Preparing for Shoulder Surgery and Recovery

Hey friends. I am now 6 days past my arthroscopic shoulder surgery and I thought I’d share what I did to get prepared. These are the topics I will be covering in this post:

Getting Time Off Work
Pinterest Is My Friend
Meal Prep
Cute and Comfy
Bathing
Sleeping
Shopping List

To read about my surgery experience, click here.

Getting Time Off Work

My work release note was much more intense than I expected. I’d timed my surgery so that I’d miss one week before winter break started, and I figured maybe a week or two after winter break ended.

Sad to say I will not be climbing for awhile. :(

But considering that my job as an elementary band teacher is fairly active, that most of these restrictions are ones I couldn’t avoid even with modifications, and that I don’t even have a desk from which I could perform “admin duties,” my district HR director and supervisor agreed that it made more sense to use up all of my sick days (I had 46 of them accrued!) and take the full 3 months off as recommended by my doctor’s note.

It is really strange as a teacher to be taking 3 months off of work in the middle of the year – especially as a band teacher, where subs who know about music come along but once in a blue moon. My supervisor and colleagues have assured me that the kids will be okay and will not be ruined from not learning from me for 12 weeks. But my shoulder will be ruined if I go back to full conducting, white board writing, and band room set-up too soon. So that’s that. Once the sub plans were written, people were aware of where my stuff was, and people who needed to know I’d be gone were informed, I’m now gone until the doctor releases me back.

Pinterest Is My Friend

Something that has really helped me understand my condition and what I might be in for was to look up “Shoulder surgery” and “Labrum repair” on Pinterest. I found a handful of blogs from people who have gone through similar experiences to what mine would be with tons of ideas on how to make recovery life easier. Sometime when I’m less lazy I’ll link those pages up, but for now I’ll just link my Pinterest board.

Meal Prep

I saw a lot of advice from surgery blogs about meal prep and making sure you just have food easily available for when you can only use one arm. It seemed like some people went all out and did individual meals but I like adjusting based on how hungry I am. So starting Thanksgiving week, each week my hubby and I made a different giant pot of soup, ate one or two bowls from them as our meal that night and froze the rest in a large Pyrex container. When it’s time for a new soup, I’ll switch it to the fridge to thaw the morning before consumption. I like doing it this way because in each bowl I can also throw in a handful of fresh spinach, something that everyone on constipation-inducing painkillers could always use more of.

Three of my four soups were from the How Not to Die cookbook which just got released. I wanted my meals to be as health-promoting as they could possibly be. All of the recipes in this book are nutrient-dense, and whole-food plant-based.

Something I did not get, that I would recommend should you be on this journey, is saltine crackers (the low sodium kind). Especially in those first few days when eating a whole meal seems like too much, crackers give your stomach just enough to feel like there’s something in there. I didn’t expect to be so sensitive to intense flavor in the first few days, so that may be something you want to take into consideration when planning food. I usually love spicy food and soups, but even bland store-bought hummus was too much flavor for me in the beginning of recovery.

I’ve been trying to have a smoothie every day to make sure I’m getting enough fruit. I use the new “Purple Crush” juice from Trader Joe’s that is fairly hearty, bananas that I froze, frozen blueberries, frozen raspberries or strawberries, fresh spinach, flaxseed, maybe almond milk, water, ice, and a tiny bit of maple syrup. It’s soothing just to slurp it down.

I’ve been able to just do my regular overnight oats for breakfast. Usually I pre-soak steel cut oats overnight, and in the morning add flaxseed and frozen berries and microwave for 2 minutes. After that I add whole-grain cold cereal (I like this for texture), walnuts, almond milk, cinnamon and some maple syrup. The one complaint is that it’s hard to scoop up the last bite of something with only one arm.

Comfy and Cute

It occurred to me that, while I did have a small variety of yoga clothes and jammies, I would definitely want to be changing my clothes every day and night (especially since, realistically, I’m not bathing very much). I needed more easy, loose, stretchy clothes I could wear all day and most importantly, pull over my head/legs without full use of one of my arms.

So I did a thing I’ve been trying to avoid doing as someone who tends to hoard T-shirts, and I went to Target and TJ Maxx and scoured the clearance aisles for tops in soft fabrics in sizes larger than my usual. I also found some cheap pairs of plain black pajama pants that could kind of look like real pants if I went out somewhere.

Zip-up hoodies have been my friend for going outside and for keeping my ice packs in place while I sleep. I bought this one for a steal not even realizing I’d be living in it.

I bought some cotton sports bras online but I have yet to wear a bra 6 days into recovery. I’m starting to doubt that I ever will again. Some of the blogs suggested “bandeau” bras, but I was not able to find anything that matched that description at Target. So, no bra it is! (Plus my giant immobilizing pillow sling covers everything up anyway, so it doesn’t matter and nothing matters.)

Think about shoes. When you’re in a position where you can’t really use one arm, tying shoes doesn’t quite compute. I invested in a very comfy pair of flats I’ll be able to wear to work after this is done. I also have been wearing a slip-on pair of knock-off Keds out to walk to the dog.

Bathing

I’d had a pretty luxurious mane of hair that I loved, and then I realized it would get in the way of everything after a surgery. So I cut it all off in the easiest haircut ever – shoulder length with no layers. (It took longer for our hair guy to do my husband’s hair!)

The week before my surgery I made the mistake of switching shampoos to one that makes my hair about a thousand times greasier than it ever was before, two days after the previous hair wash. So on Monday after my surgery, when my hair had last been washed on Thursday, I was feeling pretty disgusting.

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The cats lamenting my greaseball ways

The suggestion from several of the blogs was to get your hair washed at a salon. There were only two ladies working this week before Christmas so we had to wait 40 minutes, but it was SO worth it to finally feel human again! She did a wash and blow dry for $17. For future reference, she told me, a wash by itself is $6 and a wash and French braid is $13. Three days later, it still looks cute.

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Fresh hair, and fresh snap-up flannel shirt from Costco!

So that takes care of the hair washing part. But what about the rest? Umm…people have their different ways. I’m not a super obsessive showerer and can go a few days without. I thought I would need Brian’s help the first time and it didn’t turn out to really be the case. I have waterproof band-aids to go over my stitches and I bought a loofah with a wand. I was careful to not splash anywhere near my shoulder. The hardest part was getting my armpits since I am generally keeping my right arm to the side at all times per doctor’s orders. So reaching across with my right is a no and lifting my arm to get that armpit is a no…

I wore a shower cap to not undo the lovely work of the stylist.

Sleeping

This part is difficult. I’d be lying if I said the drugs don’t absolutely 1000% help me with falling asleep faster. I have generally had trouble with falling asleep as my body gets restless when it’s uncomfortable. But guess what? Now I have no choice but to sleep in one position, and that is upright. And somehow that weirdly makes sleeping easier. That, and drugs.

The prominent suggestion in my preparation literature was to sleep upright in a recliner, but I don’t have one of those. I thought for awhile about sleeping downstairs on the long part of our couch, but several factors about that concerned me (it’s too cold downstairs, the dog might jump up and try to cuddle with me and bump my arm, I wouldn’t be able to wake up Brian if I needed something). So we set up shop up on the bed. It’s a pretty glorious pillow fort. I sit on one regular sized pillow that’s laid flat, and another is upright for my upper back. I bought two “lumbar support” pillows from Target, and one does go behind my back while another goes under my right forearm. Another pillow supports the upper part of my right arm so it doesn’t fall backward. I use Brian’s travel pillow around my neck while sleeping so my head doesn’t get into a weird position.

Because I’m so cool, the surgical center gave me mechanical compression socks that go on my legs to keep blood clots from forming when I’m being sedentary. The on-and-off pressure actually soothes me and gives me a physical sensation to focus on. It really helps me sleep.

I don’t know if I have ever in my life developed a sore butt from sleeping upright all day until that second morning after the surgery. Sitting on a pillow helped. Also, walking during the day. Slowly I’m starting to recline during the night more. Because my sling has my arm sticking straight out and not across my body, I think I would quickly lose circulation in my hand if I reclined all the way.

Shopping List

So yes, I know there are a thousand lists like this everywhere online, but these are the things I got to prepare for my surgery/recovery time or would recommend.

Important: All links in this post are affiliated links. If you click one and purchase the item using these links, I receive a small commission.

  • Chromebook (Actually this was my early Christmas present. You can’t carry a full laptop and you can’t raise your arm to type at desk-level.)
  • Large food storage containers
  • Soup recipes and ingredients
  • Spinach and other easy-to-snack on vegetables
  • Frozen fruit for smoothies
  • Dried fruit for…reasons
  • Sippy cup or something reusable that makes smoothies easy to drink
  • Oatmeal or whatever is easy for breakfast
  • SUPER IMPORTANT: Various gel ice packs. I got these on Amazon, and then after fruitlessly searching CVS was able to find a specific shoulder ice pack at Albertson’s, kind of like this one. Definitely pricey, but if there’s ever a time you need something like this, the time is now.
  • Comfortable clothes, at least 7 changes worth. Someone else will hopefully be doing your laundry.
  • At least one zip-up hoodie
  • Slip-on shoes
  • A storage bin or box for your recovery wardrobe so you don’t have to fish around and pull drawers.
  • Shower cap to protect your amazing salon-fresh hair do
  • Loofah with wand
  • Waterproof bandaids
  • Body wipes
  • TV tray to put on your good side and hold all the stuff you’ll need while lounging (I mean healing!).
  • Lumbar support pillows that are actually more like for your arms
  • Travel neck pillow
  • A vessel for your drugs that you can open one-handed. I didn’t get one, I just keep all the bottles open, but I like to live dangerously.
  • (Just for fun) Velcro so you can stick stuff to your giant table-like sling pillow. I’d like to stick a pretend glass of wine to mine so I can fool everyone into thinking I’m partying.

I sure hope this has helped and is one more resource and insight source for you!

To read about how I got into this mess, click here.
To read about my surgery experience, click here.
My recovery posts: Day 13, Day 21

6 thoughts on “Preparing for Shoulder Surgery and Recovery”

  1. Thank you!! I go in for surgery this week and this is fantastic advice. I too am in possession of a full head of hair and am going to chop it off! I’m nervous but looking forward to getting it done because the past year of shoulder pain is getting old😏

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    1. Life is so much easier not needing to worry about all that hair. Besides the uneasiness of painkillers and how awkward it has been to sleep with a stabilizer, I have not yet experienced much pain. Especially compared to the pain I was having before! I know things will change when I eventually start PT but I’m not dreading that at all. 😄 Best of luck with your procedure!

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