Recovery from back surgery

Day 1
I had back surgery on Wednesday, February 11, 2015.My doctor fused my Lumbar 3-4-5 vertebrae together. Those aren’t just ordinary screws, but $35,000 for the 6 Titanium screws. He also put in a “spacer” between each of the vertebrae which kept the sciatic nerve from being compressed. There was also some “cleaning up” of the spaces between the vertebrae. I am not sure of the official name for this.
I woke up at 5:00 pm. I had “refused” to take the Versed, which causes you not to remember any part of the surgery. My belief is that the less medicine, the better. The Versed was just one thing that I didn’t need. I woke up with my wife Robin in the room with me. I had a “button” that I could push that would dispense morphine, my drug of choice. The pain was under control, and I was comfortable laying in my hospital bed. I noticed right away that my “systems” were messed up. I was hiccupping for hours at a time. They gave me some lemons to suck on, but to no avail. My hiccups stayed with me for 48 hours. I could not pee the first night. I did try, and came away with two drops of red liquid. Blood or urine? There wasn’t enough to worry about.
I was determined to stay on top of the pain, so I set my smart phone alarm to go off every 10 minutes which would wake me up to push the button which gave me the dose of morphine. The bag of pain medication was empty at 3 or 4 am in the morning. There was no indication whether this was fast or slow. They thought it was best for me to leave the hospital on Thursday, so they changed my pain control medicine to a pill taken by mouth. They started by given me one pill of HYDROmorphone. As soon as I took this pill, my body rebelled, and I immediately vomited, but just a little. They tried another pill of Hydromorphone, and I filled the bag with vomit. Robin went down and bought a drug called Enoxaparin to control nausea.
I didn’t walk any that first night.
Day 2
This day was dominated by trying to move from the HIV drip for pain (which had run out at 3 am in the morning- By the way, I should have said to them, “get another bag of drip morphine”, rather than have them talk me into going to a pill by mouth.) As mentioned, every time that I took the new pain pill I threw up, and therefore didn’t have the needed pain medication. I would use the walker in the hospital to take short walks, just to prove that I could. I mostly slept through this day. Urination did not come easy. I drank lots of water to keep from getting dehydrated. At 4 pm, I was checked out of the hospital and driven home by my wife. This turned out easy. I was able to walk to the bathroom and urinate, but it was almost hourly. Lots of gas in my stomach which I belched up continually. My sleep was deep, but short, with the longest that I slept the first 2 days would be 2 hours and 30 minutes. My sleeping got longer during night 3 & 4. I would sleep as long as 5 hours.
Put a paper tablet by your bed or in the bathroom and record all the intakes and outputs. Mine looked like this:
7:30 am – vomit small amount into vomit bag, poor effort
7:45 am – vomit exceptionally well into vomit bag, must be some badge or prize for this output
8 am – vomit medicine
9 am – 1 pain pill
12:30 pm – 1.5 pain pill
1:00 pm – Miramax for BM
4:30 pm – 1 pain pill.
(You think that you will remember this, but you won’t!! Write it down- better still, have someone write it down who isn’t on drugs!)
My pain pill was changed to oxycodene because I seem to have that vomit thing with Hydromorphone. I tried to have no more than 2 pills of pain medication every 5 hours. By day 3, this was down to 1.5 pills every 4 hours. When you start sleeping 5 hours a night, then you have to decide whether you set an alarm to wake yourself up to take a pain pill. I found I was waking up anyway, so I would just wait for the natural wake up time, which was between 2 and 3 am.
It was a Hallelujah moment when the catheter came out! at the hospital. Look up stinging in the medical dictionary and they will show a catheter.
The Hard Part: The hardest part for me was getting out of bed from a prone position, which you had to do 12-20 times a day. There are only two ways where this is easy: (1) if you have a power lift recliner that you sleep in. The recliner then lifts your body to a standing position. (2) If you have a hospital bed in your home, then it can be rigged to have a “pull up bar” over the bed. This can be used to pull your body up to a sitting position.
If you do not have either of these options, then your only choice is to have someone help you move from a sleeping position to a sitting position or to do it by yourself. My bed was higher at about – 48 inches high-/ So once that I got into a sitting position, I could get to a standing position by leaning slightly forward with my hands on my thighs and sliding off the bed onto my feet. Then I would worked my hands up my leg till I was in a standing position. The first few days, I used a walker to help me get “up.”
Getting from a prone position to a sitting position: This is hard because (to state the obvious) you have a 6 inch incision on your spine which has screws and other hardware stuck in there. I tried to sleep on my left side because I had less pain on my right spine area. I got to a sitting position, by slowing getting my feet out from under the covers, taking the pillow out from between my knees (putting a pillow between your knees seems to align your back properly), and then lifting my head and upper body so that I could get up on my left elbow. All the while, I am pushing down with my right arm with fingers extended giving me that crucial two inches that got me on my elbow. From this position, I could drop my feet towards the floor and sit up.

Day 3
This day is remembered because I took my first shower. My son came over to help me because it was a bonding thing to do. I could manage the shower just fine but not the toweling off my back side. It is worth the effort to get clean.
Day 3 is remembered for urinating without pain for the first time, and often! At least every 90 minutes. I felt strong and would walk around the house 15 minutes of every hour that I wasn’t sleeping. I walked so much on day 3 & 4, that I had a “down” day on day 5, needing to sleep the whole morning before I felt better. But still I felt good enough day 4 & 5 to take a short walk around the block. I guess there is nothing better than walking for the healing of your back, so might as well get to it.
I got bored lots on this day. Hard to believe that people WANT to be on drugs. Ugh! Your mind is only half engaged, and it’s hard to keep track of things, or shows that are on TV. My wife Robin got lots of laughs at me as I inquired about what was going on in that last 15 minutes of that TV show.
I was motivated to read, but I just couldn’t get it done, except for my daily devotions. It was nice reading my emails and getting encouragements from others that they were thinking and praying for me. “You reap what you sow”, Jesus said. So if you inform folks with an email or Facebook or a tweet, then you will hear back from people.
Day 6 to 21
Patience is the key on these days. You will know if you overdid it the day before because the next day you will feel poorly, and need to stay in bed and rest and sleep. It’s good to find one thing that has improved from yesterday: a bowel movement!, a BM without straining!, sleeping through the night, taking less pain medication, walking farther, no longer have to wear the brace in bed, the pain is no where close to the pain I had before surgery, I went to a movie and sat for 2 hours!
I slowly weened myself off of the pain medication, taking one pill every 3 hours, then every 4 up to every 9 or 10 hours. Every patient is different, but for me I was trying to do without the pain med after 4 weeks. As I started walking outside, I noticed a pain in both hips. This was an ache as opposed to a sharp pain, but it got worse and worse. I finally called the doctor’s office and they said this is quite common after surgery, and the best thing for it was Salonpas Pain Relief Patches that you can buy at any Walgreens or Wal-Mart. The other things to try is heat and ice.
Walking seems to help the bone to grow in your back, something about the womp, womp, womp of the feet hitting the pavement builds bone. So walk as much as you can.
Day 40: I finally get off my pain pills.
Day 45: I slept through the night for the first time!
Please put down your experiences as they might help someone else, since each of us seem have unique times of it with a back operation. What was hardest for you? What device or habit helped you to get through this?


2 thoughts on “Recovery from back surgery

  1. pat cummings says:

    good stuff don! praying for you brother! heal up well! love you! Pat Cummings

  2. Jim Leonard says:

    Dear Don and Robin, Thanks for the update. You are both in our prayers. I have observed back surgery (years ago) and was horrified and know why there is pain! I have also had 4 orthopedic surgeries and know a little about it first hand. Sooo am motivated to pray for healing.
    No pain etc. You are at the top of our list. Jim also went through hiccups again when he came home from surgery. This time only a few days, last time it was 8…uggg! He is also motivated to pray for you.
    We send love and and light of Jesus in every cell …leading to perfect healing. We also pray strength and all she needs for Robin as she cares for you.
    Blessings, Freddie and Jim

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