I'm going to have a cervical spine fusion for the second time. The first time was at the C3-4 level. This time it's the next level down. I've heard some horror stories that you can go blind from this operation. Is there any truth to this?
Actually, blindness is a very rare potential complication of cervical spine fusion. But again, the reports of this problem are rare. Patients at risk are in a state of anesthesia for more than six hours. They are also in the prone position (face down) during the entire time.

Many surgeons perform a cervical spine fusion from the front of the spine. This is called an anterior cervical discectomy and fusion (ACDF). Others perform the operation in two steps. This process is referred to as a staged procedure.

Staged procedures reduce the time spent under anesthesia in any one operation. The total time from both operations may exceed six hours but the risk is in the length of each individual procedure.

There are other risks that are much more common than blindness. Your surgeon and/or the surgeon's staff will review all possible problems that can develop. Anything from infection to death is possible but not probable.

The likelihood of serious complications in the first 30 days after surgery is less than four per cent. Other problems such as infection or osteomyelitis can occur months later. These are usually related to delayed infections from pneumonia. Infection controls in place at most hospitals prevent this type of outcome.