Thought I'd post an account of my surgery and experiences to date. To begin with a little history - I'm a 32 year old male living in Australia. Had a microdiscectomy 3 years ago and until the beginning of the year had not been experiencing any recurring pain. Early this year some pain returned and after another MRI, decided the disc (at L5-S1) was so far degenerated that the time was right for the next (and hopefully final) step - spine fusion.
Today is day 8 post-ALIF at L5-S1. I have a plate and 4 screws screwed into the vertebrae (looks cool on the x-ray), and a waterproof bandage across my lower abdomen to keep the wound clean and dry, so I've yet to see how large the entry was and scar will be. I'd guess at around 10-15cm.
I am experiencing surprisingly very little pain, not even bothering to take pain killers now that I'm home. In fact the first thing I asked after waking up after the surgery was whether they had finished completely, even 10 minutes after waking I experienced almost no pain. The whole hospital stay, I could not rate the pain higher than 1/10, even without pain medication. In fact once I was moved to my room, 4 hours post-op, it took me another 3-4 hours to bother hitting the meds button - I was hooked up to both a drip and pain medication containing a mix of ketamine, fentanyl, and something to counter nausea, which I did not experience. I could have got through post-op without the need for any pain medication, which was not what I was expecting at all. I was also given 200mg Tramadol on occasion in hospital. All I was given to take home were Panadeine-Forte (500mg paracetamol, 30mg codeine).
The hospital stay was 5 days. Nil-by-mouth for 24 hours, and was not allowed solid food until lunch the 3rd day. I had a catheter, during the operation a needle in my neck to provide any additional blood (an amount of my own was taken while I was under), two needles in my left wrist and back of my hand, and pre/during-surgery, electrodes on my chest and forehead to measure brain activity via an ECG.
Day three the machines and drips were removed, and I went for a short walk (two days completely in bed), roughly 50m around the ward. The physio gave me basic exercises, mostly for leg muscles. I also had inflatable devices on both my legs much like the thing used to measure heart rate that would inflate and deflate a few times a minute to keep circulation while I was stationary in bed.
Day four I was up and walking around the ward on my own, a few hundred metres at a time.
Day five I was released home. There are lots of restrictions - no driving, bending, twisting, swimming, and can only lift up to 4kg. So I spend the majority of time in bed reading, watching movies, music, and short walks along the footpath.
I have two 'grabbers', one by the bed and one in the bathroom for when I drop things. I'd also moved all food, toiletries etc onto the top shelves, and a few friends have brought over food.
So over all so far, quite an unexpectedly easy experience (as far as spine surgery can go). I'm told 6-8 weeks before I can return to work, and 8 months before full recovery. Again, pain is close to non-existent, to the point that I have to remind myself that I'm still bandaged and recovering from major surgery, and that I shouldn't go for a run.
Hope my account helps give people some info on what I've experienced.