Getting Ready for Complex Spine Surgery

If you are considering complex spine surgery, chances are you’ve been told how intense it will be – both the operation itself and the long recovery period after surgery. That’s why it is important to do everything you can to be prepared.

At Virginia Mason, we’re dedicated to helping you be as prepared as possible. While there are many factors that go into having a successful recovery, we have noticed three traits that help tremendously. These are:

  1. Keeping a positive attitude going into surgery — Learning everything you can ahead of time will help you stay positive.
  2. Developing a good supportive network of friend and family — Even if you value your independence, now is the time to ask for and accept help.
  3. Having faith in your health care team — Remember that at Virginia Mason, you have an entire team of compassionate experts working together for you.

Complex Spine Surgery Class

Class instructed by
Sally Cramer, RN and Naomi Hyland, RN 

Every patient scheduled for complex spine surgery at Virginia Mason is required to attend a two-and-a-half hour complex spine surgery class.

Taught by an experienced spine surgery nurse, the class will provide you with a wealth of information on what to expect before, during and after surgery, as well as during the recovery process. This class covers everything from pre-surgery checklists and admission details, to post surgery nutrition, medication and signs of infection.

You will have the opportunity to ask questions at the end of class. You will also be measured for your back brace so it will be ready for you in the hospital.

Steps to Take Right Now

Although these topics will be covered in your complex spine class, now is the time to:

  • Make arrangements with your place of work. How soon you will be able to return to work depends on the type of work you do. Recovery could be anywhere from three to six months.
  • Stop using nicotine products of any sort — including cigarettes, cigars, vapor cigarettes and chewing tobacco. Nicotine impedes the healing process and could affect the proper fusing of your spine.
  • Have any procedures you need done before your spine surgery. These include dental work, colonoscopy, endoscopy, skin biopsies, etc. — all of which increase your risk of infection after surgery.
  • Consult with a dietician if you are thin or overweight. Your body needs to be strong for the long recovery ahead.
  • Find appropriate exercises to help strengthen your core muscles. A strong core is key to your body’s stability. A physical therapist can recommend appropriate exercises for you.

One of the most important steps to take before surgery is to make sure you have a caregiver ready to help you recover.

Post-Surgery Caregiver

Once home, you will need a caregiver who can stay with you and be ready to assist you 24 hours a day for the first seven days after you are discharged from the hospital. It’s a big job, but one that can be done by a family member or friend. Your caregiver doesn’t need medical experience, just the ability and willingness to help.

If at all possible, have your caregiver attend your complex spine surgery class with you. In the hospital after surgery, have that person plan to be at your physical therapy sessions.

Your caregiver should plan to:

  • Act as your advocate with your health team
  • Watch for signs of infection
  • Keep an eye on the healing of your incision
  • Monitor medications and arrange for refills
  • Encourage you to eat and drink regularly

In addition, it would be helpful to enlist friends and family members in advance who can help prepare meals, do housekeeping, provide transportation and run errands.

If you have questions about getting ready for complex spine surgery, call us at (206) 223-7525.