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Reasonable expectations or not...

I'm 34 y/o and after 9+ years of symptoms, things finally progressed to where I have to break down and get surgery. I am in grad school and trying to fit this in over my semester break. I am having a L4-S1 TLIF (min invasive) on 12/27 and school starts back 1/7. It's a 40ish minute commute to the university. Lectures are broken up into 45-50 min segments, and I can get up and stretch at any point if I feel the need. I work in the medical field and feel I have chosen a good surgeon with a great record.
So barring unusual complications, am I expecting too much? My surgeon knows my plans and only gave brief pause at having to "jump" back into things so soon. He said he would prefer a full 2 weeks, but said it would depend on how I feel obviously. Not talking about going back to work anytime soon, just listening to lectures and reading in the afternoons. There is no putting school hold, and I have to be able to get back to studying once the semester starts up again. Just looking for a little realism with a splash of hope I guess. Thanks in advance.


  • I'm getting a single level TLIF on L5 S1 and I'm ten years older than you. Based on my Q and A time with my surgeon and what I've read online I think you are asking too much. If you rush the healing process you risk messing up the surgeons work not to mention the pain that will increase from over doing it. Just my two cents.
    Getting L5 S1 foraminotomy, and fusion with 4 bolts and 2 rods on 01/31/2013. Pars defect at L5, little to no disc between L5 S1, grade 2 stenosis at L5, pinched nerves.
  • I agree with above post. I am only 32 years old. I could not even ride in a car, let alone drive forty minutes. The jarring effect from driving is gonna hurt like you would not believe. There is a reason why a patient is not allowed to drive for a month after a fusion, minimally invasive or not. You will definitely need to be able get up and move around during the lectures, just letting know from experience, that hard chairs at school will not be your friend after your fusion. You will be wishing for a recliner. Sorry if I sound so negative, but I just wanted to share my own experiences.

    Discectomies 05/08 and 04/11, fusions L4-5 Feb 9,2012 and L3-L4 June 28,2012, Staph infection washout 3/2/2012, Bulged L5-S1. SCS trial on January 17th, 2014, which was a success! Permanent SCS on February 20th.
  • Radguy:

    Your work ethic and positive attitude are impressive. That will take you far in life; however, not during the recovery from a multiple level spinal fusion. I had the same and it kicked my butt. I thought I was a stand-in for Superman until I came out from under the anesthesa (?) and then the post surgical pain set in. Had to spend three nights in the hospital and I did not even have any complications.

    I stayed in the house for the next 6 days and "rode - not drove" to a meeting about 20 minutes distant. It took everything I had. My outside walking regimen then commenced and that was fatiguing (one mile per day and gradually increased to more reps thru the day, but not a longer distance). I did not even attempt to drive for one month.

    You are relatively young and I am relatively old (61). Initially, the surgeon was going to perform a MIS TLIF at L4-S1. That got changed once he opened me up, and he had to cut wide and deep to gain access and visability. Perhaps that set me back more.

    As was said above, you MUST follow post op medical restrictions. Otherwise you will undermine what the surgeon has created and subsequently deny Mother Nature the opportunity to make it heal.

    By the way, I was on the "giving end" of a university class, not the receiving. For me to get to the campus I had to drive 150 miles. Needless to say, I organized the beginning of the semester so the students had assignments to keep them busy for one month while I stayed home and healed. But even after that one month of recovery I still was challenged to make the drive. Mental focus also became a struggle.

    Anyway, take another look at it and be creative, but don't trade the present for the future. Good luck.

  • I can only re-iterate what everyone else has told you. After my first surgery I went back to work (including a commute) at 4 weeks. It was hell. I did not fuse and had an infection and had a redo at a year out. This time, the surgeon insisted on 12 weeks off work, the first two weeks were bed-and-bathroom only and I had a hard brace.

    I did go back to work with extensive commuting at 12 weeks and if days stretched much beyond 7 hours I was not in great shape at all. It took me about a year to be my old self.

    On the other hand, age IS on your side. Still, I would be cautious in thinking that it would make a 10 day recovery period possible.
  • I agree with everyone - while age is on your side, there is no substitute for healing. The neck is one thing, the lumbar is completely different. That is your core and I don't think we realize just how important it is until it is compromised.

    Since you are in the planning mode for all of this, is there perhaps a way that you can arrange with a fellow student or the professor or the school in some fashion for you to "attend" classes via streaming from home? That way, even if you are able to attend here and there, you won't feel the added pressure to get there if you are having a bad day. And, if you record it, if you are having a bad day, you can replay it so that you don't miss the lecture.

    I am still recovering from my cervical surgery and while I have amazing energy and am doing a lot (even with a cervical collar), I know that there are limitations having to do with length of time I am at my best right now.

    I would make these inquires as soon as you can. With all of the fantastic technology available these days, if you can attend class from home and still do all of the assignments and get them turned in in a timely fashion, I think that is going to be your best bet all the way around - for your health and your scholastic pursuits.

    I am guessing you are not the first to need something like this, so perhaps the school has some answers already in place.

    Good luck to you!
    10/26/2012 ACDF C3/4 C4/5 surgery
    No pain; no pain meds - thank goodness!
    04/01/2013 - 5 months + 1 week - FUSED
    Doing some physical therapy for even better range of motion
  • Appreciate all the input. I guess only time will tell. I've found plenty of positive scenarios from other patients, some specifically that had my surgeon. While this thread mainly shoots to err on the side of caution. I won't be going back to work, if at all, for several months. So it's merely sitting, standing, and walking, and all of those are encouraged and promote healing. Guess it will all come down to how I feel. I did preemptively request off the first couple days of the semester to be safe. I'll be sure to report back in a few weeks for those interested. Take care everyone.
  • Please do update us on your post op experience. Will be praying for you.
    Getting L5 S1 foraminotomy, and fusion with 4 bolts and 2 rods on 01/31/2013. Pars defect at L5, little to no disc between L5 S1, grade 2 stenosis at L5, pinched nerves.
  • 2 weeks post-op and I was back in lectures. First day back was a full 8 hour lecture day, so it was not without discomfort, but manageable. Someone drove me the first day, drove myself today. I stand up when I need to if I get uncomfortable, but nothing major. My only major issues postop have been sleeping. Not a back sleeper, and never slept completely up on one side. Now that Ive have mildly adjusted to sleeping differently, I find it a bit more palatable.

    Leg pain and weakness prior to surgery have gone completely. Still need a walker when I first get out of bed in the morning, but by the time I get to the bathroom and start getting dressed it's game on! Minimally invasive approach makes all the difference if you find a skilled surgery, the recovery time that is.

    Hope this helps others in my position. You're having a major surgery, don't forget that. You will have pain, but don't let the pain or your conditions define you. Get up and get moving. Love your back brace like no other. Befriend an icepack after a long day. Dont be afraid to use meds to get through the day or especially sleep at night. Good luck to you all.

  • Thanks for posting this. I'm a graduate student, and I was wondering how long I would be out of classes for (I have two classes a week, 3 hours at a time). This gives me some hope that my semester might not be derailed!
    1/16/2013 Minimally invasive TLIF with rods, screws, and cage on L5/S1 joint to treat grade 2 spondylolysthesis, pars defect, degenerative disc disease. Dealt with chronic pain & nerve issues since at least 2007.
  • It's doable, although I don't know the particulars of your scenario. My classes are 5 days a week, 4-8 hour days depending. My first day back happened to be an 8 hour day. There was definitely some discomfort. I moved to the back of the auditorium so when I stood up during lecture to lean against the wall or do a little walking-in-place PT, I wouldn't disturb the class. Do whatever you have to within the guidelines given by your doctor. Best of luck to you.
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