If you finally made the call and scheduled any type of lumber back surgery, you know that there’s a long journey ahead. In order to “survive” such a major surgery, I’ve found many tips and tools that are exceedingly helpful.
The following tips, tricks, and suggestions below are things that I found helpful during my own recovery. Everyone is different. Please be sure to consult your doctor on any questions that you may have.
Now, whether you have disc replacement or fusion, sleeping can be difficult because… duh… there’s titanium attached to your spine now! I stayed at the recovery center for 1 night and then my first night at home proved to be a challenge. The recliner was too soft for my nerve pain and I couldn’t make it up the stairs to my bed.
- Purchase/Borrow an Anti-Gravity Chair: I essentially slept in a “lawn chair” in my living room for a solid 10 days because that’s what made me comfortable. It provided enough stability and I loaded it with pillows for additional comfort. (Thank you, Amanda!)
- Try a Purple Seat Cushion: Because of a hip injury, I’ve already been using this cushion in my home office during work hours. It has provided needed stability under my tush, which often kept nerve pain to a minimum while sitting. Even 8 weeks post-op, I was still using it on the recliner.
Getting Up and Walking:
This is really a personal choice or preference. You’ll have to figure out what works best for you.
- Walker: If you can’t afford one, there may be local places that will let you borrow a walker. I did not do well with it and it’s actually not recommended for fusion because you could bend slightly while walking.
- Canes: A must! I tried going without canes immediately after surgery and it was ridiculous. I walked with 2 canes for at least 4 weeks.
- Assistive People: Truth be told, when you can’t use your back muscles, it’s quite difficult to stand. Nerve pain afterwards is also extremely painful in addition to the pain you’ll feel on your spine and near incisions. I’m grateful for my husband and mom, who both helped me get out of the chair every day for 2 weeks. Once I was able to do it on my own, things got easier. Recovery would have been very tough without them.
- Small Walks: I wasn’t able to walk anywhere other than my living room for 2 weeks because of intense nerve pain that could make a grown woman cry at any moment. Once I was able to get to the sidewalk, I started small by walking half a block, then a whole block, and so on. But this was extremely slow progress, especially for me. Be patient.
Shower and Bathroom:
What matters most is that you’re comfortable and that you find something that works for your daily hygienic care.
- Using the Toilet: Whether you choose to get a raised toilet seat or one with handles is up to you. My husband bought me a suction-cup handle that secured to the wall. So I used that and a cane to sit down.
- Using the Shower: A lot of people ask me if I used a shower chair. NO! Haha. Absolutely not. And I’ll tell you why… sitting down was difficult enough. It personally took me 5 weeks to be able to get in and out of the shower alone and without assistance (which included undressing or redressing because that’s hard to do alone too). We also moved the handle bar from the toilet area over to the shower so I had something to hold on to. When you feel more comfortable, please move as slowly as possible in the shower.
- Brushing Teeth: The night after surgery, I realized this was going to be a challenge after spitting toothpaste onto my pajamas. Truth be told, we spent many nights using the camping method of teeth-brushing… water and spitting in a cup. Do what you gotta do.
Cooking and Eating:
Prior to surgery, I had done a ton of meal prepping because there are 2 hungry boys in my house and I also eat a special diet. I’ll be honest… I did NOT prep nearly enough food. And to the mom’s – definitely do whatever will help eliminate all the questions you’d normally get.
- Breakfast: Something that I found helpful for a family of 3 was to prepare two dozen breakfast burritos in different variations – sausage, bacon, cheese, no cheese, veggies, no veggies, etc. I wrapped each burrito in wax paper and labeled them. It lasted for maybe 2 weeks. I would suggest making 4 weeks worth, or maybe more if you have more than one kid.
- Lunch: I made sure to buy enough food to feed myself, my husband, son, and mom. This was the only meal that I didn’t worry about and let everyone else handle it.
- Dinner: I prepared maybe a week worth of dinners. We relied heavily on friends, family, and complete strangers to provide us with meals. If you are able to freeze 5-7 different dinners that could last up to 4 weeks, it will be extremely helpful for you. My mom stayed with us for 2 weeks and helped cook dinner as well.
Time Off Work:
Well, I’ll be the first to admit that I underestimated the seriousness and intensity of this surgery when I initially scheduled it. My doctor suggested 9 to 10 weeks off and I needed all of them. Consult your doctor if you have concerns.
Due to a post-op bladder complication, I wasn’t able to drive comfortably for 2 months. I’ve received this question a lot and my answer will always be, give yourself a LOT of time. Depending on how you recover, it could be anywhere between 3-6 weeks before you drive again. But, you must be off all pain medication before driving again.
I get a lot of questions about this too. This will truly depend on you, your progress, and your doctor. I wasn’t able to start for 3 months because of the complication. That won’t always be the case. Talk to your doctor about it.
The hospital or recovery center may give you a reacher. I highly suggest having more than one reacher available though. There were too many times that I’d drop my reacher and because of the no-bending-lifting-twisting issue I was stranded (and not just because you’re not supposed to, but because you legitimately can’t bend or twist).
Again, this requires assistance for at least 2 weeks, maybe more. You basically relearn how to do everything that you’ve been doing your whole life and dressing is one of them. Thankfully this is short lived. There are also devices that can help you with things like putting on socks.
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