Post Operation
Memory is overrated, please bring me more drugs.
The night after my second surgery was performed I apparently complained to my nurse about something being lodged under my shoulder. Perhaps it was a wire or tube that had found its way beneath me when I was turned. After some investigation it was determined that the "object" was my shoulder blade which, after many years, had finally found itself positioned more or less where it was supposed to be.
There will be all sorts of discomfort that will be dealt with after surgery. Some will be like my repositioned shoulder blade. Different parts of your body will have been redistributed, and you will be sore. My left tricep ached in a similar way - it was stretched so far over that it continued to ache for almost a month after surgery.
Of course the larger picture is going to pertain to the immediate two inches on either side of your spine. And it is going to hurt. Badly. Again, pain is different for everyone, and for me it was a little different in that after my second surgery I was not able to take narcotics until my blood pressure came down. It was hell. The nurses would come by regularly and ask what my pain was on a scale of 1 to 10 and I can tell you that for the first 5 days out of surgery my pain was never less than a 7, and a 7 was fantastic. Before surgery my idea of the worst pain I had ever undergone was at most a 4 on that pain scale.
What is universal is that when you do finally wake up you'll find that there will be several IVs sticking out of different parts of your body. You probably won't realize it, but you'll be hooked up to a catheter. Your face may be swollen, though it's unlikely you'll notice. Your back will most likely feel as though it is stiff as a board (and it is!) and you're not going to be too interested in moving around, though your doctor is going to insist you walk the day after your surgery. When you get up you'll use a technique called logrolling. You'll roll onto one side of your bed and then grab the railing or hand of whoever you've got babysitting you. Once I got onto my side I would bend my knees slightly and have my mother/father/boyfriend/nurse not only grip my hand to pull my torso up, but grab me by my knees to push them down. Picture a sort of teeter totter of the body with the center being your butt. But this is getting ahead of myself. For that first day you'll most likely stay in bed and grip your morphine pump for dear life.
Let's talk about this pump for a minute. You will be given a handheld device with a button on the end that gives you a shot of morphine every ten minutes (I assume the time varies) assuming you push the button. The problem here is that you are going to be in and out of sleep and will forget to push the button. Not to worry, the pain will wake you up within twenty if you don't. Now the nurses didn't like this one bit, but my boyfriend set a ten minute timer so he could "help" me push the button. I've read that it's dangerous when someone else does this for you, but I know it was very hard for me to stay on top of it, and when I didn't I wound up wanting to die. That first night was by far the worst of my life, even with as much as I've now forgotten. Speaking of which, I've happily forgotten a lot of what happened in the hospital, no doubt because of the amount of drugs that I was on, but I also think it's because my brain has blocked it out because it was too traumatic. I know that the drugs made me hallucinate something fierce, and not in a nice I see fairies la la la sort of way. My hallucinations always got much worse and flavored with paranoia at night. Here's what I can tell you that might help out a bit.
Medication: Understand that your nurses are busy people and you are not going to always get your meds on time. When this happens you are going to feel as though you are dying. First of all, be nice to your nurses. Second of all, it never hurts to bribe them with sweets. Third, you probably want to start asking for your meds a full 30 minutes before you need them.
In regards to peeing: I can only speak for women, I'm not sure if it would be the same for men, but ladies, you are going to have a terrifically hard time peeing after they remove the catheter. Up to six weeks after my surgery I still had to focus when I sat down to pee. If I was tired, I would get to daydreaming while on the toilet, and 15 minutes would pass before I realized what was going on. At that point it was simply a strange inconvenience, but while I was still at the hospital it was sometimes impossible for me to go. The nurses can do a catheter for you on the spot to help you. It doesn't hurt and it is worth it. Toward the end of my week in the hospital I was trying everything. I would run the water in the sink. I would hum. I would try positive reinforcement (you can do this Darci, you can pee!). At five days after my second surgery I still had the nurses do a catheter for me.
In regards to pooping: I don't want to dishearten you, but who knew constipation could be so dreadful? Not only is your body going to be filled with anesthesia, but it's going to be pumped full of narcotics, and this is going to clog you up. This actually started to compete with my back pain. The nurses will give you suppositories if you need them. I realize that this is one of the last few dignities you have left, but accept it. If the suppositories don't work then you'll need an enema. I didn't do this at the hospital because it just seemed too awful, but in retrospect I should have. You're going to stay constipated for several weeks after the surgery. You'll still be taking lots of narcotics, and that stops a person up. And being stopped up hurts. You should be taking 2-4 stool softeners a day. Fleet glycerin suppositories are your first step. Fleet saline enemas are your next. Make sure you drink a ton. Some people use laxatives, but that made me throw up (though lots of things made me through up - you can get a suppository for that too ;). I got on a schedule after I left the hospital where I used two suppositories every day and an enema every third. I know, I know, so gross! But people, it's your body, and this will help you.
Visitors: While in the hospital I had no interest in seeing anyone other than my immediate family and boyfriend. I felt wretched the entire time I was there, and I looked it as well. There were times that I would sob uncontrollably, there were other times that I would go off on paranoid tangents, still others that I can remember begging my nurses for more drugs. People are all different, and people's tolerance of pain is certainly different. For me, if someone had come by, I wanted to play hostess. I couldn't do this in the hospital, and when someone would come by I would still try. It was unnecessary stress. Then again, I suspect many of those visitors were there just as much for my poor parents, so who can say what's right? Just something to think about.
Entertainment: I brought books, magazines, my ipod and a computer with a couple of comfy DVDs to the hospital. I never used any of them because my attention rate was equivalent to a fly's. Never hurts to come prepared though.
Ice/Heat Packs: Remember earlier I mentioned that my surgeon had put me in touch with a girl he had operated on? This is a minor point where we disagree. Jenny loved putting ice on her back. It was something she really stressed to me before I went in for surgery. Well, I loathed ice. It made my skin feel as though it had shrunken down over my bones. My physical therapist now tells me that many people prefer heat, and it's certainly been the trick for me. As far as I'm concerned, my extra long, extra wide, automatic shut off heating pad has been my greatest purchase of 2007. Again, just something to think about.
Breathing and walking: It sucks to get up and walk. It hurts and the hallway lights are florescent and sting your eyes and it's so cold and sterile. Suck it up. The more walking you do and the more you focus on taking even, deep breaths, the better your body is going to function. People are not made to lie around in bed all day. And when you set a goal (I'm going to walk to the second doorway and back!) it makes you feel good to accomplish it.
Bathing: You won't be showering until your incision heals up, and even then it's not that comfortable. While you're in the hospital you might use something like oxy pads to clean your face. The hospital will supply disposable body wash cloths that you can nuke in the microwave and then clean yourself off with. If you have long hair it's going to get gross. They have these shower caps that they can do a mediocre hair wash in, but it's certainly better than nothing. On my last day in the hospital my occupational therapist tilted my bed backward to a point where I was able to slide my head off the bed. She then used a bucket of warm water, a handful of Johnson and Johnson baby shampoo, and a trash bag to catch the soap and water in. In this way I was able to get a real hair wash in before I went home. I can't tell you how amazing this was. Seriously, my hair was dripping with the grease of a week's worth of no bathing. If you do have long hair you might also bring a hair dryer because there won't be one at the hospital and it will be chilly enough without adding wet hair to the mix. When I got home I was able to (ever so carefully) lean my head over the bathtub and my mother helped me wash it.
Getting Home: Sit in the front seat with one pillow behind you, then hug another pillow in front of you. It will help you feel more secure and protected and help muffle the bumps that you are going to be hypersensitive of. And for godsake, wear your seat belt. This is not the time to go flying out of any windows. Let your doctor know when you are planning on leaving - they can give you something to help knock you out for the ride home.
Looking for more information?
Scoliosis Surgery: The Definitive Patient's Reference provided helpful reading for me and my family.
My Flickr Photo Gallery. X-rays, before and after shots, and even physical therapy.

Other helpful scoliosis sites:
The Mayo Clinic provides a thorough scoliosis overview.
If you are near the Wichita, KS area, Dr. Alan Moskowitz can be found at the Kansas Joint and Spine Institute.
Or, if in New York City, Dr. Daveed Frazier can be found on the Upper West side.