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Back Problems board

I wanted to post this under post surgery tips but the thread was closed. Hope I am not in violation of any ettiqette by starting another thread. Hope some will find this helpful.

Just FYI I am a 41 year old female who has had back pain for years. mother of 3 ages 15-25 with 2 grandchildren. Had microdiskectomy in 2001 L5/S1 and fusion on Sept 2 2008 at L5/S1.

Tips for surviving a major back surgery (with a little humor)

Have a realistic expectation: a spinal fusion is a MAJOR operation and you will be out of commission for a while. Most sites say 3-6 months and I don’t personally think that is too far off. Your Doctor can give you more information. Every person responds differently and heals at different rates. Recovery is slow and you can expect to take 3 steps forward and 2 steps back.

A simple diskectomy isn’t quite as complicated. (from my personal experience) and takes a lot less recovery time.

Get satin bottom sheet for your bed. Yes I know they’re romantic in that “circular bed that you put quarters in” kind of way, but they’re also slippery when you try to move around. Ditto for satin/silk/nylon panties/boxers and pj’s. Remember, the slipperier the better when you try to roll over in bed. Less stress on your incision.

Have extra pillows in every shape and size you can imagine. You just never know what shape is gonna feel good tucked where. Once my incision healed I found that sleeping on my back with a rolled up blanket under my knees and then surrounding myself with pillows so I couldn’t move helped me sleep better. I think it was because I didn’t accidentally try to roll over in the night and pull something.

Tell your sleeping partner they will have to make other arrangements for a while. They should be close by to hear you if you need them. Unless you have some mammoth king sized bed, you won’t want them in bed with you and they won’t get any sleep anyway, listening to you ah and ouch all night, especially if they have to go to work the next day. My husband slept in our spare bedroom next door and I either called out for him if it was urgent or text messaged him if it wasn’t. (Okay, I admit, we are a 2 blackberry family!)

Get a hand held shower head. I didn’t do this but wish I had. Just easy to get the water where you want it. And after your incision heals it feels great to stand in the shower and let the hot water roll over your back muscles (check with your dr. on this)

Shower bench. I never used this to sit down in the shower but it sure worked great to prop my legs up on when they got so hairy I couldn’t stand them any more. Get the Razor w/ shave cream on it already- I think its called Venus. It has a strip of slick stuff on both the top and bottom of the blades so you don’t need soap. It was huge to me not to have any more soap in the shower because I have always been afraid of slipping in there. You might also try putting in some of those rubber strips that stick on the shower floor. I had my husband place some rug runner no slip under our bath mat for me.

For guys, get a no fog mirror for your shower so you can shave in there. You won’t be able to bend over the sink to rinse your face.

I found that Cetaphil cleanser or its generic – cheap at walmart- works great to wash face and take off makeup. You can put it on your face when your face is dry. It dissolves dirt and makeup and then can be wiped off with a hot washcloth. Again, you will NOT be able to bend over to rinse your face.

When it comes to clothing, think slick. Choose nylon track pants over sweatpants and nylon or rayon slick undergarments. Use nylon shorts instead of cotton. It all helps to avoid friction. Remember you’ll likely be wearing a brace so either choose fitted t shirts to wear your brace over or I like to use camis under other shirts that are big enough to hide the brace. Trust me, you may want to hide it. Mine is big and black. I found that wearing it over a black shirt made it less obnoxious when I go out. I always tell my friends that I know they envy my fashion savvy and for $1100 they can have one too! But seriously, the brace is a must wear so you may as well get used to it if your Dr. orders one. Trust me, you’ll want to keep it next to your bed so you can get it on as soon as you get up.

Get a pair of slip on sneakers, the kind without a back. Mine are made by Easy Spirit and I got them on clearance. They’ll give you the support you need to walk without having to tie your shoes. I suppose if it was cold a pair of fur lined croc type shoes would work too---forget about putting on socks! I haven’t figured that one out yet. I just ask my kids.

Note to those with teenage kids: always wear shorts to bed in the afternoon if you decide to take a nap. Not much is more mortifying for a 14 year old boy than to have to help his mom out of bed in her underwear and then help her put her shorts on! (Just trust me on this one…)

Move everything that you use most often to places where you won’t have to bend over to get to them. Case in point: my top drawer had about 400 pairs of socks in it that I never wore. I dumped them all in a laundry basket so I could use that drawer for things I really did wear.

Same thing in the kitchen. Put a few cups, glasses, and pots on the counter if you have to so you can get to them. Be sure your microwave is easily accessible. You’ll be using it a lot.

I was blessed to have leather sofas and upholstery in my cars. This made a HUGE difference. If you don’t have this, use a trash bag or piece of plastic to cover the couch you plan to lie on most. Again, think slippery. For rides in the car, place a trash bag in the seat so you can sit down with your rear coming in the door and then turn yourself facing forward easily. We have a mid sized suv and its so much easier to get into than my son’s sedan that sits low to the ground.

Walgreens has this thing called a Gopher. It’s a grabber tool with suction cups on the end. It’s the best 10 bucks you’ll ever spend. You can use it to grab anything off the floor you drop. If it happens to be food you drop, just call for the dog and don’t worry about it. He’ll appreciate it.

You can also use the Gopher to move laundry in and out of your machines and to load/unload most of the dishwasher. Better yet teach your kids to do this or hire a local teenager. Most teens are always looking for some additional spending money and they will work for like 6 or 7 bucks an hour or for a gas card. They can get a lot of laundry/vacuuming, etc done in an hour. Call your church or community group for a recommendation or someone with small kids who hires a sitter. Most teenagers want to work!

If you have a dog, install a dog door so that they can go in and out. It never fails that you don’t feel well, are all settled lying down on the couch, and you hear that familiar whine. OR this is also a great job for a teenager to come walk/play w your dog. If all else fails and the weather is nice, leave your back door open a little bit so he can come and go. We have an electric fence thing that has no wires to bury. It simply emits a signal around your house and you can adjust it to the size of your yard. A collar on your dog keeps him in the yard.

If you have a TV in your room, find a way to tie a string to your remote control and secure it to your headboard or bed. (in the south, we would use duct tape for this!) Mine fell down between the headboard and mattress. I was very fortunate to have a neighbor who was home that was willing to come and fish thru all the dog hair and dust bunnies under my bed to get it out for me. (Yes I thanked her profusely and sent her home with a jar of homemade jam!) Yes, I know it goes without saying, don’t get tangled up in the string!

Get a cane- here is a short list of things you can do with one:
-Use it as leverage when getting out of chairs, off couches, out of the car, and out of bed. I literally keep it by my bed every night.
-Push that handicapped button that opens doors in most stores and public places. Also good for elevator buttons.
-Flush a toilet
-Put a toilet seat down (if you live with teenage boys like I do)
-Close car doors
-Point at all kinds of things
-Move things across the floor and even pick some things up.
-Use it to hold the second side of your pants/underwear open when you get dressed. The hook on the end can also help you pull your pants up.

Arrange for meals. Tell those you know that you’ll be having surgery and when they ask what they can do to help, tell them the best way then can help is to bring you a meal and ask them what day would be best for them. Keep a list of this on a calendar so you know when you have food coming and when its time to call domino’s. We found that 2 nights on/1 night off gave us time to eat up leftovers. If you get things you can’t use right then, pop them in the freezer for later. This isn’t the time to be prideful. Trust me. You can return the favor later for others who need help. If people bring meals, keep a list on the fridge of who brought what and what their dish looked like so you get the right casserole dish to the right person and send them a thank you note.

There are also companies like the Dinner A’faire and Entre Vous where you can go and prepare your own meals (like you really feel like doing that before you have surgery) and bring them home and put them in the freezer or they can make them for you. It”s not cheap. Caution: Everything should be microwaveable unless you have someone who can bend over and put things in the oven for you or you’re lucky enough to have a high double oven. Or just make some stuff yourself and put it in Tupperware and put in freezer so you can microwave it later.

Buy your juice/milk in half gallon jugs. It’s too hard to lift a gallon.
I drink the calcium fortified OJ; I figure I’m trying to grow bone so it can’t hurt.

Anesthesia and narcotic pain killers really tend to stop things up. You’ll need a fiber laxative like Metamucil. If I had it to do over again I’d just get the capsules. (HAVE YOU TRIED THAT STUFF? ) I also used Colace – was not harsh and did the trick. I never tried prune juice but I hear it works too. Keep in mind you’ll also probably be wearing a constricting back brace that will put additional pressure on your tummy. Doesn’t feel so good when you’ve got that bloated feeling.

Another casualty of eating and lying down: indigestion. So keep some Pepcid, tums, or the like.

Your throat will be sore for a few days from the breathing tube so get some throat lozenges.

Keep a box of flushable moist wipes in your bathroom. Some things are just hard to reach!

Take the pain and muscle relaxing medications that they prescribe for you and take them as directed. Don’t try to be a hero. You’ll probably have a lot of muscle spasms for a while and the meds really helped me. (Please check with your doctor on this!) If you feel like something just isn’t quite right, call your Doctor and don’t be afraid to ask a lot of questions. Remember, they do this surgery every day….you do it once in a lifetime (hopefully)

Keep a journal of all medications, when they are taken, what activities you do and notes on your pain level and sleeping habits. If you’re taking a lot of meds its easy to forget when you took them and how much. It will also help you to see which activities might increase your pain.

Before surgery get your haircut, nails done (artificial ones removed) Most hospitals don’t allow any nail polish on surgery day. Not even French manicure. Trust me on this one. It was a major argument that I lost.

Pay all your bills ahead of time or better yet put them on bank draft so you don’t have to worry about them. And then remember that the world will probably keep on turning even if you don’t get everything done. If you have a pile of paperwork, just wave at it as you walk by so it doesn’t get lonely. It will still be there when you get better. Plan to basically check out of life for a few weeks. Most people are pretty understanding.

I’ve discovered that kids of every age can do a lot more than we ask them to. Have a family meeting and go over all the things that mom or dad won’t be able to do and brainstorm on some ways they can all help. So what if they vacuum and the lines aren’t straight? If the towels are folded in halves instead of thirds who cares? And contrary to popular belief, kids can sort clothes and do laundry. (this is one of the most liberating things I learned when my boys were about 11 or 12) An especially big help is having them move the clothes from one machine to another. Help them have realistic expectations that things will be different for a while but they will get better and mom/dad won’t be in the same kind of pain anymore. Be sure to reward them for extra chores. Older kids love cash!

If your kids are old enough to drive, give them your ID, debit card, and PIN number and let them do the grocery shopping. Most places use the checkouts where you just slide your card and put in your pin number. My teenagers have never had a problem doing this at our local grocery store. Warning: your pantry will become very disorganized with kids putting things away, but alas, it can be reorganized later when you feel better. Just be happy you have groceries in the house!

If you can afford it, get a house cleaner. You will be so happy to have a clean house and not have to do it. Who knows, once you get one, you might never let her go!

I have lived off of the email capabilities of my blackberry for the first 2 months. If you have a regular cell phone, see if there is a way to get our email on it. Its so much easier than trying to use your computer or even your laptop. Remember, you won’t be sitting. Keep a charger for your phone by your bed and plug it in every night. It will also tuck into your back brace so that you are never without a phone in case you fall.

Set up a blog of some sort so you can send updates to everyone at once. I really wish I had done this because I was updating friends from church, neighbors, coworkers, clients etc. I got tired of copying and pasting in the same info. Most of my friends were online ((REVISED)) so I could get to them quickly but I didn’t have a complete email list in my blackberry to do mass emails.

After a couple of weeks, boredom will be your biggest enemy so have some reading and movies ready. I found that with the meds I’m not able to keep up with complicated plot twists and characters so choose simple reading that is more story oriented as opposed to complex spy novels.

Keep a positive out look. Remember how much pain you were in before and all the things you couldn’t do. Develop some goal that you want to achieve once you are better and keep thinking about that. For me it’s learning to scuba dive and being able to fly to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. Cut out a picture and put it somewhere you can see it and be reminded every day of what you are working toward.

Make a gratitude journal where you jot down a few things each day that you are thankful for. If you're online ((REVISED)), post your thanks there. Other people will be uplifted too. Maybe it’s the person who brought you a meal or drove you to an appointment, or the fact that you were able to get out of bed by yourself or slept thru the night. We all have things to be thankful for every day and focusing on them will give you a mental and spiritual boost.

Most importantly, keep a sense of humor. My husband of 20 years and I decided that that the sign of a mature relationship was when your spouse was putting your clothes on for you instead of taking them off!

Best of luck with your surgery! Feel free to contact me. I am happy to discuss any and every thing about my surgery experience.


11/2/2008 PLIF Fusion at L5/S1
2007-2008 8 weeks PT and 5 ESI's (ouch)
1/2001 Microdisckectomy at L5/S1
Back pain since I was a teenager, first cortisione shot in 7th grade