Spinal fusion and artificial disc replacement surgery is serious business. It is a major surgery that can take months to recover from. I have just had a spinal fusion, and had an artificial disc placed into my lower back. In this article I will talk about what to expect after your surgery, and what you can do to make yourself more comfortable.
Recovery in the Hospital
Following your surgery, you will have to spend 3 to 5 days in the hospital for initial recovery. Expect to be monitored very closely during this time frame as complications from the surgery can arise, such as blood clots and pneumonia.
The First 24 Hours
You will be hooked up to an IV and in most cases you will have a pump that will allow you to administer your own morphine for the first 24 hours. Every 30 minutes you can use the pump to give yourself more morphine if you need it. Nurses will also administer oxycodone as well to help with the pain.
For at least the first 24 hours, you will not be allowed to eat solids as your bowels and intestines will not be fully functional. You will however be allowed to drink water, and eat ice chips as needed, you may also be allowed to eat small amounts of Jell-O, until your bowels wake up from the anesthesia.
Day after Surgery
The day after surgery, much will be expected of you. You will not feel like doing anything and will still be very sore from the surgery, but the doctors and nurses will force you out of bed, so that you can start walking. You will also be fitted for a back brace, which will need to be worn at all times other than when you sleep. The first time out of bed will be the hardest part, but you will soon get used to it. Walking is a vital piece of puzzle when it comes to getting you better, as it will encourage the fusion to take place.
48 Hours after Surgery
You will probably be allowed to eat food the day after surgery, but if you have not had a bowel movement, I would not recommend eating all the food they give you. Anesthesia can cause serious constipation, which can actually last a week or more, as it did in my case, and you will not want to eat very much as it will make you very uncomfortable. Eat small amounts until you are able to have bowel movements.
Every day you will be expected to walk further distances with the help of physical therapy associates, they do not want you to stay in bed, so be prepared to do lots of walking.
After your stay in the hospital comes to an end, you will need someone to drive you home, as you will not be able drive. Also bear in mind that you will not be allowed to drive for up to 6 weeks after your surgery. You can be a passenger in a car for journeys of 20-30 minutes, but that is all, so make plans beforehand.
You should be provided with a walker to help you move around at your home, you should also be provided with an elevated toilet seat, as most toilets in homes, are much lower to the ground than in the hospitals. If you are not given these, ask for them before you leave the hospital, believe me, you will need them.
Things to do at Home
At this point it has probably been 4 or 5 days since your surgery, but you will still be very dependent on others around you for help. You will be very limited to what you can do. If at all possible arrange for someone to be at home with you, so that they can help you get about, and help you prepare meals, and get to and from the restroom.
After a few more days, you will become more independent as your pain level becomes more manageable. You will still not be able to lift anything heavier than a gallon of milk, but you should be able to move around much more freely.
Do not sit or lay around the house all day. That is the worst thing you can do. You need to be up and about walking around your home as much as possible, only sitting or lying for 20 minutes of each hour if possible. Your doctor should have shown you some exercises you can do to help with your recovery, if you can do those exercises.
First Post Op Visit
Your first visit back to your doctor should be about two weeks after surgery. During this visit the doctor or nurse will remove the sutures or staples from the incision and will give you care instructions. At this point you should be able to get around well by yourself with little help, Keep in mind you will still not be able to drive by yourself, arrange for someone to take you to and bring you back from the doctor.
After 2 weeks you should be well on your way to recovery. You will be much more independent and will not have to rely on others as much as you had been in the past. Just remember to stay focused on getting better, do your exercise, take your pain medications as needed and follow your doctor’s orders and you will be fit to go before you know it. This is just a brief summary of what to expect in the first two weeks following your spinal fusion surgery. I hope this helps prepare you.