My problem started back in December of 2000. I'd had a stiff neck for a couple of weeks. It felt like a stiff muscle when I turned my head from left to right, but I thought it was starting to go away. Then I remember distinctly waking up December 21st with this sharp pain in my neck, where the neck meets the shoulder. But I just thought "this doesn't feel too great, better put some heat on it." The next morning I woke up and it was really, really bad so I went to my primary care physician. After an evaluation, he recommended I go in for a MRI.
The next morning I woke up in incredible pain. No matter what position my neck was in I couldn't sit, I couldn't lie down, it's like walking around out of your mind. So I called my doctor's office and they prescribed some anti-inflammatory and pain medication and tried to schedule the MRI as soon as possible. I started having nerve pain in my left breast that shot down my side and into my arm making sleeping intolerable. Even with the pain medication it was hard to sleep, and I was forced to sleep on my back. Then my left tricep stopped working. There was absolutely no strength in it and I couldn't even push a door open. Things quickly started deteriorating.
After I went in for the MRI, I went back to my primary care physician's office and he confirmed I had a herniated disc C/6-C/7. He then recommended me to a neuro surgeon, by the name of Dr. Mark McLaughlin out of Springfield, Massachusetts. Dr. McLaughlin confirmed the MRI and proceeded to talk about my condition. He told me that the disc was putting pressure on a nerve, causing the tingling and numbness sensation in my left thumb, index finger and middle finger. Dr. McLaughlin told me most patients respond to physical therapy and traction, causing the disc to recede, and don't need surgery.
So I decided to go that route and started physical therapy. After two weeks, I wasn't getting any better. Though the pain had somewhat subsided, there was no tricep improvement in strength. Also, when I would bend my head backwards, I could actually feel it crushing right up against the nerve and it still caused the numbness to go right down my arm. I decided to get a second opinion, and that doctor confirmed what Dr. McLaughlin said. He also told me that the longer I waited, the more the risk for permanent nerve and muscle damage increased. So factoring in my age, the risks and everything else, I decided surgery was the right decision. I mean, when you start losing function in your left arm and face risking permanent damage, it doesn't take very long to make your decision.
As we discussed the surgery, Dr. McLaughlin made sure to point out that along with the possible benefits, there also were potential risks associated with the procedure, as well as the technology he'd be using to perform it. These include, but are not limited to, disassembly, bending, and/or breakage of any or all of the components; tissue or nerve damage caused by the improper positioning and placement of the implants or instruments; and nonunion (or pseudarthrosis), delayed union, or mal-union.
I went into surgery on January 26th, 2001 and I still vividly remember waking up from surgery. About two hours later I was already up walking around, the nurses were telling me to go back to bed. I only spent one day in the hospital and had absolutely no incision pain, no neck pain and the nerve pain dramatically decreased. I was able to roll over on my side with no problem what so ever. There was some weakness of my neck muscles, but even a couple days later I still had no pain. The only discomfort I had was a little tightness where the stitches were. I started physical therapy and am still under an 8-to-10 pound weight limit, because we want to make sure the bone fuses. The therapy is working to get my tricep back in shape, but Dr. McLaughlin says it will take a while as the nerve re-learns its pathway. Every once in a while it twinges kind of saying "hey I'm still getting better, just try not to over-do-it."
I have absolutely no regrets what so ever and have to say the most important thing a patient needs to do is become educated. I learned exactly what the procedure was going to do, what the expectations were, and when I spoke with my doctor I knew what questions to ask. I was prepared for recovery and didn't come out with the attitude of I can't do this and I can't do that. Instead I kept it positive. You also have to trust your doctor 100%, and as far as I'm concerned Dr. McLaughlin is one of the best around.
As you read this please keep in mind that all treatment and outcome results are specific to the individual patient. Results may vary. Complications, such as infection, blood loss, or nerve damage are some of the potential adverse risks of spinal surgery. Please consult your physician for a complete list of indications, warnings, precautions, adverse events, clinical results, and other important medical information.