Thought I'd share my experience and offer some encouragement to those considering surgery.
I'm a 38 year old male and had a PLIF with cage on or about January 24, 2011, L5-S1 because of a pinched sciatica, right side, all the way down into right toe. The last year or so I couldn't stand or walk for more than 3-7 minutes, so surgery was more or less unaviodable. Hospital stay was five days then off to my wonderful father's place for 10 days or so. I live alone so it was great to have the help. I used a walker for the first couple weeks after leaving the hospital as I live in Toronto and it was winter here so a fall obviously is bad news. I then used a cane for another 2 weeks or so. Another thing to note was that I was off the Percs and Oxy 7 days after leaving the hospital, surgeon said that's unheard of, I'm very fortunate as those things can be addictive. As for the hospital stay I don't remember much other than not much sleep at one time and very sweaty. At one point I had my gown just covering up my privates, friends said I looked like I was in a diaper, but man those meds made me hot. My appetite was good and my bodily functions functioned!
Saw my GP at the 3 week mark to check out the incision and was cleared to get in a pool so off I went, 4-5 days a week for a month or so, just walking. Was back to work at the 2 month mark, I have a desk job, so no problems there. I was also taking public transit at about the 3 week mark as well as driving at about the 1 month mark. I had a 2 month check up with the surgeon and everything looked fine.
At the 2 month mark I started seeing a Physiotherapist. At first it was twice a week then down to once a week, for about 4 months total. The big issue was getting my right big toe going again, and working on my balance, which is still not very good. She gave me various exercises, which I was quite diligent with, and though the toe is much stronger now (it was dead before the surgery) it still does tingle when I do certain things. The balance is still not great either, even with all the exercises I was doing. The PT didin't do very much manual therapy, nor accupuncture, I'm not sure why as I thought when she did that stuff it really helped.
Anyways I was back to the surgeon at the 5 month mark for a check-up and the fusion had occured already. Doc said I could go and play golf and do more or less whatever I wanted. At the six month mark I did a week long canoe trip, portaging and all and boy was it tough. Crawling out of my tent was not a pretty site! I was also playing golf at this point, and I had started spin classes. They were tough at first but are fine now. I swam twice a week for a few months but swimming inside is boring as heck, for myself at least.
Guess I'm at about the 10 month mark now. I rock climb 3-4 times a week at an indoor climbing gym, spin class twice a week and go to a yoga once a week. I also do some yoga stuff at home. My back is sore at times, especially in this crappy chair I'm in! Yet, my quality of life is up tenfold since the recovery started occuring. I have had no nerve issues at all down my right side, just some minor stuff down the left, which is almost non-existent now. My balance still stinks, which is kinda disappointing considering all the work I did on the ball and bosu, and I still get on them once a week, just one of those things I guess.
That's all that I can think of. Put your faith in something greater than yourself and everything will work out just fine! As far as my back goes I'm not normal, but I'm in pretty darn good shape for a guy who had a rod put in when he was 15 to correct scoliosis and now a PILF.
Take care and all the best!