Re: Recovery from L4/S1 PLIF
I've not had cervical surgery so have nothing to compare my experiences to....but you can expect the first several days to be quite uncomfortable. They will get you up about 12 hours post surgery and you will be walking. When you get home, you will want to mostly rest, interspersed with talking short, frequent walks.
Walking will be your main activity for the first several months. The reason it is so important in the first 12 weeks is that it stretches out the spinal nerves in the lower lumbar area, which helps to keep scar tissue from attaching as it is forming and filling in. For this reason, it is best to take many short walks rather than one or two longer walks. Also it helps to keep the sciatic nerve from flaring up and keeps you from tiring out.
Do you know if your surgeon wants his patients in a brace post surgery? Where is the graft coming from?
Since your nerves have been compressed for so many years, I hope the surgeon told you that this fusion will be primarily to stabilize the area to prevent further degeneration. It should relieve some of your pain, but it is doubtful you will end up pain-free. But the pain should be significantly reduced.
I'm happy to answer any specific questions you have. There is a "stickie note" near the top of the back board page entitled something like "Post-surgery Must-Haves." It lists things people have found useful to have during recovery. You might want to read through it as it gives you some insight into what life is like immediately post surgery when you cannot bend or twist at the waist and will have movement issues.
Some people find a raised toilet seat to be very useful. Also, be sure to stock up on high fiber fruits, vegetables, juices, etc. as constipation is something that will become an issue from all the pain medications. A stool softener is handy to have on hand. With lower lumbar surgery, you will not want to have to strain.
Also be sure you have some comfortable pants to wear. Most people find jeans or any pants with a structured waist band very uncomfortable.