Spinal Fusion Anyone? Warning-Long

Lounge By shelbur10 Updated 26 Oct 2007 , 4:53pm by cakescraps

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shelbur10 Posted 17 Oct 2007 , 9:50pm
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I can't remember if that's the correct term. I've had two surgeries to correct a ruptured disc, and have had the same disc rupture again shortly after each surgery, so the doctor is talking about doing a fusion, that is, completely removing the disc and fusing the vertebrae together.
I know this is a rough and risky surgery, my dr. has told me to expect a hard 6 month recovery. But it's a last resort. We've got to do something to fix it and quickly, before I have permanent nerve damage.
So, I was wondering if anyone out there has had any experience with this procedure and can help me know what to expect. I love my surgeon, but he tends to be very vague about recovery details, I think because results can vary so greatly, he doesn't want to tell me something that might not be true for me.
I just want to be as prepared as I can. I'm already pretty much on bedrest, still recovering from surgery 3 weeks ago. I'm going to do as much research as I can to know what to expect, but frankly, I did that before my first surgery and I got the impression that it was an easy surgery and I would be fine in 2 weeks which was NOT the case.
I hope I don't sound like I'm having a pity party...I'm just scared and sad about being out of commission for so long. I am very lucky to have a great DH and mom/dad/sis/BIL all close by and dying to help out, but I'm a control freak. I have to back out of making my FIL's wedding cake (in three weeks!!) and I can't take my kids trick or treating or to other Halloween activities. I can't even take them to school in the morning!
So if anyone can share their experiences, I would be EXTREMELY greatful. I expect to have the surgery in early November. So will I be able to cook Thanksgiving dinner? Will I be able to go Christmas shopping?
Please help assuage (sp?) my fears! I don't know anyone who has had this and my doctor has scared me. I asked him about it before my last surgery and he flat refused to do it because it is so serious and difficult. He told me that if I insisted that he do it that I would hate him. Now since the last rupture, he immediately suggested it. So, naturally, I'm REALLY anxious about it.
(Oh, and I have had a second opinion with a pain management doctor who tried various treatments and now agrees that this is the only thing to do.) icon_cry.gif

11 replies
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michellenj Posted 18 Oct 2007 , 12:52am
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My mom has had this done, and it's pretty rough. I don't want to scare you. She came home from the hospital in one of those neck brace things that went from the chin to the waist, and had a hard time with a lot of everyday things for quite a while. She has people to come shampoo/fix her hair, my dad shaved her legs, she used a walker for a while, and still can't carry more than 7 pounds. But she has had so many surgeries on her back and neck that they have all run together on me. She's had like 11 surgeries in 12 years, or something like that. You will be zonked on pain pills for a while, at least, so you won't feel anything.
Unfortunately, her back problems continued, and basically she has a titanium spine now. And to control the pain, she has this square brick-like thing inside her, with a remote control to turn up and down the pain killer.

I wish that I could give you more details. I hope this didn't scare you! But like I said, you'll be pretty happy with your pain pills, but you might want to go ahead and at least make a list, if not get started shopping online-just in case.


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shelbur10 Posted 18 Oct 2007 , 1:57am
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Thank you for the response, Michelle...it is a little scary, but I'm all in favor of brutal honestly. I don't want any nasty surprises. After my previous surgeries I've been forbidden to bend/twist/lift, so I have a very dear friend who comes over to shave my legs and paint my toenails and my husband and daughter take turns drying me off from the waist down when I get out of the shower. icon_redface.gif I know it will be harder this time, but I am desperate and my two doctors can't come up with any other options.
I am very fortunate in that I've been given a laptop and permission to work from home during my recovery, as the family depends on my income, that removes the financial stress. Also, since I've had two surgeries this year, I've paid my out of pocket maximum for my insurance, so they're paying 100% now. Gotta look on the bright side. icon_rolleyes.gif
Thanks again for the response, and if anyone else has any input, I'll be happy to hear from you, no matter how scary it seems. I would rather be prepared for the worst than have unexpected problems...it will (hopefully) keep up my morale.

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JanH Posted 18 Oct 2007 , 2:25am
post #4 of 12

Have you discussed disc replacement surgery with your doctor.

Spinal fusion vs. Disc replacement:


Here's a photo of one type of disc:
(With disqualifying conditions.)


Replacement disc surgery:


More disc replacement surgery info with video:



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Vreeke Posted 18 Oct 2007 , 3:14am
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I too have had problems with my lower discs, including 2 surgeries.
I would definitely consult with a spine doctor who is approved to do disc replacement surgery. I would never consider fusion. The biggest problem when you fuse one of your discs is that the discs just below and above the fused discs will take up all the slack and you will have problems with those discs in the future. With disc replacement your spine will move normally and you shouldn't have any future problems. The recovery is short since they get you up and moving after surgery. The only reason I have not done it yet is because I have 2 bad discs and the FDA has only approved replacement in one level at this time.
I am just suggesting you check out all your options first.
Best of Luck,
Lori V.

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TheCakerator Posted 18 Oct 2007 , 12:55pm
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Im not sure if its the same thing that my dad had, but I know he has had several discs removed out of his back and one also out of his neck ... I dont remember much because I was pretty young at the time so Im guessing it was probably more then 15 years ago .. I do know that we had a hospital bed set up in my parents front room and that is where he laid for what seemed like forever (in my mind) He definitely has lost strength in his back and he's also lost a few inches! I don't remember him being in extreme discomfort but he was probably on some pretty decent pain killers ... Sorry I can't help you out with more information on this I was only around 9 or 10 at the time and don't recall much .. I do know that if he sneezes out of the blue he can literally drop to the ground .. he just does not have the strength in his back to hold him up .. he is almost 60 but his body is a lot older then that because of all the surgeries he has had.

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michellenj Posted 18 Oct 2007 , 2:13pm
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So when is your surgery?

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cakescraps Posted 18 Oct 2007 , 5:32pm
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I think a lot of it depends on which two vertebrae would be fused. I broke my neck at Cervical disc 1 and 2--commonly called the hangman's fracture, so you can imagine the usual result. I had my top 2 vertebrae fused in 1985, as it was the only option I had to survive. They took bone from my hip to fuse with. I expected to be in intensive care for 10 to 14 days. I was home in 5. I wore a halo brace for 8 weeks, which prohibits movement from the neck up. The installation of the brace was the worst part. I'm sure I had some heavy pain medication while I was in the hospital, but went home with Tylenol 3. I maybe took 10 of them????

That was in 1985, so I imagine they have made tremendous advances since then. I am now 40. I do have a limited range of motion in my neck, and have only recently started to develop some arthritis in my neck. Other than that, I have functioned normally for 22 years.

The surgery itself is risky, but the results can be life changing. I do think my age at the time made a huge difference in my recovery time.

My dad has also had fusion surgery within the past few years. He has degenerative disc disease. His was done through the front of his neck with a small incision in the crease of his collarbone. Recovered quickly and doesn't have much limitation at all.

Hope that helps. Feel free to PM me if you want to. Labor was worse! icon_wink.gif

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shelbur10 Posted 18 Oct 2007 , 9:56pm
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Wow, thanks for all the responses! The disc in question is L5-S1, which is the very bottom disc between the last vertebrae and my tailbone. From the research I've done, that is an ideal location for fusion.
I haven't scheduled the surgery yet. I'm having an MRI on Tuesday and have another doctor's appointment on Wednesday to discuss the details and schedule surgery. My surgeon typically moves fast, especially since I'm high risk for permanent nerve damage, so I expect to have it within a month, if not sooner. We haven't talked about disc replacement, honestly I didn't know it existed until I started researching things last night. I'm not terribly concerned about loss of motion because of the location. At this point, I have no hesitation with fusion whatsoever, maybe I'm taking it lightly, but I have all the faith in the world in my surgeon and my pain doc, I'm just worried about the aftermath and how I'm going to manage to get through it.
Thank you to all of you for your responses, I wasn't expecting so many! Cakescraps, you've eased my mind quite a lot, I managed to get through labor twice, so surely I can handle this! icon_wink.gif

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MichelleM77 Posted 18 Oct 2007 , 10:54pm
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I don't have any personal information to share, but it's always a good idea to get a second, or third, or fourth opinion before undergoing any type of surgery. Most of the time your insurance will cover the additional consultations with other surgeons because they don't want to have to pay for an unnecessary procedure just as much as you don't want to undergo an unnecessary procedure!

(intrathecal pain pump, the brick-like thing they may place under your skin for constant pain control. Nice!)

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shelbur10 Posted 26 Oct 2007 , 1:19am
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Thanks again to everyone's support. We got the results from the MRI and discovered that the disc has NOT ruptured again, which is GREAT news, because it means I won't need the fusion. It is kind of bad news, because my doctor doesn't know what's causing the pain. He thinks some scar tissue might be rubbing the nerve, so he started me on steroids to try to take down inflammation. Hopefully things will start to improve soon.
Thanks again!

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cakescraps Posted 26 Oct 2007 , 4:53pm
post #12 of 12

Glad to hear that!

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