO nerve damage. This procedure cost an additional $5K, but it is an example of how things are changing - for the better.

    Another comment about your "second guessing" your decision. I agonized with this decision for years and into decades. Finally, the feeling just overcame me and I realized that I had fought the good fight long enough. But what really got my attention was what my family and friends were saying about my condition. They are a very reliable barometer and can provide very good feedback regarding their observation of your behavior - something that you can't see because it's YOU.

    Take a deep breath; say a prayer; and then go with it, the whole time keeping your eye on the prize.
  • Hello Natalie, I'm scheduled to have the same surg. as you in 2 wks. I had the same surgery last year,but the fusion failed because of the almost constant steroids I've had to take because of my asthma. I've been fused from T11 to L4 already with no problems. I'll let you know how it goes afterwards. Surgical techniques and pain mngt. HAVE improved immensely in the past 10 years. Since I have been on oxycontin since my first surg.,I was concerned about pain control too,after my surg. last year. They gave me a PCA with dilaudid post-op. Before, they gave you injections every 3-4 hrs. That usually never lasted long enough and you were miserable by the time you could get your next injection. With the Pt. Controlled Analgesia (PCA) you can inject yourself intraveniously with pain meds. every 5 to 10 minutes. The nurse can inject you with a bolus of medication also if you are having more pain. this is a great way to deliver meds. because it's immediate. In the initial post-op period this makes all the difference.They usually give morphine or dilaudid in the PCA, but it can easily changed if it's not working for you. You can't overdose on it, because it's set to not go over set parameters. Then they put you on oral meds. after 2 days or so. This works well for most people. Do you have someone to be with you the first day after surg? I really feel that that is extremely important too. Speaking from personal experience, It's good to have someone be there to advocate for you and help you that first day or two. The nurses and aides can't be with you all the time. It's really good to have someone help you turn, fluff your pillows, get you a drink of water. That first few hours you are so out of it, you need someone with you all the time. You will probably go home sooner too. Gone are the days of 10 day hospital stays. Will someone be with you at home the first few days? I have a feeling this will be better for you htis time around. Best Wishes my spine sister!!
  • Jim I to was asked to sign a consent for "Neuro Monitoring" and was like...ummm what is this...now I'm a Comp person so on my approval papers it said all what was approved from the bed to neuro monitoring...LOL...I'm in the medical field and just thought they were going to be making sure my important stuff stayed working during surgery...some electrodes...no biggie....I didn't know it was these little needles they poke in me and all the way down the L side of my body...my injury affected my L arm...
    so I had 4 needles in my head...2 in each hand...2 in each foot and a row of them down the L arm/leg...HOLY COW...yes the needles are VERY small and were inserted after I was asleep...but it was just funny to me that they had a whole "neuro monitoring" crew??!! Hope all is well for everyone!!
  • Aviatrix36440 said:

    (Chuckling...with you), for some reason, and I went through it, as have many, our pain levels drop before surgery, giving us doubts!!! On my first fusion, I too had less pain about 4 days prior to my surgery, and my brain was like "do you really need surgery?" We have pain flares, and we have "good days"...for some reason (I sadly have no idea why), pre-surgery, we have good days.

    Look at the overall to make your final decision, not a few good days to make you back off. I hope all works out well, and you wake with most of your pain GONE!!!

    For my first fusion I'm in exactly the same situation that you just described. July 5 is my own magic day. My decision to proceed with surgery is based on my bad days being horrendous and tolerable days being just that. They seem to alternate from day to day. I haven't had any really good days in a long time (many months). The pain varies but is slowly getting worse as time goes on. It's time to try something new.

    Disability retirement
  • Natalie,

    It's been 15 years since my last spine surgery and like you, still remember the severe level of pain with my C-Spine 3 level ACDF. Waking up was the most excrutiating pain head to bottom of my spine in recovery room and unfortunately, I was behind a curtain, staff too far away to even get their attention.

    It was explained to me that was the nature of the surgery, they have to keep you "shallow" on surgical drugs/anesthesia because of the "nerve testing working right there where they are working and you come out of anesthesia with such severe pain."

    soooo...now almost 16 yrs later with another C-Spine surgery in about 2 wks, Jim/S Goody, I'm wondering is this "neuro-monitoring" being done for Cervical Spine surgeries?

    Natalie, hoping you get some time to talk to Dr and Anethesiologist to reassure you what they WILL DO to keep you comfortable and there will be no more torturous post-surgery and suffering as we both fully remember !

    That is my biggest fear along with nerves being damaged during surgery (more than my nerve damaged arm/hand/fingers are from C-6/7 nerve compression) !


  • Michael,

    On my first fusion, the pain was pretty much constant, but my second one was the "good days" a few days prior to the surgery. I knew better than to second guess getting surgery at that point though due to possible (turned out to be though) nerve damage and preventing more.

    I think our minds can play pretty interesting games on us. Too bad we can't harness that little trick and stay or move into the 'no pain zone'... :)

    PCTF C4 - T2, Laminectomies C5, C6 & C7. Severe Palsy left arm/hand.
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