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(HELP!) L3 thru L5S1 fusion Surgery this month.

AnonymousUserAAnonymousUser Posts: 49,578
edited 06/11/2012 - 7:26 AM in Back Surgery and Neck Surgery
Hey everyone! I am a 40yr old Attack Helicopter Pilot in the Army. I have 21yrs of service and counting. A buddy of mine who had a wire strike in Iraq an crushed his L1 thru L5 in the accident turned me on to this sight. Anyways my last 2 tours in Iraq really messed my back up and as a result I am going into surgery this month to have my L-3 thru L5S1 fused and some hardware put in also. I was just wondering if there is anyone out there that could kinda let me know what I am up against as far as post-op pain and recovery. I mean I know it is going to be a tough ride and I doubt I will ever fly again but I like to go into to this with a little more knowledge than I have. Thanks


  • Hi ... I think you will find this site very helpful. I know that I have over the past month since my surgery. Can you tell us how your surgery will be done? Anterior or Posterior? The experience may be a little different based on the approach.

    Just as a point of reference, I had combined anterior and posterior fusion of L4 - s1 with instrumentation (hardware).

    Good luck!

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    I first injured my back in 1993. The neuro did discectomy and laminectory to L4 and L5 with no hardware. The operation eventually failed with my spine curving to the left and the vertebreas touching. I had bad sciatica some leg numbness and weakness. The Dr called my condition "failed laminectomy syndrome".

    On 11/07/2007 I had a 4 level PLIF L2 thru S1. The bottom 2 levels got cages.

    When I woke up the bad sciatica was gone. The pain from the surgery was there but I was on heavy duty drugs in the hospital. My hospital stay was 11/6/2007 thru 11/9/2007. I was walking the day after. I begged to go home because I could not sleep nor were my bowels moving.

    At home a nurse stopped by to change the dressing and teach my wife how to care for the incision. I had purchased a walker but did not need it so the wife returned it. I only took a couple of pain pills at home.

    At 40 you have a great potential to heal. Good luck.

    Ask questions.


    PS: I was in the Army 8 years 62-70. Vietnam '68 9th Infantry Division Mekong Delta....so I like choppers alot.

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  • I also had to have scoliosis treated so it was a pretty major deal. L3-S1
    I am now 8 months post op (nearly 9) and looking forward to hearing I have full fusion. :D
    Yes, it is a long haul but worth it if you are in pain or have numbness. Why are you having the surgery? What are your symptoms and diagnosis? How long has it been like this?
    Is the Dr going to so a PLIF (through the back) or and ALIF (through the stomach) as recovery for both are quite different. Have you had a second opinion?

    Either way you need a lot of patience.
    the best thing I did was I decided to treat my recovery as a mini- holiday and allowed myself to do all the things I have wanted to but didn't have the time. So get out any hobbies that dont include bending lifting or twisting. I raised a table so I could do jigsaws without bending.
    You will have restrictions on sitting and you will need to walk a lot, this is your best friend as it will really help your recovery.

    PM me if you would like to I am happy to answer more specifics.
    Blessings Sara O:)

  • I'm sorry to hear you're having back trouble. I had developed a lot of problems after my initial decompression surgery for herniated discs in L4-S1. When I woke from the fusion, the pain was unbelievable. The doctor will write an order to have you on a PCA machine that you operate to give yourself medication by just pressing a button. It's precalibrated and you can't overdose so it's very safe. It usually dispenses Morphine or other painkillers. I was in ICU and that is the best place to be because you'll need a lot of attention. There may be a drainage tube in your back and they might have a foley catheter in until you can walk to the bathroom. They will probably have you walking by the next day with the help of a physical therapist. In my case, I never walked during my stay at all and I had a lot of pain and spasms in my back and leg. Before you leave the hospital, you have to be on oral medications and you will probably get Vicodin and valium for when you go home. The car ride is hell and I suggest a roomy car or SUV.
    You will need someone at home with you for 2 weeks to take care of you, fix your meals, etc. The last thing you want to do is fall down post op. It's a big no no. It happened to me and it sucked. Must haves at home are a raised toilet seat, a grabber, a walker, extra pillows, shower seat, and cordless phone with doctor's numbers handy. Stock up your fridge with frozen meals, etc. before having surgery. You will need someone to cook for you as well.
    Nerves take a long time to heal, they will be swollen and inflamed for a long time and they might put you on Neurontin, Lyrica, or Cymbalta to deal with the pain. There's no telling how long you will need opoids. Different doctors have their own ideas as to how long they will keep you on them. Some won't give you any post op, some will only do it for 2 weeks, some will turn you over to pain mgt to deal with your post surgical pain. Talk to your doctor so you know what to expect. The last thing you need is that kind of surprise, make sure your pain will be taken care of. Everyone heals at their own rate.
    In my experience, the pain feels worse now than it did pre op. I had the same experience with my prior decompression surgery, and I had developed new problems that had to be addressed in my fusion.
    My fusion didn't work out and I'm left with chronic back pain and nerve damage. It's very difficult to deal with constant pain on a daily basis that doesn't let up. I don't mean to scare you, but you must be aware of the whole picture. Learn all you can about fusions so that you know what to expect. There are success stories out there so don't get discouraged. I hope you have a successful surgery and speedy recovery. Take care
  • I had L3-S1 fused in November. It has been a long, hard haul, especially because they couldn't get my damaged discs out through my back (first op) because I had too much scar tissue, so four days later, they went in through my stomach and completed the job. I want to be better yesterday and I am severely depressed. I keep wishing I hadn't had the surgery done, but then again I know if would not have fused well on it's own. I too had scoliosis and spondylitis. There are so many things I want to do, but each day I barely have the energy to go out for a walk. Given the preference, I'd just stay in bed all day, but I know I won't heal like that. Good luck to you. You're awfully young to be having this surgery. I truly hope it helps you.


    3 level spinal fusion, L3/4, L4/5, L5/S1, November 2008. Stiff, but I can walk.
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  • KiowaWarior,

    Welcome - I had L3 - S1 surgery last March and am about 10 months post-op. I didn't think the pain from the surgery was that bad - in fact, a lot of the pain in my back was gone. I was walking the afternoon of the surgery with a walker. You will definitely need someone to help you the first two weeks. I used the walker for a couple of months because my balance was really off and I didn't want to fall. Raised toilet seat, grabber/reacher, walker and ice packs I used a lot. For the hospital, if you can get the no water needed shampoo and cleansing soap - they will help immensely. I also treated it like a mini vacation. I had the hospital bed set up along side my computer and did a lot of reading. Some people heal faster and others slower. Walk, Walk and Walk - I was up to walking with the walker almost 3 miles before I was steady enough not to fall. It is slow going and the nerve pain is the hardest to get rid of - but I would definitely have the surgery again. I am almost pain free and so much better off than before the surgery.

    Let us know if you have any specific questions and we'll try to answer them. This site is great for info.

    Delaware Girl B)
  • WOW!!! You guys are the best! What a great sight. I really appreciate all the advise and support. Well here is a little background on me. Like I said I am a 40yr old Army Aviator, I have been Ruck Marching, Jumping out of airplanes, and flying helecopters for the last 21yrs. In 2003 I was in the best shape in my life, then the war kicked off, I found myself in IRAQ chasing bad guys flying 6-8 hours a day. I was a very fit 205lbs at the time and could benchpress 315lbs. with my bodyarmor and and flight vest with all the ammo I could carry, my weight in the aircraft was about 245-250lbs. well I guess it took a toll on my back because My left leg started to go tingle and my lowerback and left butt cheek start to hurt very bad. I continued to fly until my last flight in country it hurt so bad I gave the controls to my left seater and loosend my seat belt and flew the next 5hrs on my right side. with in the next week getting ready to come home my back started to spasm real bad. I got back and went to a chiropractor but no help at all. 4 months later I ws back in Iraq for another year doing the same thing. Well I sucked it up and did my job. at the end of the tour I was in kuwait working out in the gym, i went to the shower and bent over to untie my shoe, and my back went out, it spasmed so bat I looked like the elephant man. it too 6 monts for me to be able to stand up stright. I then spent the next 4 yrs getting injections in my back and nothing worked, finally I had a discsectomy, it did not work either, my back continued to go out. I changed stations from Ft. Bragg, NC to Ft. Rucker, AL last year, Soon as I got here my back went out again, I was sent for an MRI and an appt. with a surgeon in Dothon AL. He then sent me to have a discogram ( that was the worst pain I have ever felt in my life) The Doc said it was the worst he has seen in 10yrs. L3 thru L5S1 all posative. So I am headed in on the 15th of Jan for my pre-op to schedule my surgery for ALIF fusion L3-L5S1 and harware. I guess the main thing I want from this proceedure is some SLEEP!!! I havent had 6-8 hrs of sleep in 4 yrs I am exhasted and depressed. Wish me luck.
  • Hello KiowaWarior,

    I wanted to welcome you to SH, as I had the same surgery you are having (L3-S1) eight months ago. Also, I am now retired, but I was an Army civilian working on Rotorcraft research, and as such I frequently flew to Ft. Rucker. Since this was over 10 years ago, probably none of the guys I worked with are there. We sure had some fun hopping between the three bars of Enterprise, Ozark and Ft. Rucker. Now as far as your back, I wonder if your flying a helicopter may have contributed to your back problems. As far as the upcoming surgery, you will find lots of good info here. Look up some of the Stickies on top, especially the one titled "Post Operative Musts" you will find it helpful. Now, as far as what to expect after the surgery, it really is different for everybody, depending on current and past states of health. In general, the better you are prepared, the easier it will be, maybe because you will have a more realistic expectation. Recovery can be long and often painful, although some people suffer less than others. It is a good idea to discuss pain control with your surgeon. Being a pilot, you may be able to tolerate a lot, but there is no heroism in suffering, especially if you could avoid or ease it. You will need a lot of support after your surgery, don't be hesitant accepting it. As your surgery approaches, you probably will have many more questions, please don't hesitate to ask them.

    Wishing you the best,

  • So sorry to see you here. I'm 3 weeks post-op my second fusion. When compared to the last fusion, I could be doing cartwheels, but I am not. :-) My second back surgery, my first fusion after the lamindictomy, was horrific. I was still not up out of bed for more than 2 hours at a time when I went back to work part days.

    This surgery I have been out of bed for most the day since day 3. The removed my old hardware, an old battery pack and put in new hardware in my lumbar area in the location above where I was fused last. That was fused well, hence the decision to take out the hardware.

    I say if you've dealt with the pain on a daily basis for a long period of time, you will be fine during post-op. It is a different pain and one that you can progressively see getting better.

    Last time I hurt for about 15 months afterwards but it still wasn't as bad as before surgery but it was still pain. Frustrating but then the pain went away for 6 years.

    One of my issues is I do computing and I spend a lot of play time on the computer. Sitting for long periods of time is not recommended so I have to force myself to get up.

    Is an orthopedic or neurosurgeon doing your surgery? I went ortho the first two times, neuro the last and think I will stay with neuro as I feel the more times they go in, the more scar tissue and nerve issue they might encounter so I want the neuro guy.

    Sleep? You haven't been able to sleep? Can you doctors not give you something to help you sleep through the night? In this day and time, there's no excuse for not being able to get a good nights rest.

    And speaking of good nights rest, after the first week I had been in bed so much my rear felt raw. Of course it wasn't but by accident one day I laid sideways on my bed. AH, the firmness was a godsend and I continue to, every other night sleep sideways in my bed.

    The checklist here is good to read prior to surgery. I too, like others, had a walker but didn't need it after I came home. I have a treadmill and should already have been on it, but I haven't. My goal tomorrow!!! :-)

    And on another note, thank you for your service to our country. My son is a member of the TN 1/278th ACR, or was, he just completed the Federal Law Enforcement Training Academy and is now in Arizona. He did one tour in '04-'05. My daughter-in-law is Army Reserves Civil Affairs, did the tour in '04-'05 and just got back last May from her second year over there. She was in the reserves out of California, then out of TN when she moved here and she's just moved to the Phoenix group. My son is looking for a unit in AZ. I'm the FRG leader for my son's unit so I certainly get a close perspective. My admiration for anyone over there is unending, I see the sacrifice, and for those that have gone before you in service too.
  • for all the background. It sounds as if you are really ready for this next step.
    The best thing you have going for you is your level of fitness and that will make a big difference to your recovery.
    Plan ahead and find lots of interesting place to walk as you will be doing a lot of this in the next 6 months or more. It just becomes a part of life.

    All the best for your surgery, you have a positive attitude and that is what counts.
    Blessings Sara O:)
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