No matter what kind of back surgery you are going to have, chances are good that there are things you do not expect to deal with after the surgery is over. Maybe to some people these challenges are expected, but to this patient, there were some surprises.
I had a procedure done that involved placing a metal spacer between L4 and 5 in order to relieve pressure on my spinal nerves. This procedure is relatively new but approved by the FDA. It promised a shorter recovery period and also promised that many patients experience immediate relief from their back pain. After trying several different alternative therapies without lasting pain relief, I decided to go for this surgery.
The surgical procedure was done in a hospital as a same day procedure. Not being the kind of person who likes hospitals (who does?), I was relieved to know that I could go home the same day. Between waiting to be brought into surgery, recovery and back to same day surgery I spent approximately 6 hours in the hospital.
Thankfully, my surgery was done at the beginning of a holiday weekend which meant that there were people around to help take care of me. With same day surgery, all the hospital does is the surgery, taking charge of your recovery is all on you.
Upon returning to the same day surgery area, I got dressed and was led out to my husband who was waiting with the car. I wasn’t feeling pain, just extremely dizzy, light-headed and just wanting more sleep.
Once we arrived home, I walked into my home and settled into my bed. It was difficult to get into a comfortable position but I managed. The next few hours I slept due to the pain killers that were still in my system.
Anyone who goes through a procedure where they are put under anesthesia may have reactions to the anesthesia once they wake up. This can range from a headache to nausea to a feeling of dehydration. How severe it is depends upon the patient. This time, there was no headache or nausea. I was feeling drained of energy and very thirsty. I also had a sore throat and my voice is still not as strong as it was.
Several hours after my return home, the pain started. Even though I took a pain pill which my doctor had prescribed, it still was quite difficult to even change my position in bed. I consider myself a person who has a high tolerance for pain but was starting to get a little fearful of how intense the pain was.
The first day I spent in and out of sleep and partly due to the anesthesia and pain killers, I was dehydrated and did not need to go to the bathroom. In the middle of the first night, the urge hit. I painfully managed to get out of bed and make my way across the hall to the bathroom. The reality of what my body had just been through hit home.
Removing my underwear was a challenge but lowering myself to sit on the toilet made me literally see stars. A sense of panic set in as I painfully sat and did my business. I was ill-prepared for this. I managed to finish the job and drag myself back to bed. In my mind I feared the next time and worried about how I was going to get through this.
As someone who has been through surgery before, I knew that often it is common to become constipated from the pain killers so I was prepared with an over-the-counter stool softener. In the past I found this to be a gentle yet effective aid that my body could handle. Laxatives are dangerous because sometimes they work too well and the patient has the added pressure of having to get to the bathroom quickly which can be impossible when they are barely mobile.
One thing that many patients do not think about is how helpless they can become after a surgical procedure. Even toughies like me need help. Someone to help you get the right position in bed and bring you drinks is necessary. In my case, even though I took pain medication as needed, it did not relieve all the pain that I was feeling.
Although it feels humiliating, having a bedpan can help when you are recovering from back surgery. Trying to maneuver your body to do a simple thing like using the toilet can cause you more pain and possible embarrassment when you cannot do the deed. It is only temporary. Another option that you can find at your medical supply store is a elevated portable toilet. Depending on what kind of back surgery you had and how long your expected recovery time is, this can be a huge help.
Another item that makes sense to have is a walker or cane. If you are desperate to be independent, a walker or a cane can help you achieve that goal. Speak to your doctor about this before your surgery and have these items ready if you need them.
Bathing is another challenge for patients recovering from back surgery. My solution to this was to use baby wipes. I could manage to freshen myself up and although it does not replace the feeling of a good shower, the baby wipes can help you to feel cleaner which is great for your mental outlook on your recovery.
Preparing for your recovery by having plenty of comfortable things to wear is another plus. Depending on what time of year it is, choose outfits that will be good for sleeping in. In my case, it is summer and although I do have air conditioning, it is still warm. I live in various cotton blend sundresses which double as sleepwear. I cannot leave my home so basically it is all about comfort.
The other thing that some patients do not think about is driving. My first doctors appointment is 10 days after my surgery. I have arranged to have someone drive me and that is a smart idea. Before you see your doctor you should not assume that you will be okay to drive. Chances are that especially if you are still taking pain pills, you should not operate a vehicle.
One week after my surgery, I am still taking pain pills. I may not be taking them as frequently as the first few days, but I still need them. Some people may think that they will not need them as long or maybe expect to take them long-term. Pain medication alters your sleep patterns, your appetite and your ability to think. You may build up a tolerance to them quickly and find that you need more for the same effect. If you start to feel uneasy about how much and how often you need pain medication, talk to your doctor about it.
Watch your diet. Try to make healthier food choices and it will help you to recover faster. Eating healthier foods will also help to avoid digestive disturbances which are common side effects to anesthesia and pain medications.
Ice the area which can help and get plenty of rest. Yes, it is boring but listening to your body and not pushing yourself can mean the difference in how long it will take to recover.