I just saw this post. I hope you did alright with your fusion. Even so, this is for anyone considering a fusion.
I have had 2 back surgeries and considering a 3rd now, June 09.
I had been in much pain for 3.5 years following an accident in late '88. I tried chiropractic therapy, physical therapy, steroids, epidural blocks, special techniques etc from wiz's who all said they could make the pain go away. Worthless - All of them.
I finally got the surgery. I had a Diskectomy, Foratomi and Lamenectomy at the L4 & L5-S1 back in '92 (dunno about those spellings). I never lived without a lot of pain after that, even after the surgery. For a brief time, it was more manageable. Meaning in my point of view, a pain level of about a 4 being the highest (post surgery) on a 10 scale. Prior to the surgery my pain levels were unbareable, almost always above 7 - all day, every day. So, did I get benefit? Yes - for 8 years. It wasn't perfect, it was better.
After my 1st surgery, by the last half of 2001 I couldn't walk again. Not even with my cane due to pain and by the end of the year I was in a wheelchair. So I had the Fusion done in Jan '02 of the L3, L4, L5-S1. They took bone from my hip too, so I was split open on both sides.
I was instantly amazed at the results, even as I came out of the anesthesic stupor I was in! I was already aware of what happened - RELIEF. The morning after my surgery, I insisted on attempting 2 small therapudic stairs in the ward. I did it! I couldn't believe it! I was so excited! I had not been able to do stairs well, for about 2 years and not at all during the last 9 months of that time, so I was truly blown away. So, again, I gained appreciable benefit by having done the surgery.
That was 7 years ago. Now here it is, 2009 and I am having problems again but managing the issues.
They say the average back patient receives about 10 years of benefit. I have known several back patients. Some got a solid 12-13 years of better life quality from surgeries. Others like me, came up a little bit shy of that but still better. And I have known 1 or 2 who received no benefit.
My opinion: Here are a couple of real questions you should be asking yourself (from one patients' point of view):
Is your pain so severe that you cannot manage it anymore?
Have you altered your lifestyle to the extent that you don't do anything because of life "modifications" made to avoid or reduce the pain?
Does pain management mean "pharmacy refills" for you?
Do you have guilt or depression stemming from your disability?
If you don't have the surgery, will you be chained to a cane or confined to a wheelchair in agony anyway?
Is it worth it to you to have pain free living or "manageable pain" for as little as 5-10 years or as much as 11-15 years, for a procedure?
Can you regain some quality of life from a fusion surgery if the result is pain free living or genuine "manageable pain"?
Can friends and relatives also gain some quality of life back if you have a successful surgery?
In my case, the fusion was definitely worth the risks! I wish my first doctor had done it in my first surgery. Epidural blocks, Chiropractic treatments etc. were completely ineffective for me (among other things). All I had was my pills and a clear option for potential improvement by means of a fusion.
What else are you going to do to manage your pain? Walk around with a fistful of pain killers? Why do that? Quality life is a real possibility with a fusion, even if for a while.
Educate yourself, find a great doctor with referrals. Ask for an assessment and get the surgery if the doctor thinks they can help.