I recently had a successful ALIF back surgery to fuse the L5/S1 vertebrae. My recovery began with a three-night hospital stay before returning home.
My time in the hospital could have been more pleasant had I been better prepared for some of the unexpected challenges I faced while hospitalized.
Here are five tips to help back surgery patients have a more pleasant hospital stay.
Tip # 1- Beware the Killer Catheter
I expected back surgery to be painful. I was mentally prepared before the procedure to deal with the pain at the incision site and at the L5/S1 vertebrae.
What I was not expecting was the catheter. Oh, the catheter!
The pain and discomfort from the catheter was at times more severe than my post-surgical pain. Back surgery can be unpleasant enough and a killer catheter can make it even worse, especially if you are unprepared for it.
Tip # 2 – Sleep It Off
Back surgery is a shock to the system and your body will tell you when it is ready to shut down and rest.
Hospitals are loud and never completely dark, making them hard places to sleep. Machines are constantly beeping. Nurses get paged over the intercom. Doors open and close.
Pack ear plugs and a sleeping mask to tune out all of the distractions and get the rest your battered body needs.
Tip #3 – Solve the Caretaker Conundrum
My wife planned to split time between being with me in the hospital and taking care of our kids at home. In retrospect, she wishes she would have made arrangements to stay with me in the hospital more than she did.
I was shocked by how much help I needed while in my hospital bed. Small things like adjusting pillows, blankets, and filling my water glass were impossible tasks, and my wife was constantly helping me.
Even with the most diligent nurses and technicians, it was invaluable to have my wife at my side. The more time a caretaker can arrange to be at the hospital, the better.
Tip #4 – Win the “Super Bowel”
Many doctors insist their back surgery patients have a successful bowel movement before leaving the hospital. Prepare yourself to do whatever it takes to have the “discharge” that leads to your discharge.
Tip #5 – Plan the Getaway
After surgery you will likely not be able to bend, twist, or arch your back. These physical limitations make it difficult to get into and out of a car.
Before surgery, practice getting into your vehicle while keeping your back straight and your shoulders aligned with your hips. I practiced this beforehand and learned the easiest way for me was to enter our minivan through the sliding door instead of the passenger seat.
When you are finally discharged from the hospital, you’ll be ready for a quick getaway, so plan your escape route in advance.