I decided to share my story for those waiting for the fusion surgery. I couldn't find much information myself on what to really expect and while all the surgeries are individual I think its good to know what to expect. I think my experience could be well described as being average and representative somewhat.
While many here have had back problems for long time, I had a Motocross accident 6 weeks ago and I broke my T5 and T6 vertebras pretty badly. It took 1,5 hours for me to be transferred to ER unit in Dubai, UAE where the journey began. After incredibly painful X-rays, CT and MRI scans (being shifted from bed to the scanners was unbelievably painful) it was clear I had unstable spine and I needed emergency two level fusion surgery.
My surgery lasted 4 hours and surgeons implanted 8 screws, two plates and two rods through the back. I woke up feeling rather good but that was due to the heavy sedatives from the surgery. Once I was in the ward and the sedatives wore off and were replaced with more standard painkillers, the unimaginable pain pushed thru like a knife. I was not on morphine but liquid paracetamol and some other pills. People with even morphine or opiate based painkillers have described the pain as extremely harsh and I can tell that there is nothing that could prepare me for the pain. Laying in bed against the new wound and sliced back muscles was absolute misery. So whatever people say, you do yourself a mental favour by preparing for immense pain. This is a one of the most painful operations around according to surgeons. I would have had much less anxiety if I had know that in advance. Instead I thought that either the operation was a failure or there was some serious damage or infection. But everything went as planned and it was just the "normal" pain to be expected from the fusion surgery.
After few days the pain was almost the same. But what really shocked me to the core was when I first time got up to sit on the bed ready for first attempt at walking. I felt like I had metal saw and an axe implanted on my back and I had lost all sensation of the upper half of my back. I was shocked and my first thought was that if this is how I feel rest of my life I am screwed. First walk was mere 20 meters and I had to go back to bed. Also I had started to get small muscle spasms due to the mild spinal cord injury which made my legs shake uncontrollably. That added to my fears and anxiety.
On 6th day I was well enough to walk in the corridors somewhat and I was discharged to home. The pain had subsided maybe 10-15%. The back muscles were hard as a concrete and pain was piercing, non-stop type. I started to have short walks outside but I was breathless, dizzy and couldn't relax for a minute because of the pain. This lasted two weeks until suddenly one morning, the pain was halved. Life started to become more bearable. I found it hard to see any improvement on day to day basis, instead I found it more encouraging to measure pain levels weekly. My pain seemed to always subsidy not steadily, but in sudden leaps every 5-7 days. I stopped taking Celebrex (pain killers) after 2,5 weeks from operation because I wanted to start moving more and to do that I had to know the real pain levels.
I am now in 6th week and almost pain free. There is numbness in the operational area and muscles are stiff and I still have odd bad day when I have to take it more easy. I am able to swim, walk, do stretching, tie my own shoes, sleep on my side, drive a car etc...
Key take aways for anyone going to Fusion surgery are in my humble experience:
1) Do prepare for yourself to experience pain that you did not know exists for the first week at least
2) Recovery is slow, there is hardly noticeable progress on the pain levels day to day basis, don't let it depress you
3) Pain management is key in the beginning for these reasons
4) Walk as much as you can, when you can, with good shoes and slow pace
5) Do the stretching as instructed, it will help muscles to recover from the operation. The metal fixation will not break or come loose as many fear unless you do acrobatics
6) I also took Magnesium supplements morning and evening and that relaxed the muscles. I also used a sporting gel used to treat and ease muscle cramps and injuries.
7) I took all the glory for the good days and downplayed the bad days when there was pain setback
8) When there was a super good day, that was a signal to my body to take a rest and not to do my usual longer walk, swim or exercise regime. I screwed up few of these super good days by doing robust exercising. Its much better to let the good day calm your back and muscles and lift your spirits up
All the best for all you recovering or on your way to the operation.