My symptoms started not long after I got out of the Navy in 1986. When I looked up, my right arm would go numb. Not a lot of pain, but concerning so I went to see my doctor and he had a number of tests done with no clear results that I remember. The numbness switched to my left arm in the 90s and was worse on occasion.
Just after 9/11 I was working a high stress job with the Department of Defense, and the occasions where I had numbness (and now pain) were much worse and more frequent. I saw an orthopedic surgeon who gave me more tests, explained that is was stress tightening my neck muscles and causing my disc to press on nerves. I was given exercises, but actually the change of leadership I was under eliminated a good deal of stress and it all cleared up. Temporarily. The pain and numbness came back numerous times and I finally went to see a surgeon who convinced me to fuse two of my vertebrae. My internet searches revealed a number of issues in adjacent discs after fusion, especially if more than two are fused. So, at my one week from surgery examination the surgeon told me we weren't fusing two we were fusing three, and my reply was we weren't fusing any.
The reduction in stress over the cancelled surgery made the symptoms go away, but when they returned it was with a vengeance. The pain and numbness lasted for weeks. I could barely get out of my recliner. I couldn't lay down, couldn't stand up, couldn't hold my head straight up, couldn't walk more than half a block. If I rode in a car the sideways swaying would tighten up muscles in my neck and I'd be in horrendous pain after 10 minutes or so. It would clear up, but I started losing feeling in my left hand and arm which didn't come back. I tried physical therapy, acupuncture, and meditation, none of which had a lasting affect.
When the motor control of my left index finger started being affected, I got concerned about losing use of my left arm. That is what caused me to think about seeing a surgeon again. A friend of mine who has had three spine surgeries had told me the one that went extremely well was the one he had at Virginia Spine Institute. So, I called VSI.
After my initial consultation with Dr. Haines I learned that I actually had one disc that was intruding onto my spinal cord and nerves to both arms. Working through tests and physical therapy, I got a great deal more information about it than before. Eventually, after failing physical therapy, Dr. Haines recommended surgery to replace the bad disc with an artificial disc. I woke up from the surgery with all of the worst symptoms eliminated. My motion now seems to be better than it has been over the last 30 years, and no pain. Just a ghost of numbness remains and a slight strange feeling in my index finger.
The weird thing is that I had felt more and more weak over the last 10 years, thinking it was just age and stress and not even thinking it was connected to my neck. My stamina was greatly reduced, and heavy chores wore me out quickly. It is like I had to work to breath back in after breathing out... every breath. I noticed the breathing issue mainly when I'd lay on my back. However, when I woke up from the surgery, I could breath so much better! I feel like I'm in my twenties in comparison.
Emotions: My whole life has been filled with dreading things I really didn't want to go through. It's a personality quirk. But most of those things I went through were dues for very good outcomes; staying in school to acquire discipline and degrees, serving in the military to help win the cold war in my small way, working long hours away from home to pay for my kids raising and education (they're great young adults now), etc... My dread of the return of the debilitating pain and continued loss of use of my left arm was a whole new level of dread... and it had become a permanent companion. I'd come to think this was just part of life so just buckle down and accept it. Stop looking up, so stop sailing, stop doing heavy chores, stop doing anything athletic, and on occasion stop everything except hanging on.
Now that whole cloud is lifted, and I'm still getting used to having a future free from that overwhelming dread. After 6 months, it is hard to believe it's over.
Thank you to my team!
- Dr. Haines - Spinal Specialist