Editor’s note: This article is a shortened version of an original account produced by Brian Jaye. It has been edited and published with the author’s permission. To read the original, please visit Jaye’s blog, bajaye.wordpress.com.
Brian Jaye and two companions were out on a successful deer hunt in November 2016 when he felt a strange pain in his left arm and shoulder blade.
“It didn’t feel like a wound or a muscle pull, but rather almost as an electrical pain of sorts,” Jaye wrote on his blog, where he detailed his months-long journey. Though Jaye didn’t know it at the time, he had suffered a herniated disc between his C6 and C7 vertebrae in his lower neck. He would eventually undergo surgery with University of Minnesota Health Neurosurgeon Ann Parr, MD, PhD, FRCSC, to correct this issue.
At first, Jaye didn’t think anything of the pain, in part because he felt no muscle weakness along with it. He and his hunting partners pressed on, continuing the hunt. But later that night, the pain grew worse. Jaye left the hunting trip early and drove home the next day. At the time, he chalked up the pain to a pinched nerve.
Still in pain weeks later and looking for answers, the 58-year-old scheduled an appointment with a chiropractor. While the chiropractor was able to resolve Jaye’s persistent migraines over a series of appointments, the shoulder and arm pain remained.
Running out of options, Jaye reached out to his primary care doctor. An MRI of his cervical spine revealed the herniated disc, which was pressing on a nearby nerve root. Jaye learned that herniated discs are not unusual, though only a small percentage of them require treatment. A pain specialist administered cortisone injections for relief over a two-month period. The injections provided a short-term solution, but like clockwork the pain would always return days later. Eventually, his pain specialist referred Brian to the neurosurgery team at University of Minnesota Medical Center.
There, Physician Assistant Dianne Bonner confirmed the initial diagnosis and told Jaye he was a candidate for cervical disc replacement, his preferred option over a fusion surgery.
“She said there were advantages with disc replacement surgery, especially in active people,” Jaye wrote.
Jaye was ecstatic to finally have answers and a treatment plan. The pain, called radiculopathy, was becoming unbearable. In addition to the shoulder and arm pain, Jaye’s neck was continually achy, and it hurt to turn his head too far in one direction.
“To someone who has not experienced a spinal injury, the pain is very difficult to describe,” Jaye wrote. “It feels as though the nerves are hot, virtually burning at times. At peak periods, I’ve told my wife that my arm [or] shoulder blade is on fire.”
Jaye’s surgery was scheduled for June 2017. The surgical team, led by Parr, discovered that several pieces from the diseased disc had broken off and lodged themselves against the left nerve root. They removed those fragments and replaced the disc. The procedure took less than three hours.
The pain from the surgery was less than Jaye expected. Even after the painkillers wore off the following morning, Jaye said pain was minimal. Better yet, Jaye’s months-long radiculopathy was gone.
“Turned off like a light switch,” Jaye wrote the day after the surgery. “I’ve had tears in my eyes several times today just thinking about it. My wife noticed my emotional struggle early on (with the herniated disc pain). Truly, there were times I despaired over it—and then this. It’s like getting my life back.”
Following the surgery, Jaye continued to chronicle his recovery, noting daily improvements in his blog and cracking jokes about the “wimpy” size of his scar.
“[Having the surgery is] among the best decisions I’ve ever made,” he wrote seven weeks after the procedure. “The difference between now and where I was two months ago is quite dramatic. The surgery really gave me my future back.”
“Dr. Parr is an all-star in my book,” Jaye wrote in his blog. “The first time we met, I immediately felt she was the right person.”