Preparing for Back Surgery

Can you prepare for back surgery?  I don’t know for sure, I wasn’t given the chance since mine was done quickly to recover muscle control.  As every back/nerve problem is different, I think each preparation would also be different.  I do think I learned some tricks that might help others.

Surgery isn’t something to take lightly.  It brings a lot of emotions.  I can’t help with that aside from saying, you may act in ways that aren’t normal.  Or, if you are the person helping the patient, don’t take their actions personally.

You Dr. will likely provide a more detailed list and possibly some restrictions.  There are plenty of check lists on the internet too.  These are my learning and don’t include the exhaustive list. Listen to your doctor.  Focusing on their list may help get you through the time between scheduling and surgery.

Helpful Items

Time is likely the most important thing.  The incision will literally take time to heal.  The muscles that are cut or stretched will take time to heal.  The following helped me through that healing time.  It is not inclusive, but these are things I think I relied on the most.

  • Pick Stick (review) – this is the grabber you see old men with on the beach.  It makes your arm longer.  I used it to pick up things from the floor or even “out of reach”.  You may want a few around.
  • A log or notepad.  I used a note application on my phone.  Why?  Well, you are pretty doped up and it is easy to forget things, so I wrote down which pill I took and when.  I wrote down when I walked.  I was often alone, so this helped my wife a lot.  Early on, you need to stay ahead of the pain.  Too much medication is bad, too little isn’t good either.  The log helps a lot.  There are great phone apps that allow you the share notes too.
  • Shoes – You won’t be bending your back much if at all.  Initially I could only get flip flops on.  Those are the wrong kind of shoe, but they were my only option.  If you can find some slip on shoes (Merrell makes some for example) that you like, they might be a good idea.
  • Sharpie pen – label your pill bottles with large, easy to read letters.  No confusion then.
  • Prescriptions – get them ahead of time so you don’t need to go to the store when you are in no shape to be running around.
  • Supplemental Fiber – the pain killers have undesirable side effects.
  • Hard candies – for me, my mouth got really dry so I wanted something to suck on
  • A good food menu – Don’t do fast food or junk food.  You’re now sedentary and putting on weight will be a bad thing.  You will lose muscle; don’t replace it with fat.
  • Comfortable clothes – you aren’t at a fashion show and comfort is the name of the game.  Easy on and off are the right kind; it was weeks before I could easily get pants on.  Socks are up there with the shoes comment above.  Expect your incision to get your shirt dirty, so cheap old undershirts that can be bleached clean might be a good choice.
  • Family and Friends – that should be self explanatory, DO NOT TRY TO DO TOO MUCH ON YOUR OWN.
  • Entertainment – I got sick of TV and movies quickly.  Reading had limits too.  Puzzles were a no go since they required leaning and reaching.  So, think about things you like and have them handy.  When medicated, you may only have 20-30 minute windows between walks and naps, but don’t get bored in them.

Environmental Preparation

Since I didn’t have time to think about this, I had to learn a few things the hard way.  The biggest was getting in and out of bed.  Below are some other things to think about.

  • Your bed location – stairs aren’t impossible or fun.  Maybe set up shop in an easy to get to place.  Make it your bed, or one you are comfortable in.  Set it up early if you can.  Waking up in the middle of the night in darkness is ok if you know where you are.  Don’t try to learn new night-time navigation skills while in pain and doped up.
  • Learn your pillows – with pillows, you can support your body and spine in a lot of lying positions.  You need the pillows and some guidance; there are a lot of sites that show pictures.  My physical therapist came to my house which was a wonderful thing.
  • Figure out a favorite couch or two – you need some variety.  Have pillows ready in each location.
  • Getting in and out of bed – this was the hardest part for me.  I would only do it when I had fresh pain killers in me.  I think it took over an hour the first night and I woke everyone up.  I don’t know how to describe it, but maybe if you put some tape on your back and test it out you will see what I mean.  With tape on your back you will fell any time you bed or flex.  That bending and flexing is what hurts.
    My final solution was to sit on the bed like a chair from the side about in the middle.  Get my butt as far back as possible.  Cross my arms over my chest for stability and pivot to my right side (that was head toward pillow).  Knees stay bent and hang slightly over bed.  Then roll to back, knees are still bent.  By staying rigid I avoided the pain.  It gets better over time.
  • Things you use a lot – move them to easy access points.  No more top shelf and no more bottom shelf.
  • Walkways – make sure things on the floor won’t get in your way.  You may be nimble now, but don’t expect to be able to step or dance around things (pet toys, kid toys and other things that like to end up on the floor).  Look around your neighborhood too.  You will be out walking a lot.  Are there bad sidewalks to avoid?  Low trees you can’t duck under?

The Hard Parts

There are distinct phases of the recovery and they all have different challenges.  First is pain from the healing your body will do.  Then you start to rebuild yourself; while better in some respects, you may be relearning to walk and this is mentally hard too.  I made some comments on my main surgery page.  Bottom line – back surgery is a big deal with a long recovery and it will take dedication to get through it.

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