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Spine surgery under awake spinal anesthesia: an Egyptian experience during the COVID-19 pandemic

Mohamed Fawzy M. Khattab, David A. W. Sykes, Muhammad M. Abd-El-Barr, Romaric Waguia, Amr Montaser, Sherief El Ghamry, and Youssry Elhawary


Despite tremendous advancements in biomedical science and surgical technique, spine surgeries are still associated with considerable rates of morbidity and mortality, particularly in the elderly. Multiple novel techniques have been employed in recent years to adequately treat spinal diseases while mitigating the perioperative morbidity associated with traditional spinal surgery. Some of these techniques include minimally invasive methods and novel anesthetic and analgesic methods. In recent years, awake spine surgery with spinal anesthesia has gained attention as an alternative to general anesthesia (GA). In this study, the authors retrospectively reviewed a single-institution Egyptian experience with awake spine surgery using spinal anesthesia during the COVID-19 pandemic.


Overall, 149 patients who were admitted to As-Salam International Hospital in Cairo for lumbar and lower thoracic spine surgeries, between 2019 and 2020, were retrospectively reviewed. Patient demographics and comorbidities were collected and analyzed. Visual analog scale (VAS) and Oswestry Disability Index (ODI) scores were assessed at different time intervals including preoperatively, immediately after surgery, and 1 year postoperatively. Patient satisfaction was queried through a questionnaire assessing patient preference for traditional anesthesia or spinal anesthesia.


Of the 149 patients who successfully received spine surgery with spinal anesthesia, there were 49 males and 100 females. The cohort age ranged from 22 to 85 years with a mean of 47.5 years. The operative time ranged from 45 to 300 minutes with a mean estimated blood loss (EBL) of 385 ± 156 mL. No major cardiopulmonary or intraoperative complications occurred, and patients were able to eat immediately after surgery. Patients were able to ambulate without an assistive device 6 to 8 hours after surgery. Decompression and fusion patients were discharged on postoperative days 2 and 3, respectively. VAS and ODI scores demonstrated excellent pain relief, which was maintained at the 1-year postoperative follow-up. No 30- or 90-day readmissions were recorded. Of 149 patients, 124 were satisfied with spinal anesthesia and would recommend spinal anesthesia to other patients. The remaining patients were not satisfied with spinal anesthesia but reported being pleased with their postoperative clinical and functional outcomes. One patient was converted to GA due to the duration of the procedure.


Patients who received spinal anesthesia for awake spine surgery experienced short stays in the hospital, no readmissions, patient satisfaction, and well-controlled pain. The results of this study have validated the growing body of literature that demonstrates that awake spine surgery with spinal anesthesia is safe and associated with superior outcomes compared with traditional GA. Additionally, the ability to address chronic debilitating conditions, such as spinal conditions, with minimal use of valuable resources, such as ventilators, proved useful during the COVID-19 pandemic and could be a model should other stressors on healthcare systems arise, especially in developing areas of the world.