It’s been almost a year since we started documenting Sarah's story on our blog. In short, she's a 30-something mother, wife, and employee who opted for a lumbar spine fusion to help control her sciatica.
I recently contacted her to see how she was doing a year later, and I hope her story will give insight to those of you who are making the difficult decision about whether or not to opt for a fusion surgery. In the post below, you'll see my questions in bold and Sarah's answers in italics.
Q and A with Sarah 1 year after her fusion surgery
Q: In general, how are you feeling a year after your spine fusion?
A: I'm doing really well. If I compare where I am this year with where I was a year ago, my life is so much better thanks to the fusion surgery. I still have pain, but it does not compare to what I was dealing with prior to surgery. I am a happier person and a better wife and mother because I had this operation.
Q: Do you have any regrets about having the surgery?
A: When I woke up immediately after the surgery, I was in a lot of pain and had regrets. I had a lot of trouble managing my pain those first few days. I remember thinking, "I never want to have this surgery again." But my sciatica was gone right away, so I knew I had done the right thing. Each day gradually got easier, and now I know that I made the right choice.
Q: How has the surgery changed your life?
A: Last year, I was just finding a way to exist with the pain. I was not able to be active with my children at all. I couldn't tolerate sitting or standing for more than 10 minutes. This year, I have my active life back. I am able to take my children to the park, play with them, and not regret it afterward. I still have pain, but it is manageable.
Q: What advice would you give to someone in a similar situation to yours (young, working mom) who is thinking about having a spine fusion?
Exhaust all conservative therapies before opting for surgery.
The fusion should be your last option. In my case, I was able to postpone surgery for a year after my first surgical consultation by doing disc injections.
Once you've determined you are ready for surgery, make sure you are well-informed. This can mean seeking out several surgical opinions, researching the hospital and its outcomes, talking to other individuals who have had fusion surgery, and using this site to learn all you can. I found the Spine-health forums to be very helpful.
Line up a support system.
Make sure you have your entire support system of family, friends, and colleagues behind you BEFORE you have the surgery. You will need every ounce of help afterward. Plan everything in advance, including who will be taking care of your children while you are in the hospital, and who will be helping with them once you return home. This can help them adjust to the fact that mom is recovering and is not available. The responsibility for meals, grocery shopping, and taking care of the housework all needs to be organized or agreed upon in advance. Consider having a grocery home delivery service or hiring a housekeeper to make things easier. Plan who will be your driver (I couldn't drive for nearly 2 months) if you need to go to any follow-up doctor appointments or leave the house for any reason.
Prepare your young children.
I talked to my children as often as I could to prepare them for what they would see (mom in pain) and what it meant (no rough play near mom, only quiet play). We didn't allow them to visit me in the hospital until day 3, when I was in a better pain situation and wouldn't upset them. We did do FaceTime on my iPhone on Day 2.
Prepare your work colleagues.
I also worked very hard before leaving work to organize my desk and train someone to handle my workload before leaving for surgery. This helped my colleagues feel prepared and not left in the lurch. I applied for disability leave and was approved. I kept in touch with my boss when my leave was about to expire to plan for some work accommodations before returning to work – an adjustable desk and orthopedic chair, and a part time schedule for my first two weeks.
Ultimately, Sarah is glad she made the decision to have her spine fusion surgery. But of course, every person and every case is different. We hope Sarah's story has helped you gain some insight into how a successful spine fusion can truly improve a life!