When preparing for spine surgery, you have enough to consider and worry about without trying to anticipate every handy tool you may need during recovery. I’m the spine patient of questionable sanity who had four neurosurgeries in just 11 months. These surgeries included a temporary spinal cord stimulator implant, a permanent implant, a single-level cervical fusion and discectomy, and a four-level thoracolumbar fusion with discectomy and multiple laminectomies.
I had varied periods of post-op restrictions, such as not lifting my arms over my head, no bending or twisting, no lifting, no showering, etc. As such, it came to my attention that just about everything we do engages back muscles somehow. Those restrictions made sense to me, but it wasn’t until I’d get home after surgery that I would discover just how difficult it is when you can’t brush or wash your hair for days or weeks at a time.
The most painful and difficult learning curve for me came with that thoracolumbar fusion. I am 6’1″ now that my spine is straightened out and cobbled together with bits of metal and screws. That meant that sitting on the toilet or sitting down on my mid-century modern-style furniture was nearly impossible.
Please allow my lessons learned the hard way to serve as your cautionary tale, encouraging you to pick up a few of these items before your spine surgery. Here are six products you may not be able to live without post-op.
Can’t shower? Can’t bathe? No worries! These handy rinse-free wipes were my saving grace after each of my spinal surgeries. I had to go some time without bathing or showering for each surgery, so I relied heavily on these.
One of my favorite features is that these are for sensitive skin and have no heavy odor, so they didn’t bother my allergies at all. Better than that? You get a pack of 20 for less than $9! That is a crazy amount of value.
After some of my surgeries, I couldn’t bend or twist, which meant relying on loved ones to help with the sponge baths. These wipes made bathing as quick and painless (and least embarrassing) as possible. Run some warm water to wet the wipe and suds it up, wipe over your skin, and voila! You’re bathed and don’t feel (or smell) like garbage.
When I had my temporary stimulator implant for a week, I wasn’t allowed to shower at all. For my cervical fusion, I couldn’t shower for several days. And after that thoracolumbar fusion, I think it took a week-and-a-half to work up the nerve to get upstairs to the only working shower.
I have fine hair that looks greasy after 1-2 days without a wash. So, I was worried about how gross it would be by the time I had the implant removed. I tried dry shampoo. It felt like I had a gross buildup in my hair and irritated my allergies. I was thrilled to find these caps. They come six to a pack for just $20.
The feeling of clean hair without any stink was worth every penny. Anything you can do to make yourself more comfortable post-op is worth the investment.. As a bonus, they’re also rinse-free, so you don’t have to attempt any acrobatic routines to wash and rinse your hair without breaking post-op protocols.
After my thoracolumbar operation, I discovered just how much furniture height matters! You may recall earlier in the blog when I mentioned that my mid-century modern-style furniture was too low to the ground. Within the first hours of being home, it was clear that this was a drastic situation that called for a revolutionary solution. Thus, the power lift recliner was purchased.
Not everyone can afford to buy a lift recliner for $459. (You can save some money if you forgo the heat and massage and spend about $300.) Check your local medical supply store. They often have rental options if you don’t want the eyesore of a medical lift recliner in your living space long-term.
Here’s what I know: for the first year post-op from the thoracolumbar fusion, I basically lived in my medical lift chair with heat and massage. These bonus features felt especially good on my poor back muscles, which had been cut open throughout my thoracic and lumbar spine areas. The zero-gravity or lay-flat reclining option is especially clutch if you’re limited in the time you can spend sitting upright.
Short furniture wasn’t the only problem, though. I lived in a house built in 1948 when I had my surgery. The house still had all of the original bathroom elements and fixtures. That meant that the toilet was also incredibly low to the ground. Or maybe it just seems that way when you are 6’1″ and aren’t allowed to reach or bend for several weeks.
This particular riser is 5″ high and is around $22. I used mine for one-and-a-half years post-op, so I got my money’s worth! They have options available with handles, as well, if you need the extra leverage to push yourself off the toilet. Make sure the check the weight limit on whatever furniture or seat riser you may purchase! Some lessons are better not learned the hard way.
My mom, who is a nurse, told me before my spine surgeries that I should take a calcium citrate supplement throughout recovery and beyond to aid in healing and cell production. Of course, thanks to brain fog from pain, I forgot. Within a couple of weeks after my second or third surgery, I noticed that my fingernails were paper thin.
Suddenly I remembered what my mom had said. I immediately looked for a high-quality calcium supplement and found these on Amazon. I was already taking a fish oil supplement from the same company. They are free from gluten and corn (I’m allergic to both), so I felt safe ordering these.
There are probably about a million options out there, but 240 tablets for about $20 seemed like a steal to me. You can even put them on an auto-ship at the frequency of your choosing to save a little coin and make sure you don’t forget to reorder. And I’m happy to report that after about a month of taking them, my fingernails felt much more like fingernails and less like paper!
I had wonderfully kind and friendly nurses and occupational therapists at the hospital. They helped me get the hang of walking and stepping up and down stairs again after my big fusion. They also gave me tools to take home, including a grabber tool.
The problem for me was that the grabber they gave me was pretty short, maybe 20 inches. I couldn’t avoid bending down to pick things up with such a short length. My dang legs are longer than that!
It also wasn’t very sturdy, so it didn’t so much ‘grab’ things as it did gently and ineffectually caress them. Even a pair of my blue jeans proved to be too much for the standard, hospital-issued grabber. The grabber recommended here is twice the length at 40 inches.
This grabber is sturdy and lightweight because it is made from aluminum. It weighs just 9.8 ounces (just over a half pound). It’s totally manageable to use and move where you need it, plus it has rubber grips on the grabber, so you can pick up a heck of a lot more than a t-shirt. It is even magnetic!
You may find other things you need as you embark on your surgical recovery, but I feel confident that this list is full of must-haves. These products all helped me survive 11 months and four neurosurgeries worth of pain and rehabilitation. I hope they help you the same.