I've had two Cervical Fusion within 12 years. Here are some hints.
After leaving the hospital:
Have assistance for all of this for at least the first one to three weeks. Do not try to do this yourself. Do not lift your arms, bend your neck in any direction, bend down or turn your body. Do not get the incision wet or damp. It will be very uncomfortable if you do and could damage the incision and slow down the healing process. The incision is probably covered with a glue type substance and can be removed accidentally if wet.
How to wash and rinse your hair:
This will keep the incision dry and prevent injury or pain to the neck. Use the bathroom or kitchen sink. Do this before or after your bath. Do not do this in the bath. It is too difficult for anyone to help you as it involves them bending down too long. Have helper fill a sink with warm water and diluted shampoo and conditioner and soak a clean washcloth. Sit in a chair or stand by the sink. Have helper gently remove brace. Hold your neck and head perfectly still. Do not bend or turn or lift your head. Have helper wrap two towels around your neck gently so that the entire neck is wrapped . Squeeze out most of water/shampoo from washcloth. Have helper massage hair/scalp “GENTLY” with washcloth until clean. Do not let them rub hard or move neck around. Rinse: have helper use new washcloth with clear, warm water. Repeat until soap is out of hair. Blot dry with towel. Pat neck with dry towel. Do not rub head or neck with towel. Have brace replaced.
Fill tub with favorite bubble bath. Keep brace on. Gently lower yourself into the tub. Have helper wash your back and upper arms/shoulders gently and any other part of the body you do not feel comfortable reaching. Gently, with helper’s assistance, move from the tub to the side and slowly get out of tub. It will be easier to have help to dry off for the first week or so.
Keep brace on. Wear loose, comfortable clothing. Cut the neck out of t- shirts or buy men’s’ v neck shirts. Wear slip on shoes. Do not raise your arms, bend your neck or bend down or twist your body to dress yourself. Have assistance.
Eat soft food. Your throat will be swollen and sore. Cream of wheat, oatmeal, macaroni and cheese, jello, mashed potatoes, Ensure, Boost, Slim Fast, juice, milk, pudding, etc. Use a spoon, eat small bites and eat slowly. Keep water with you at all times as it will make swallowing easier and less stressful. Avoid meat and hard foods. Even cereal is difficult at the beginning. You will have to keep your neck straight, so don’t eat anything you have to bend down to reach. Keep napkin /towel under your neck to catch spills. Use flexible straws to drink with. Sip slowly so as not to choke. You will lose weight as it takes much longer to eat. For most of us, that is not a bad thing. This can last for days, weeks or months, depending upon the amount of swelling or scar tissue you have. Relax, don’t get freaked out. Just eat small amounts, eat slowly and drink water. It will get better. When you try to eat different foods, go slowly and take small bites.
Use a recliner chair for the first few nights. The Doctor will let you know when you can lie down in bed and when and where you can remove the brace. Plan on wearing it 24/7 for at least 7-10 days. He might let you take it off if you are reclining or sleeping, but not when out of bed or chair, riding in vehicle or any movement. Use pillows behind neck and lower back to ease discomfort. Later, you can use a soft neck brace. When your neck feels heavy or achy, use the soft neck brace to support your neck. It will help ease the pain after the hard brace is off. Even sleeping with it on can ease the pressure.
It will begin chafing under you chin and around your incision. Keep sensitive skin baby wipes (without alcohol) and moisturizer close by to keep chin and neck smooth, clean and the chafing/irritation down. Don’t get the incision wet or damp or put lotion on it. Use them/it around the incision and on your chin. Keep brace dry as possible to avoid chafing. Buy stretch bandage material,soft, cheesecloth type from pharmacy. You can use this on the brace to keep it from getting stained or stiff.
Do not lift anything, reach up or down for anything, walk the dog, push or pull, bend, etc. Take everything slow. Rest. Recline. Get as much sleep as possible. Take advantage of medication, but don’t walk around too much when taking it as you do not want to trip, stumble or fall. Rent movies, read lightweight books or magazines. Heavy books and large magazines are hard to hold up and you will be fairly weak. Your neck will feel swollen. Your head will feel heavy. Your shoulders, upper arms and back will be very sore and achy as your muscles are weak and the effort it takes to hold your head up and straight takes a toll on you. Let the brace do the work for you. Expect this type of pain. It will range from slight to extremely severe. Rest and using a pillow to support your back and neck will help. Use heating pad and cold pack. Alternate them. Have helper gently massage your upper back, shoulders with lotion to ease the pain. Take your meds. Do not over do anything. If it hurts, don’t do it. Your body will tell you. Do not dust, open or close windows, do laundry, clean, vacuum, cook or wash dishes. Let the Dr and your body tell you what to do and when. If you over do it, you will regret it as pain hits a day or so later. Let people take care of you. You might feel great one day and terrible the next. Don’t do too much too soon just because you have a really good day. Take your time. You will get depressed, angry, easily irritated, impatient, and bored. Listen to music. Talk on the phone (use speaker function), sit outside, take small walks. Know that this will pass and you will soon be back to your old routine. It might take several weeks, months or up to a year, but things will get better. Good Luck!
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