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What's to be expected from my surgery?

Hi everyone,
I'm new to the site and have been getting lost in the threads on here. I'm wondering if anyone can help me with what to expect on my upcoming surgery. I will be having a posterior / anterior thoracic fusion from T4-T10. I probably should've asked a few more questions of the doctor, but I didn't. I will have to have a thoracotomy to get this done. I'm hoping I can find someone who has been through a similar surgery. I'm curious as what I should expect as far as the recovery goes because it sounds like the thoracotomy is "not a fun one to recover from" (my doctor's words). As much as I appreciate his honesty, I've been driving myself nuts as to what is forthcoming in November. If someone out there has experienced a similar surgery, please reply to this thread. What preparations at home should be made? How tough was it to control the pain afterwards? Is there anything you would've done differently given the chance to do it over again? I'm certain in the long run it will be better than the daily pain I'm living with now. Thank you for any responses. Have a great week



  • Hi Chassen. I hope your surgery goes well. I was just reading some post on thoracic surgery by a woman named Cas. I'm not real good at getting around this site either but just look around because I have read quite a few post on people who already had this surgery. I must admit it sounded pretty scarey. I have bad disc in my cervical, lumbar and thoracic spine. I think the thoracic is by far the most painful. I've actually been to the emergency room several times thinking I was having a heart attack and I couldn't breath well only to find out it was due to my thoracic disc.im just curious to ask what all symptoms yours is causing. I hope you find the info on here your looking for. Please let me know how your surgery goes. Will be praying for you. I know how painful this can be.
  • BkinsBBkins Posts: 364
    edited 10/04/2012 - 3:05 PM
    sounds like your getting ready to jump into a very big surgery before you know what your getting into. I know your asking here about what is going to happen but you really should try to put together a list of questions that you want answered and then go back to your surgeon and get them answered. Have you gotten a second opinion done to make sure all the work is in fact needed? Fusions are the end of the line in back treatments and a lot can go wrong or cause problems.

    Is your surgeon a spine specialist? What other treatments have you had done prior to agreeing to this surgery?

    I wish I could help you with the direct questions you have. I can not as I have not had that surgery done but I have had a few other fusions and each one came with their own set of problems to get past. I don't wish other to have to experience what I've been through. There are quite a few others on this site that will probably chime in and offer rays of help.
  • Im 4 mo post op from lateral thoracotomy for t8-t9 rupture, mild cord compression syrinx- think long and hard. I dont mean to discourage you, but as my doctor told me- he is only doin my surgery to keep me from becoming paralyzed. Not for pain- he told me that he may even make my pain worse. He did. Now, I am only 4 mo out of it. He said the pain may get better. Get a second opinion before you do it. I had 2 neurosurgeons opinions before I done it. If you have it, make sure you have family who can help get you in and out of bed- bathrm etc when you get home- the first 2 mo are hard. I felt like the woman who had been sawed in half by a magic trick gone bad.
  • Thanks for all the info and recommendations. Here's what i've been through so far. I've had chronic pain for 8years or so, which I would just live with versus fusion surgery. But the major reason I'm going through with the surgery is about every 3-6 months I'll have what I call is an episode of my back "going out." The pain is unbearable, it feels as though I'm getting the world's hardest bear hug while getting stabbed at the same time (sorry,that's the best way I can describe it). It has been getting worse and worse every time it happens to the point where morphine (intravenously) and Toradol injections only curb the pain. Okay enough whining from me as it could certainly be worse since I'm not in the situation that you were in Nubbutt.
    In the past few years I've had several MRI's as every doctor I've gone to (including: a general practitioner, a Neurosurgeon, and now an Orthopedic spine surgeon) has requested one. I have 3 herniated discs between T-4 through T-10 that's impeading the spinal cord. I had a discectomy at the T-5-T-6 by the Neurosurgeon only to have the herniation return and impead the cord again. I also had spinal injections, with no improvement. After that my Spine Surgeon requested a discogram, which I had never heard of. Although it was a painful process, we did find that there was specifically 2 discs that cause my pain and 2 that are leaking, but not causing pain. That's why my surgeon has decided to fuse all of the troublesome levels. He did send me to one of his partners at his practice to get his input also and he agreed. They were hoping that they could do it orthoscopically, but I have Osteopenia (soft bones) so that was out of the question because I'll need the hardware now. Anyhow, thanks for everyone's input and recommendations. Have a great weekend everyone.

  • Nubbutt said:
    I felt like the woman who had been sawed in half by a magic trick gone bad.
    I'm wondering what incisions were made? Was there more than the front to back (on the left side) incision? Was the pain maneageble after surgery? What were the first few days like in the hospital? Anymore info you can give me is appreciated. I really hope your pain gets better. Have a good week.

  • I hear all these people that have had surgery on the thoracic spine. I have several disc messed up in that area and I can't sleep at night. It feels like all of my ribs have been crushed and hurt very very bad, it's almost unbearable and I also feel like someones sawing my back into. I get those stabbing pains and it's hard to breathe. I live in Mississippi and around here you won't even hear them even discuss surgery at the thoracic level. I wonder if we're just that far behind here or what? I have disc bad at all areas, impinged nerves, spinal stenosis, spondylosis, scoliosis and arthritis . I had surgery on my lower back and 2 weeks later it was in the same state as before surgery. My back seems much worse after surgery. They say that's why they call it a medical practice bc it's practice and nothing's guaranteed. My uncle had repeated surgeries on his back until he couldn't walk. I'm 38 and I haven't had a good day in 2 years. I never wake up and say I feel good today. This has taken a major toll on my way of life! Do any of you live in the us that have had thoracic surgery? Has it really improved anyone's plain and life? I'm very curious to know.
  • Kristy dyeKKristy dye Posts: 23
    edited 10/07/2012 - 11:46 AM
    Sorry for the spelling, I meant has it improved anyone's pain and way of life.
  • Hey read under I don't like my MRI results by cm. He's talking about workers comp doctors being paid to not find anything. Go to your own dr!!!!!!
  • Kristy dyeKKristy dye Posts: 23
    edited 10/07/2012 - 12:47 PM

    MRI "unremarkable"
    I know how you must feel, and im sorry for your pain. What i would suggest is having someone read your MRI film, and depending what is causing your dr not finding much wrong, you might have to go outside of any possible conflict of interest.
    I had suffered tremendously and risked causing more harm, fell and knocked my teeth out, because all the drs i have seen through my employer or workers comp. were paid to not find anything seriously wrong with my spine after my accident. Turned out after 15 years i was suffering with herniated thoracic, lumbar and cervical discs, punctured Dura, compressed spinal cord and myelopathy. You have to make an effort to make sure your MRI is read out correctly. For your piece of mind, to hopefuly ease your suffering. I was told by number of company and workers comp drs. that its nothing or nothing serious or urgent even when i called 911, it was just panic attack and depression, etc. From my horrible experience and suffering till this day i can tell you that some companies and drs will lie and cover up and have no regard what so ever for your suffering. It does not mean that "mild" injury cannot cause all the symptoms, but there should be clear explanation why so much pain. After all the cover up even when my employer and doctors were exposed for torturing me for years they are still taking advantage of the fact that i have no insurance and are trying to tell me its FIBRO, CRPS2, forge and modify my WCAB file and dr reports, and who knows what. It does happen, it happens just to hide extend of your injury and save money, and send you down the road suffering with minimal treatment. My thoracic MRI is "unremarkable" and there are several herniated discs, muscle atrophy, punctured Dura, 10mm of leaked out disc, and untold suffering for years and years because it seemed impossible that all those dr. would lie and cover up and torture. Good luck!
  • kamgramkkamgram Posts: 483
    edited 10/07/2012 - 5:35 PM
    Hi Chase, I am so sorry for your pain and suffering. I also have herniations in the cervical, thoracic and lumbar spine. I had lumbar lamenectomy in 1994 at level L4-5, than again in Oct. and Dec. of 2008 at L4-5. I started having chest pain and upper abdominal pain on left side back in Feb. of this year. I went through a whole round of cardiac tests to find out my heart was fine(yeah) but thoracic spine was not(boo). I had excrutiating pain while lying flat on back for 3 hrs. after heart cath. and finally seen my NS in March for MRI and CT scan which showed herniation with calcification at T7-8.

    I had to go to Duke Medical Ctr. 4 hrs. away from home for surgery because they are the only specialists who operate on thoracic in Western NC. It was a Microdiscectomy of T7-8 and I went to a hotel the next morning and stayed until Sat. for the 4 hr. drive home:( I have never had so much trouble recuperating from any of my surgeries as I did this one. I was in so much pain and almost 5 months later I am still on pain meds, muscle relaxers. I was terminated after 6 wks. of leave and am still not able to work. I have had several ESIs on thoracic that don't help. I have to make another appt. with surgeon at Duke for recheck and to see if anything can be done. My lumbar surgeries were painful but I was able to fight my way back from those but this thoracic surgery has been hell. Please get all the info you can and have surgeon answer every question you have and if he hesitates at all, run don't walk out of that office. I dont want to scare you but just please know what you are getting into, I didn't:(

  • If you can, I would also suggest that you get a second or even a third opinion.
    You need to understand the surgery that is being proposed.
    Thoracic surgery is a TOUGH recovery when it is just one level. You are talking about a very big surgery there.
    You will need a very experienced surgeon who has done lots of thoracic surgeries. I wonder how many multi-level thoracic surgeries he has done.
    Could you speak to one of his success patients to hear what to expect.
    Ask him about the recovery afterwards:
    How long will you be in hospital?
    How long to be off work?
    How long to be able to drive?
    How will they control the pain after surgery?
    What about once you get home?
    Will you need physio, and if so, at what stage in the recovery?
    What will happen if you don't have surgery?

    Do try to find out all you can about this surgery before embarking on it.
    Let us know how you get on.
  • NubbuttNNubbutt Posts: 6
    edited 10/09/2012 - 3:51 AM
    Chase- I had an incision bout ten inches long from under my arm to close to my spine. Also an incision from the chest tube. Stayed in CCU for 3 days and on floor for 2. Im not going to lie to you it was unbearable pain the first 2-3 days. I had tubes and wires comin outta everywhere.I stayed in bed until the 3rd day then was placed in a brace and walked a few ft on a walker with 2 people helping me. Then sent to a reg room. Stayed there two days then sent home. The whole time I was there, the nurses had to turn me and bathe me because I absolutely could not do it- the pain and weakness was bad.- My family is really good so they actually had me a wheel chair and walker ready for me when I got home. You have to have someone with you when you come home. Ask your doc if you will need these things so they can get that arranged ahead of time- my sister is a nurse so she knew what to do when I got home- You just cant do it alone. I never dreamed the surgery was that bad. I went in with my suitcase all packed-cute gowns-lol- I didnt use none of that stuff- no need for it- other than some good soap and tooth paste. I was in no way prepared for the lenght of recovery. I did do physical therapy but it was started bout 4 wks after surg. I have lost my job because I didnt make it back in 3 months. It has been a life changer- Now my restrictions for work are so limited- no one will hire me.
  • jmhar68jjmhar68 Posts: 60
    edited 11/01/2012 - 3:17 PM
    Hi ChassenJ,

    My name is John and if you look at my avatar/profile picture to the left, that is a 6 level thoracic fusion from T2-T8. There seems to be only a handful of us on this board that have had this kind of thing done so there is not much info to be found. My surgery was posterior only and I am now 8 months post-op. My neurosurgeon whom came highly recommended for thoracic surgery just acted like everything would be fine and did not set any post-op expectations for me either. I suppose it is probably better as I am not sure I would have had the courage to go through with it had I known what it would feel like when I woke up in the recovery room.

    I spent 5 days in the hospital and for the first 2-3 days, it was a living hell. I now truly know what level 10 pain feels like. At times, I could not stay still. At times, my heart rate was so high it caused palpitations which totally freaked me out. Especially, when they rushed in and put a nitroglycerin pill under my tongue. To this day, I am not sure if the issue was an incredibly conservative pain management plan at the hospital I was in or if that is just how it feels regardless of how much morphine and dilotten they give you. However, things got a little more manageable by the time I was discharged and after about 2-3 weeks, I got settled into a routine that put as little pressure on my back as I could and then spent the next 3 months reading, watching movies and sleeping.

    I went back to work after 3 months and am still having problems working a full day. Office chairs are terrible on my back. I bought a couple of used zero gravity recliners. One for work and one for home and they are the only chairs I can sit in for extended amounts of time. Even at 8 months post-op, I am still experiencing skeletal and nerve pain at levels over the counter medications have no effect on yet. But I still have hope I will get to a point again where prescriptions are no longer needed to manage the pain.

    Take Care

  • Just found this thread. I had surgery 19 days ago and it has not been easy, however, at this point I am glad I did it as I had symptoms of the pressure on my spinal cord and I was very worried about the outcome of waiting. It's discouraging to worry about long term pain from the surgery when I didn't really have much pain prior to surgery. I do feel a little better each day and wonder how people do a year or so after surgery. My surgery was t6-t7, microdisecty for a large central herniation.
  • mrb_dcmmrb_dc Posts: 20
    edited 11/25/2012 - 12:02 PM
    This past October 8th I had a laminectomy down to L1, a fusion from t9-l3 and a spondylectomy of T12. This means my T12 vertabrae was removed in one piece (en bloc) and replaced with instrumentation.

    The pain is ok now. I occasionally take oxycontin at night (not every night) and Alleve or Tylenol during the day. For the most part my pain is under control.

    I'm under movement restrictions until February at which point I should be allowed to go swimming. I'm not permitted to ride my bike or recumbent trike until October of next year.

    I'm stiff and walking slowly but I'm getting around OK. I can't wait to hit the pool.

    I return to work this week.
  • I can hardly believe that you will be going back to work this week.
    Do you feel ready? I wish you well and hope that it all goes well. What do you have to be able to do?

    I hope that your recovery will continue to go well.
    Take care,
  • mrb_dcmmrb_dc Posts: 20
    edited 11/25/2012 - 12:27 PM
    I'm going back to work with some movement restrictions. I am on my feet a lot at work but it's not a labor intensive job so much. Plus, I suspect some work could be divided up so I don't have to do a lot of the bending, stooping and lifting.

    I'm ready. I don't get fatigued that much anymore. I just have to hope that this fusion takes.
  • Wow great to hear such news on recovery mrb_dc
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