Work will wait.
I want to provide you with some encouragement along your journey. I was out of work for quite a while due to two hardware failures. My surgery was December 05, and I was expected back to work in March 06. Well, something was wrong, and it was diagnosed as a loose screw. I wasn't operated on until one week before I was to return to work - and yes, I was worried about losing my job. My FMLA was running out.
They did the surgery 2/28, and it was determined that 4 screws were loose. That tells me they didn't get screwed in all the way in the initial procedure. But I couldn't go screaming to my doctor about it. They replaced the 4, and a week later (I was still in the hospital), they removed two of those because they were impeding on a nerve.
I left the hospital, and returned to work the 1st of May. I had been off 4 1/2 months. I had a brand new boss that I hadn't even met and thankfully, he had a compassionate heart and kept me around. My second week back at work, one of the large anchor screws in my pelvis snapped. I was off work again for another hardware replacement and didn't return to work until September.
It was really difficult for me to trust I was going to be taken care of. I didn't know this new guy, and he had no reason to keep me around. Yes, I have worked for the company for almost 20 years at that point, but that didn't guarantee me a job. Since you have been on the job for 23 years, what would cause you to think they would dump you when you were down? In our minds, we always think the worst, rather than believing in the good in people. I truly hope that your place of employment understands the seriousness and magnitude of your condition and will support you in your time of need. You have given them 23 years already, and it sounds like you want to give them more. Hang in there.
As for removing the hardware - it's too soon from your surgery to remove the hardware. Your bones have not had enough time to fuse 100%. It also depends on the amount of hardware in your back. I have 19 fused disks and metal all up and down my back.
It's funny, I popped into this forum tonight specifically to look for comments related to infection. I may have some infection in my lower back. I twisted my spine rather substantially in physical therapy (ticked me off) 3+ weeks ago and I am concerned that I may have torn some flesh away in there. I could hardly walk the day afterwards and it hasn't gotten any better. Usually when I do something dumb like that ( I have fallen on several occasions) it heals up pretty quickly. But this time not so. I pray that there is no infection, because they would have to remove the hardware.
Anyway, my best to you. Hang in there and allow yourself the time to heal. You don't need to add mental anguish to your current load of stressors. Is it possible that you can do any of your work from home without causing any major hardship on your employer? I now work from home full time and am so thankful that I am allowed to do so. I encourage you to be open and honest about your situation that is " totally out of your control" with your employer and perhaps they will step up to the plate and support you rather than dump on you.
3/25/02 - fused T1-L3, T - 88 degrees
L - 74 degrees
7/8/04 - repaired 6 areas of non-union & fused L3-L4
12/15/05 - fused L4-L5, L5-S1
2/27/06 - corrected hardware failure
3/5/06 - corrected hardware issue
6/16/06 - replaced broken screw in pelvis
3/9/07 - rear ended auto collision
2/12/09 - totaled car - someone pulled out in front of me - Yikes!
3/30/09 - Revision surgery, removed & replaced t12through S1